This past week in the NWHL we saw the retirement of one of the league’s OGs, as well as the signing of three 2021 draft picks – all coming from Robert Morris University (shame on them for taking away that fantastic program), and we saw the return of an important blueliner in Connecticut as eight total players signed with four of the six franchises. Any drafted player that is not signed after July 14 becomes free to sign with any of the six teams in the league, but also keep in mind that signing announcements often come weeks or days after contracts have been signed.
Lando’s Last Run
On July 13 defender Elena Orlando announced via social media that she was stepping away from the NWHL after playing in all six seasons of its existence. After playing the inaugural season with the (then) New York Riveters, Orlando defended the blueline for the next five seasons with the Connecticut Whale where she was an alternate captain for her final two seasons.
Following the 2016-17 season she was a recipient of the NWHL Foundation Award. In 89 career regular-season games she registered seven points (all assists) and Orlando also had one assist in seven playoff games. She was selected to participate in the 2020 NWHL All-Star Weekend and that season earned her first playoff victory, and the Whale’s first postseason win since the inaugural season.
The 29-year-old defender blocked countless shots while with the Whale and only missed a handful of games throughout her six-year NWHL career. Prior to joining the league, Orlando was a dual-sport star for four seasons at Quinnipiac University and then played one season overseas.
Thank you Lando for always being honest with us and generous with your time. You will certainly be missed, but never, ever forgotten.
Beauts Ink Top Two Picks
On July 7 the Buffalo Beauts announced that they had signed their first round pick (no. 2 overall) from the 2021 NWHL Draft, Emilie Harley from Robert Morris University. The next day they announced they had signed their second round pick (no. 7 overall), and Harley’s collegiate teammate, Anjelica Diffendal.
Harley, who can play either defense or forward, had 46 points (10g-36a) over her 130 games for the Colonials and was an alternate captain during her senior season. Diffendal appeared in 122 games during her four years at RMU and tallied 40 points (24g-16a). The duo will be reunited in Western New York as the Beauts revamp their lineup following two disappointing seasons.
“As a female athlete, just to be a part of a draft at all is pretty special so I’m thankful that the NWHL and Beauts gave me that opportunity,” said Harley in the press release announcing her signing. “I’m honored to be the Beauts first selection in the draft. It makes me feel like the coaches and the GM have confidence in me to play a big role for the team.”
“Out of all the eligible picks, the fact that Buffalo chose me just validates my goal to play at the highest level possible and makes me feel like all of my hard work has paid off,” added the Syracuse, New York native.
“I am most excited about getting the opportunity to be able to play at the next level and compete against some of the best athletes,” said Diffendal in the press release announcing her signing. “Buffalo has talented players and hopefully I will be able to contribute to the team’s success. They have a great organization and I am thankful for the chance to be a part of it. I cannot wait to get started!”
“I hope to impress the fans with my deceptive speed. I tend to be explosive in the neutral zone and sometimes catch the defense off guard. My teammates also liked to point out my goal celebrations, so I am hoping to bring some of that to each game as well!,” added the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native.
“Emilie checks all the boxes for us. She has awesome reach with the puck given her 6-foot-frame, and she controls it very well once it’s on her stick. She skates strong and powerfully, and is confident in her stride.” said GM Nate Oliver. “We like a lot of what we see in Jell. It’s why we selected her as early as we did. We like her reach and her hockey sense. She’s a quieter leader and earned a lot of respect during her time at RMU.”
Buffalo Adds Depth
On July 12 the Beauts announced that they had re-signed forward/defender Brittany Colton and signed defender Samantha Fieseler. Colton was pointless in six games with Buffalo during last season and Fieseler was with the Riveters but didn’t see the ice. The latter was at Buffalo’s Free Agent Camp in early June and obviously impressed the team’s staff with her showing there.
“The Beauts are excited to sign both Britt and Sam,” said Head Coach Rhea Coad in the press release announcing the signings. “Both are eager to make our organization better both on and off the ice. We are excited to have their ability on our blue line and up front.”
