PREVIEW: Whale Looking Forward to Extended Stay at Home
By Dan Rice
If you’ve watched the Connecticut Whale the past few seasons, you know all about the team's struggles to generate offense. If you're expecting to see more of the same this Saturday and Sunday when they host the Minnesota Whitecaps at Danbury Ice Arena, you could be in for a surprise; this is definitely not last year's Whale.
Connecticut may be 0-2-1 to start the season, but they've also scored nine goals in their last three games. With 10 of their next 11 games at their new home in Danbury, the Whale are looking forward to continuing their growth as a team, as well as picking up their first win of the season. They plan to use what they learned about themselves going forward, both the good and the bad.
“There were definitely some positives for us last weekend,” said rookie defender Erin Hall. “It was also disappointing, which is good because you want to feel those losses when you were so close to winning. And maybe next time you’ll be able to complete the job. There were moments in both games where we looked amazing on the ice and those are the things we need to hold on to and remember for our upcoming games. The things we didn’t do well we are working on already and we are choosing to use it as a learning experience.”
“What would hockey be without failure right? If you’re not failing, you’re not growing,” Hall added, sounding like a savvy veteran. “It’s all a part of the process.”
Part of the process for Connecticut will involve a different opponent, which their players are welcoming after three straight gut-punch losses against the Buffalo Beauts. “Yes. Yes, I am,” Grace Klienbach replied with a laugh when asked if she was looking forward to not seeing Beauts’ blue on the other side of the ice on Saturday afternoon. “We’re excited to see and play against new faces, and against a different system, especially after this past weekend.”
Hall echoed Klienbach’s statement about the upcoming series with the Whitecaps. “I’m very excited to play anyone else besides Buffalo,” she added with a smirk. “We know they’ll be prepared and ready to go and we’re looking forward to getting into the win column.”
If the Whale can continue to put up four goals a game like they did this past weekend, they will surely find that elusive win sooner rather than later. “Our lines are working well together and with the things we have been working on in practice I feel like we have definitely gotten better and will continue to with every game and practice,” said Klienbach who looks like a much different player than she did in her first go-round with the franchise.
“I’m excited to see where the season goes," the second-year forward added. "We were talking after the game in Buffalo Sunday about how we have a lot more offensive ability now than in previous seasons, and that’s exciting. It just feels different. I really like this group of girls and things can change, but I’ve really liked being on a line with Emma (Vlasic) and Sarah (Hughson). We work really well together and are feeding off of each other a lot on the ice."
So what’s changed for the 25-year-old Klienbach? "I don’t really know what changed, to be honest,” she replied with a chuckle, “but whenever I’m out there I feel like a different hockey player than I was in college and different from when I previously played for Connecticut.”
“I’m in a way better spot mentally and physically in addition to my hockey skills. I’m pretty excited and I do feel more confident now when I’m out on the ice,” she added. That’s been evident by the 10 shots she has put on net, which ranks second on the team.
On the backend, Hall is meshing well with the other four Connecticut blueliners and has been a solid addition to the defense corps. “So far it’s going well. We have only five D so we do a rotation and that gives me the opportunity to play with more than one partner which I like because it keeps things interesting,” said the 24-year-old Hall.
“Being able to play with those three veterans (Shannon Doyle, Jordan Brickner, Elena Orlando) who have been in the league since its inception is awesome because I can learn so much from them. Just watching them from the bench during games I notice small things they do and why they really are the leaders of our team. I consider myself lucky because I’ve already learned so much only three games in,” added Hall.
Thirteen of their 16 skaters have already recorded at least one point and the Whale are averaging over 30 shots per-game. With 21 games to go, it looks like a certainty that this group will be the most dynamic that Connecticut has had since its first season. The Whale will be able to test their awakening offense against the Whitecaps this weekend.
The Whale are hosting the visiting Minnesota Whitecaps at the Danbury Ice Arena on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. EDT and Sunday, Oct. 27 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Tickets for all games are available now at www.nwhl.zone/tickets and at the arena on the day of games.
Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson