By Mike Murphy
Original NWHLers Jordan Brickner and Shannon Doyle have served as the twin pillars of the Connecticut Whale defense for over four years. Last season, Doyle broke out with three goals and five assists in 13 games for the 2018-19 Whale. This year, Brickner is piling up points at a pace we haven’t seen from her since the NWHL’s inaugural season.
In 2015-16, Brickner established herself as one of the league’s best two-way defenders. Playing on a pair with current Boston Pride star defender Kaleigh Fratkin, Brickner piled up 12 points – all assists – in 18 GP. That knack for generating goals earned her a spot in the 2016 NWHL All-Star Game and the 12 assists she piled up that year stand as a franchise record for helpers in a season by a Whale defender (shared with Fratkin).
In the following three seasons, Brickner transitioned to more of a shutdown role on a Connecticut team that made sound defensive play its defining trait. Heading into the 2019-20 season, Brickner scored just four of her 19 career points on the power play and two of those four were scored in her first season in Connecticut. Last year, the Wisconsin Badger alumna picked up just a single assist in 13 GP, although it’s important to note that she added another when it mattered most in the playoffs.
Things have been much different for Brickner in her fifth season with the Whale. The veteran defender has stepped back into a scoring role on the blue line on a youthful Connecticut team. Brickner already has six points this season, two of which have been earned on the power play.
“It’s always nice contributing offensively as a defender,” Brickner said. “That comes from a few things: confidence in my teammates and defensive partners, being able to create time and space, and successfully carrying out plays that we work hard on during practices. We have many new Whale players on offense this season, and I believe new teammates always bring a ton of energy, and new skills to work with as a team.”
Six of the Whale’s seven rookie skaters this season are forwards, but Connecticut has a wealth of experience on the blue line. Brickner, Doyle, Elena Orlando, and Taylor Marchin have provided solid defense as a foursome for two seasons now. Hannah Beattie, who played primarily as a forward last season, has moved back to the blue line this year. The new face on the blue line is Erin Hall, who played last year in the CWHL with the Worcester Blades.
The Whale’s veteran defense excels at both suppressing shots and blocking them, with Doyle leading the way with her #BlocksForBooks campaign. This group of defenders has given the Whale’s coaching staff the confidence it needs to continue to embrace the culture of defense-first hockey.
“It’s been great having so many returning players on the blue line this season, and Erin is an awesome addition to the group,” Brickner said. “Our team definitely emphasizes protecting in front of our net and limiting the amount of shots that go through to our goalies. It’s always exciting watching teammates block shots, and I think it gives our team boosts of energy and confidence which we try to continue throughout the games.”
The Whale’s bench also gets loud when veteran defenders like Brickner and Doyle make big plays with the puck that lead to scoring chances and goals. And, through the first nine games of Connecticut’s 2019-20 season, we’ve seen already seen plenty of that. As the season progresses, head coach Colton Orr may want to consider placing Brickner in an even bigger role in Connecticut’s offense.
The Whale return to action next Sunday in what has immediately become a much-anticipated rematch against the Metropolitan Riveters. Tickets for that 1:30 p.m. EST game are available at whale.nwhl.zone/tickets and all Whale games can be watched on twitch.tv/nwhl and twitch.tv/nwhl2.
Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson