Connecticut Whale channel energy, emotion toward 'huge' home series versus Boston
By Rick Menning
In one of the most incredible 11-minute spans in the team's history, the Connecticut Whale found their rising tide and rode it to an emotionally uplifting opening weekend of Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) action in Morristown, New Jersey.
After more than four-and-a-half periods over Saturday and Sunday afternoon of being unable to get anything going against the host Metropolitan Riveters, the Whale put it all together with an amazing display of determination and resolve.
Trailing 3-0 nearly three-quarters of the way through the middle 20 minutes of Sunday's series finale at the Mennen Ice Arena, and coming off a 4-1 loss on Saturday, Connecticut's professional women's hockey team rallied for a franchise-record six consecutive goals in a single game and hung on for a 6-5 victory.
"The win on Sunday was a huge moment for us as a team because anytime you get down early it takes a massive amount of character to believe you can come back and be willing to fight for every inch," said Shannon Turner-Doyle, who recently returned to the squad and wears the 'C' on her jersey. "We did that and I am proud of this group for that!"
With the Isobel Cup champion Boston Pride coming to town on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 13 and 14 for the Whale's home-opening series, there's plenty to be excited about as The Pod prepares for its first game at Danbury Ice Arena since Dec. 29, 2019. The opponent in that contest? Also the Boston Pride.
Forward Alyssa Wohlfeiler totaled three goals and an assist, while former home state collegians Emma Vlasic (Yale) and Taylor Girard (Quinnipiac) each contributed a goal and an assist as the Whale left New Jersey with a 1-1 record.
The way the Whale surged back in Sunday's thriller was nothing short of spectacular, and the graduate of Northeastern University was a significant part of that.
"We made some adjustments (after the first period), and then nothing really happened right away but we stayed positive," added Wohlfeiler before the Whale laced up their skates and prepared to get back to work at Tuesday's practice in Milford. "We just kept talking on the bench and telling each other 'keep going, it's coming, it's coming, it's turning' and it did."
Critical time to shine
From the 14:59 mark of the second period to 5:39 into the final 20 minutes of Sunday's series wrap-up, the Connecticut road warriors were firing on all cylinders with the six-goal outburst that turned the three-goal deficit into a 6-3 advantage.
All this coming after the Riveters answered the first goal of the PHF season -- by Wohlfeiler off an assist from Hannah Bates just under five minutes into the weekend's first game -- with the next seven goals of the Nov. 6-7 match-up.
Then, while on a 5-on-3 power play, the Whale began their remarkable turnaround.
"We knew we had to take advantage of the 5-on-3," Wohlfeiler continued. "We had been executing much better and so being up two skaters we knew this could be the spark we needed."
During a quick charge into the offensive zone, Amanda Conway connected on a one-timer from the left side. Less than three minutes later and back to even strength, Taylor Marchin scored unassisted to pull the Whale within 3-2.
Then, with only 44 seconds remaining in the period, Wohlfeiler grabbed a loose puck just inside the blue line and fired home the equalizer from the top of the crease.
No letup in firepower
Riding a wave of momentum heading into the final period, Connecticut stayed supercharged and just 24 seconds after the faceoff Wohlfeiler again proved clutch. She completed a rush with linemates Taylor Girard and Catherine Crawley providing the helpers on her tip-in at the near post.
Emma Vlasic (3:15) and Girard (5:39) put the finishing touches to the Whale's offensive fireworks as Connecticut completed the series split.
For Girard, the Whale's top draft pick, the goal on a wrister from between the circles was not only her first as a pro but also the fact that it occurred during the rally made it even more noteworthy.
"Being drafted first overall like that was a very special moment ... and then being able to get my first goal was super special," said Girard, who ranked first on the QU Bobcats in scoring among seniors. "Obviously, when I got my first goal at Quinnipiac it was a big deal ... and now to do it at the next level is such a good feeling. It's hard to explain how special it is."
Then, to have it turn out to be the decisive tally made it extremely memorable.
"Having it end up being the game-winning goal was even cooler," Girard said. "It was really an awesome way to start my pro career."
Wohlfeiler, who finished the weekend series with three goals and an assist, was named the PHF's No. 1 star of the opening weekend.
Whale get three points
Connecticut Head Coach Colton Orr noted there are some significant takeaways from the Riveters' split.
"Losing that first one and then being down three on Sunday and still finding a way to get three points, we have to be happy about coming away with that win," Orr said. "We're going to take away from that weekend a lot of learning points and we're going to continue to build and grow."
The experience gained from the roller coaster of emotions over the entire weekend in New Jersey is something Orr feels will be a great positive heading into the next series.
"We learned it was as hard to keep that lead as it was to come back," he said . "There's so many learning tools to take away from that weekend. There were so many things that happened, good and bad, and we're going to learn from that as we look forward to playing Boston."
Some closing thoughts
Turner-Doyle: "I'm incredibly excited about us scoring seven goals this weekend as a whole ... a seven-goal weekend should always result in wins with the strong goalies (Abbie Ives and Mariah Fujimagri) we have as the backbone of our defense. I think focusing on not giving up quality red-zone chances is essential for us this weekend against Boston."
Girard: "I think we all collectively thought to ourselves that we need to kick it into gear. It all just started with picking off certain pucks and that gets the bench going and I think that's how we created our (scoring surge). It all just stemmed from different situations happening on the ice. Then, it's all energy driven."
Wohlfeiler: "We had them pinned and we felt good about that, so we said to each other on the bench to just stick with it. We can't let (closing rallies by the other team) happen. We're a young team and we're learning, so we'll get better at holding a lead and not taking our foot off the gas. We just have to make sure we're going the whole time."
Next Whale sightings
The Connecticut Whale make their 2021-22 home debut with an exclamation point when they take on the Isobel Cup champion Boston Pride (2-0) at the Danbury Ice Arena. Puck drop is at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
For complete ticket information and other details including pandemic requirements to attend the games, visit the Whale's team site at premierhockeyfederation.com.