PWHL New York blue-line built around talented trio of young Canadians

Alex Carpenter didn’t break stride as the pass from Cayla Barnes reached her, extending her stick at the perfect moment to hit the puck and deflect it past Canadian goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens.

Her goal during last week’s Rivalry Series was unbelievable, an almost sixth sense type of display of skill for a player that’s long flown under the radar.

But Carpenter will get the chance to take centre stage with PWHL New York in the team’s inaugural season, showcasing the skill and scoring touch that made her one of the team’s first free agent signings back in September. 

New York is built from the ground up on defence, boasting three of the best young Canadian defenders in captain Micah Zandee-Hart, alternate captain Ella Shelton and Jaime Bourbonnais. But there’s a lot of sneaky skill there too, from Élizabeth Giguère to Jessie Eldridge and Abby Roque. 

Coverage of the first PWHL regular-season game on Jan. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET (New York at Toronto) will be available on CBC, the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices, and CBC TV, beginning with a pre-game show at 12 p.m. 

“They’ve brought in players that can score key goals at key times and I think that’s something that you don’t have a lot of, generally speaking,” head coach Howie Draper said about GM Pascal Daoust and his staff’s work at the league’s first draft.

Going into the team’s three pre-season games in Utica, N.Y., earlier this month, it wasn’t clear how the team might put it all together, with a young roster and a lot of players who haven’t played together before.

But the team came out looking fast and skilled, generating offence from all four lines. They were bolstered by great goaltending from all three of its netminders. By the end of the week, New York was one of only two teams going home without a pre-season loss.

WATCH | PWHL New York forward Emma Woods looking forward to being part of league’s first game:

PWHL New York’s Emma Woods looking forward to inaugural game

Former Toronto Six forward Emma Murphy on looking forward to returning to Toronto for PWHL’s inaugural game on January 1st.

“I think we have a way of just sticking it out, sticking together and grinding out games,” New York forward Emma Woods said about her team during the pre-season.

Clutch talent on forward

The roster begins up front with the veteran Carpenter, a hard-working forward who’s one of the best in the league at shooting the puck.

But her “deceptive speed” helps her get in those positions to score, according to Minnesota defender Lee Stecklein.

“Everyone obviously in the world knows that she’s an awesome player,” Stecklein said earlier this month. “But she still will just do something that surprises you every time, so you just have to be really, really aware.”

The 2015 winner of the Patty Kazmaier award, given to the best female college hockey player, has a wealth of pro experience to draw from, having played in three other professional leagues and last season with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA). 

Three female hockey players in white and teal jerseys, all with an A or a C on them, smile. They're in front of a Christmas tree.
Forward Alex Carpenter and defenders Micah Zandee-Hart and Ella Shelton will all wear letters this season for PWHL New York. (PWHL New York)

She’ll wear a letter for New York this season, and will be one of the team’s leaders on the ice and off.

Carpenter looked great on a line with Eldridge and Giguère during the pre-season, and look to be a trio that bring a ton of speed and skill.

Eldridge worked her way onto Team Canada’s radar after a standout collegiate career with Colgate University and has kept growing her game since moving to Montreal to train full-time.

She’s been up and down with the national team, winning a world championship with the team in 2022. But she’s shown she’s worthy of more opportunity after breaking out in the PWHPA last season with Team Harvey’s, and finishing third in scoring, behind only Marie-Philip Poulin and Emily Clark.

“You know that she’s a clutch player and she’s going to be there when you most need her,” Draper said. 

Off the ice, he said Eldridge adds an energy and a lightness to the dressing room.

Three female hockey players in white and teal jerseys celebrate on the ice.
PWHL New York forward Jessie Eldridge (55) brings timely goal scoring to the team’s roster. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

The third member of that line, Giguère, is another Patty Kazmaier winner and another New York player who has a knack for scoring big goals when they’re most needed. She was tied for the NCAA lead in game-winning goals in her Patty Kazmaier-winning season.

Giguère made her national team debut with Team Canada at the Rivalry Series last year, and in between that, finished top-10 in scoring in the PHF with the Boston Pride in her first professional season.

Speed and leadership

New York also got pre-season offence from Woods, who had a hat trick in the team’s final game against Toronto. 

When she steps on the ice at Mattamy Athletic Centre to face Toronto on New Year’s Day, she’ll be back in her home province and the city where she won the Isobel Cup last season with the PHF’s Toronto Six.

She finished that campaign top five in scoring, and came up big in the playoffs too, scoring the overtime winner that kept the Six alive in the semifinals against the Connecticut Whale.

PWHL team previews:

But an X factor up front for New York might be Roque, a skilled player on the puck who is also a real pain to play against.

A world champion with Team USA, Roque has no quit on the ice and has shown with her national team that she can play just about any role.

Other contenders for top-six time include Northeastern University standout Chloé Aurard, and Olympic gold medallist Jill Saulnier, whose speed should thrive on New York’s roster.

“She’s one of the fastest and smartest skaters I’ve ever played with and against,” Montreal forward Maureen Murphy said of Aurard, her teammate at Northeastern.

Saulnier, along with former PHF Metropolitan Riveters captain Madison Packer, also add invaluable leadership to a relatively young New York Team. 

A female hockey player in a white practice jersey looks on.
PWHL New York forward Jill Saulnier will bring speed and a veteran presence to the lineup. (Heather Pollock/PWHL)

Draper said he plans to rely on both of them to help build the team’s culture.

