30 November, 2018

Sam Faber's fantastic career reaches conclusion with Connecticut Whale



One of the most notable ambassadors in the nascent narrative of the Connecticut Whale, Sam Faber’s combination of leadership and affability established her as a fan favorite. Having announced her retirement from the game, the product of Chestwood, New York, was an integral presence for women’s ice hockey in the Northeast, and more specifically, New England, making her mark at the collegiate and professional ranks.

Starring at the University of New Hampshire from 2005-09, gaining Hockey East Rookie of the Year honors in 2006, along with recognition as the Hockey East Tournament MVP in both 2006 and 2008, Faber’s greatest legacy may be her sterling record for most game winning goals in a season (2007-08), with 13. Fittingly, the Wildcats reached the NCAA Frozen Four in that magical 2007-08 season.

Currently ranked as the fifth all-time scorer in Wildcats history, having amassed 189 points, there was also a handful of notable teammates Faber skated alongside. Including the likes of Courtney Birchard, Martine Garland, Julia Marty, Kelly Paton along with Kacey Bellamy and Shannon Sisk, two future teammates on the Boston Blades. Of note, Faber would also cross iconic paths with Bellamy in another professional league, although they would grace the ice as respected rivals.

A charter member of the Boston Blades, the first American-based team in the history of the CWHL, Faber cemented her impact in club lore. Along with blueliner Angela Ruggiero, they were the first two players in Blades history to gain spots on the CWHL’s postseason All-Star team. Ruggiero gained First Team All-Star recognition, while Faber was recognized as a Second Team All-Star. In that same season, Faber and former New Hampshire teammate Bellamy also gained a spot on the CWHL’s All-Rookie team.

Despite hanging up her skates following several productive seasons with the Blades, the reincarnation of the National Women’s Hockey League in the autumn of 2015 became the catalyst for Faber to mount her compelling comeback. Akin to her experiences with the Blades, Faber established herself as a charter member of the Connecticut Whale.

Having also captured a gold medal with Team USA at the 2008 IIHF Women’s World Championships, only the second ever for the US in the event’s history, Faber was part of another important legacy in the unfolding history of the nascent NWHL. Among a group of USA Hockey alums that skated during the NWHL’s inaugural season, it brought an important element of credibility and star power to the blossoming league. 

Enjoying three seasons with the Whale, it placed Faber into the role of an icon for professional women’s ice hockey. Holding the rare distinction of having played for a pair of first-year teams (in two different leagues, no less), she helped break ground for two different markets to embrace the arrival of this empowering new era in professional sport,

“In the moment I do not think I truly realized what I was doing was so important for the future of our sport.  I am humbled and honored to have been able to help grow the game in both the CWHL and NWHL.  Looking back on it now, it’s a special feeling when people call you a pioneer and all I was doing was playing the sport I loved for as long as I could have.” 

With a Whale roster that suffered from the departure of All-World talent Kelli Stack, their all-time leading scorer, the veteran presence of Faber was integral to the club’s leadership during a sometimes difficult 2017-18 season. Considering that the franchise relocated to Stamford, the city that Faber resides in, every game brought with it a true sense of home ice advantage. Despite a visceral last place finish for the Whale, Faber’s value to the roster was certainly at its highest.

Taking into account the number of first-year players on said roster, a season altered by the significant absence of competitors due to women’s ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Games, Faber provided the rookie class with a role model and a mentor. With highly touted arrival Emily Fluke finishing the season as the Whale’s scoring leader, the only rookie in the NWHL to lead her team, the opportunity to play with Faber during her magical season certainly enabled her to enjoy a bright beginning to her professional career.

Said season would also prove to be a bridge, as Fluke’s inaugural season in Whale colors was the final one for Faber. Statistically, there was a sense of full circle as Faber closed the book on her professional odyssey.

Having scored the first goal of the 2017-18 season in an October 28 home date against the Buffalo Beauts, the last point of her career would take place against the same too. On the road, Faber would bury the puck on a power play opportunity past Amanda Leveille, eventual recipient of the 2018 NWHL Goaltender of the Year Award, in a 4-3 loss on January 14, 2018. Gaining the assists were Juana Baribeau and rookie sensation Fluke.

