In an exciting season filled with historic firsts for the NWHL, a historic trade augmented conversation. The Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters became the first teams to exchange players, as goaltending was the focal point.
Acquiring Chelsea Laden, the New York Riveters obtained a goaltender that already made her mark during the nascent days of Whale lore. In addition to being the first goaltender signed to contract in franchise history, she would also become the first American-born goaltender to win a regular season game for the Whale.
Laden becomes part of history for a third time during the inaugural NWHL season, as she becomes part of the league’s first-ever trade. Sent to the New York Riveters in exchange for Shenae Lundberg, there is a unique element of coincidence between the two as both made their NWHL debuts on the same day; October 28. Laden garnered the start for the Whale while Lundberg was brought in to relieve starting goaltender Nana Fujimoto.
With the Whale obtaining Shenae Lundberg in exchange, she was given the opportunity to make her second appearance of the season. Reputed as a workhorse goaltender in NCAA play, making over 3000 saves and logging over 6000 minutes, she would make her Whale debut on February 7, making 23 saves in a 3-2 overtime win over the Buffalo Beauts, as Winter Games medalist Molly Engstrom logged the game-winner. As a side note, she allowed her first goal as a member of the Whale to Shelby Bram, which makes Bram the first player in NWHL history to score a goal on a traded goaltender.
Sharing backup duties with Brown Bears alumnus Nicole Stock, Lundberg also experienced another unique milestone. As the Whale ended their season with as the fourth NWHL team to don pink jerseys for breast cancer research, Lundberg became the first player in NWHL history to be part of two Pink at the Rink events in the same season.
The careers of Laden and Lundberg also ran parallel in NCAA play, as both played from 2011 to 2015. Both part of programs in the ECAC Conference, Laden with Quinnipiac and Lundberg with Union College, the two also played each other twice in their senior seasons (2014-2015), as Laden registered a pair of shutout wins. With the advent of the NWHL, it allowed both the privilege of continuing their careers at the professional level in the same state where they played collegiately.
Considering that a trade can bring with it surprises for fans and athletes alike in any sport, Laden approached it in a dignified manner. While most athletes like to know who they were traded for, there is no question that there was a feeling of win-win on both sides. In hearing about the move, Laden’s reaction was one that consisted of several sentiments, although the key element was an admirable display of maturity that is poised to make her a valued teammate in her new hockey home,
“There were a handful of emotions the day I was traded. It was sad to leave my teammates from the Connecticut Whale, but I was also very excited to have the opportunity to be part of a new team with new opportunities. The commute to New York is obviously not as close to me as Stamford, but practicing in a new rink, with new players, and new coaches was incredibly refreshing.”
With the fresh start in New York, the continuation of her hockey odyssey brings with it the chance to reunite with a very familiar face. Arriving to the Riveters, Laden was reunited with fellow 2015 Quinnipiac graduate Morgan Fritz-Ward. As a side note, Laden called former Quinnipiac teammate (and Class of 2015 member) Kelly Babstock, who would become the first Canadian to score a goal in NWHL regular season play, a teammate on the Whale.
Getting the chance to call Fritz-Ward a teammate for the third time in her career is a treasured one. One of four players voted in by fans to participate in the inaugural NWHL All-Star Game, Fritz-Ward was the captain of the Quinnipiac squad in her senior season. Raised in Iowa, she would play her high school hockey alongside Laden in her home state of Minnesota, which set the foundation for a not only a shared love of the game, but a strong friendship.
“Morgan and I went to high school together, college together, and now we are playing on the same professional team. It is pretty unique to have played with someone for nine years. She is an awesome person, friend, and teammate. It was also nice to know I at least knew one person on the team pretty well during the first practice with the Riveters.”
Having utilized dignity and resilience in dealing with her injury, Laden’s perseverance propelled her into a starting role during the Riveters’ February 7 match against the Boston Pride. It would prove to be an emotional match on two counts. Not only did the match represent a fresh start for Laden, it was also the club’s father-daughter game. It was a memorable way for Laden to debut with her new club.
“Overall it was extremely exciting to play for the Riveters for the first time. Playing that first game truly ignited a spark for hockey that I thought I might have lost a little bit. When I was out with my injury for the Whale (3 months) I was getting discouraged because I was unable to play for such a long period of time. When I heard about the trade and then when they started me against Boston, I felt that extreme excitement for the game again that I thought I had lost.”
There was one unique component during Laden’s debut that was highly visible. Of note, she was still wearing her goalie mask from the Whale. The imagery represented one of gratitude. While the season may have resulted with an unforeseen change, she will always be grateful for the opportunity provided by the Whale to start her career in professional women’s ice hockey.
“It was comforting to wear some of the Whale stuff in a sense because that team supported me through the entire trade process. So many of them sent me messages and phone calls saying how excited they were for me and this new opportunity. At the same time, it was so incredible to play behind a new team who were so selfless and welcoming. They played in front of me and treated me as if I was their teammate from the very beginning.
This whole process really opened my eyes to the kind of players this league has attracted. There are so many awesome, well-rounded people in the NWHL and I am one of the only ones who was lucky enough to call half of them my teammates.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Troy Parla