On the same day as World Girls Hockey day, it was only fitting that the National Women’s Hockey League’s inaugural puck drop took place, ushering in a new and empowering era in women’s ice hockey in the United States. With the Connecticut Whale hosting the league’s first-ever game, followed by Manon Rheaume participating in the ceremonial face off later that day at Game #2 in Buffalo, it was a momentous milestone for the game.
Considering that there was no shortage of star power in either game, fans on-hand in Connecticut and Buffalo were witness to a world class display of elite women’s hockey. In front of a sold out capacity crowd at Chelsea Piers, the Whale and the New York Riveters faced off for the opportunity to become the first team to win an NWHL regular season game.
After several minutes of scoreless play, anticipation built over which player would score the first goal in NWHL history. That honor would belong to former United States national team member Jessica Koizumi, who scored on Nana Fujimoto. Earning the assists were Kelli Stack and Kelly Babstock as the Whale jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 2:28 mark of the first.
Taking into account that Koizumi also scored the first goal in the history of the Boston Blades back in 2010, it represented the chance to make history for a second time in her distinguished career, while showing how women’s hockey in US had grown in such a time span. Koizumi would score twice for the Blades (including the first-ever game winning goal) in their inaugural game, an October 30, 2010 match in CWHL play. As a side note, Koizumi’s first goal for the Blades was assisted by Sam Faber, who was also part of the Whale’s opening day roster.
Following Koizumi’s goal, there was no shortage of history about to unfold. The New York Riveters would tie the score at 4:15, with Brooke Ammerman netting the first goal in franchise history. Registering the assist was Lyudmila Belyakova, becoming the first European to log a point in NWHL regular season play. Before the period would expire, both teams would also get their first penalties. Riveters blueliner Ashley Johnston was called for hooking at 8:15 while Danielle Ward was sent to the penalty box for Connecticut with less than three minutes remaining.
The remainder of the game saw the Whale continue to make history. Merely 70 seconds after Ammerman’s goal, Kelli Stack would reclaim the lead for the Whale. With the goal, Stack became the first player in league history to record a multi-point game. As the 4-1 final would later indicate, Stack’s goal stood as the game-winning tally, another historic first in league history.
Coincidentally, Stack would also play with Koizumi and Faber on the Boston Blades. As the Blades single-season record holder for points, Stack is also a Clarkson Cup champion and scored the first-ever goal in CWHL All-Star Game history.
Connecticut would score two more times in the third as the Riveters were unable to mount a comeback. Micaela Long assisted on a goal scored by Shiann Darkangelo for the 3-1 advantage. Near the midway point of the third, Kelli Stack logged her third point of the game, becoming the first to earn three points in an NWHL game. Stack’s assist would prove to be a very historic one as the goal was scored by Kelly Babstock, who became the first Canadian-born player to score in an NWHL game.
Goaltender Jaimie Leonoff added to the remarkable Canadian contribution. Born in Montreal, Leonoff is very familiar to Connecticut hockey fans, as she played NCAA hockey for the Yale Bulldogs in New Haven. Leonoff become the first goaltender to win an NWHL regular season game, adding to Connecticut’s rich women’s hockey history. Such an achievement was echoed by the fact that she became the first Canadian-born goaltender to log an NWHL win. For her efforts, she was recognized as the game’s First Star, followed by Stack (Second) and Babstock (Third).