NWHL Roundup: Tinker Returns to Toronto, Off-Season News Notes & Rumors

The signing announcements slowed down a bit over the past week in the NWHL ahead of the 2021 Draft (June 29, 7:00 pm on Twitch), but that doesn’t mean there was a lack of news throughout the league. The Toronto Six brought in a key piece to their blueline and also added a high-quality person behind their bench. Then a week later they added a brand new GM. The Connecticut Whale added to and reshuffled their front office, and the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps were sold by W Hockey Partners to independent owners.

Related: Beauts Trade No. 1 Pick, Whale Name New GM

While those were the only official announcements since we last posted something in this space, we did find out a lot of interesting tidbits while listening to the grapevine. More on that below.

Toronto’s New Trio

The Six announced on June 23 that they had signed defender Saroya Tinker who made her NWHL debut last season with the Metropolitan Riveters. The following day the team announced the hiring of Hockey Hall-of-Famer Angela James as an assistant coach. On June 28 the team announced that Krystiana Clarke was hired as the GM, taking the position vacated by Mandy Cronin.

Saroya Tinker
Metropolitan Riveters defender Saroya Tinker in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 24, 2021. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay)

Tinker played in three games with the Riveters in Lake Placid, recording one assist and five blocked shots. In signing with Toronto, Tinker returns to her home province and boosts their blueline – which was at times this past season was only five names deep. She was the fourth overall in the 2020 NWHL Draft by the Riveters.

“I really loved seeing the Toronto Six in Lake Placid and realizing that’s my hometown, realizing that I might be missing out on a few things in terms of fans and my family from Toronto,” said Tinker in the press release announcing her signing. “I thought that it would be the best decision to sign with the Six and play close to my hometown.”

James replaces Lisa Haley on the Six bench after Haley was named the NWHL’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations in April. James was the first Canadian woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010) and is also a member of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame, and this past February was awarded the Order of Hockey in Canada.

“It means a lot to me to have an opportunity to coach the girls and be a part of the progression and advancement of the women’s game to pro status and beyond,” James said in the press release announcing her hiring. “I grew up playing elite hockey after college and all women should have that same opportunity. Hockey is hockey. We have a talented team, great coaches, and a great administration. I look forward to working with everyone and being a part of the Toronto Six and more especially, winning.”

Clarke joins the Six front office while retaining her role as Manager of Operations of York United FC in the Canadian Premier League. Digit Murphy, who was juggling multiple roles last season, remains Team President. 

Whale, Beauts, and Whitecaps, Oh My

On June 28 the NWHL announced the sale of both the Beauts and the Whitecaps to NL Sports (led by Andy Scurto) & Top Tier Sports (led by Neil Leibman) which combined forms – NLTT Ventures, LLC. Both men are on the Board of Governors, so fans should expect to not see much change at all – this seems just like a paper transaction that just signifies the end of W Hockey Partners.

Elena Orlando
Elena Orlando of the Connecticut Whale fist bumps young players prior to the Season 5 home opener. (Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson Photography)

About an hour later that same day the Whale announced that Amy Mahoney was hired as their Director of Sponsorships and that Jessie Oram (previously Sponsorship and Ticket Sales Coordinator for Connecticut) was promoted to Director of Ticket Sales and Service.

“Amy and Jessie bring an incredible amount of experience to their roles and share the vision of growing the Whale’s footprint in Connecticut,” said Whale owner Tobin Kelly. “I look forward to seeing them work to expand the reach of the game to get more families, businesses, and to areas and populations who have previously been underrepresented in the world of hockey.”

Off-Season News, Notes, Rumors

* Where in the world is Brooke Wolejko? After a fantastic rookie season in which she was forced to make a ridiculous amount of saves, Wolejko only saw the ice in one game during last season’s wacky and shortened campaign. Connecticut has had two free agent camps with no sign of her, but multiple goaltenders were in attendance. With Abbie Ives already signed, it’s clear that the Whale believes she is their number one netminder. Perhaps Wolejko’s NWHL time has come to an end.

Mariah Fujimagari
Mariah Fujimagari hits the ice for the 2020 NWHL All-Star Game in Boston, MA. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay)

* Mt. Fuji returns. We haven’t nailed the team down just yet but can confirm that goalie Mariah Fujimagari will be back for her third NWHL season. The safe bet is Connecticut, where she practiced and played last season, and really made some good connections with the folks there. The other option could be Boston, where she currently lives, depending on what happens with their goaltenders – Lovisa Selander and Victoria Hanson.

