The Connecticut Whale

January-March 2023

The Connecticut Whale - The Connecticut Whale is a professional women’s hockey team in the Premier Hockey Federation. The PHF is the professional North American women’s hockey league comprising seven teams: Boston Pride, Toronto Six, Minnesota Whitecaps, Metropolitan Riveters, Connecticut Whale, Montreal Force, and Buffalo Beauts. The league was founded in 2015 as the NWHL but was renamed in 2021 as the PHF.   Working with the Whale gave me a glimpse into the beginnings and development of a professional sports league, as well as the logistics of being a women’s league. I learned about the strengths and weaknesses, what the players appreciate, and what they still want to see happen. I watched the team dynamics and saw the close-knit relationships they developed.Looking Forward - The Whale is based in Simsbury, Connecticut at the International Skating Center of Connecticut. They play their home games there and starting in the 2023-2024 season they will practice there as well. Currently, their practices are at the Milford Ice Arena in Milford, Connecticut which is about an hour and ten minutes away from the ISCC rink. The Whale fans that come to the ISCC games generally consist of mostly parents and children. The stands are usually full at the games, but there are only four rows of seats on one side of the ice. Locker Room Talk - This is a professional hockey family, and that can be seen and heard in the locker room. Jokes, existential questions, and weekend plans are being shouted around before and after practice. The team does have its own locker room at both the ISCC and Milford rinks. However, they are responsible for transporting their own gear to games on the weekend. Hallway Sprints - While the ISCC has many amenities that are beneficial for the team, there is little space for the players to warm up. There is a small workout room and a dance studio on the second floor, but when it comes to sprints, Alyssa Wohlfeiler (8) uses the hallway. This hallway eventually fills up with spectators as it is also the VIP box section for fans to watch the game. There is also an event room that holds the team potluck dinners after the games.Hockey Passion - This is a group of women who love the sport of hockey and did not grow up thinking there was an option for them to play professionally. They are dedicated to training and pushing themselves to be the best they can be for themselves and their teammates. The team environment is full of sisterhood and love for each other and the game.Staying Sharp - There is a coaching and management staff behind the team as well. Jessica Strack (31) is the equipment manager for the Whale and makes sure the skate blades are sharpened before games start. She also has extra sticks on hand if one is broken during play. The Whale team puts their all into creating a professional environment for themselves and the team. Guard Dog - The women on the team dedicate their time to this team, but they have outside lives as well. Melissa Samoskevich (11) has another job, as well as a dog that she has to bring with her to practice due to the odd hours. Samoskevich is the Director of Player Development and Operations at Quinnipiac University for the women’s hockey program, her alma mater. Her dog’s name is Brody, he attends work at both Quinnipiac and the Whale.Ground-Up The Premier Hockey Federation is a growing league that grows every season. The beginnings of any professional sports league are always slow, but the dedication of the players, staff, and fans show a promising future for the PHF. Many of the players on the team and the staff played professional hockey abroad before joining the Connecticut Whale and utilized that experience to develop their skills. With the experience of being a part of other countries’ professional programs, the players are able to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the PHF. They recognize that a league is not built overnight, and they are grateful to be a part of the development of the future of the sport. Tough as Nails - Many NHL fans can admit that they have never watched a women’s hockey game and even that they have never heard of the PHF. However, these women are tough, strong, dedicated, and talented. Their games are always competitive and keep the crowd sitting on the edges of their seat. The league has the potential to grow into something bigger and more recognizable. Women in Sport - Gabrielle Lucivero is a sports anchor from NBC CT creating footage for a story on the team captain, Shannon Turner (6) after she announces her retirement from the league after 8 years. Lucivero covers sports all over Connecticut and took the time to tell the story of Turner as she is a professional hockey player, but also a middle school English teacher. Exposure for the league and the team is what will help the league grow, and Lucivero’s article and video are sure to do just that.Working Women - At Quinnipiac, Melissa Samoskevich (11) is responsible for coding and recording the video of games and practices for the women’s hockey team. While she is grateful for the opportunity to be playing professional hockey after graduating from Quinnipiac herself, Samoskevich shared that she is a little frustrated that her college experience felt more professional than her time in the PHF. The facilities at Quinnipiac are exceptional and even her job provides a level of professionalism that she does not experience at her own hockey practices. However, she recognizes that she is helping to develop a league from the ground up and can see the growth already appearing in the PHF. Role Models - The players on the Connecticut Whale are able to be role models for young hockey players. Shannon Turner (6), Melissa Samoskevich (11), and Taylor Girard (17) talk to young skaters from the Hockey Haven, New Haven, CT non-profit organization who got the chance to sit on the bench while the team warmed up before their game on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. The non-profit was created by medical students from Quinnipiac University in order to make hockey and equipment more accessible to children.Professional Hockey - The PHF is the first professional women’s sports league not to have the word “women’s” in their name. These women want to be recognized as a professional organization instead of a knock-off of a men’s league. Do What You Love - While this is a professional sport, it is also a joyous exercise for these women. They play because they love the game. Shannon Turner (6) has been in the league for 8 years and still has a shining smile after she scores in a game against the Toronto Six. Room to Grow - While there is not a heavy media presence at the games, there are local news organizations covering the games. The post-game media room for interviews, however, does not exist. Head Coach Colton Orr conducts his post-game interview with two reporters in the hallway above the rink after a 6-4 win against Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. There is also an empty workout studio that the reporters sometimes utilize for a little more privacy for their interviews. Bright Future - The Connecticut Whale is a strong professional organization and the whole team is aware of the strengths, but also where they have room to grow. They are constantly looking forward to the future of the team and the league. The late nights and the long commutes for practices and games show the dedication of all members of the team and staff. The dedication of these women suggests a promising future for women in professional hockey and professional women's sports overall.


March-May 2023

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