“They both have a tremendous history in terms of where they’ve been, what they’ve gone through to get to where they are, and I think sharing a little bit of that with our young team will be invaluable,” he said. 

“Not only do they have that experience and that knowledge, but they’re highly committed to taking on that role, and they’ve both done an outstanding job of it.”

Packer missed all three pre-season games with an injury, but Daoust said she’s close to returning, if not for the first game on Jan. 1.

Team prioritized defence at draft

Daoust and his team prioritized defence at September’s draft, and the team’s looks to have one of the strongest blue lines in the league as a result.

It begins with Zandee-Hart, who was named the team’s captain at an event at the Rockefeller Center earlier this week. She’s only 26, but Zandee-Hart is known for her leadership, and wore the C with Team Canada at the under-18 tournament several years ago and with Cornell University.

Zandee-Hart is an up-and-comer on Canada’s blue line, after playing on the third pair at the 2022 Olympics. She won a gold medal with that team, and added a world championship to her roster a few months after that. 

The same could be said about first-round pick Shelton, a physical defender with a powerful shot and a strong motor on the ice.

“I feel like every time you think you’ve beat her, she hustles back,” Ottawa forward Brianne Jenner said of Shelton.

Daoust selected Bourbonnais second in the draft, adding a defender who can put up points. Bourbonnais, who played with Zandee-Hart at Cornell, was tied for third in scoring on Team Scotiabank in the PWHPA last year.

With Zandee-Hart, Shelton and Bourbonnais all signed to three-year deals, New York looks set on defence for the long term.

Two female ice hockey players skate into the corner while battling for position in pursuit of the puck.
New York GM Pascal Daoust selected Jaime Bourbonnais, pictured here during play in the PWHPA, in the second round of the draft. (Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Other defenders to watch include Olivia Zafuto, who played on a solid Boston Pride team last season in the PHF, and Brooke Hobson, who returns to North America after a season in Sweden’s women’s league.

Asked about the most underrated player in the league going into the first season, Hobson came to mind for her teammate, Eldridge.

“[She] is someone really special who may not pop out right away,” Eldridge said during the pre-season. “Her composure back there is just going to help our already strong D corps grow even more.”

The team also has one of the best reserves in the league with Olympic gold medallist Claire Thompson on defence. But she’s pursuing a medical degree and may only appear in case of injury.

A solid goalie tandem

Corinne Schroeder and Abbey Levy have only one professional season between them, but both looked solid in the pre-season. Levy posted a shutout against Montreal, while Schroeder allowed only one goal against Ottawa.

Expect to see the two rotate in and out of the net this season.

“We’re going to give them as many opportunities as we can to help us win hockey games and we’ll probably err towards the goalie that seems to have a hot hand on any given run,” Draper said during the pre-season.

Schroeder had a strong start to her pro career last season with the PHF’s Boston Pride, posting the league’s best save percentage and goals against average. She was named the PHF’s best goaltender and newcomer of the year.

She earned a call up to Canada’s senior national team for the Rivalry Series in November, with Desbiens sidelined. She’s yet to start a game with that team, but could make inroads with Hockey Canada with a good season this year.

Her second start looked like a classic goalie battle between her and Emerance Maschmeyer, who has been Canada’s number two for a while. Schroeder emerged with the win, saving 40 shots in the process. She also might be in contention for the best set of goalie pads in the league.

Levy was Team USA’s third goaltender on a world championship-winning squad this spring, but like Schroeder, has yet to get a start at that level. She turned pro after five seasons split between Minnesota State and Boston College.

Standing six-foot-one, Levy looked athletic in the crease in her shutout against Montreal.

Rounding out the team in the crease is Lindsey Post, a former goaltender of the year in Sweden’s women’s league and someone Draper is familiar with, having coached her at the University of Alberta a few years back.

“She’s starting off as a third goaltender and like any great third goaltender, you know that they can come in and help, but what you need most from them is just support,” Draper said. “They need to support and push the goalies in front of them, and she’s prepared to do that.”

Full New York roster

#9 Jessie Eldridge (Barrie, Ont.)
#10 Kayla Vespa (Hamilton, Ont.)
#11 Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)
#12 Chloé Aurard (Villard-de-Lans, France)
#13 Alexandra Labelle (St-Louis-de-Gonzague, Que.)
#18 Élizabeth Giguère (Quebec City, Que.)
#19 Paetyn Levis (Rogers, Minn.)
#23 Madison Packer (Birmingham, Mich.)
#25 Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
#27 Jade Downie-Landry (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.)
#44 Jill Saulnier (Halifax, N.S.)
#67 Emma Woods (Burford, Ont.)
#71 Savannah Norcross (Lynn, Mass.)

#3 Olivia Zafuto (Niagara Falls, N.Y.)
#4 Taylor Baker (Toronto, Ont.)
#6 Brooke Hobson (Prince Albert, Sask.)
#14 Jaime Bourbonnais (Mississauga, Ont.)
#17 Ella Shelton (Ingersoll, Ont.)
#28 Micah Zandee-Hart (Victoria, B.C.)
#59 Johanna Fällman (Luleå, Sweden)

#30 Corinne Schroeder (Elm Creek, Man.)
#33 Lindsey Post (Chelsea, Que.)
#39 Abbey Levy (Congers, N.Y.)

Alexa Gruschow, F (Mechanicsburg, Penn.)
Carley Olivier, D (Sudbury, Ont.)
Claire Thompson, D (Toronto, Ont.)

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