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Connecticut Whale look very sharp as PHF camp opens

By Rick Menning

MILFORD, CT -- While much of the state was shut down as the American League Wild Card game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees grabbed the attention, a group of 20 professional women athletes were hard at work on Tuesday night.

As the clock struck 9 p.m., the rink inside the Milford Ice Arena came alive with the sounds of screeching skates, pucks ricocheting from one stick blade to another and rapid-fire shots on net as the roster hopefuls for the Connecticut Whale invaded the frozen surface.

The skaters brought life into the nighttime atmosphere as they displayed precision in motion while sharpening their skills in preparation for their 2021-22 season in the Premier Hockey Federation.

For the next hour and 20 minutes -- with only occasional stops for a redirection in the many drills covering all aspects to be accomplished in the session -- the Whale women performed all types of maneuvers featuring stickwork, puck possession, line execution, passing and odd-man rushes to name a few.

Connecticut Whale Head Coach Colton Orr likes what he sees in the early going as the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly NWHL) home state skaters begin training camp in Milford. (File photo credit: Bryan Johnson Photography.)

With each whistle from Connecticut Whale Head Coach Colton Orr, the focused pros shifted gears with little to no downtime during a late evening commitment to succeed right from day one.

"They looked great; you can tell they've been putting in the work in the off-season," coach Orr said from his new office upstairs in the Milford facility after the intense first night of camp. "They are just excited to go ... the way the season was last year and how short it was with COVID and the bubble makes this so much better."

New digs bring smiles

Not only did the Whale thrill to the start on Tuesday of a real training camp, but the amenities that Milford Ice Arena provides them is an added bonus.

"Having our new dressing room, and these areas upstairs where we can watch videos and study how our systems are developing really makes a big difference," Orr said.

Even on the first night, Orr could see the upbeat spirit in the Whale team as they began the process of working toward their season opener against the Metropolitan Riveters in New Jersey over the Nov. 6-7 weekend.

"It really brings out that energy ... the girls are happy to be back as a group," said Orr, who is starting his third season at the helm of the Connecticut franchise.

To actually have a regular season with fans in attendance simply adds to the invigorating atmosphere.

"To play games and travel, and actually have a season is great," Orr continued. "You have time to develop things and go through your systems in a regular-season setting."

Tough squad to face

And what will this season's Whale bring to the ice in terms of its unique identity?

"The first thing we want is to be very hard to play against," Orr said. "We want to have speed both on the attack and getting back (on defense). We want possession and being constantly in on the forecheck and not give (our opponents) a lot of space."

He wants to see a tone right from the outset that combines fast play with winning puck battles through proper execution in all facets of the game.

The Premier Hockey Federation doesn't allow anything other than bringing an 'A' game approach to every shift.

"This is a very tough league," Orr said. "You have teams like Boston and Minnesota that set the bar in talent level and skills. You're pushing for that and you want to compete with that."

The Connecticut Whale plans to be up to the challenge, and in the coming weeks will continue to have focused and committed practices like the one Tuesday night.

"We want to take on (every team) and be able to prove ourselves," Orr concluded. "That's what you're going to get from this Whale team. Our players are not going to go out there and be scared of anybody."

Next Whale sighting

The Connecticut Whale visit the Ingalls Rink in New Haven for an exhibition game against the Yale University women's ice hockey team on Friday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m.

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