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Dear Sami Jo and Chelsea... A look at CWHL draft-eligible defenders

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In Part Two of our draft scouting series, we turn to the blueline.

Colgate University defender Lauren Wildfang
Lauren Wildfang playing for Colgate University. Could she come to the CWHL next year?
Colgate Athletics

Today we continue our showcase of recent NCAA and U Sports grads who hail from Ontario and should be encouraged to sign up for the 2018 CWHL Draft. Last time, we directed our thoughts specifically towards Toronto Furies GM Sami Jo Small and her need to find the Furies a few more good goaltenders. Now we’re moving on to defenders, so we’ve expanded our reach to include Markham Thunder GM Chelsea Purcell. The Thunder may have an annoyingly stacked defensive roster full of multiple defenders with Olympic medals and stuff, but even they have room for some good new players.

There are usually at least twice as many defenders on a team than goalies, so naturally this list is a little longer than the first one. Again, we’re focusing on players who have not yet signed up to the CWHL Draft, so while Mellissa Channell would be an excellent addition to either team a) I talked about her last year and b) she’s already on the list and has thus been sufficiently inspired. This list is inspiration for these players and their future GMs! Once the draft list is set we’ll talk about our top picks then.

Colgate University defender Lauren Wildfang Colgate Athletics

Lauren Wildfang, Colgate University Raiders

While a Fast-Wildfang defensive pair would be the best great-hockey-name combination in the league, Lauren Wildfang is on my wishlist first and foremost because she is an excellent defender. Like several other women featured in this series, this Waterdown, Ontario native won a gold medal at U18s with Team Canada in 2014. She then suited up to play for Colgate University, and graduated as Colgate’s all-time points leader for a defender. Colgate made the national championship game for the first time Wildfang’s senior season, thanks to Breanne Wilson-Bennett’s OT goal against Wisconsin (this may be foreshadowing for the next installment in this series), before they lost the title to Clarkson University in OT. Wildfang was named to the All-ECAC team.

While she was the keystone to Colgate’s defense, Wildfang has the best offensive touch of anyone on this list, scoring over 20 points a season her last three years at Colgate and hitting the 30-point mark as a senior. One of her two three-assist games last year was in a Colgate comeback overtime win against Clarkson, and any player that’s good enough at distributing the puck to have a three-assist game against the back-to-back national champions is a player I want on my team. I think she’d be a great help quarterbacking, say, the Furies’ power play—the Thunder have Megan Bozek, and I am personally greedy.

Dartmouth captain Hailey Noronha (#16) Doug Austin

Hailey Noronha, Dartmouth College Big Green

One of Wildfang’s teammates on the 2014 U18 Team Canada, Hailey Noronha also went to the ECAC—specifically, to Dartmouth College, where she’s played under Team Canada head coach Laura Schuler. Unlike Colgate, Dartmouth did not have a good season last year. They finished the 2017-18 season second to last in the ECAC and won only three games, a record probably not helped by Schuler’s sabbatical to coach Team Canada at the Olympics. Noronha, however, was a high point for Dartmouth’s roster. Named team captain, she led her team with fourteen points—a career high for her—and was named the team’s Defensive MVP. I assume giving her the Offensive MVP award too would be seen as tacky.

If Noronha wanted to join the CWHL, she could possibly reunite with former Dartmouth teammate and current Markham Thunder forward Laura Stacey, who played with Noronha for her first two seasons in the NCAA. A point to note: in Stacey’s rookie CWHL season, she scored more points in seven fewer games than she did in her senior year at Dartmouth, while playing against CWHL competition. Stacey definitely rose to the challenge and benefited from linemates at her level. On the Markham Thunder, Noronha would not have to carry her entire team, and she’d be the new kid on a defense that includes Bozek, Jocelyne Larocque, and Laura freaking Fortino. I would love to see what she’s capable of when she’s not carrying a roster.

Gryphons defender Katherine Bailey (#23) Karyn Stepien

Katherine Bailey, University of Guelph Gryphons

Switching course from the ECAC to OUA, Katherine Bailey has spent the past four years on the blueline for the Guelph Gryphons, including a trip to USports Nationals in 2017. While they were knocked out by Concordia (coached by infallible human being Julie Chu), it was Bailey who tied the game and forced a shootout. She was named a First Team All-Canadian that season.

