In a remarkable display of teamwork, three members of the Connecticut Whale earned the opportunity to be part of a remarkable chapter of women’s hockey history. With the Boston Pride participating at the Women’s Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, the first professional women’s hockey game held outdoors, the squad endured a player shortage due to commitments with the US national team.
Whale stars Kate Buesser, Shannon Doyle and Kaleigh Fratkin stepped up and donned the Pride colors for one day. As a side note, two members of the New York Riveters, Meghan Fardelmann and Bray Ketchum (who played with Fratkin on the Boston Blades, winning a Clarkson Cup as teammates), were also adorned in black and gold on this historic day.
As the Whale are known affectionately as “The Pod”, while the Pride are also known by the sobriquet “The Pack”, the migration of three players from The Pod into The Pack was a unique moment in franchise history. It would also prove to be an enjoyable play on words for Doyle, who treasured the chance to share this historic moment with Buesser and Fratkin,
“Absolutely. It was special and it also made the day that much more enjoyable, it was fun being able to joke to each other about being the ‘Pride Pod’ for a day.”
Considering that all three members of the Whale played at the NCAA level in the Boston area, the chance to compete at Gillette Stadium represented a unique homecoming. Considering that several members of the Pride had also competed for Boston-based schools in the NCAA, the chance for all to play together in the Pride colors represented a special moment, as Kate Buesser reflected,
“First off, it was a true honor for us Whale players to even be asked to participate with the Pride in this historic event. I think as both fans and participants in hockey, the NHL Winter Classic is always circled on our calendars, but to be able to be a part of the event made it all the more special.
I know that all three of us have a very special place in our hearts for Boston because of our college experiences, and it was great to step on the ice with them and finally have them on the same team!”
Although being loaned to another team may be an exceptionally rare occurrence, it was not the first time that it occurred in 2015. In March, Toronto Furies players Natalie Spooner and Kelly Terry (also members of Canada’s national team) were loaned to the Brampton Thunder for a Special Olympics fundraiser against NHL alumni.
A veteran of the US national team, Buesser has experienced many monumental milestones in her distinguished career. A former New England All-Star selection while she played with the Ivy League’s Harvard Crimson, one of the fun aspects of the Women’s Winter Classic was the chance to be reunited on the Pride with a familiar face from her Crimson career; Jillian Dempsey, the first female recipient of Harvard’s Career Achievement Award. The mutual respect for each other definitely helped set the friendly tone for the day as everyone worked together in a landmark event for women’s hockey,
“What is great about every player in the NWHL is that although we are ferocious competitors on the ice, we know that at the end of the day we are all working together to bring women’s hockey towards its full potential. The Women’s Winter Classic was part of that journey, so for the short time we were with the Pride, the players, coaches, and staff made it seem like we had been a part of the team all season.
I may have had a slight advantage over my two Whale teammates in terms of hospitality seeing that I had played with most of the Pride players either in high school, college, or as a member of the Boston Blades. Regardless, all of the Pod fit in just fine and although we argue that we definitely look better in blue, yellow for a day was not bad.”
Leading into the Women’s Winter Classic, there were many unique subplots. Among them was the fact that Pride players Rachel Llanes and Casey Pickett also played at Sun Life Frozen Fenway in 2010, the first-ever outdoor women’s hockey game in NCAA history, therefore, making history twice.
Of note, two members of the Whale were also enjoying the chance to make history twice in their own careers. Doyle and Fratkin (the first Canadian-born player ever signed to an NWHL contract) both played in the first-ever NWHL game, a 4-1 win victory against the New York Riveters on October 11. Fratkin would also become the first Canadian to register a point in Whale franchise history, assisting on Kelli Stack’s second period goal.
As Fratkin, the Whale’s leading scorer, recounts her experiences from being a member of the Pride for one historic day, the chance to make history twice by competing in the Winter Classic represented a cherished moment,
“It was an amazing opportunity to make history once again but more importantly do it with my teammates. In a situation where you get loaned to another team having your teammates along side of you makes it much more special.
My favorite experience about the Winter Classic was the warmups. Skating around the ice, soaking-up the atmosphere was something I’ll never forget. I looked around at the stands and at the jumbotron where the big Gillette sign is and was so thankful about the opportunity.”
There is no question that the Whale has only strengthened the hockey connection between Fratkin and Doyle. Of note, Doyle’s first career point in the NWHL was an assist on a goal scored by Fratkin in a 7-6 win against Buffalo on November 22. Coincidentally, that game also had historical ramifications, as it was the first regular season game in NWHL history to go to a shootout. Getting the chance to share in another historic event, only adding to the lore of the Whale, and subsequently, the Pride and the NWHL is one that Doyle is exceptionally grateful for,
“Being able to play in that game was incredible-almost leaves me incapable of putting it into words. Whenever you get the chance to make history, you are left with a mixed feeling of uncontrollable joy and immense gratitude for the people that helped get you to that moment in time.”
Buesser would make her Whale debut on October 18, scoring a goal in a 5-2 win against the Buffalo Beauts, which resulted in Fratkin contributing with a three-point effort. As one of the Whale’s veteran players, Buesser is currently balancing the obligations of professional women’s hockey with dreams of a career in medicine.
While such ambitions require great dedication, character and maturity, the Women’s Winter Classic presented Buesser with the opportunity to abandon all responsibility for one day and return to the residual warmth of the rink, harnessing feelings of joy and innocence in the backdrop of history, while a unique visual display shall supply a series of pleasant recollections,
“The moment I will remember and cherish from this event the most is when I made my first loop around the ice during warm-ups. The sight of Gillette Stadium being framed by the bluest sky, the feeling of the cold air rushing by, and the sound of ‘kid-in-a-candy-shop’ excitement from my teammates was a sensory combination I had never known in my 17-year career of playing hockey. First time for everything!”
While there was remarkable jubilation for everyone involved in the Women’s Winter Classic, a tinge of sadness was also prominent. While injuries are an uncontrollable aspect to any sport, one occurred that made international news. Although it could have happened to any player in any hockey game, the unfortunate event that saw Denna Laing crash into the boards was a sobering reminder of how precious life, friendship and teamwork truly are.
The aftermath of the injury also proved that people have the power to surprise in the face of remarkable adversity, inspiring others despite their own condition. Laing has found a new heroism, refusing to give up, as a new legion of supporters has all become her teammates. With all players in the league donning yellow stickers with Laing’s number 24 on the back of their helmets, the injury sustained at the Winter Classic has provided Doyle with perspective, appreciating the privilege of being able to call her a teammate,
“I will remember two things for the rest of my life, the moment I stepped on the bench and took in the huge stadium for the first time and Denna’s accident. Although I do not remember Denna’s accident because it ruins the moment, I remember it because of the seconds right after and now the days, weeks and month following it.
It was a moment that has demonstrated to the world how incredible a fellow hockey player is and how she has shown the world her unbreakable spirit when many of us, including myself, would not be able to summon such courage in the face of that adversity.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from: https://twitter.com/CTWhale_NWHL
Other Photo Credits: Getty Images (Brian Babineau and Olivier Simon Arcand)
For more information on Denna Laing, please visit: http://www.dennalaing.org/
Follow Denna Laing on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/dlaing14