#NWHL: Jessica Koizumi, Shenae Lundberg among several players added to Connecticut Whale roster

Koizumi, Lundberg and three NWHL rookies join The Pod

Connecticut Whale head coach Ryan Equale took advantage of the All-Star Weekend and USA vs. Canada Rivalry Series breaks to revive his roster for the final two weeks of the regular season. By the time I caught up with him at practice Friday, the ink was still drying on several new contracts.

First, Shenae Lundberg has officially signed with the Whale for the remainder of the season. She was announced as a PTO (professional tryout) ahead of the game against the Pride in Boston February 2. Lundberg made 22 of 25 saves for a .880 clip in the 3-1 loss.

The Union alumna signed with the Riveters in the first season, before becoming one half of the first-ever NWHL trade. She shipped up to Connecticut while Chelsea Laden joined up with the Riveters.

In addition to Lundberg, the Whale have officially signed the original Connecticut captain Jessica Koizumi. The University of Minnesota-Duluth alumna stepped away after the first season to get into coaching and is now the associate head coach for the University of Vermont.

“I’ve been speaking with Jess for a few years, really. I tried to get her here last year and schedule-wise, it just didn’t work out.” said coach Equale after practice Friday night.

“For us, we’re excited to add depth of talent as well as depth of hockey I.Q. She really knows the game well and for us – with so many young players – as we head into some really pivotal games and playoffs, having people who’ve been there before and [have] that hockey I.Q is something we feel was a need for the team.”

The veteran experience of Koizumi and fourth-year players like Shannon Doyle, Jordan Brickner, and Elena Orlando will be crucial as they break in two new players.

At goalie, Laura Brennan and Lundberg will be joined by Boston University alumna Erin O’Neil. O’Neil posted a .906 save percentage in 69 games for the Terriers, per elite prospects. She suited up in practice for the first time last night, so not sure we’ll see her dress right away.

The goalie signings come as a result of the news Meeri Räisänen will be out for the remainder of the NWHL. The Finnish netminder suffered lower-body injuries as a result of a collision with Hannah Brandt January 20.

Connecticut has also added forwards Vanessa Gagnon (Clarkson University) and Tess Adams (SUNY Canton, Suffolk) is expected to sign*. Gagnon helped Clarkson to an NCAA National Championship in 2014 and recorded 33 goals and 36 assists in 148 career games for the Golden Knights. Gagnon practiced on a line with captain Emily Fluke and Clarkson teammate Juana “Juice” Baribeau.

Tess Adams completed her senior season with the Suffolk Rams on February 16th (a 2-1 loss the UMass Boston in the NEHC Quarterfinals) and will likely get her first taste of pro action on Sunday. The Calgary-native posted 32 points in 26 games for the Rams. At SUNY Canton, Adams posted four-career hat tricks for the Roos.

Equale expects Adams’ learning curve to be the steepest of all the new signings, but he is relying on her speed and skill to offer a much needed offensive boost to the Whale team. Adams practiced on a line with Michelle Löwenhielm and Rachel Ade on Friday.

Equale continues to stress outworking opponents and remaining at even strength. His team works hard to remain competitive against opponents, but the goal is not to just stick around, “my job is to field the most competitive team we can, our job is to win … I’m very excited about Sunday and seeing what we have,” said the Connecticut coach who celebrated a birthday Friday.

It won’t be a smooth ride to the playoffs, but the team is eager to put its new talent to the test against the top three teams in the league. The final homestretch for the Whale starts with a game against Boston this Sunday, followed by the Buffalo Beauts next Saturday and the Minnesota Whitecaps for next Sunday’s regular-season finale.

All games will be played at Terry Conners Ice Rink in Stamford.

*Note: Tess Adams has not been officially signed, as an earlier version of this story suggested.

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