ALL PHOTOS BY TROY PARLA
It’s been nearly three months since the Connecticut Whale have played a game at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford, Connecticut. The Whale were the “home” team in a neutral site game in Pittsburgh on December 2 but haven’t played in their home state since October 7.
That all changes on Sunday, when the Whale return to the friendly confines of Terry Conners for a matchup with the first-place Boston Pride. The Whale will be celebrating Hockey New Year at the game, with special New Year’s-themed promotions. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets.
“Being away for so long has really helped us come together as a group,” said rookie forward Nina Rodgers, who was a 2017 NWHL Draft Pick out of Boston University. “Being in the hotels all the time is like when you’re playing in college. It really helps you bond.”
The growing chemistry amidst one of the league’s most revamped rosters becomes increasingly more apparent with each game. The Whale took five of six points in three straight games against the Metropolitan Riveters, including a dominant 4-0 win in Pittsburgh, where Rodgers scored her first career goal. Even the Whale’s last game before the break, a 3-1 loss in Buffalo, showed signs of great improvement after the Beauts had taken a pair of games from Connecticut by a combined score of a 11-0 in the first two weeks of the season.
“We’ve been harping on making faster decisions,” said Rodgers of the team’s growth. “We want to make the right decisions but make them faster. We were thinking too much. We know how to play, so it’s a matter of having that confidence level and just having fun playing the game we love.”
A standout at BU, Rodgers has settled right in with the Whale and is tied for third in points on the team with a goal and two assists.
“I’m having lots of fun and getting a lot of chances and shots on net,” said Rodgers. “It helps to have great players around me.”
After two weekends without games for the holiday break, Rodgers and the Whale are more than ready to be back in action. “We’ve all been putting in work away from the rink, and we hold ourselves and each other accountable,” said Rodgers. “We’re ready to come back Friday for practice, and we got in some great practices before the break. We’re still working.”
Going nearly three months without a true home game was not the only anomaly in the first half of the Whale’s schedule – they’ve played three games against both the Beauts and Riveters, but none against the Whitecaps and just one against the Pride. In their first matchup, the Whale did battle with the Pride, tying the game at two late in the second period before Boston grabbed the game-winner and an empty-netter in the third.
“They’re a fast-paced team with great players,” said Rodgers of the Pride. “We just have to make the right plays and make the simple plays, and we’ll be able to give them a run for their money.”
And for a rookie like Rodgers, she’s ready to have the hometown crowd behind her once again. “It will be so much fun having the Whale fans with us again,” she said. “We’re excited to finally be coming home and getting the chance to show them how much we’ve gotten better.”