NWHL proudly represented at NYC Pride Parade

Originally published on Women Talk Sports

In a remarkable show of solidarity, eight competitors from the NWHL, along with Commissioner Dani Rylan, supported league partner You Can Play (YCP), by taking part in the New York City Pride March. For Rylan, it was an eventful weekend as she was also part of a panel including Gabrielle Reece that spoke at #Blogher17, an event sponsored by She Knows Media.

Along with the NWHL, the sporting community saw the likes of competitors from the WNBA Players’ Association and Major League Soccer also took part. Beginning at 36th Street and 5th Avenue, culminating at Christopher and Greenwich Streets, the Parade was an opportunity for the league to support the positive message of YCP, which sees one player from each of its teams serve as an YCP ambassador.

Dedicated towards ensuring that sports venues are free from homophobia, with athletes judged on talent and not sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the core mission of YCP is one that brings great meaning to the NWHL. Prior to the launch of their second season in the autumn of 2016, Buffalo Beauts competitor Harrison Browne publicly announced a transgender status, becoming the first athlete in modern professional sport to do so.

Having started in 1970, the New York City Pride Parade saw over 350 unique groups participate in the March in 2016. This year, proudly garbed members of the NWHL wore white T-shirts with the league’s logo in all colors of the rainbow. The smiling players were waving flags with the You Can Play logo, while giving out stickers to the onlookers.

As the NWHL proudly stood behind Browne, while also showing the courage of its conviction by working on a policy for transgender athletes, the opportunity to march in the Pride Parade was an extension of its welcoming culture.

Among the players from the NWHL’s clubs that participated, the most prominent included Anya Battaglino, who is the head of the NWHL Players Association. While her presence certainly represents the beginning of a strong working relationship between the league and its PA, there was also an emotional component.

A charter member of the Connecticut Whale, Battaglino had come out while she was still a competitor at the NCAA level with the Boston University Terriers. Such a defining moment in her life is one that has gained luster through the support friends and teammates alike.

Through participation in the Pride Parade, it was an opportunity for Battaglino to give back. Her efforts may save lives, inspiring others that are enduring their own personal struggles with orientation, while giving a voice through example that fosters the sense of encouragement that comprises the essence of this event. Many hockey fans also expressed their support for her on social media, admiring and appreciating such courageous leadership. Of note, one fan expressed her gratitude by creating a hashtag in her honor: #IStandWithAnya

Two other teammates from the Connecticut Whale joined Battaglino in the March. Kelly Babstock, the first Canadian-born player to score a goal in the history of the NWHL, along with Elena Orlando also represented the franchise. As a side note, both played at the NCAA level with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The New York Riveters, who played their inaugural season in nearby Brooklyn, also made their presence felt on this day. Among the Riveters members gracing the streets of New York on this day included Sarah Bryant, Courtney Burke, a first round pick in the inaugural NWHL Draft, Harvard alum Miye D’Oench, Alexa Gruschow and Rebecca Russo, a competitor in the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game.

While these wondrous women deserve to be admired for their heroics on the ice, their amazing efforts off it have only enhanced their status as role models, setting a positive tone for the third season to come.

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Riveters make big splash on opening day of NWHL free agency

In the brief history of the New York Riveters, May 1, 2016 may be remembered as the $50,000 day. Spending approximately 20 per cent of their salary cap on a trio of free agents, general manager Chad Wiseman has made a bold statement about ensuring that the Riveters do not end up in the basement for the second consecutive season.

After trading away the rights to Alex Carpenter, a possible franchise player and potential face for the league, to the Boston Pride, Riveters fans were briefly left to ponder what might have been. Wiseman would ensure that such grief would not last as he acquired one of the most coveted free agents in all of hockey.

Signing Amanda Kessel to a one-year deal worth $26,000, she now surpassed Kelli Stack as the highest paid player in the NWHL. Following such an acquisition, the Riveters would welcome a pair of Connecticut Whale stars into the fold.

