The Connecticut Whale brought back another familiar face on April 20 when the club announced that they had re-signed defender Elena Orlando for her fifth season with the club. Orlando has been with the NWHL since its inception, playing with the then-New York Riveters before joining the Whale prior to the league’s second season.
“The NWHL’s success and its impact have reinforced my passion for growing the game for future generations,” Orlando said. “The past year was one of my favorites to date and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue playing the game I love.”
“I’m excited to be with the Whale for my sixth season in the league, and I look forward to joining my teammates in our pursuit of the Isobel Cup!”
This past season Orlando and the seven other original NWHLers were honored and named to the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game and following the 2016-17 season she was named a recipient of the NWHL Foundation Award – which is awarded to the players most actively applying the core values of hockey to her community as well as growing and improving hockey culture.
“As a veteran defender, Elena is a huge part of our core group,” said Connecticut GM Bray Ketchum Peel in the press release announcing the signing. “She stepped up big for us last season and we will continue to rely on her in all situations. Elena is a leader on and off the ice, and we are thrilled she is back for the 2020-21 NWHL season.”
A shot-blocking monster, Orlando has been a fixture on the penalty kill throughout her career, has appeared in 84 regular-season games, and another six playoff games during her NWHL career. The 27-year-old is still in search of that elusive first pro goal (it will happen!) but has recorded six regular-season assists and one playoff assist over the past five seasons. This past season Orlando was an alternate captain, set a career-high with three helpers and was third on the team with 26 blocked shots.
When she’s not ruining other players’ attempted shots, the California native is a nursing consultant for Key Human Services. The Connecticut-based company creates opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to grow and make meaningful life choices, and provides assistance for people to live, work, build relationships, and participate in the community.
If we’re being honest, she’s basically a bad-ass and a goddamn hero off the ice. As if that wasn’t enough, Orlando is also an assistant coach for the MidField Stars U12 Tier 1 team.
Pod Squad Ready to Roll
The veteran defender is the fifth player that the Whale has re-signed this off-season, joining fellow blueliner and original NWHLer Shannon Doyle, as well as goaltender Brooke Wolejko, and forwards Emma Vlasic and Kaycie Anderson. Connecticut really showed promise in the second half of the season and they won their first playoff game in four seasons (a 5-3 win in Buffalo) before falling to the Boston Pride in a tight semifinal game.
The foundation has now been laid down for the franchise to build upon and with many key returnees (and more expected) they should be able to hit the ground running once the puck drops on Season 6.
“Throughout the season we developed a lot of confidence and we were getting better each game. We had an awesome coaching staff (Colton Orr, Laura Brennan, Mike Bonelli) that made sure we were prepared and pushed us,” Orlando said via text.
“The chemistry and culture of the team was great, everyone bought into the game plan and supported each other. As a team, we were willing to do what it took to be successful, which pushed us forward to reaching the next level by the end of the season.”
“I think those factors are going to continue to help us start this next season strong,” added Orlando. “We’ve already got a great group of returning players signed, and I’m sure there are more to come who are comfortable with the systems, have that chemistry, and help any new player transition smoothly. That roll-over is really going to be important to setting the tempo for us at the onset (of next season).”
To be frank, Ketchum Peel inherited a broken franchise and very quickly has stabilized things. By the end of last season, she had a roster that could compete with any of the other four NWHL teams, which is something that couldn’t be said since the first season of the league. With returning veterans like Doyle, Orlando, and Anderson, and young, budding stars like Wolejko and Vlasic just starting to scratch the surface of their potential, the Whale could finally break through and reach their first Isobel Cup Final in the spring of 2021.