By David F. Pendrys
1.) It is apparent there was a miscommunication in the Chad Wiseman scrum, likely the author’s fault regarding a question over changes in systems. Despite the way the question was phrased the answer does not align with other reports suggesting he has admitted to changes in strategy. This suggests somehow the author’s approach was flawed. Thus please read his answer with care. Apologies.
2.) Arrived at camp by surprise so the report isn’t as complete as desired.]
NEWARK, NJ- A few veteran NWHL players and a cadre of newcomers participated in free agent camp over the weekend as General Managers and Coaches looked for players who could fill in their teams.
In addition to drills, the players participated in a 60 minute period with no interruption, and no coaches broken in two teams. There was not a full compliment of players meaning the skaters would be out for longer periods of time. There were several goalies who rotated in and out.
The list of players who attended included NWHL veterans, as well as recent college graduates and some not so recent graduates, plus a Russian, and two Japanese players. Sato Kikuchi, looked to be effective on defense from the thirty minutes of play witnessed.
The college players came from D1, D3, and even the club hockey level in quite a mix. In the 60 minute non stop frame, the goaltenders kept the score at 3-2 despite no breaks, no coaching, no existing team chemistry and fewer than usual defenders. Laura Brennan, another former Quinnipiac goaltender in the pro sphere, Mariah Blackmore (Mission), Alexa Pujol (Trinity) and Heather Rossi (Penn State) took turns in net. [Note: Rossi and Brennan were definitely there, am not certain if both of the others were there, at least one was.]
The veteran players stood out, showing leadership and trying to make things happen on their respective teams. “The pace was really good. That was a fast pace, especially four and four and it was a lot of fun too,” former CT Whale forward Danielle Ward said describing the process. When asked about how the players worked together thrown together for a scrimmage as they were, Ward attributed it to a “lot of communication, we definitely talk on the bench too like between shifts. Hey that worked, or that wasn’t so great.”
Teammates from last year’s Riveters campaign, Gabie Figueroa and Elena Orlando, noted they had a lot of ice time during the scrimmage due to the smaller rosters when responding to Jashvina Shah of The Victory Press.
When asked what they were looking to showcase in the camp to the GMs, Orlando said her “skill and work ethic,” and Ward ventured “puck movement.”
Dan Rice of THW’s questions led to an interesting thread of answers from Figueroa who dismissed being frustrated at having to go through the free agent process, and spoke later to parity in the league and how the other three teams can beat Boston:
“To be honest. I kind of think it’s exciting, the league has grown so much already and there’s great talent coming into league and so we’re just trying our best to stick in it.”
“The game is just going to get better. There is like I said a lot of talent coming into the league. It’s going to get faster and more exciting than it already was…I’m hoping to be on the Riveters again, whether it’s in a contract position, or as a practice player. I believe so much in Chad [Wiseman]’s systems. I am so happy for the players that he’s got coming in here. Between the talent and the team run by Chad I think they’re going to give Boston a good run.”
Orlando and Ward agreed the league would be more even moving forward.
The lone, rookie in the scrum, Dakota Woodworth, a recent graduate of Boston University was realistic in looking at trying to make the league. “It was really exciting to watch the inaugural season…but obviously you know you have to earn your spot wherever you go…it’s definitely going to be tough to crack but I think I’m ready.”
The players were open minded about accepting a practice player slot if a contract was not forthcoming though also collectively noted that logistics do matter.
GM and Coach of the New York Riveters Chad Wiseman, who surprised many over the off season with his quick acquisitions of key players from other teams and from the draft classes, there was a patience in filling the last few slots as he looked to the Buffalo camp as well. “We’re just trying to fill those holes right now with players that we need,” he said responding to a question from Shah about two forward slots and one defense slot being open. [This was prior to Michelle Picard’s signing.] “There was definitely some good options out there today. Looking forward to the Buffalo camp there to see. A bit bigger roster, a bit more game like situations there. So we’ll get a better feel after the Buffalo camp.”
When asked if he was changing his approach for year two he was quick to respond:
“No. I have a system. I believe in what I’m doing. You just go out and find the best hockey players you can. A good hockey player can play in any system. If you can’t find a hockey player who can play in your system, they’re probably not the kind of players that you want on your team and they’re not capable. We want hockey players, we want smart, smart hockey players that can play any system, any style. Here we’re just looking for girls that fit certain roles, whether we’re looking for checking forwards, girls that are willing to compete, blocked shots, penalty kill…”
Rice asked about the veterans and Wiseman spoke highly of them:
“I was also really impressed with our players from last year, Orlando and Figueroa. You can see that one year of experience out there. What a difference. They played at that level and they know that tempo and you can see that everything’s a little quicker in their game. Again they played that year of pro hockey and the other girls are coming out of college, so it’s just nice to see that development…they’re good people, they’re good hockey players. They bought into the system that we did, and you could see it out and it showed out there. They were noticeable.”
Wiseman did suggest some changes to the camp format in response to Shah focusing on more game type scenarios. “It just brings the intensity up. I remember when in NHL camps and all the sudden your out there with the best NHL players in the world, you have to up your game and that’s the same thing here.”
Despite praising the veteran’s Wiseman was less concerned with whether a player was a veteran or a rookie as long as they met his criteria. “I just want to surround the team with good character people that want to be here, and that are dedicated to be a part of this. I know there is a lot of players around the U.S. That want to join the league but it’s tough to be committed, different obligations, so we want to find those players that want to play hockey. We want the best players we can find, whether they’re out of college or not. The league’s so young. That one year. Does it make a difference yes, is it the end of the world, it’s not so I’m not too concerned.”
The Connecticut Whale’s GM Lisa Giovanelli expressed an interest in practice players as a focus for her efforts at camp when queried by Shah. “We’re definitely looking to fill some practice player spots…practice players played a huge role in the league last year with so many injuries so they were stepping in a lot so I think it’s really important for us to have very strong practice players. That’s what we’re seeing here and it’s great.”
When asked if signing core players like Whale Captain Jessica Koizumi and other veterans it would help recruitment the GM provided a firm “yeah definitely. A player like Koizumi, she’s a pioneer of her era for women’s hockey. So I think it definitely helps for the younger girls to see players like that that they can have as a mentor as a teammate.”
Rice was interested in how Giovanelli became familiar with the players. She lamented not being able to get to games due the newness of her position but also said while video helped she mainly talked to coaches who can give her a good impression of if a player can fit.
The NWHL Draft for next season will be held online Saturday June 18th.