When the Connecticut Whale hit the ice for their exhibition game against the University of Connecticut on Sept. 28, the National Women’s Hockey League squad will showcase a roster that includes several players with strong ties to The Constitution State.
The Whale’s visit to the Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs for a 3 p.m. contest will promote the sport at the very level where the push to become a professional can clear its final hurdle.
Playing in the Huskies’ arena will also give some Whale players, who either hail from or have strong collegiate links to Connecticut, the opportunity to go up against those who aspire to similar success as home state athletes.
Rookie goalie Brooke Wolejko (South Windsor), second-year forward Sarah Hughson (East Haddam), rookie forward Emma Vlasic and second-year defenseman Taylor Marchin (both from Yale University), and NWHL veteran defenseman Elena Orlando (Quinnipiac University) all have solid backgrounds in Connecticut women’s hockey.
Ketchum Leads by Example
First-year general manager Bray Ketchum is a former Yale standout who played forward for the Bulldogs and went on to help the Metropolitan (New York) Riveters win the Isobel Cup in 2018. The Greenwich native got her start playing youth hockey for the Greenwich Skating Club, the Connecticut Stars and Greenwich Academy.
During her time at Yale (2007-11), Ketchum played in 117 games and amassed 41 goals and 43 assists. She continues to work with the university as co-president of the Yale Hockey Association and is a co-founder and director of the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.
Schwartz, one of Ketchum’s teammates, was a three-time member of the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) Hockey All-Academic Team. She competed in 73 consecutive games with the Bulldogs before being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2008. The illness took her life in April 2011.
Established shortly after Schwartz’ death in that same year, the Foundation has centered its efforts around raising awareness for bone marrow drives, and its related importance of finding those willing to fulfill a critical need as donors.
“I am honored for the opportunity to represent the Connecticut Whale and the NWHL … I am excited to support those players who are now living their dream,” Ketchum said in an NWHL press release announcing her new position.
Emma Vlasic is another Bulldogs alumnus with a productive tenure. Falling just shy of Ketchum’s number of games with 114, Vlasic was a steady contributor with 23 goals and 23 assists. She relished her role as captain of the team her senior season.
Fellow Yalie Taylor Marchin also knows what it means to be successful on home ice at Ingalls Rink. Her career at Yale began in 2013 and spanned a remarkable 123 straight games. In her final season, she was the recipient of Second-Team All-Ivy League honors and shared the award for Most Valuable Player. She also won the coaches award and the Big Dog award (as top shot blocker).
Just a short ride up Interstate 91 in Hamden, Elena Orlando honed her skills at Quinnipiac. She’s entering her fifth season in the NWHL and fourth with the Whale.
Known for her shutdown defense and shot-blocking talents with the Bobcats, Orlando has played 61 games which is tied for fifth all-time among NWHL defenders. In 2017, she was a co-recipient of the NWHL Foundation Award.
Duo Has ‘Home’ Ice Advantage
Although their collegiate playing careers were out of state, Brooke Wolejko and Sarah Hughson take pride in their Connecticut roots, hailing from relatively small towns near the banks of the Connecticut River.
Wolejko wrapped up the 2017-18 season with the SUNY Plattsburgh Cardinals atop all NCAA Division-III netminders in goals-against average (0.95) and save percentage (.962). She posted six shutouts in 13 games during her senior season.
Hughson, who laced up her skates at Elmira College in New York, produced 17 goals and 21 assists over her first three seasons (98 games) with the Soaring Eagles. As a senior, she achieved AHCA (American Hockey Coaches Association) First Team All-American stature after logging 28 goals and 21 assists in 30 games.
The 2019-20 Whale roster also includes Kayla Meneghin (SUNY Plattsburgh), Shannon Doyle (Boston University), Jane Morrisette (University of Massachusetts Boston), Erin Hall (College of the Holy Cross), Kaycie Anderson (Norwich University), Kendra Broad (Lindenwood University/University of Western Ontario), Hanna Beattie (Williams College), Jordan Brickner (University of Wisconsin), Sonjia Shelly (St. Lawrence University), Cassandra Goyette (Nichols College) and Grace Klienbach (Neumann University).
The Whale stay in Connecticut following their game against the Huskies and open their regular season on Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Danbury Ice Arena against the Buffalo Beauts starting at 2:30 p.m.