This has been one of the most interesting seasons in women’s hockey. Less than a month into the season, the newest players in the two leagues have had the biggest impact on their teams. Several rookies in the NWHL and CWHL have jumped into the lineup and played a huge role in the success of their clubs, and this includes the first-year players on the Connecticut Whale.
After a season-opening loss to the Buffalo Beauts, the Whale have won two games in a row. Their victories have not been concise. They haven’t been overwhelming teams from puck drop to the final horn, but a win is a win.
The team has a tendency to get caught scrambling in their own zone, and their every-other-game system for their goaltenders has led to some inconsistencies. Despite these shortcomings, the Whale have had no problem scoring.
Both the defensive woes and the offensive prowess can be attributed to the fact that the Whale have an entirely new look this season. Connecticut has taken on several players who are new to the league in an effort to regain its mantle as the top team in the NWHL. While many players have had an impact after just three games, there is absolutely no denying the importance of Haley Skarupa to the Whale.
The former Boston College standout scored a hat trick in her first game and has added to the total since then, netting five goals in three games this season. Add to that Skarupa’s four assists, and the talented forward has had a hand in nine of the Whale’s 15 goals.
With an average of 3.00 points per game and the average margin of victory for the Whale at 2.00, Skarupa is statistically the difference maker for Connecticut.
Skarupa has struck a nearly magical connection with linemate and Team USA teammate, Kelli Stack. The pair has worked seamlessly to slice through opposing defenses like a surgical team. Skarupa is as efficient at scoring as she is at seeing another player’s opportunity to score. There is no other rookie in the women’s hockey who has had a better start to their career.
Skarupa and Stack have been joined on the top line occasionally by Nicole Connery. The speedy forward is a Quinnipiac graduate, and the fourth player in the history of QU to score over 100 points in their career, capped off by 37 points in 38 games through her senior year. Connery is a speedy left wing who perfectly compliments Stack and Skarupa.
She’s contributed six points on the season (two goals, four assists;) essentially, the Whale’s top line has scored more than half of the team’s goals themselves.
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) October 16, 2016
Connery and Skarupa are also the only Whale players to have converted on the power play. Just about the only thing these two rookies haven’t done is play goaltender. Yet.
If there is one weakness to the pair’s game, it is work in the defensive zone. Despite Skarupa’s impressive scoring stats, the young right wing is a plus-one on the season, which means she’s been on the ice for eight of the team’s 10 goals against at even strength. Twice, the team has allowed the Buffalo Beauts to overcome four-goal deficits. If the Whale hopes to continue their success, the team’s rookies are going to have to tighten things up in their own zone.
Skarupa will join Team USA on their quest to repeat as Four Nations Cup champions.
Stack, Skarupa, and fellow Whale rookie Dana Trivigno will represent Connecticut on the National Team, along with several other players from the NWHL. When they return, they will have a tough matchup against the undefeated Boston Pride and most of their NT teammates. It’s going to take another strong game from Skarup and Connery to hand the Pride their first loss of 2016.