With the signings of Harley, Diffendal, Colton, and Fieseler the Beauts are up to 16 players signed for the upcoming season. They join forwards Taylor Accursi, Amy Budde, Autumn MacDougall, Cassidy MacPherson, Erin Gehen, and Cassidy Vinkle, defenders Marie-Jo Pelletier, Lisa Chesson, Dominique Kremer, and Emma Keenan, and goalies Carly Jackson and Caty Flagg.
From Tahoe to Toronto
On July 7 the Toronto Six announced that they had signed their third round pick (16th overall) from the 2021 NWHL Draft, Leah Marino from Robert Morris University. Marino posted 11 points (5g-6a) during her three seasons with the Colonials and is the second draft pick (Maegan Beres) to sign with the Six this off-season.
“I am beyond excited to get started and play in the NWHL. After the sudden discontinuation of the Robert Morris hockey program, I wasn’t ready to step away from the game,” said the 20-year-old Marino in the press release announcing her signing. The Lake Tahoe, California native is the youngest player selected in an NWHL Draft.
“The Toronto Six franchise gave me a new home, one that values the professional aspect of women’s hockey and the excellence that comes with it,” she added. “I am beyond excited to get started with the Toronto Six and be a part of the program. More than anything I’m excited to be surrounded by such a talented group of women, and to make my pro debut under such a highly regarded staff and leadership. I can’t wait to get to the city and start working towards a championship.”
Marino is the eighth player signed for the Six’s second NWHL season, joining forwards Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Shiann Darkangelo, and Beres, defenders Emma Greco, Taylor Woods, and Saroya Tinker, and goaltender Elaine Chuli.
Howran, Fujimagari Back with the Pod
On July 8 the Connecticut Whale announced they had re-signed defender Tori Howran for her second season with the team/league. Despite playing in just three games the 23-year-old was a point-a-game player with a goal and two assists. Her presence on the Whale’s blueline could help to offset the loss of captain Shannon Doyle to retirement. Howran was the seventh overall pick (University of New Hampshire) in the 2020 NWHL Draft.
“I’m truly thankful to be returning to Connecticut for the NWHL’s Season 7. I enjoyed playing my rookie season with the Whale, and I can’t wait to get back to Connecticut to get things started,” Howran said in the press release announcing her signing.
“Tori came in last season and played big minutes for us right away,” said Connecticut assistant GM and assistant coach Laura Brennan. “She is a smart defender who is able to make fast transitions and get pucks to the net. We are excited to see what she can do in a full season.”
On July 12 the Whale announced that they had re-signed goaltender Mariah Fujimagari. After spending Season 5 with the Beauts (appearing in 14 games) Fujimagari trained and practiced with Connecticut leading up to last season and served as the EBUG for the NWHL during the games in Lake Placid. She saw action in one game for the Whale (Jan. 31) after covid found its way into their faux bubble, facing only seven shots in 16:11 of ice-time.
“Fuji adds strong leadership and work ethic to our team. She always brings an upbeat and positive energy to the rink and is someone who pushes herself and her teammates to be better day in, and day out – both on and off the ice,” said Brennan.
“I’m very excited to be a contributing member of the Whale this season. The culture and commitment to excellence really align with who I am,” said Fujimagari in the press release announcing her signing. “From the top down, the pieces are in place for us to be a powerhouse.”
Howran and Fujimagari are the seventh and eighth players signed by the Whale for Season 7. They join forwards Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Kennedy Marchment, and Emma Vlasic, defenders Allie Munroe and Hanna Beattie, and goaltender Abbie Ives.
Janiga Re-Joins Rivs
On July 13 the Metropolitan Riveters announced that they had re-signed forward Emily Janiga. This will be her fourth season in the NWHL and second season with the Rivs. Last season she had one goal in three games while at Lake Placid. In 36 career NWHL games, Janiga has recorded 18 points (11g-7a) while adding five points (4g-1a) over four playoff games. She won an Isobel Cup in 2017 with the Beauts where she was one of their most important players with four points/three goals in two games.
Janiga is the second Riveters signing ahead of Season 7, joining captain and original NWHLer Madison Packer. She currently is also the NJ Colonials’ Girls Hockey Director and this season will also be the Head Coach of the 19U Colonials Major team.
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.