Elite blueliner Kaleigh Fratkin was signed to a deal worth $19,500 while goaltender Jaimie Leonoff agreed on a one-year contract worth $10,000, making the team’s grand total $55,500 for a trio of free agents that will be expected to turn the franchise’s fortunes around.

With any free agent signing, there is an element of risk, making such acquisitions a gamble. Taking into account that Kessel was shelved for close to two years due to concussion related problems, there is definitely a fear that such woes may resurface in the NWHL. Should Kessel suffer another concussion, it will be another sad chapter in the ravage that the injury has caused, abruptly cutting many playing careers short

Undoubtedly, a healthy Kessel is good for the game overall. Should she remain healthy, she will clearly be the marquee player for the Riveters, helping add an element of excitement for women’s hockey in the New York market. Kessel has demonstrated a readiness to play, as demonstrated by her heroics as she scored the game-winning goal for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four title game.

Strategically, the acquisition of Kessel may prove to pay positive dividends for the Riveters. During a week filled with many trades, Wiseman also acquired the playing rights to Hannah Brandt on April 27. Selected second overall in the 2015 NWHL Draft, the first-ever selection in Connecticut Whale draft history, it was a shrewd acquisition on the part of the franchise.

Considering that Brandt and Kessel were linemates with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the chance to extend careers as linemates in the NWHL may prove to be the elixir to remedy the Riveters’ offensive woes. From a draft standpoint, their involvement with the Riveters may prove to be even more important.

With the first overall pick in the 2016 NWHL Draft, the Riveters shall likely turn to Minnesota once again for another piece of the puzzle. Forward Dani Cameranesi and blueliner Lee Stecklein are definitely the top prospects in this year’s draft. Should the Riveters select one of them, they shall be known colloquially as “Minnesota East.”

Adding to the momentum of acquiring Kessel are a pair of Canadian-born players that made their mark with the Connecticut Whale during its inaugural season. In becoming the first free agents to actually change alleagiances and sign with another team, Kaleigh Fratkin and Jaimie Leonoff become part of a unique chapter in league history.

For these two distinguished competitors, they have been making history since they first signed with the Whale. From the outset, Fratkin, a native of British Columbia, became the first Canadian-born blueliner to sign an NWHL contract. In addition to participating in the league’s inaugural All-Star Game, Fratkin would also play with the Boston Pride for one day, gracing the ice at the Women’s Winter Classic.

Having led all NWHL blueliners in scoring during the league’s inaugural campaign, Fratkin displayed a scoring proficiency that will prove crucial for the Riveters. In a season where the Riveters struggled to assemble any offensive attack, the club lacked an offensive minded blueliner. The arrival of Fratkin should also provide the Riveters with a quarterback on the power play, likely adding more W’s to the wins column.

Standing between the pipes in 10 games for the Whale, Jaimie Leonoff not only gained the first win in franchise history, she would also be credited with the first win in league history. The Montreal-raised Leonoff would also gain the start in the NWHL All-Star Game, allowing the first goal in all-star history.

Finishing her season with a 7-3-0 mark, complemented by a solid .936 save percentage, Leonoff will be given every opportunity to earn the starting goaltenders job. As a side note, Nana Fujimoto, the Riveters starter in 2015-16 was Leonoff’s teammate at the All-Star Game.

Riveters and Whale play for Mandi Schwartz Foundation

In continuing with the NWHL’s growing legacy of giving back to the community as hockey humanitarians, the Connecticut Whale hosted the New York Riveters in a highly emotional match on January 9. With proceeds raised for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, it rekindled memories of a former competitor whose career was cut abruptly by cancer.

Having played her NCAA hockey with the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, Connecticut, Mandi Schwartz lost her battle with leukemia at the age of 23. Led by Aleca Hughes, teammates showed a remarkable rally of support by hosting a bone marrow drive, in the hopes of finding a matching donor for Schwartz. Although such an outcome did not occur, a positive aspect was the fact that six matches were found for other patients.

