Whale rookie Emma Vlasic has all the makings of a franchise cornerstone in Connecticut

She struggled with confidence in college, but NWHL all-star Emma Vlasic has dazzled with her sharpshooting skills as a rookie. Now, if only the Whale's leading goal scorer could buy an assist.
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Bryan Johnson/NWHL

Bryan Johnson/NWHL

Emma Vlasic’s first sporting love is hockey. Of that there’s no question. But growing up in Illinois, a love of baseball was bred in. Her allegiance lies with the Cubs – she followed the North Siders throughout her youth and needs not even a moment to answer a quick Cubs-or-Sox query – and she herself spent her fair share of time on the diamond. All the way up until high school, her summers were spent in cleats and high socks, Vlasic either stationed on first base or behind home plate.

This is all to say she knows a thing or two about the MLB’s Cy Young Award. She’s also familiar with the tongue-in-cheek pseudo-award connotation it carries in her vocation, as she is with the fact she’s the leader for the, ahem, honor in her rookie campaign with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. In fact, when asked about her familiarity with the on-ice Cy Young, Vlasic cuts off the question mid-sentence with a chuckle. “My dad was actually saying that to me based on my stats,” Vlasic laughed. “I think that's what you're getting at right?”

Indeed, it is. With nine goals – tied for 13th-most in the NWHL – and zero, zilch, nada in the assist column, Vlasic has a goals-to-assists ratio that would be a sparkling win-loss record for a major-league hurler. Not by design, of course. It’s a statistical oddity for the 23-year-old, nothing more than one of those things that happens without any rhyme or reason. Vlasic, however, quips that she needs to start passing the puck more, start looking to find teammates. Surely, though, the Whale don’t mind her potentially Cy Young-winning ways. She’s the club’s leading goal scorer, doubling up any other player’s total, and even without an assist to her name, her nine points put her tied for the team lead.

Without question, Vlasic hitting the ground running this season has been one of the bright spots for the Whale, and she attributes the first-year success to confidence, which is something she had struggled with in the past. She admitted that during her time at Yale, where she spent her four-year college career, her belief in her game wavered at times, especially in the early years. It wasn’t really until her junior year that she began to truly trust in her ability, had faith she could produce and started to play like a difference-maker. And she wanted that to carry on through to her next stop in Connecticut.

“Transitioning into playing in the NWHL, I wanted to continue and have even more confidence than I did in college,” Vlasic said. “I didn't want to be starting again where, like in college, I was unsure or didn't know what I was able to contribute and eventually kind of found my footing. I didn't want that to happen again. I wanted to come in and be a dominant player right away, contribute and be somebody who could be put out there in the big moments.”

To be sure, there was an adjustment period, time spent getting used to the playing style of her newfound NWHL opposition and the physicality of the professional game. But it wasn’t long before she made her mark. Though she didn’t score in either of her first two professional contests, she mustered six shots, and the dam finally broke in her third outing when she scored her first NWHL goal. The next time out, she was back on the scoresheet, and Vlasic has since added another seven goals to her resume, including a run of four tallies in her past five games. She’s entering all-star weekend as one of the hottest snipers in the circuit.

Despite Vlasic’s personal success, however, team success has been hard to come by for the Whale. Entering the break, Connecticut sits dead-last in the NWHL, seven points back of the fourth-place Buffalo Beauts. At minus-50, the Whale have the worst goal-differential in the league, and their 34 goals for are far-and-away the NWHL’s lowest total. Recent results have been somewhat promising, though. Both of Connecticut’s victories this season – overtime and shootout wins over the surely playoff-bound Metropolitan Riveters – have come in the past month. And the growth Connecticut has seen in recent weeks isn’t lost on Vlasic. A former captain at Yale and with the Chicago Young Americans prior to her college career, she sees herself as part of the group that can drive the Whale forward.

“We're coming from an underdog position, but the only was we can go now is up,” Vlasic said. “It's encouraging and I'll hopefully be able to be part of that group. We have a lot of good leaders and are heading in the right direction. I want to be a part of that and bring this team to an even more competitive level where we're competing for the championship at the end of this.”

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