The CWHL’s Boston Blades are in last place with only two wins this season –– one earned in the shootout, the other in regulation –– firmly keeping the team out of the running for a place in the postseason for the second year in a row. While not stellar, that record has actually eased pressure on the Boston franchise, allowing the players and coaches to develop Boston’s game at its own pace, focusing on improving together rather than winning games.
“It’s always nice to win but if you go in not expecting that I think you find other bright spots on your team,” said Blades general manager Krista Patronick. “I think the little wins become more of the focus. Getting the job done, having all your lines be productive and move the puck well. I think [the record this season] has definitely put more focus on that and on the gelling of the lines.”
True to form, the Blades has seen steady improvement from last season to this and even game to game or weekend to weekend (as the CWHL teams play doubles against each other every weekend) the team continues to improve: generating more puck possession and shots against stronger teams, finding defensive pairings that work well together and improving its transition game. While it still comes up short most of the time against teams that have had years to recruit top-level talent, develop and play together its pluck and determination has made for a memorable season.
Per Patronick, the focus on the development of team and play over player has even led to some discovering a love for positions they hadn’t previously played, like Dakota Woodworth. Woodworth had played forward her entire career on the ice, but was asked to patrol the blue line a few times for Boston when the team was shorthanded.
“We’ve put her on defense several times,” Patronick said. “We were discussing an upcoming game and mentioned to (Woodworth) that we might put her on defense –– she was all for it. It allows them to truly find their joy in the game, and I think that’s really cool.”
That’s not to say that the Blades players are all right with losing so many games, or don’t care that their team has gone 2 for 22 but rather that the players and staff are actively trying to find the positive in the season. They have good reason to do so.
Although the Blades as a team has come a long way from the group of women that tumbled onto the ice last season, simply trying to ensure that the CWHL held onto its foothold in the Boston market, it is still clawing its way back from the brink. Many of its new players, however, who did not suffer through last season’s ignominious 1-23 record, find the constant losses difficult to deal with, both mentally and emotionally.
“It gets tough, losing,” said Patronick, when asked about the wear and tear dropped game after dropped game can have on the players, coaches and staff. “Last season was the season of no expectations, so when you add more [player] talent onto the team I think that’s hard because then you have these expectations of production that are holdovers from when they were with (successful NCAA programs).”
When players dropped into an environment where they’re not familiar with the majority of the players, the average pace of the game is faster and their team is so new that it itself is a handicap, the awakening can be rude and abrupt. That, however, is a lot of what led to the Blades’ mentality of focusing on small wins.
Eventually, enough small wins come together to form one big win.
“They come from programs, a lot of these rookies, where they’re used to winning,” Patronick added. “It’s normal for them. So when they come to the Blades and they’re thrown into this season where we’re still rebuilding, we have more talent but we still have to work…that was definitely a challenge.”
“It’s a very different environment from last year but I would say that it teaches them that they have to focus on the little things. They can’t just focus on winning. It certainly makes them cherish the win when it happens.”