This past week in the NWHL we saw the sale of one of the four franchises that weren’t independently owned (but is now), as well as our first player signing for the league’s upcoming seventh season. The restricted free agent period ends on May 15, meaning that in a day any player is free to sign with any team at any time. Typically there are only a handful of players who switch teams during an NWHL off-season, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out this summer.
Sale of the Whale
On May 10 the NWHL announced that the league’s board of governors approved the sale and transfer of ownership of the Connecticut Whale to Shared Hockey Enterprises (SHE), owned by Tobin Kelly and his investment partners.
“All of us who have established SHE are excited to continue the amazing growth made by the NWHL and to fulfill the NWHL’s goal of providing the opportunity for elite women athletes to earn a living wage playing the sport they love,” said Kelly in the press release announcing the deal. “Finalizing the purchase of the Whale with my co-investors is the culmination of a dream I have had for decades. I am excited to get to work with the Whale players and staff to continue their great work and bring new resources to growing the Whale’s presence in Connecticut.”
Connecticut has the second overall pick in the upcoming 2021 NWHL Draft, which will take place on June 29. The Whale has had a few rocky seasons since posting a 13-5-0 record in the NWHL’s inaugural season (2015-16) and is one of two teams (Toronto Six) that have never won or played in an Isobel Cup Final. The team was poised to have their best season to date until covid wrecked those plans in Lake Placid. No player from Connecticut has ever won a major postseason award to date.
“This is an exciting time for the entire NWHL, but most importantly for our players, dedicated partners, and loyal fans,” said W Hockey Partners President Andy Scurto in the press release. “We are proud of the organization’s history as a founding member of the league and are confident that Tobin’s passion and energy will honor that tradition, and that he and his team will establish a new standard for Whale hockey.”
On May 13 the Buffalo Beauts made the first signing of the NWHL off-season, re-signing defender and alternate captain Marie-Jo Pelletier for her third season with the team and league. In 30 career games, the 23-year-old Pelletier has recorded 24 points (6g-24a) and enters her third season just two points behind Emily Matheson for the Beauts all-time scoring lead among defenders.
“We have a lot of work to do before we get to raise the Cup,” said Pelletier in the press release announcing the signing. “We have a longer off-season, so that month before our first game will be crucial. It will be important to come together and build from last season. We need to build chemistry early on, and find the back of the net.”
She currently holds the NWHL record for most power-play points (12) and most power-play assists (9) in a single season, as well as Buffalo’s franchise record for most points in a season by a defender (21), and most assists in a season (15, tied with Iveta Klimasova).
“MJ is one of the best defenders in Beauts’ history and it was important for us to make sure she was back for Season 7. We wanted to get her locked up early,” said Buffalo General Manager Nate Oliver. “Her leadership skills, the number of points she generates, her prowess on the power play, her ability to adapt to any situation, and so on and so forth. The amount of positives that MJ brings to our team are seemingly endless.”
Pelletier, who has been an alternate captain since her rookie season, was selected to the NWHL All-Star Game in 2020. “I am looking forward to being back in front of the best fans in the league! We will be ready for Season 7, and I can’t be more excited to be rocking the baby blue again,” she said in the press release. “I can’t wait to hit the ice with the great group that we’re putting together!”
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.