It took a few seasons but the Connecticut Whale may have found themselves a bonafide number one center in rookie Emma Vlasic. She has been a solid contributor at both ends of the ice through the team’s first five games and she has found chemistry quickly alongside her linemates. Vlasic’s two goals are tied for the team lead and her 14 shots on goal are good for third on the team thus far.
The Whale have been the most offensively challenged team in the NWHL for a few seasons now, but all of that has changed this year with some savvy additions by GM Bray Ketchum Peel like signing Vlasic from her alma mater at Yale University.
Not Your Average Rookie
Although it’s only a small sample size, the 23-year-old hasn’t looked overmatched at all while playing against some players that have a few more years of experience playing at the professional level than she does. But below the surface, there have been some small adjustments as she told us following her team’s home game against the Minnesota Whitecaps.
“Speed and strength,” she replied when asked if she needed to make any adjustments. “I think the girls are definitely a lot stronger (in this league). It’s an older group (of players in the league) where people are more established and are used to the pace. I’ve enjoyed adjusting to that.”
“Thinking the game quicker is definitely a part of it too,” she added. That hasn’t been an issue at all for Vlasic in the face-off dot where her 69 wins (in 110 tries) are third-most in the league currently. In both home games against the Whitecaps, the former captain at Yale was dominant in the dot, and she did it against some premier players both afternoons.
“Playing up the middle (against Minnesota) they have some strong centers that can really shoot the puck so I think it’s important to stay on them and try to not give them time and space in our zone,” she replied when asked how she was effective in all three zones. “I try to always get a body or stick on them. Those skilled players you have to try to limit their time and space. If you take care of the defensive zone, then we’ll have good chances offensively.”
In Saturday’s game she was 12-9 in the face-off circle and on Sunday she was even better, finishing 18-5. Saturday’s loss was by a 7-2 score, but anyone who saw it will tell you the game was way closer than that. Sunday’s game should have been Connecticut’s first win of the season, but instead, the Whale lost a heartbreaker 3-2 after leading 2-1 with 2:31 left in regulation.
“I think we’re getting better every game. We had too many mishaps today but I think we are really good in spurts and if we can be more consistent on the ice on a game-to-game basis that is where we will find more success,” Vlasic said after Saturday’s loss.
“We’re creating a lot of opportunities offensively, it’s just defensively where we have to buckle down a little bit more. We saw today (vs. Minnesota) they have some good shooters and (in the future) we can’t give them the same kind of respect we gave them today. We just have to be tighter defensively.”
This season the line of Vlasic with two second-year NWHLers – Grace Klienbach and Sarah Hughson – has been dynamite. The trio has nine points already (4g-5a) for a Whale team that has already potted 13 goals total after only putting up 22 goals in 16 games last season. “I really like this group of girls, and things can change, but I’ve really liked being on a line with Emma and Sarah,” said Klienbach. “We work really well together and are feeding off of each other a lot on the ice.”
It shouldn’t be long before Connecticut surpasses last season’s goal total as well as the previous season’s total (26) and the Vlasic-Klienbach-Hughson trio will surely be at the center of any future success that they have this season.
“Grace is one of the fastest skaters I’ve ever played with, so she’s fun to play with and she sees the ice well. Sarah has a great sense for the game, she’s able to find us with the puck and she’s in the right spots on the ice,” Vlasic said of her new linemates. “I think that’s a big thing for our line, knowing where to find each other. We’re able to cycle the puck down low and we all have a good hockey IQ so we’re able to find each other in spots where we should be. We’ve been emphasizing playing with pace, playing with speed. Move the puck quickly and play a fast game out there.”
For all of their