In tribute to Schwartz and her lasting impact at Yale, the Whale took to the Bulldogs’ home ice at Ingalls Rink to host their fundraising match. Of note, $2 from every ticket and half of all 50/50 raffle proceeds were donated to the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.

Since her passing, the Bulldogs have named a team award in her honor, while the ECAC Conference has also introduced an award to commemorate Schwartz’s life. As a side note, it is only the second time that the ECAC named an award after a former player, also recognizing former Dartmouth three-sport star Sarah Devens.

The contest definitely had the feeling of a home game for Whale captain Jessica Koizumi, as she is one of the assistants on the Yale coaching staff. Tara Tomimoto, a member of Yale’s Class of 2014 was a member of their roster when Schwartz passed away in April 2011.

The fundraiser also held emotion for Bray Ketchum of the Riveters. A former teammate of Schwartz at Yale, Ketchum has helped organize several events as the Bulldogs honor her memory and continue to find suitable donors to save the lives of others affected by leukemia. Of note, Ketchum is a board member of the Mandi Schwartz Foundation and wears Schwartz’s #17 with the Riveters.

Adding to the impact of the event was the fact that NWHL founder and Riveters general manager Dani Rylan signed up for the bone marrow registry, representing her own dedication to bringing betterment to the community.

The Whale prevailed by a 4-3 margin with goals by Shiann Darkangelo, Kelli Stack and a pair by Danielle Ward. For Ward, it was a career milestone as it signified the first two-goal game of her career, garnering First Star of the Game honors in the process. Bulldogs alum Jaimie Leonoff took the win for the Whale in an emotional contest. During her career at Yale, she competed in several White Out for Mandi Games, which raised funds to find a cure for leukemia.

#WePlayForMandi

Plenty of future franchise players selected in historic NWHL Draft

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As the dream of a true professional women’s hockey league continues to take shape, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) Draft served as a key ingredient in helping fulfill such promise. With its four charter franchises each having five picks, there was no shortage of outstanding talent to choose from.

Selecting first overall was the New York Riveters, contemplating between 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alexandra Carpenter and 2015 Frozen Four champion Hannah Brandt. Considering that both were also teammates on the US national team that captured the gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden, one agreeable aspect was that both are truly world-class talents.

Opting to acquire Carpenter with the first pick, it would prove to be the beginning of a pattern for the Riveters. Considering that Carpenter is a member of the Boston College Eagles, the Riveters grabbed two of her teammates as well. Having also played with Carpenter on the US team in Malmo, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno were selected 5th and 13th overall, respectively.

Although every draft pick has one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, the challenge is signing those players upon graduation.
There is no question that attempting to select players from the same school may prove to be a key strategy in helping ensure that such picks do not go to waste.

The Connecticut Whale employed the same strategy as well. Wisely selecting Brandt with the second pick overall, the Whale opted to draft two of Brandt’s teammates from the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Picked 10th overall was Milica McMillen, while Maryanne Menefee, who has served as Brandt’s linemate for the past three season was surprisingly still available at the 14th spot.

Still available at the third overall, the Boston Pride were ecstatic to obtain Kendall Coyne. Although Illinois is her home state, she did attend prep school in Massachusetts, where her hockey skills first shone. Having played three seasons of NCAA hockey with Boston’s Northeastern University, she is definitely looked upon as a homegrown talent by New England hockey fans. The chance to extend her career at the NWHL level in Boston shall only cement her legacy as one of the most talented women’s hockey players to play in the hockey mad city.

Of note, Coyne was part of a Pride draft class that featured three other players from New England-based schools. Selected seventh overall, Harvard’s Emerance Maschmeyer ended up making history twice. Not only was she the first Canadian-born player selected in the history of the draft, she was also its first-ever goaltender. Joined by Harvard teammate Miye D’Oench (15th overall) and Boston College’s Lexi Bender, it will be a unique experience for these Beanpot rivals to play for the same club at the professional level.