Related: Meet the NWHL’s EBUG for Lake Placid- Mariah Fujimagari

* Later Lexie? A social media post from a teammate suggested that Boston Pride center Lexie Laing won’t be returning to the defending Isobel Cup champs for the upcoming season. In 31 career games, Laing has 30 points (13g-17a) and won 60% of the face-offs she took. Her loss could leave a huge void at center for the Pride, but GM Karilyn Pilch and Head Coach Paul Mara likely have a plan in place to replace Laing – either from within the roster or through the draft/free agency. 

Sarah Steele, Jordan Juron
Toronto Six defender Sarah Steele and Buffalo Beauts forward Jordan Juron battle for the puck in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 27, 2021. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay)

* Best Wishes. Word has started to circulate that Jordan Juron and Emma Ruggerio have retired from the NWHL. Both players were with the Beauts for multiple years, with Juron having played a handful of games for Boston as well. Good, reliable depth players are hard to come by, and even more so when they are great people, too. We’ve also heard that Kelsey Neumann may be joining them on the other side of the glass as well, but nothing official yet.

* Bidding War for a Star? There have been rumors that one of the league’s top players and well-known names has been offered a contract by not one, not two, but possibly three teams that are not the team that she has played with during her NWHL career. If this player signs elsewhere it would be the biggest news of the off-season, no question. The probability of it happening? We’d say less than 50% at this point, but things can change quickly.

Cailey Hutchison, Audra Richards
Metropolitan Riveters forward Cailey Hutchison and Minnesota Whitecaps forward Audra Richards battle for the puck in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 26, 2021. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay)

* Rivs Revamp? As we mentioned during a column or two ago, we were very surprised to see the names of goaltender Tera Hofmann and defender Rebecca Morse at Free Agent Camps for both the Riveters and Whale. This past Sunday (June 27) that same duo was at the Whale’s FA Camp at their home rink in Danbury, and they were joined by center Cailey Hutchison. Her name is just as big a surprise, if not bigger, to see on that list. 

When we saw Hutchison’s name pop up in Connecticut we thought maybe it was supposed to be Kaleigh Hutchinson or something like that. Instead, we were able to confirm that some players haven’t heard from the Rivs (who, via our sources, have offered out a lot of contracts to various players) and have decided to pursue other opportunities because they aren’t ready to hang up their skates just yet.

Metropolitan Riveters
The Metropolitan Riveters celebrate a win in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 23, 2021. (Photo Credit: Michelle Jay)

We haven’t been able to connect any defense or goaltender names to the Rivs this off-season which means either they haven’t figured out the answer to those questions yet, or they’ve gotten good at keeping things under wrap. We have been able to confirm two forwards and are pretty sure about three-four others. To us, it’s strange that they’d give up on a defender like Morse that has played for and dedicated her time for a half-decade to the Rivs – sometimes without the guarantee of playing time, and a center like Hutchison who can play in all situations. But what do we know?

* CT Camp Part Deux. Here is the list of players who were at the Whale’s Free Agent Camp in Danbury on June 27: Forwards – Emma Vlasic (signed with Whale), Grace Klienbach, Elena Gualtieri, Sarah Schwenzfeier, Maeve Reilly, Amanda Conway, Alexa Aramburu, Stephanie Mock, Iveta Klimasova, Romana Kosecka, Cailey Hutchison, Catherine Crawley, Nora MacLaine, Emma Polaski, Courtney Turner, Alyssa Hulst. Defense – Taylor Marchin, Elena Orlando, Rebecca Morse, Carrie Atkinson, Samantha Benoit. Goalies – Tera Hofmann, Jessica Strack.

Taylor Marchin Connecticut Whale
Taylor Marchin is hoping to return to the Connecticut Whale. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

14 of the players listed were at Connecticut’s camp on June 12, nine were at the Rivs camp as well, and one was at just the Riveters camp (June 13). We weren’t able to attend but if we had a guess it would be that the Whale likely will re-sign Schwenzfeier, Klienbach, Marchin, and Orlando, with the possibility of adding more.