There Is Plenty of NCAA Talent to Fill up NWHL Rosters

As of Jun. 25, 2019, there are 30 different players who have signed to NWHL rosters for the upcoming season. Despite that fact, there is still some concern among fans and media – and possibly even players and coaches as well – who are fearful that there are not enough quality players available for the league to fill its 2019-20 rosters.

This concern is primarily due to the #ForTheGame movement in which a sizable number of players are opting to boycott the entire season. The number typically thrown around is nearly 200 players in total. Many of those 200 are Olympians and/or quality professional players. It is understandable then that NWHL proponents would be concerned.

Mariah Fujimagari Maine Black Bears
Goaltender Mariah Fujimagari signed with the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts after having shared a #ForTheGame post on social media. All players have the right to change their mind, and pro-#ForTheGame does not necessarily mean pro-boycott (Photo Credit: Maine Athletics).

But let’s not jump to conclusions here.

For starters, #ForTheGame does not necessarily have things in a stranglehold. At least five players who once showed solidarity with the movement have since signed with an NWHL team. More are likely to follow, and that is only natural. People are allowed to change their minds without prejudice, and being #ForTheGame does not have to mean pro-boycott.

Furthermore, it is presumptuous to think that there is simply not enough players to go around – or – that the players who are available are not talented enough. Keep in mind that players like Hayley Scamurra played four years of NCAA Division I hockey and three professional seasons in the NWHL before USA Hockey finally took full notice of her skill and added her to the USA Women’s National Team for Espoo 2019.

Numbers alone would indicate that there are more diamonds to be found within the rough.

Leaving No Stone Unturned

That does not mean however that the NWHL should refrain from leaving no stone unturned. There a plenty of players out there who have the skill and the merit to play professionally. It is just a matter of seeking them out and asking them the question, “Would you like to play?”.

In fact, a sizable portion of the NCAA’s 2019 graduating class has players yet to be tapped by the league. Seniors from a wide number of programs have just finished up their schooling, and many are likely wanting to continue playing the game that they love. For some of them, there is a professional team right in their own backyard. Why not take advantage?

Maddi Welch Syracuse University
Goaltender Maddi Welch is in net as Syracuse battles it out with RIT (Photo Credit: Syracuse University Athletics).

Remember – it never hurts to ask. Maybe the player has no desire to play beyond college. Maybe the player wishes to boycott too. Maybe the player would be over the moon for an opportunity to play. No matter the case, it is always worth it to at least ask.

THW has come up with 12 players whom we feel that NWHL general managers should ask to play, if they have not asked already. These players could help round out a roster, if not be some of the league’s more promising players. We have listed them below in random order.

#12 Leah Olson (defense), Brown University

Leah Olson is a blueliner from East Harwich, Massachusetts. Playing for Brown beginning with the 2015-16 season, she has good size for a defender at 5-foot-9. A righty with her shot, Olson excels at firing shots and blocking some of her own.

Leah Olson Brown University
Unfortunately, Leah Olson missed most of her junior and senior seasons at Brown University due to injury. She may be a player who would like to extend her hockey career a bit longer by playing in the NWHL (Photo Credit: David Silverman).

What makes her an interesting player to consider is that she is likely hungry for more hockey. Olson’s career at Brown was very abbreviated. Two season-ending injuries drastically shortened both her junior (2017-18) and senior (2018-19) seasons to just one and five games respectively. Olson did not have the lengthier collegiate career that she deserved. She might welcome a chance to play for either the Boston Pride or Connecticut Whale, which are both near her hometown.

When Olson was healthy, she played back to back seasons of 29 games as both a freshman and a sophomore. In those seasons she blocked 49 and 43 shots respectively, while putting 100 shots on goal between the two seasons. Olson finished her career at Brown with six goals, 16 assists and 22 points in 64 games.

#11 Ana Orzechowski (defense), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

This 23-year-old defender is very much a stay-at-home blueliner. A native of the Buffalo (NY) suburb of Tonawanda, Ana Orzechowski played 105 games for RPI. In all of those games, the only point she ever generated was an assist against the Maine Black Bears on Sept. 24, 2016 at the beginning of her sophomore season (2016-17).