Surprisingly, the Buffalo Beauts passed on talent such as Maschmeyer (many polls speculated she would go in the first round), Skarupa, Erin Ambrose and Michelle Picard with the fourth overall pick. Opting for Wisconsin’s Courtney Burke, it was the most surprising pick of the entire draft. In the second round, with Ambrose still available, along with Bender and the high-scoring Menefee, Buffalo once again went off the board, grabbing French-Canadian player Sarah Lefort, currently of Boston University.

Picking Lefort did create another unique chapter in NWHL Draft history, as Lefort became the first Canadian-born player who was not a goaltender to be drafted. Ironically, Buffalo’s next pick involved a Canadian-born goaltender. Drafting Amanda Leveille with the 12th pick overall, it was a very shrewd acquisition. Having won an NCAA Frozen Four title with the Golden Gophers, Leveille may be their franchise goaltender.

Following the selection of Leveille, Buffalo employed the same pattern of every other club by selecting college teammates. Located nearby in Erie, Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst University’s combination of high scoring forwards Jenna Dingeldein and Emily Janiga found new homes in Buffalo. Considering Mercyhurst’s reputation for producing elite talent, many more players may soon find their careers extended in Buffalo.

Janine Weber’s magical hockey journey continues in the NWHL

No player in women’s hockey has enjoyed as remarkable a year in 2015 as Janine Weber. Since becoming the first European-born player to score a Clarkson Cup-winning goal, it has led to increased attention wherever she plays.

With a newfound hockey hero status, Weber was among a group of players that attended the Connecticut Whale’s free agent camp. Other notable names at said camp included the likes of Brooke Ammerman, Kelly Babstock, Anya Battaglino, Sam Faber and Kaliegh Fratkin, among others.

Weber’s presence at the camp added a feeling of relevance for one of the NWHL’s charter franchises. Despite the return of professional hockey to the Nutmeg State, it would be the New York Riveters and not the Stamford-based Whale that signed Weber to a contract.

NY-Riveters

In doing so, Weber not only became the first player in the history of the Riveters franchise to sign a contract with the team, she became the first free agent signing in the entire history of the NWHL, a shrewd acquisition by Riveters general manager Dani Rylan. Taking into account that the Riveters also won the Draft Lottery, earning the first pick overall in the upcoming NWHL Draft, Weber’s acquisition adds momentum towards the team’s inaugural puck drop.

Considering that the NWHL shall be the first women’s hockey league to compensate its players, Weber’s presence becomes very symbolic. After helping the Boston Blades capture its second Clarkson Cup, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto wanted to display Weber’s game-used stick. Unfortunately, she only had two sticks in her possession, and required them as she was going to represent Austria at the 2015 IIHF Div. 1A Women’s World Hockey Championships.

Wanting to acquiesce to the Hall’s request, the sad economic realities meant that Weber would have to find the means to replace her stick. Luckily, an outpouring of support via social media resulted in the stick manufacturer (STX Hockey) graciously supplying her with a new stick.

Although the stick story has taken on a life of its own, adding to Weber’s growing legend, such a conundrum shall not be part of her experience in the NWHL. The promise of compensation shall alleviate the financial worries that unnecessarily burdened so many in seasons past.

Another meaningful element that adds remarkable relevance towards the acquisition of Weber is the fact that the NWHL is committed towards providing European players with the opportunity to extend their careers past NCAA hockey by competing in its league. With a camp in late July designated for European players, the signing of Weber is testament to the league’s efforts, adding a very important credibility.

While the opportunity to score the Isobel Cup-clinching goal would only contribute to Weber’s growing mythology, the remarkable support on social media has certainly ensured that she shall be one of the NWHL’s fan favorites. Ready to continue her magical hockey journey in a league that is ready to embrace her status as a world-class hockey player, the real victory is the chance to showcase her skills for a group of jubilant fans ready to appreciate her contributions to the game.