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PHF Season in Review: The Connecticut Whale remain on the cusp... for now

Members of the Connecticut Whale celebrate after a goal. Photo by Mca Photos LLC/Connecticut Whale
Members of the Connecticut Whale celebrate after a goal. Photo by Mca Photos LLC/Connecticut Whale

After the Whale made the Isobel Cup Final for the first time in franchise history back in 2022, many of us felt this was the logical process. Connecticut had been slowly and steadily building a Cup contender for years and looked to finally have the pieces in place to challenge the powerhouse Boston Pride for the throne.

We all know that didn't happen in Tampa two years ago, but that was okay. The Whale brought back impressive core players that helped get them there in 2022 PHF MVP Kennedy Marchment, defender Allie Munroe, and 2022 Rookie of the Year Taylor Girard. They also convinced longtime captain Shannon Turner to make it one more year. Connecticut also added two-time Isobel Cup champions Tori Sullivan and Mallory Souliotis from the Boston Pride, both of whom provided veteran experience and depth in their respective positions.

In net, the Whale retained Abbie Ives for a second season and brought back Finnish netminder Meeri Räisänen, who played with the club in 2018-19. Another huge signing was whale alumna and Olympian Kateřina Mrázová (2018-19).

However, the roster on paper took some time to perform as expected, and three weeks off after their lone game opening weekend didn't do this team any favors. Still, Connecticut was able to show everyone why we put so much respect on their name with a late-season win streak that catapulted them into the No. 3 seed and pulled them into a hard-fought three-game series with the eventual Cup champions.

Connecticut WhaleRegular Season At A Glance


14-8-2, 43 pts, +17 goal differential

Special Teams:

PP 24% (1st), PK 84% (tied for 3rd w/TOR, BUF)

Scoring Leader:

Kennedy Marchment (35 pts -- also led in goals scored with 17)

Goaltending Leaders:

Abbie Ives, 16 GP, 10-6-0, .902 save %

Meeri Raisanen, 9 GP, 4-2-0-2, .894 save %


#3 seed in playoffs

Lost in Isobel Cup semifinal to TOR (5-3 W, 3-2 OTL, 3-0 L)

Let's talk about that schedule...

I really hope the nice folks over at ISCC figure out the issues with hosting the Whale more than one night in a row, because the split weekends and constant movement from there to Danbury must not have been easy for them.

Indeed, the Whale had probably the most convoluted slate of games in the PHF, and that inconsistency, combined with a postponed weekend at the start of the year (thanks, Buffalo weather) made for a whimper of a start rather than a bang. That, fortunately, didn't last long, as the Whale were able to crack the top four seeds for playoffs on the strength of their returning talent, a few new faces filling in the gaps, and the coaching of Colton Orr.

Goalie swap incoming?

Räisänen couldn't quite replicate the performance she had with Connecticut the first time around. It was a disappointment to see her struggle as much as she did, and honestly, I think it was more a by-product of the team in front of her taking a while to get some consistency going.

As a result, Ives got the bulk of the starts again, and while I'm not the biggest fan of her game, she got things done for her squad and proved to be the better fit for this iteration of the Whale, all things considered.

That steadiness has given her a couple of additional options this FA, and she's been rumored to be talking with Buffalo at the very least. With the Whale announcing UMD and Team Sweden standout Emma Söderberg's two-year deal, Ives might be on the move.

Söderberg doesn't have quite the size of Ives, but she is a fantastic netminder with flexibility and solid puck awareness, so the Whale have a gem in the making if they can nurture that talent. Even if they make it a tandem with a veteran like Ives or Räisänen alongside the rookie, that would be a good start.

I believe the Whale have had everything in place except a goalie who can get them fully over the playoff hump for a while now. Söderberg's signing could be a change in the winds where the net is concerned, as she is young and shows some real ability to steal games for her squad. Team defense has rarely been that much of an issue once the Whale get into a groove, so it's exciting to think about the potential a young dynamic goalie has with this team.

Marchment and Girard Secure The Bag

WNBA stars Dijonai Carrington and Courtney Williams drop the puck at a Connecticut Whale game. L to R: Madison Packer, DiJonai Carrington, Courtney Williams, Kennedy Marchment. Photo by Jonathan Sawn/Connecticut Whale
WNBA stars Dijonai Carrington and Courtney Williams drop the puck at a Connecticut Whale game. L to R: Madison Packer, DiJonai Carrington, Courtney Williams, Kennedy Marchment. Photo by Jonathan Sawn/Connecticut Whale

Eighteen games -- a record-setting points streak for #22. Marchment didn't miss the scoresheet from December 18, including throughout the 2023 PHF Playoffs. Last year's MVP thus went on to make a great case for a repeat, albeit more quietly than her counterparts Loren Gabel, Brittany Howard, and Corinne Schroeder. Gabel won PHF Most Valuable Player, as voted on by the newly minted Professional Hockey Writer's Association.

Not to be outdone, Girard had 28 regular season points, led the entire league in shorthanded goals scored (4), added four power-play tallies for good measure, and with her center perfected the art of the "power kill." It's little wonder then that both have been able to renegotiate the second year of their contracts, earning six figures for the first time and deserving every penny of it.

I love a player who is dangerous in virtually any situation you place her in, and Marchment and Girard together are two of those players. Power play, penalty kill, forechecking, backchecking, empty net situations -- you name it, they excel at it, and they are tremendous fun to watch even when playing against the team you root for. Both know how to protect the puck and how to swing it their way, with Marchment's tenacity and Girard's speed creating one of the best all-around duos the PHF has seen, in my humble opinion. (At least until Brittany Howard and Loren Gabel play for the same team again...)

What's next -- and how does Kacey Bellamy factor in?

We all knew this was going to happen -- regardless of the endgame, this year would be the last for Shannon Turner, the longest-tenured player in Whale franchise history. It's been her team for so long that naturally, a squad (and a blueline, for that matter) without Turner is bound to look very different. The good news is, the Whale have plenty of leadership to fill the large skates Turner is leaving behind, including Marchment, Janine Weber (both of whom wore As last year), and new signings Kacey Bellamy and Kendall Cornine (the latter of whom has a two-year deal, making the jump from the Riveters).

You may remember Black Rosie Media founder Erica asking Bells outright during All-Star Weekend if she was looking to make a comeback to pro hockey, and she said with no uncertainty, "Honestly, I have been thinking about it."

She made good on that thought, signing a one-year deal worth $122,000 (with a $7,000 signing bonus, giving her a cool $129,000 total). Bellamy has earned her stripes as a veteran of the game, not only as one of the original members of the then-NWHL but as a three-time Olympic defender for Team USA. If anyone could take over as the leader of the defensive corps, at the very least, it would be her, and I think that can be expected.

Bellamy hasn't played in a bit, but considering she's as fit as ever, I doubt it'll be a lot for her to shake off the rust -- and of course, "captain" and "top producer" aren't always analogous.

Still, if we're talking long-term, and barring any bizarre decisions by the Whale front office, I think this is Marchment's team going forward. Her impact on the Whale transcends the scoring sheet -- as she goes, so does the team around her, but she also has the attitude of a leader, putting the team first and always maintaining a positive outlook. I think she would surely make a great captain for this squad.

Depth Scoring on the Rise

As mentioned earlier, Cornine is making the jump over to Connecticut from Metro after a quieter than usual season with the Rivs (4 G, 3 A in 24 GP). Her speed and tenacity are well-documented, and it's going to be super exciting to see her join a forward corps with this much skill and speed. I'm not sure if this was a slip since I don't recall the Whale either announcing this or stating hers was a two-year deal last year. However, Cornine's press release indicated Melissa Samoskevich was also a returner, which would just up the skill level immensely.

Justine Reyes (#14) with the puck on her blade on a breakaway chance on Toronto Six goaltender Elaine Chuli. Photo by Jonathan Sawn/Connecticut Whale
Justine Reyes (#14) with the puck on her blade on a breakaway chance on Toronto Six goaltender Elaine Chuli. Photo by Jonathan Sawn/Connecticut Whale

Two newer names that stood out to me last year within the forward corps were Caitrin Lonergan and Justine Reyes. Lonergan's name has been linked in signing rumors with the Boston Pride, but if the Whale can somehow retain her, they would retain some seriously good forechecking, and special teams work. Meanwhile, a lot of people slept on Reyes last season -- her speed and skill galvanized the offense, especially in the back half of the year, and I would love to see what she can do alongside a fellow speedster like Cornine.

Of course, with four major signings eating up a large part of the salary cap, the Whale are likely going to find it an uphill battle going forward if they want to either retain these kinds of players or introduce new ones with similar skills. Teams that narrowly missed the playoffs last year -- think the Rivs and Force -- are making strong cases to challenge Cup contenders of the past, including the Whale.

However, Connecticut has been able to build as a Founding Four franchise with a talented coach that players want to perform for will ensure the Whale will remain a challenge for any team looking to crack the top of the league.

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