Having reached the decision to retire, it was one that weighed heavily. Assembling a distinguished body of work, the aspect that provided Faber with the most joy was the feeling of family that came with being part of the Whale.

“It was a very difficult decision to retire.  I honestly cannot put into words how hard it really was for me. 

Hockey has meant so much to me for as long as I can remember, but now it is my turn to just be a fan of the game and hopefully a great coach one day.  It was not completely my decision to stop playing, but now it is on to a new chapter and I am excited to share my passion and love for the game with young athletes. 

I will miss my teammates and being a part of a team the most.  I love the game and I will definitely miss being out on the ice seeing the fans, my friends and family in the stands watching me play.” 

Reflecting on the chance to bring professional women’s ice hockey to the State of Connecticut, there are an abundance of fond memories accumulated. While there were many sensational highlights in Faber’s time in Whale blue and green, which included a well-deserved nod to the 2018 NWHL All-Star Game in Minnesota, her first All-Star appearance, the most treasured may be the beginning of the journey.

The Whale’s debut on NWHL ice also served as the league’s first-ever game. Taking place in Chelsea Piers on October 11, 2015, the sense of home ice advantage took on a very profound meaning for Faber. At the time, Faber served as the Youth Hockey Director at the Chelsea Piers facility. Not only did she sign her player contract in late June 2015, she also made history as the first publically announced player in Whale history.

Fittingly, the facility would serve as the backdrop for this historic game, one which saw the Whale defeat the New York Riveters by a 4-1 tally as captain Jessica Koizumi scored the first goal in both Whale and league history, while backstop Jaimie Leonoff earned the win.

“I have many great memories from my time on the Whale, but my favorite moment was probably the first game in the inaugural season.  I literally had chills when they announced my name and the crowd was so loud.  It was an unforgettable feeling sharing that moment with my new teammates that have now become some of my best friends.” 

Faber’s second game in Whale colors proved to be even more monumental. The October 18 tilt resulted in her first goal of NWHL play. Capitalizing on a power play opportunity at 9:28 of the second period, the assists were credited to Kaleigh Fratkin, who was the first Canadian to sign an NWHL contract, along with Jordan Brickner. One period later, Fratkin and Faber would collaborate on the assist for the game-winning tally, scored by Kate Buesser.

In the aftermath of the inaugural Whale campaign, Faber came full circle as Chelsea Piers served as the backdrop for the league’s first-ever Girls Summer Hockey Camp. With Faber serving as one of the instructors, she was joined by fellow Whale teammates Kelly Babstock (who also served with Faber as coaches for the Connecticut Nanooks), Kaleigh Fratkin, Jessica Koizumi and Chelsea Laden, emphasizing the feeling of family that would define a proud team culture.

Undoubtedly, family was a significant motivational factor for Faber. While her years with the Whale involved a number of familiar faces in the stands for home games, a constant reminder was also visible on her left wrist. A star-shaped tattoo that features a halo and the wording “Sweet Dreams” through the middle of the design is an emotional yet important symbol, which honors her mother’s life, who was lost too soon in a brave battle with cancer.

Leaving behind a formidable legacy that Faber’s mother would be most proud of, one that encompasses revered standing as a world-class player, a strong leader, and the current title of loving mother to her own child, Faber remains dedicated to the game’s growth. Currently serving in the role of Youth Hockey Director at SoNo Ice House South Norwalk, she is destined to hold the same positive impact as an instructor and administrator that she held as a revered player,

“I would like to be remember as a good human being that cares for her teammates and respects the sport of hockey. All of the success I have had in my career is because of all the great people in my life and the hockey world. I thank each and every person from the bottom of my heart.  

Women’s hockey is only just beginning and there is such a bright future for the sport.  I will do all I can to stay involved and continue to help the game grow!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits:

In action versus the Buffalo Beauts by Matt Raney

On the ice with Kacey Bellamy by Al Saniuk

White jersey photos by Troy Parla

Contract signing image obtained from:

https://www.facebook.com/ChelseaPiersCT/posts/chelsea-piers-hockey-director-sam-faber-signs-with-the-connecticut-whale-of-the-/823209821082993/

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