For the first time since the first and second seasons of the franchise, the Connecticut Whale will have a familiar face guarding the net in back-to-back seasons. On April 1 the Whale announced they re-signed goaltender Brooke Wolejko, bringing back the backbone of their team and the winner of their first playoff game since 2016 (four seasons).
“Accepting the opportunity to re-sign with the Whale was an easy decision after such an unforgettable season,” Wolejko said in the press release announcing her signing. “I had a blast this season and am really grateful for the opportunity to continue playing the game I love.”
As a rookie Wolejko took the reigns as the starting netminder midway through the season, making 11 regular-season starts and two in the playoffs, finishing with a 2-8-1 record; she went 1-1 in the playoffs. The South Windsor, Connecticut native made at least 45 saves five separate times and finished fourth in the NWHL in save percentage (.914).
“Brooke showed tremendous growth in her rookie season with our team. She brings a calm, confident presence to the net and is a great teammate,” said Connecticut’s GM Bray Ketchum. “The Whale organization is thrilled to welcome Brooke back for the 2020-21 season, and we look forward to watching her continue to succeed.”
In just her third start as a professional Wolejko announced her presence with authority, turning aside 56 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss to the then-undefeated Boston Pride. In her fifth start, the 23-year-old picked up her first pro win, making 37 saves in a 4-3 overtime win against the Metropolitan Riveters.
“I’m just trying my best to keep my team in games,” Wolejko said after a late-season loss to the Pride where she stopped 46 of the 48 shots she faced. “I just try to stay calm when I’m getting peppered like that, do my best to control my rebounds which gives me a better chance for success.”
“I’m just trying to have fun and soak in the experience of playing in this league. I’m very grateful to be able to play hockey again.”
Fans of the Whale are surely grateful to have their #BrookeWall back for another season, giving the team some much-needed stability at the goaltender position as they set their sights on finally capturing an Isobel Cup.
Connecticut’s Crease Guardian
Following the regular season, Wolejko was named one of the NWHL Fans’ Three Stars of the Season and they weren’t the only people that she impressed. “To see the development of Brooke over the course of the season was amazing. She easily turned into one of the best, if not the best goalie in the league,” said teammate Emma Vlasic of her fellow rookie. “After seeing what we are capable of we just have to put that into a full season next year.”
The Connecticut netminder set a team record for saves in a season with 458 and averaged a league-best 38.55 saves per-60 minutes during the regular season. Prior to joining the Whale last season, Wolejko played three outstanding seasons at St. Lawrence University and one season at Plattsburgh State (2017-18). While at Plattsburgh State she led all NCAA D-III goalies in GAA (0.95) and save percentage (.962).
“We showed a lot of grit and I’m really proud to be on a team with teammates who are so passionate, and coaches who believe in us,” added Wolejko. “The NWHL’s commitment to advancing professional women’s hockey really shows the league’s belief in us not only as athletes but women. I am excited to be a part of building a future for our younger generation of female hockey players.”
In addition to her duties tending goal for the Whale, Wolejko is also a coach with Pro Crease Goaltending, where she works with goalies from the youth to the prep level. In addition to that, she is also an intern for Dr. Jason Emery, a sport and clinical psychologist.
With Wolejko returning for next season Ketchum can now turn her attention to bringing back some other key pieces from this past season like Vlasic, captain Shannon Doyle, Hanna Beattie, and Kayla Meneghin.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.