Orzechowski is a right-handed shot and stands at 5-foot-6. At the close of her 105 NCAA games she had accumulated 16 penalty minutes. In addition to her career at RPI, she is a former New York State Champion with Kenmore East High School in 2014-15, and a 2015 Pennsylvania State Champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 19U team.

She is not going to generate points, but Orzechowski could make for an insurance defender for her hockey club. Considering that she is a Western New York native, she is already located right in the Buffalo Beauts’ backyard.

#10 Shannon Strawinski (forward), Elmira College

Shannon Strawinski reached double digits in points during all four of her seasons at Elmira, and she just got better and better. Her honors in the four seasons she played between 2015 and 2109 include: 2016-17 ECAC West All-Academic Team, 2017-18 UCHC All-Academic Team, 2017-18 NCAA All-Tournament Team and a 2017-18 All-UCHC Honorable Mention.

Shannon Strawinski Elmira College
Shannon Strawinski reached double digits in points during all four of her seasons at Elmira College. A native of Toms River, New Jersey, she might be nice addition for the Riveters (Photo Credit: Elmira College Athletics).

Strawinski was nearly a point-per-game player too. In the 111 games that she played for the Soaring Eagles, she finished with 35 goals, 56 assists and 91 career points. Her finest season offensively came during her junior campaign (2017-18) when she set career highs for goals (13), assists (21), points (34) and games played (30).

The team Strawinski might most appeal to is the Metropolitan Riveters. The 5-foot-5 forward is a native of Toms River, New Jersey, which is just over an hour’s drive to Newark. Strawinski would make an ideal third or fourth-line player for the Rivs.

#9 Kenzie Lancaster (forward), Quinnipiac University

Kenzie Lancaster had four very solid seasons at Quinnipiac University, both as a playmaker on the ice and a leader in the locker room. Serving as an alternate captain during her senior 2018-19 season, she reached double digits in points for all but her freshman season with the Bobcats.

Lancaster has great size at 5-foot-10 and has a very long reach. Having that advantage certainly played a role in her ability to get pucks to others. She was the Bobcats leading scorer this past season with four goals and 21 assists in 36 games. Those 21 helpers were 10 more than any other player on the team. Lancaster also led the team in assists in 2017-18 when she generated 14 of them in 31 games.

That does not mean that Lancaster cannot bury the puck either. 10 times she scored goals in her sophomore season. She finished her NCAA career with 22 goals, 44 assists and 66 points in 133 games.

Lancaster did retweet pro-#ForTheGame social media posts but also retweeted posts from the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale too. Be that as it may, there is no reason to not at least reach out to Lancaster to see if she is interested in playing.

She would be a tremendous add for the Whale or any team. Being a native of North Carolina, she could end up being one of the growing number of players who have played in the league from that neck of the woods.

#8 Christie Honor (goalie), Dartmouth College

A two-time All-Ivy Honorable Mention, Christie Honor was the starting goaltender for the Dartmouth Big Green in both her junior (2017-18) and senior (2018-19) seasons. Honor is a native of Mississauga, Ontario and played her junior hockey with the Etobicoke Dolphins. She likely had some overlap in Etobicoke with Buffalo Beauts head coach Pete Perram, or they at least had some familiarity with one another.

Christie Honor Dartmouth College
Dartmouth goaltender Christie Honor is a native of Mississauga, Ontario. She played 61 games for the Big Green in her NCAA career (Photo Credit: Doug Austin).

Honor was named the ECAC Hockey Goalie of the Week in Feb. 2018 when she helped earn Dartmouth a three-point weekend against Clarkson and St. Lawrence universities. She made 83 saves, gave up a mere two goals, and came away with 0.94 goals against average and .976 save percentage to boot in just two games.

Come the close of her senior season, Honor put forth a career record of 10-42-5 in 62 games played. Far from the best of records, but what really stands out are her .910 SV% and her 3.05 GAA. Honor kept the Big Green competitive despite their record.

#7 Marie-Jo Pelletier (defender), University of New Hampshire

When THW interviewed Marie-Jo Pelletier nearly two years ago, we referred to her as a bit of a “Mighty Mouse”. While Pelletier may be a 4-foot-11 defender, she has no fear out on the ice and is a tremendous leader. Prior to graduating this past spring, she was the captain of the Wildcats beginning with her sophomore season of 2016-17.

