Following a season that saw record high viewership, digital fan engagement and sponsorship activation, the NWHL is now adding a new investor group with the sale on Monday of the Connecticut Whale.
As the board of Governors approved the sale and transfer, the Whale, who are a Founding Four team, became the third privately owned franchise in the National Women’s Hockey League. Owned previously by W Hockey Partners, a group formed with the intentions of seeking out private interests, the Whale are now controlled by Shared Hockey Enterprises (SHE), LLC, owned by Tobin Kelly and his team of co-investors.
“It has been our goal since transitioning to a joint venture model in October to find strong ownership groups who believe in the NWHL and recognize the growth potential for the league and professional women’s hockey,” Commissioner Tyler Tumminia said Monday in a statement. “Tobin’s commitment to supporting our athletes, building community partnerships, and enhancing the fan experience represents another significant milestone in league history as we prepare for our seventh season.”
Kelly’s ownership is just the latest financial boost since the increase in salary cap announced for season seven. With a record-setting commitment from Discover Financial Services, that saw a substantial rise from $150,000 to $300,000 per team. That’s double what was previously given, the first major inflation dating back to season five. What’s important to keep in mind here is when the league first launched back in 2015, they were offering a salary cap of $270,000. However, just five games into season two, player salaries were slashed, which caught many off guard.
While the league has had its ups and downs since, this is welcome news for players, staff and executives. Speaking to the news Monday afternoon, defender Elena Orlando said amid the excitement, “Such amazing news and so happy to see the continued growth of the league. #InvestInWomen”
Following in Orlando’s footsteps, President Amy Scheer said a short time later, “Today is a great day for the Connecticut Whale. We are so happy to welcome our new owner Tobin Kelly to the pod. As we have said throughout the past season, there are big things ahead for this team and today those dreams just grew a little bit bigger. With passion and power we head towards next season.”
Tobin Kelly joins the NWHL as a former coach and the founder of Arc Hockey. A mergers and acquisitions specialist with ties to girls hockey, Kelly has coached at both the youth and high school levels, while one of four drivers behind New Hampshire’s Youth Pond Hockey Festival. As per the league release, this event, in benefit of the Laura Foundation, is known as the largest outdoor youth tournament in the United States.
Kelly, from Needham, Massachusetts, oversees numerous organizations in a variety of positions. That includes Managing Director, President and COO. Among those names is Arc Hockey, an equipment and apparel company based in Warren, Rhode Island. Much like his latest project in Danbury, Connecticut, Kelly, for over two decades, has helped lead companies through growth and transition as an M&A specialist and operator.
Kelly is not the only SHE member well versed in hockey, as his co-investors and partners share the same passion as coaches themselves, active players and fans of the sport. Above all, Shared Hockey Enterprises has the same vision as a motivated team to grow the game of women’s hockey.
“All of us who have established SHE are excited to continue the amazing growth made by the NWHL and to fulfill the NWHL’s goal of providing the opportunity for elite women athletes to earn a living wage playing the sport they love,” Kelly stated on Monday. “Finalizing the purchase of the Whale with my co-investors is the culmination of a dream that I have held for decades. I am excited to get to work with the Whale players and staff to continue their great work and bring new resources to growing the Whale’s presence in Connecticut.”
Taking a look at the Whale’s 2021 season, Connecticut advanced to the Isobel Cup Playoffs after finishing the season with a 2-2-0 record. Among the 26-member roster, the team consisted of five local players, among those a mix of team veterans and rookies. That includes Melissa Samoskevich, Sarah Hughson, Brooke Wolejko, Maeve Reily and Maddie Bishop. Hughson and Reily were late additions in Lake Placid, meanwhile, Samoskevich joined the Whale in Brighton for their semifinal battle against the Minnesota Whitecaps.
In addition to their homegrown talents, the Whale roster also featured players who hail from New England or who played hockey at school in and around the region. That list includes Alyssa Wohlfeiler, Emma Vlasic, Tori Howran, Shannon Doyle and Grace Klienbach. An alumna of the Northeastern Huskies, Wohlfeiler led the Whale in scoring in front of Vlasic, a former Yale Bulldog, as well as Howran, a former captain with the New Hampshire Wildcats.
Grace Klienbach, who played in college with the Neumann Knights, was elected this season as one of four Discover Foundation Award recipients for actively applying the core values of hockey to growing and improving culture and her surrounding community. Klienbach, in her third year with the Whale, took the ice in four games in Lake Placid, New York. She also joined Connecticut in Boston, as they faced the Minnesota Whitecaps in the Isobel Cup Semifinals. The Whale were eliminated in a 7-0 shutout.
Shannon Doyle, who played hockey collegiately with both the Colgate Raiders and Boston Terriers, not only holds the Whale’s all-time games played record, but was also a finalist for NWHL Defender of the Year. Captain of the pod in her final season, Doyle has been with Connecticut since the league was instated back in 2015. Walking further down memory lane, the Whale, in their inaugural season, posted a franchise best record of 13-5-0.
“This is an exciting time for the entire NWHL, but most importantly for our players, dedicated partners, and loyal fans,” said Andy Scurto, acting president of W Hockey Partners. “We are proud of the organization’s history as a founding member of this league and are confident that Tobin’s passion and energy will honour that tradition and that he and his team will establish a new standard for Whale hockey.”
Looking ahead now to the league’s seventh season, it begins with the draft on Tuesday June 29th, where the Connecticut Whale will pick at second overall. For the first time in league history, the draft can be seen LIVE on Twitch, as all the action commences at 7:00pmET.