Twice in her NWHL career, Kaleigh Fratkin has been on the cusp of reaching the top of the mountain and winning the championship. In the league’s first season she was a part of the Connecticut Whale team that won it’s first eight games and finished second in the standings. In the playoffs, they won the first game of their best-of-3 semifinal series against the Buffalo Beauts before dropping the final two games.
This past season Fratkin was a part of the Boston Pride team who went 23-1-0 and won their semifinal game against the Whale before the Isobel Cup Final was postponed and then eventually canceled because of the global pandemic that we find ourselves in.
One would think it would be exhausting to be so close, yet so far away from finally hoisting that Cup over her head. But in talking with the 28-year-old defender recently that wasn’t the vibe at all, in fact, she seemed as enthusiastic as ever about the prospects of the league, team, and her championship chase.
She has won a championship before though just not in the NWHL. A season before the league was formed Fratkin won a Clarkson Cup with the CWHL’s Boston Blades after she graduated from Boston University.
As we prepare for the NWHL’s sixth season Fratkin, a three-time All-Star, has her name all over the history of the league and its record books. She is currently fifth on the all-time points list (60) and first among defenders, second on the all-time assists list (49) and first among defenders, first on the all-time penalty minutes list (144), and third in games played (87).
This past season with the Pride she won Defender of the Year and her 23-point (3g-20a) campaign is the second-highest total by any defender in league history. Her 20 assists in a single-season are also the second-highest total in league history; in both cases, she is second to Amanda Boulier of the Minnesota Whitecaps.
Chasing the Cup
“We all thought this was gonna be the year to win the Isobel Cup,” Fratkin said via phone on July 1. “For myself, Lexi Bender too, and Demps (Jillian Dempsey) who hasn’t won it since the first season. A couple of us had been around for a while that really wanted a chance to do it. Hopefully, it happens before I retire and I’ll get the chance to do it! It (really) stinks with the season that we had and everything that happened, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Hopefully soon.”
The Pride dominated the league in nearly every statistical category. In addition to Fratkin taking home her award, Dempsey was named co-MVP, and Lovisa Selander won Goaltender of the Year. They were peaking too, as scary as that sounds, with two shutouts in the final two regular-season games and a 5-1 triumph over the Whale in the semifinals.
There has to be that hollow feeling of ‘we’ll never know’ who would have won the 2020 Isobel Cup. As a competitor, how can there not be? But this is the situation we’re in and you live with it, move on, and use it as motivation.
Pride Reloaded for Another Cup Run
In sports nowadays it is virtually impossible to keep the same exact team together for two consecutive seasons, but Boston is returning close to 75% of their squad. As if they needed more talent on the team, the upcoming Pride team could be as good as the previous one. How crazy is that to read, right? With some savvy trading by their GM Karilyn Pilch, Boston wound up with the first overall pick in the 2020 NWHL Draft and took Sammy Davis from BU. At press time Davis is one of five rookies on the roster for the upcoming season, with three other draft picks signed as well.
“It’s exciting,” Fratkin replied when asked about how the Pride roster looks as strong as ever with 17 total players signed already (12 returning players). “We have a great group of players returning who are super excited to be back and then we have all of these fresh, young players coming in right out of school with a lot of talent.”
“I was actually in an interesting situation this past year where I got to do some color commentating and analysis for NESN for Hockey East and women’s college hockey so it was kind of cool that I did games involving BU, UNH, Maine, the Hockey East championship,” she said. “So a lot of these girls that are coming in (to the league), I watched them all – whether it was in person or for research, and I was able to watch them from a real hockey analytical perspective. Obviously some were seniors, but I had no idea if they wanted to join in the NWHL.”
“It’s kinda funny wearing both hats and now some of these players are going to be my teammates. After watching them all play – they are really, really good hockey players, so I’m excited about what they are going to bring to the Pride. They’ll be young rookies in the league and it will be fun to be a part of that,” added Fratkin.
“Demps and I were talking recently about how wild it is that those girls entered into college knowing that they could play in the NWHL when they graduated. We joke around that we are getting pretty old, we’re gonna be the grandmas of the team! It’s a running joke – like crap, we’re gonna be the old ladies on the team!”
“All joking aside, it’s pretty cool that there is a path for them when they come out of college hockey,” Fratkin said. “Without being too sappy about that stuff, it’s pretty meaningful for me in my career and where I am right now. For all of the people who have been a part of this, to see this now with the incoming rookie class and the players who were drafted, this is pretty sweet.”
From Rivals to…Twinsies?
In speaking to both Fratkin and Dempsey for a recent article that examined rivals who became teammates, they both gave eerily similar answers about one another. For years they were rivals, and quite frankly really weren’t too fond of one another on the ice.
“Fratty and I laugh about having been opponents because I told her how much I couldn’t stand her when she was on the Whale or Rivs. I brought it up one time when she slashed me so hard that I just yelled, ‘Fratty, come on!’ Now it happens sometimes in practice (haha!),” said Dempsey via email.
“You can imagine how highly competitive our 3v3 portions of practice gets. We love it though, and one of the best parts of hockey is the dogfights and battles all over the ice. This season, we had epic 3v3 battles every week: forwards v defense. And it always got heated, physical, and intense – we love it. Everybody battles hard. It was always my favorite skate of the week,” added the Boston captain.
Here’s what Fratkin had to say: “Demps…I always played on the opposite side of her until I came to Boston. The two of us have a running joke about how we hated playing against one another. Even when I played for the Whale or the Rivs, we just hated playing against one another. We had this kind of competitiveness that when we were on the ice we did not like each other and that was kind of well-known between the two of us.”
“When we got on the same side and finally got to be teammates it was hilarious, something we joke about now. She’ll say, ‘Fratty I hated playing against you, but I love you on my team.’”
If it wasn’t clear from the however many hundred words above, Fratkin is having fun playing in the NWHL, and the NWHL is lucky to have someone as passionate and dedicated to growing the league as she is. “This past season was probably my favorite season in the NWHL, just because of how fun our practices were, and how competitive they were.”
After playing one season each with the Whale and Riveters, Fratkin has found her hockey home in Boston and will be entering her fourth season with the Pride. And maybe finally she will be able to capture that elusive Isobel Cup. Perhaps the sixth time is the charm. But winning the Cup does not define who she is and the impact she has had. Fratkin will always be an important pillar of the league and trailblazer for the game/sport.
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.