Beginning June 1, NWHL teams can re-sign players from their 2017-18 roster and their draft picks. Additionally, for those players who have completed their college eligibility and want to continue their hockey careers, NWHL Free Agency provides the best opportunity to continue playing at the highest level of professional women’s hockey. The fourth season of the NWHL will begin in October as the Metropolitan Riveters defend their Isobel Cup championship, and with the addition of a fifth team – the Minnesota Whitecaps – this will be the most competitive season yet.
My colleague Dan Rice will keep THW readers up-to-date on Metropolitan and Connecticut’s signings throughout the summer, while I post updates on Buffalo and Boston. Together we will be keeping readers informed of all of Minnesota’s signings.
The announcement of her signing was a long time coming, but original Boston Pride player Jordan Smelker is back for her fourth NWHL season. Word was released through Twitter on Aug. 29, 2018 that the veteran power-forward would be returning to Boston. Smelker joins Emily Field, Alyssa Gagliardi, and Jill Dempsey as the only Pride players named to the roster thus far who have played all four NWHL seasons with the team.
— NWHL (@NWHL) August 29, 2018
We will continue to state what we have been noticing as the summer has gone along – the Pride are assembling an excellent blend of sizable skaters to go along with speedy, talented puck-handlers. From the very beginning of free agency, Smelker was a necessary component to have back for the formidable squad that Boston is comprising. She has the size and strength, but also has very soft hands around the net. You can likely count on one hand alone the number of big forwards in the league who are also legitimate scoring threats – Smelker happens to be one of them.
THW takes a closer look at Smelker’s signing and what it will do for the Pride’s chances of recapturing the Isobel Cup for the 2018-19 season.
Smelker’s Winning Pedigree
Smelker is one of three members of the Pride who have been with the team for all four seasons upon making the jump from the CWHL. Prior to the inaugural NWHL season, she, Gagliardi, and Dempsey were members of the Boston (now Worcester) Blades squad that won the CWHL’s 2014-15 Clarkon Cup championship. That particular team was absolutely loaded with talent. That was Smelker’s first season of playing at the professional level (noting that the CWHL did not pay players a salary at the time), and she still managed to finish sixth overall in team scoring. Her eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 22 regular season games trailed only the point totals of – and get a load of these names – Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Tara Watchorn, Dempsey, and Monique Lamoureux.
Looking at how Smelker fit in with that Blades team overall, her first-year performance is even more impressive. Decker led the way with a staggering 16 goals in only 12 games for the highest total on the team. Smelker’s eight tallies tied her with Knight for the third most goals scored for their squad. Again – great company to be in and something that speaks well to her ability to generate offense. Smelker was also one of only six skaters for the Blades that championship season to play in all 22 regular season games. She had ability to step right in as a newcomer and contribute to a championship.
Smelker and 13 other members of the 2014-15 Blades would make the jump to the Boston Pride for the first NWHL season. She would be instrumental in ensuring dominance from the Pride in the new league right from the get-go, and would be one of the team’s more dominant scorers. If the Pride are to regain that dominance in this upcoming season, Smelker needs to again be one of those players are the helm – both offensively and defensively. At 5-foot-8 and around the 170-pound mark, it is near impossible to remove her from the front of the net.
A Look at Her Previous NWHL Seasons
In the inaugural NWHL season Smelker finished third in team scoring for the Pride behind Knight and Decker. Furthermore, her nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 17 games made her better than a point-per-game player. Thus far this has been the only time in Smelker’s professional career that she has hit such scoring numbers, and it paid major dividends for Boston. Not surprisingly, she was also an NWHL All-Star that year. The Pride would finish at the top of the NWHL standings that first year with a record of 14-3-0-1. Their 75 goals scored were the most of the four teams, while their 39 against were the least allowed. Boston completely swept the playoffs, defeating the New York (now Metropolitan) Riveters two games to none in the semi-final, and then accomplishing the same against the Buffalo Beauts in the final. Smelker appeared in all four playoff games and tallied a pair of assists as the Pride won the first ever Isobel Cup.
For the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons Smelker’s offensive numbers dipped a bit but she still made her presence known. During the league’s sophomore season she chipped in three goals and five assists for eight points in 15 games. However, Smelker still rifled 25 shots on goal and managed a power play tally. She blocked three shots and finished the 2016-17 season as a plus-three. Boston made a return to the Isobel Cup Championship that year to defend their trophy, but suffered an unexpected 3-2 loss to the underdog Beauts. Smelker went pointless in her lone playoff game, which happened to be the Cup Final against Buffalo.
— Alyssa Gagliardi (@AGagliardi92) August 29, 2018
This past season Smelker was elected to her second NWHL All-Star Game. The Pride had an off-year by their standards, as did Smelker to some extent. In 14 regular season games she potted another three goals to go along with two assists for five points. That placed her in a three-way tie on the team for points. However, by making the most of her chances and taking just 16 shots on the year, Smelker had the best shooting percentage for the Pride (18.8%) of the 16 skaters to play at least 10 games. When the playoffs came around, Boston would be eliminated in the opening round 3-2 in overtime to the Beauts. However, the proven winner and leader Smelker turned in arguably her finest performance of the season. She fought tooth and nail to bring out a victory for her team. Though they came up short, Smelker’s four shots on goal tied her for second most for Boston. Anyone who witnessed her performance firsthand could see that she gave it her all and fiercely battled the Beauts.
Look for Smelker to put up better numbers in the goal column for the 2018-19 season. With players like Gigi Marvin, Amanda Pelkey, Haley Skarupa, Dempsey, Field and plenty others, Smelker will not need to bear so much of the load. One could make the argument that the Pride are the most stacked team at the forward position in the entire NWHL.
With Smelker’s re-signing, here is how the Boston Pride look as of Aug. 29:
Goalie: Katie Burt.
Defense: Alyssa Gagliardi, Toni Ann Miano, Lauren Kelly, Lexi Bender, Kaleigh Fratkin, Mallory Souliotis, Kaliya Johnson.
Forward: Emily Field, Dana Trivigno, Denisa Křížová, Haley Skarupa, Jillian Dempsey, McKenna Brand, Amanda Pelkey, Taylor Wasylk, Gigi Marvin, Mary Parker, Jordan Smelker.
General Manager of the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL). Hockey history writer “The Hockey Writers”. Credentialed media for the NHL Combine and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, NY, USA. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Lifelong hockey fan for over 40 years. Proponent of the women’s game.