PHOTOS BY BRYAN JOHNSON
The Connecticut Whale have been playing like a team with a point to prove. That point? “We can skate and compete with any team in the league,” said assistant captain and original Whale member Shannon Doyle.
Connecticut took the first-place Boston Pride to overtime on Sunday, ultimately falling 2-1 in a defensive battle, but earning a point against the red-hot Boston team. “The Pride handled the Whitecaps easily looking at the scoresheets from those games, and we wanted to make sure we went into the game with a strong focus and play a full 60 minutes,” said Doyle, who was pleased with the team’s effort.
The tilt with the Pride was Connecticut’s first game at Terry Conners Rink since October 7. The team returns this weekend for its fourth and final matchup of the regular season with the Riveters at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Stamford. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets.
Doyle and the Whale are fully embracing that underdog role this season. “It’s not about looking at where we are now, it’s about how you finish the year,” said Doyle. “We’re making sure we take every game as a learning experience and to better ourselves each step of the way, so we can take what we learned the whole season and come out on top.”
As a veteran and member of the Whale’s leadership group, Doyle has been working to help the many new faces on the team adjust to the league.
“They’re very eager to learn,” said Doyle of the newcomers. “Not just from me and Juana [Baribeau] and [Emily] Fluke, but from [Elena] Orlando and Jordan [Brickner] and the other veterans, to learn what it means to play at this level. From Day 1, they’ve been putting their heads down and grinding. They’re a great group.”
Over her four seasons, Doyle’s role on the team has continued to evolve, and she likens the evolution to the path of a collegiate career. “When you’re in your first year, you’re there to learn and taking things in as you go,” she said. “When you become a senior or a leader, you really help shape the team’s mentality and how we view ourselves. You have to be consistent in getting to the gym and setting that expectation, and consistent in practice going hard every rep, and consistent in games playing at a high tempo and doing whatever’s needed of you.”
Doyle has not only been a consistent force for the Whale defensively, she’s also contributed on the other end, with goals in each of Connecticut’s wins this season. In fact, she scored the game-winner on Nov. 18 against the Riveters with 1:19 left to give the Whale their first victory of the campaign.
Connecticut has taken five of six points in their first three meetings with the Riveters – which came in a three-week span – with a pair of wins and a shootout loss. The Whale can take the season series with a win on Sunday.
“It comes down to the first and last five minutes of every period,” said Doyle. “Hockey is a game of momentum and we have to set the tempo. We have to be starting each period strong and finishing the same way.”
Sunday’s tilt will be the second in a three-game homestand for the Whale, after playing most of the first half of the season on the road. Doyle noted the benefit of the comfortability of routine at home, but knew that Cetacean Nation was with them, even on the road. “It was nice to have familiar faces in the stands, but the Whale fan base really follows us wherever we go,” she said. “We always have a solid collection wherever we are, so we never feel like we don’t have our fans behind us.”