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Connecticut Whale superlatives reach new heights in sweep of Whitecaps

By Rick Menning

DANBURY, CT --Whether it be team achievements or individual accomplishments, the Connecticut Whale left the Danbury Ice Arena this past Sunday with many monumental moments to look back on with pride.

The Premier Hockey Federation skaters swept the Isobel Cup runner-up Minnesota Whitecaps, an opponent that they had never defeated in 12 previous matchups. In doing so, the Whale have picked up points in their first four home games and have four wins and an overtime point in their first eight games.

To put that into perspective, the Connecticut squad has not had at least four victories in a season since the 2016-17 campaign when that team went 5-12-1. In the prior four seasons leading up to this one, the Whale had not won more than three regular-season games.

Connecticut Whale forward Taylor Girard makes a backhanded sweep with the puck a nano-second from completely crossing the goal line. Her fintastic effort was a huge turning point as Connecticut went on to sweep Minnesota in the weekend series. (Photo credit: Connecticut Whale.)

But here the Whale sit in second place with 13 points, placing them in a solid position as they enjoy the upcoming bye weekend before traveling to Buffalo for a Dec. 18-19 series.

One glimpse at the standings and the stat sheet is all it takes to know just how special this group of professional women's hockey players have become.

A season-defining moment

To put all the positives of their 5-1 and 4-2 victories over Minnesota into even more vivid focus, rewind to the 14-minutes-to-go mark of the third period in Sunday's matinee showdown.

With Minnesota on the rush in Connecticut's end and the score knotted at 2, a shot trickles past goalie Abbie Ives and slowly starts to glide across the goal line. Out of seemingly nowhere, Taylor Girard races in and extends herself before crashing into the near post while making a momentum-changing backhanded sweep save.

The puck never made it completely across the line thanks to Girard's effort, and the Whitecaps never recovered from what would have been a huge goal to give them the 3-2 lead.

To understand the importance of that play, one need only recall what happened in the closing two minutes of the second period when a 2-0 Whale lead vanished into a stunning 2-2 deadlock as the Whitecaps battled back with a fury. Then, with one Minnesota rush after another as the action was intensifying in the third period, what could have been a deflating goal was averted thanks to Girard's lunging save.

Then, to put the icing on the cake for the former Quinnipiac University standout and top pick in this summer's PHF draft, Girard scored both the go-ahead and the empty net goals to not only clinch the weekend sweep but also earn her a career-first hat trick.

Linemates getting it done

Kennedy Marchment, who currently holds the longest active streak in the PHF with points in seven straight games, had the primary assists on two of Girard's three goals. She now has 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in the team's eight games. Girard follows closely behind with eight points (5 goals, 3 assists).

Girard (4 goals, assist) and Marchment (4 assists) were among the PHF's top three stars for their overall performances this past weekend.

While calling her first-ever hat trick "a really special feeling," the Whale forward who, as a junior at Quinnipiac had a six-game point streak and a plus-9 on-ice rating, credited her teammates with making her feat extra special.

"I think we have a really great group, " said Girard, a native of Macomb, Michigan. "Everyone was saying we have never beaten Minnesota before so to sweep them and it being Connecticut’s first-ever sweep too was such a special feeling."

A big confidence builder

Connecticut head coach Colton Orr made a quick comment as he was leaving the arena with his family after the game that Sunday's win is one they can remember as the season progresses as being extremely pivotal.

"Yes, down the road (the players) can look back on this one and say those three points were really big," Orr said. "A lot more work to be done, though."

He said he is not surprised by Girard and her abilities in sparking the Whale at both ends of the ice.

"She was the first overall pick and we had high hopes for her. She continues to deliver," Orr said in his post-game interview. "She’s getting better every game. She continues to push herself and we want to keep that confidence up and keep playing hard."

Girard broke Sunday's scoreless standoff with the first goal at the 9:15 mark of the second period, and Amanda Conway made it 2-0 with just 2:16 left before Minnesota struck twice within a span of one minute and 13 seconds to even it up heading into the final frame.

A less-stressful Saturday

While Sunday's game was a heart-pounder in the making for the Whale faithful, Saturday's first encounter in the Minnesota series was much less dramatic.

After a back-and-forth first period, Connecticut stormed out in the second period with a four-goal onslaught as seven different members of the Whale squad contributed points during that surge.

Conway and Girard each had a goal and an assist, while Allie Munroe and Alyssa Wohlfeiler added a goal apiece. Shannon Turner-Doyle, Cailey Hutchinson and Marchment came through with clutch helpers.

The Whale put the bow on Saturday's outing as Catherine Crawley lit the lamp in the third period with assists from Janine Weber and Munroe.

Ives pulls another double

Abbie Ives had another busy weekend between the pipes as she worked full shifts both Saturday and Sunday.

The former top goaltender at Quinnipiac University and native of Bedford Hills, New York turned back 26 of 27 Whitecaps' shots in game one, and less than 20 hours later was back on the ice again and headed for the nets where she made 20 of 22 stops in game two.

Ives is no stranger to hard work as she amassed 2,231 career saves as a collegiate netminder with the Bobcats.

She was named to the All-Section 1 Team in her senior year of high school.

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