For all five teams, playoff standings have come down to the final weekend of the regular season. But the Connecticut Whale have an advantage that none of the other four teams do -- they’re playing both of the final regular-season games on home ice.
The Whale host the Buffalo Beauts at 6 PM ET on Saturday before closing the regular season welcoming the Minnesota Whitecaps at 3 PM ET on Sunday. Connecticut will play both games in the friendly confines of Terry Conners Rink. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets.
“It’s a huge advantage to play these games on home ice,” said NWHL and Whale veteran defender Elena Orlando. “Especially when you have two teams that have to do a good deal of travelling. We’ll be able to sleep in our own beds and won’t have to deal with plane legs or bus legs.”
The Whale are currently battling the Metropolitan Riveters for fourth place and the right to host the play-in game between the fourth and fifth seeds. The Riveters have just one game remaining, against the Beauts on Sunday.
PHOTO BY BRYAN JOHNSON
With it all coming down to this final weekend, Orlando and the Whale are embracing the challenge. “It’s a mix of both pressure and excitement,” said Orlando. “It’s exciting, the idea of holding your fate in your own hands.”
The Whale lineup has been in flux of late, with five new players joining the team last weekend, including a pair of goaltenders in Boston University alum Erin O’Neil and former Whale goalie Shenae Lundberg.
“It’s been exciting to see what [all the new players] bring to the table” said Orlando. “Everyone is super skilled and has a different specialty and skillset, so it’s a nice way to round out the team chemistry.”
Now in her fourth season in the league, Orlando has had some experience with big moments like this weekend at the professional level. But the Whale roster is laden with players making their first NWHL playoff push. Orlando, however, is confident in her teammates’ abilities to face the moment.
“Everyone’s played in those big games in their career, so they know what’s coming,” she said. “I’m just trying to help them with what might be different in their playoffs as a pro.”
And she knows that the team has made big strides over the course of the season, all leading up to now.
“The team has our discovered our identity,” she said. “We know what we need to do to be successful.”