Rosters across the National Women’s Hockey League look a little different this season.
With several players defecting as a part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, there’s a large group of rookies who will get their first looks across the league. Even teams that return talent have new players who have earned spots.
Minnesota remains the cream of the crop, while the rest of the league is full of wild cards.
It could be another tough go of it in New Jersey this season.
Defending their Isobel Cup championship last season didn’t go exactly as planned for the Riveters, either. They have a new coaching staff, but like everyone they were hit hard by losses, including Amanda Kessel.
Kendall Cornine will be looked upon to be an offensive leader, along with captain Madison Packer. Nearly their entire defense turns over, aside from Rebecca Morse, and Sam Walther is the new starter in net after appearing in five games with the Connecticut Whale last season.
The Riveters also have a new rink in Monmouth Junction, and their partnership with the New Jersey Devils of the NHL was cut short, so it’s a season of turnover all around.
Perennially at the bottom of the league standings, the Whale would like to put a 2-12-2 season behind them. They bring back a core of Shannon Doyle, Elena Orlando and Jordan Brickner, who have been there for almost everything, and that’s as good as any other returning player group in the league. Losing Emily Fluke to Boston, though, might be one of the toughest offensive blows in the league.
Sonjia Shelly is the likely to take over in net for Meeri Raisanen, who signed in Sweden in the offseason. Shelly had a 2.16 goals against average a year ago at St. Lawrence. Goaltending has always been Connecticut’s strength, even when it has struggled to score or get going in other areas historically.
Former NHL enforcer Colton Orr takes over as head coach, where his goal will be to bring the Whale out of the basement. Given the loss of talent across the board in the league, it might be feasible.
The defending champs return some of their core, but like everyone else, lost key pieces. A total of 12 players are gone, including Kendall Coyne Schofield and Lee Stecklein.
Those aren’t easy players to replace. Minnesota won the title a year ago for a reason, and a lot of the team’s core is gone now. Audra Richards and Nina Rodgers are solid additions added through free agency who can help move the offense.
It’s not as bad as some teams; Buffalo was hit hard, and didn’t add many replacements. Minnesota at least has superstar Jonna Curtis returning, with an experienced goalie in Amanda Levielle and Amanda Boulier still leading the blue line.
The Beauts may have been hit hardest by the PWHPA defection. Gone are Hayley Scamurra, Maddie Elia, Blake Bolden, Kelly Babstock, Savannah Harmon, Shannon Szabados, and Nicole Hensley.
That’s not an insignificant group. Elia broke out a year ago, as did Scamurra, and Szabados and Hensley are both Olympic-level goalies. They’ll try to replace that goaltending production with former CWHL goalie Mariah Fujimagari, who faced a plethora of shots a year ago with the struggling Worcester Blades.
Just having a better defense in front of her will help, but it’s not going to be an easy path for the Beauts to get back to their fourth straight title game. Corinne Buie returns as a veteran forward, and she’ll carry a lot of the load there. Taylor Accursi is back as well, and have a larger role.
The defense is far from complete, but UNH graduate Marie-Jo Pelletier is someone to watch on the blue line in her rookie season.