Tuesday, 2 February 2016

First trade in NWHL history features goaltenders


One of the unique aspects of professional women’s hockey is the fact that traders are an extreme rarity. Despite the presence of a player draft in both the NWHL and the CWHL, first round picks are never used as bargaining chips to improve one’s roster, which only adds to the scarcity of transactions.

Less than four months into its inaugural season, the NWHL issued a surpriseannouncement as the first trade in league history took place. With the transaction involving the first place Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters, goaltenders were the focal point.

Chelsea Laden, the first goaltender signed to an NWHL contract would make history twice as she was part of the league’s first trade. She was acquired by the New York Riveters in exchange for Shenae Lundberg.

Both goaltenders were in their rookie season of professional hockey, having both graduated from NCAA play in 2015. Of note, Laden appeared in 88 games with the Quinnipiac Bobcats program. Gaining the starting role in 2014-15, the native of Lakeville, Minnesota would post a sparkling won-loss mark of 25-9-2.

A graduate of Union College, Lundberg grew up in Peterborough, New Hampshire. In four seasons with the Dutchwomen, she appeared between the pipes on 110 occasions. While her senior season saw personal bests for games played, minutes, saves and save percentage, she would record more wins and a better save percentage in her junior season.

Coincidentally, the two played against each other twice in their senior seasons of NCAA hockey. Both games featured similar themes as Laden logged shutouts in a pair of lopsided matches that saw Lundberg play valiantly.

The first encounter would take place on November 15, 2014 as Lundberg faced an astounding 58 shots, allowing five goals. On home ice, Laden only faced eight shots from the opposing Dutchwomen, resulting in her seventh straight win to open the season.  The rematch took place on January 2, 2015 in Schenedacty, New York. Needing just four saves to record her seventh shutout of the season, Laden watched as Lundberg faced 35 shots, allowing four goals.

Adding to the sense of coincidence is that both made their NWHL debuts on the same day, which would stand as their only appearances for their respective teams. On October 18, Chelsea Laden earned her first career NWHL start for the Whale, facing off against the Buffalo Beauts.

Allowing just two goals on 38 shots, Laden would be the second of three different goaltenders to appear in consecutive games for the Whale. Canadian Jaimie Leonoff would win the first game in Whale history, which was also the first in NWHL history. The third game would feature Brown Bears alumnus Nicole Stock. All three goaltenders would win their respective starts.

Laden would allow a goal in the first period to Meghan Duggan. Said goal would be historic as it marked the first career NWHL goal for Duggan, the captain for Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.  At the 17:01 mark of the third period, the Whale found their 3-1 lead trimmed to one goal as Kelley Steadman scored for the Beauts. Despite allowing the goal, Laden remained solid, stopping 15 Beauts shots (she would also make 15 saves in the second) as Molly Engstrom and Kaleigh Fratkin scored goals just 76 seconds apart, preserving the lead and providing Laden with her first career NWHL win. 

Lundberg entered the October 18 contest against the Boston Pride in a relief effort. After starting goaltender Nana Fujimoto allowed three goals on 16 shots, she was removed at the 31:04 mark of the contest. Prior to her removal, Fujimoto had played in every minute of the Riveters first games, making Lundberg the second goalie in franchise history to appear in a game.

In the third period, Lundberg would allow four goals on 32 shots, recording an .875 save percentage. Alaska native Zoe Hickel would score just 12 seconds in said period, gaining her second score of the game. Goals would follow by Corinne Buie, Blake Bolden, the first African-American player to appear in the NWHL and Jordan Smelker, also raised in Alaska.

The end result is a win-win situation for the Riveters and the Whale. Although the starting goaltender situation is firm both teams, the change in back-up goaltenders is beneficial. Lundberg is a workhorse goaltender, ready to be called upon when needed. While there is no denying that Laden has talent, there simply was not enough playing time with the solid goaltending Leonoff. As the Riveters are looking to avoid becoming the first team to finish last in the NWHL standings, Laden may be able to relieve pressure on Fujimoto, injecting new energy into a team looking for the third place seeding.

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