Speaking to her mightier aspects, Pelletier is a superb shot blocker. Among all UNH skaters, she was never lower than fourth on the team in blocks. She tied for the team lead in 2016-17 with 69 of them in 35 games.

Marie-Jo Pelletier UNH Wildcats
Marie-Jo Pelletier University of New Hampshire Wildcats (photo credit: China Wong)

Pelletier has 143 NCAA games to her credit. In that time she scored 13 goals and 39 assists for 52 career points. Her finest season offensively was 2016-17 when she tallied eight goals and 11 assists in 35 games.

Being from Dalhousie, New Brunswick means that Pelletier is not particularly close to an NWHL city. However, considering that she played four seasons in the New England area might indicate a willingness to play for either the Whale or the Boston Pride. Pelletier would be a top-4 defender for most teams.

#6 Lydia Murray (forward), University of Maine

With Mandy Cronin as the Buffalo Beauts’ general manager, two of the three 2019 offseason signings the team has made are former Maine Black Bears. It would stand to reason that Cronin will likely add one more before all is said and done. That one more could be forward Lydia Murray.

Hailing from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, it is not like Murray’s hometown is in close proximity to Buffalo – in fact, it is over an 8-hour drive away. However, former Black Bears teammates Brooke Stacey (Kahnawake, Quebec) and Mariah Fujimagari (Markham, Ontario) are on the team as well. It has been quite common in previous seasons for Beauts players from outside of Buffalo to live nearby together or commute with one another to games.

Lydia Murray Maine Black Bears
Maine Black Bears alum Lydia Murray would make an ideal third-line center and specialty-teams player for either the Buffalo Beauts or Metropolitan Riveters (Photo Credit: Mats Bekkevold).

What is nice about Murray is that she would make an ideal third-line center and specialty-teams player. She has good size at 5-foot-10. She took well over 1,500 face-offs in her four seasons at Maine. Murray also blocked 64 shots. In 111 NCAA games played, she scored 16 goals and 24 assists for 40 career points. Three of her 16 goals came on the power play, one was shorthanded, and four were game-winners.

Murray also does not necessarily have to go to Buffalo. Another Black Bears teammate – Cailey Hutchison – has signed with Metropolitan. Murray could be a good fit with the Rivs as well.

#5 Kelsey Crow (defender), Penn State

The captain of the Nittany Lions would make a nice addition to the Minnesota Whitecaps’ blue line. 5-foot-5 defender Kelsey Crow has been an alternate captain for Penn State since her sophomore season in 2016-17, and before assuming the reigns as captain of the squad during her recent senior campaign. She is a leader in women’s hockey if there ever was one.

Crow is originally from Minnetonka, Minnesota. Three of the six players the Whitecaps have signed since NWHL Free Agency opened on May 15, 2019 are also Minnesota natives. Crow served as the captain of Minnetonka High School’s Women’s Hockey Team in 2014-15.

Her performance in four seasons at Penn is solid. Her point totals from the back end increased with each season that she played. At the end of this past season, Crow had played 121 NCAA games. She scored 10 goals and 33 assists in the process.

Furthermore, Crow was named an All-CHA First Team player in 2017-18, and a Second Team player in 2018-19. Returning to Minnesota to play professionally might make an ideal situation for the 22-year-old who will turn 23 in October.

#4 Maddi Welch (goalie), Syracuse University

Much like Isobel Cup-winning goalie Kim Sass, former Syracuse Orange goalie Maddi Welch is a native of East Amherst, New York – a suburb of Buffalo. And like Sass too, Welch could be an ideal candidate for a backup role with either the Beauts or the Riveters.

The Beauts have historically shown a penchant for signing alums of the Nichols School, a nationally recognized college preparatory coed independent school with some very good hockey teams. Welch assembled an astounding high school record for Nichols of 88-10-6. She is also a local product of Western New York youth teams, the Buffalo Bisons and Niagara Purple Eagles.

Maddi Welch Syracuse University
Goaltender Maddi Welch is a native of the Buffalo suburb of East Amherst. Could she serve as a backup goalie for her hometown Beauts? (Photo Credit: Syracuse University Athletics).