That same year, she played for Team Canada at the Universiade (along with previously mentioned goaltending possible Stephanie Sluys, and current Inferno defender Katelyn Gosling), coming home with a silver medal after losing to Russia in the final. As was noted in Sluys’ section, that Universiade team was coached by Rachel Flanagan, who is married to current Furies head coach Jeff Flanagan, giving us a tenuous GTA CWHL connection. Bailey also attended Hockey Canada’s NWDT camp as a member of Team CIS (now USports) that season, scoring two assists in the tournament. As we’ve said before on this blog, the NCAA isn’t the only quality development path for women’s players, and Bailey has the chops to make the jump to the next level.

Northeastern defender Ainsley MacMillan Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics

Ainsley MacMillan, Northeastern University Huskies

Yet another veteran of the 2014 Canadian U18 team, Ilderton, Ontario native Ainsley MacMillan was recruited by Northeastern University in Boston. Northeastern is often eclipsed by the two Bostons (University and College) when it comes to women’s hockey in the city. This year, with BU having, er, an off season and BC short three of its best players (who were busy winning gold in Korea), MacMillan’s Northeastern team stepped forward to do something the program had never achieved before—they won the Hockey East championship in a Husky-on-Husky matchup with the University of Connecticut.

MacMillan, who held a captaincy her junior year and an alternate captaincy as a senior, isn’t going to contribute much on the scoreboard. She had ten points last season, all of them assists, but also had 40 blocked shots in 39 games (ouch). Unlike Wildfang, MacMillan isn’t going to be a big help to getting points on the scoreboard, but defensive defenders are useful for holding down the fort whenever Renata Fast forgets that she’s not a forward and jumps up on the rush. Fast is good at jumping up on the rush, but holding down the fort is behavior we here at Pension Plan Puppets appreciate and want to encourage.

University of Ottawa defender Bryanna Neuwald Ellen Bond

Bryanna Neuwald, University of Ottawa Gee-Gees

The oldest player on this list, Bryanna Neuwald’s career path has been a bit different from the rest of the players mentioned, all of whom recently finished undergrad. Neuwald attended Ohio State for four years, playing in their program for three—she redshirted her sophomore season—and then pursued a Master’s in Education at the University of Ottawa. Because she’d only played for three years in Ohio, she had two seasons of USports eligibility left, and joined the Gee-Gees as a grad student.

This past season, Neuwald’s final year of eligibility, Ottawa made the playoffs and were knocked out in the semifinal round (by, yet again, Julie Chu’s Concordia Stingers, giving me an excuse to mention Julie Chu twice in this article). Neuwald herself was invited by Hockey Canada to play for Team USports at the 2017 National Women’s Team Development Camp, which speaks highly of how Hockey Canada sees her among other USports defenders. She would come to the CWHL with collegiate playing experience from two different leagues, and like Bailey, I’m interested to see what she can do if she goes pro.

University of Newhampshire defender Julia Fedeski (#5) Joey Walker

Julia Fedeski, University of New Hampshire Wildcats

A 2017 draft pick by the NWHL’s Boston Pride, Julia Fedeski has already drawn interest from a pro team, and it’s easy to see why. She’s a big defender—listed at 5’10’’, making her the second tallest player on this list after Katherine Bailey—who’s not only willing to block a shot but can take them, too. Fedeski had 95 blocked shots this year, good for first on her team (as well as what I am sure were a distressing number of bruises), but she also had 17 points and 7 goals. This clip of her picking top corner against Maine is a great example of her scoring prowess:

Six of those seven goals were on the power play; Fedeski has a point bomb that would be an asset to any team (but especially the Furies—again, the Thunder have Megan Bozek, and Carlee Campbell’s impressive slapshot will be missing from Toronto this season).

It’s also encouraging that Fedeski didn’t miss a game either her junior or senior seasons, despite blocking 164 shots over that two-year span. Her playing style is an injury risk, but up to this point, she’s clearly been able to take care of herself physically. If she chooses to come home to Ontario, both the Furies and Thunder should be interested in bringing her aboard.

So there you have six defenders, or three defence pairs that could be very helpful to either the Furies or the Thunder this year and should be persuaded to go pro by our wise GMs. Of course, this list is in no way comprehensive; these women certainly aren’t the only good defenders graduating this year, and we always see prospects who have taken a year or two off before making the leap to pro. Since we started this series, we’ve already seen Elijah Milne-Price, one of our goaltending prospects, sign up to the draft list. Will Lauren Wildfang or Katherine Bailey be next?