Sam Faber on the ground floor of another New England hockey revolution

As the NWHL becomes the first professional hockey league for women in the United States, there is a feeling of relevance with the on-ice involvement of veteran star forward Sam Faber. One of the first players to sign with the Connecticut Whale, she is part of a new era of promise for the hockey-mad state. On the momentum of strong women’s hockey programs at the NCAA level such as Storrs’ UConn Huskies, New Haven’s Yale Bulldogs and Hamden’s Connecticut Bobcats, Faber shall be the cornerstone of an offense looking to capture the inaugural Isobel Cup.

Raised in Mount Sinai, New York, Faber’s first brush with New England women’s hockey came as a member of the University of New Hampshire’s Huskies. With an astounding 51 points in her freshman season, she would compile 189 points (on the strength of 112 assists) and an astonishing 23 game winning goals during her distinguished NCAA career. In addition, she would skate with the US National Team in a gold medal effort at the 2008 IIHF Women’s Worlds.

Perhaps an element of greater importance may be her experience at the professional level in New England women’s hockey. Of note, the Whale does not reflect her first sojourn into pro hockey. When the Boston Blades became the first American-based in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Faber was one of the club’s charter members.

Playing alongside the likes of CWHL co-founder Mandy Cronin, All-World blueliners Caitlin Cahow and Angela Ruggiero, along with current Boston Pride GM Hayley Moore plus Huskies leading scorer Jaclyn Hawkins, Faber was part of a remarkable chapter in American women’s hockey.

During that inaugural Blades season (2010-11), Faber brought an offensive flair and playmaking ability that resulted in finishing said season as the Blades scoring leader. Although Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette captured the scoring title that season, Faber’s 30 points helped propel the Blades into the postseason, simultaneously demonstrating that there was a market in the United States for professional women’s hockey. As a side note, she ranked second to Julie Chu that season among American-born scoring leaders in CWHL play.

Faber’s first career point with the Blades came in their inaugural game. Along with Karen Thatcher, both would earn the assists on Jessica Koizumi’s third period goal, the first in Blades franchise history, part of a 3-0 win against the Burlington Barracudas. The following day, Faber would contribute 4 points, including her first career goal with the Blades, sweeping the Barracudas.

Accumulating at least one point in 15 games played, Faber also registered eight multi-point efforts. Her finest single-game performance was a five-point output which included her first career hat trick in a 6-5 win against eventual Clarkson Cup champions Montreal on January 30, 2011. Earlier that season, Montreal would provide another memorable moment for Faber.

Just six days before Christmas, the Blades did more than just spoil Montreal’s bid for an undefeated season. Fighting back from a 2-0 deficit, Faber would score Boston’s first goal of the game, signifying a shift in momentum. Ruggiero would score the dramatic game-winning tally in overtime while Cronin made an astounding 74 saves in one of the greatest goaltending performances in league history.

Such experience shall place Faber into a key leadership position with the Whale this season, as she also holds the unique distinction of being the first player signed in franchise history. Taking into account that former Blades teammate (and two-time Clarkson Cup champion) Jessica Koizumi shall be joining her on the Whale, it only adds to the veteran impact that should contribute to a fundamentally sound game on the ice. As a side note, both have also worked as coaches, with Koizumi serving on the Yale Bulldogs staff and Faber with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.

Among the crop of youthful free agents that should benefit most positively from their leadership includes the likes of Quinnipiac grads such as Shiann Darkangelo and Kelly Babstock, plus Clarkson Cup champion Kaleigh Fratkin. The younger players shall definitely reciprocate as they bring enthusiasm and high energy, strong motivational factors for Faber.

Having last played during the Blades inaugural season, Faber has remained in the game off the ice as the Chelsea Piers Youth Hockey Director in Stamford, Connecticut. Among her accomplishments with Chelsea Piers includes the fact that she oversees the largest Mite League program in the state. The chance to return to the rink for the first time since 2011 shall serve as an opportunity to inspire the young players that have passed through Chelsea Piers. Being part of the NWHL’s inaugural season as a member of the Connecticut Whale presents Faber (and Koizumi) with the rare opportunity to make history twice in New England women’s hockey.

Jaclyn Hawkins goes home again to help rebuild Connecticut Huskies hockey

As the Connecticut Huskies prepare for another season of NCAA women’s hockey, the program welcomes back one of its greatest stars; Jaclyn Hawkins. The all-time leading scorer in Huskies history, she helped give the program national exposure during her storied career.

Joining the new-look Huskies coaching staff, Hawkins will be the only female member. This is a radical change for the program, as Heather Linstad was the previous head coach. Having played for and coached with Linstad, there is no question that Hawkins bleeds Huskies blue. While Hawkins will likely be thrust into the role of a big sister for many of the newer faces on the team, her generosity and compassion makes her a valued member of this new-look program.

While this is actually Hawkins’ second tenure as a member of the Huskies staff (she was a coach for one season before she resumed her playing career in Europe), it is a wiser and more experienced Hawkins that shall return. Having also played for the likes of Erin Whitten and Digit Murphy, she has gained an even greater vision of the game, and it is one that should yield remarkable dividends this season.

Sadly, her playing career was cut prematurely. Having suffered from a wrist injury, she was sidelined early in the 2012-13 CWHL season. Having competed with the Boston Blades, her presence helped to give professional women’s hockey in New England a stronger voice. Although the CWHL has lost one of its greatest ambassadors in Jaclyn Hawkins, she remains an integral part of women’s hockey.

In addition to her coaching duties, she is also the founder and president of the website Women’s Hockey Life. A forum for fans, players, coaches and administrators to share their views on the game, while other sections are dedicated to reviews on equipment and finding a team to play for, it is quite possibly the most important site on women’s hockey in the world.

While CWHL fans will no longer have the opportunity to see one of the true builders of the female game grace the ice, they need to consider that this is not an end, but the beginning of another great chapter. Her chance to return to Connecticut and rebuild the Huskies is a tremendous opportunity.

She is one of the true role models in women’s hockey and her legacy with the Huskies is one that shall instill confidence in the players, while providing them with the motivation to pursue their dreams.