Once she joined Syracuse, Welch would see action in the Orange net during all four of her NCAA seasons. She would be the starting goalie for her senior season. Welch posted a record of 8-13-2 in 2018-19, with a shutout over Penn State on Nov. 13, 2018.

Welch’s career totals amount to 10-17-2 across 34 games. That includes a .878 SV% and a 3.06 GAA. Welch would make a decent backup or tertiary goalie for any of the NWHL’s five teams, but would likely be more comfortable based closer to home.

#3 Katherine Murphy (defense), Robert Morris University

We have mentioned Katherine Murphy as a potential signing in the past, but it bears repeating. Riveters’ GM Kate Whitman Annis already has older sister Colleen Murphy inked to her roster. Two Murphys are always better than one, and Whitman Annis would have a very natural defense pairing if she had the two sisters together. Both of them already play with the Carolina Lady Hurricanes, a USA Hockey Women’s Division B team.

Graduating from Robert Morris after the 2017-18 season, Katherine Murphy has yet to make her professional debut. That will likely change for 2019-20. The younger Murphy is a veteran of 137 NCAA games for the Colonials. She scored four goals and 55 assists in her career.

Though Katherine is not a true member of the 2019 NCAA graduating class, she would still be a 2019 NWHL rookie like any of the other players we are mentioning. She plays a rather similar style to her sister, in that she plays a larger game than her actual 5-foot-3 and can be utilized in any type of situation. We are envisioning Katherine and Colleen being paired together as the top penalty-killing D unit for the Riveters.

The other thing to consider though is that the NWHL has yet to have a pair of sisters play against one another. It would indeed be something to see if Katherine Murphy ends up on a team other than the Riveters.

#2 Sammy Kolowrat (defender), University of Vermont

The NWHL could add some international flair by signing Czech defender Sammy Kolowrat. The 5-foot-8, 135-pound blueliner just recently graduated from the University of Vermont where she captained the team in 2018-19. Kolowrat was an alternate captain in her junior season as well.

While with the Catamounts, Kolowrat played in 141 NCAA games. She turned in eight goals and 20 assists for her team during that time. While her offensive numbers may be modest, Kolowrat made certain to negate the numbers of her opposition. She blocked 131 shots in her career, including a career high of 45 in 2017-18.

Sammy Kolowrat University of Vermont
Defender Sammy Kolowrat just finished four seasons at the University of Vermont, and is a member of the Czech Republic Women’s National Team (Photo Credit: Brian Jenkins).

Since the 2012-13 season, Kolowrat has been a member of the Czech Women’s National Team. She has played in four IIHF Women’s World Championships and two Olympic qualification tournaments. In 21 World Championship games, Kolowrat has scored a goal and an assist, and is a plus-1.

Kolowrat spent part of her high school years at Connecticut’s own Choate Rosemary Hall, a private, co-educational, college-preparatory boarding school in Wallingford. Her familiarity and comfort-level with the New England area make her a good signing for the Connecticut Whale’s blue line.

#1 Emily Bergland (forward), Bemidji State University

Though born in Chicago, Illinois, forward Emily Bergland grew up primarily in Minnesota’s Thief River Falls. Oftentimes there is something in genetics as Bergland’s father Tim is a University of Minnesota alum, and a former member of the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.

After coming to Bemidji State in 2015-16, the younger Bergland reached double digits in points in all but her freshman season. She consistently remained at the top of the stats columns for the Beavers. Scoring just three goals and an assists in 35 games her first year, Bergland exploded in her sophomore season with 16 goals and nine assists in just as many games. Both her goals and points led all Bemidji players that season.

After that, Bergland finished second on the team in scoring in 2017-18 and 2018-19. She was in a three-way tie for most goals scored for the Beavers in 2017-18. Wrapping up her NCAA career this past season, Bergland had played in 144 games and had scored 37 goals, 36 assists and 73 points.

Bergland could handle second or third line duties, and could possibly even work herself up to a top-line spot. Keeping close to Minnesota, she would make an ideal signing for the Whitecaps. It might be interesting to see her on a line with Jonna Curtis and Allie Thunstrom.