Cetacean Nation is always happy to connect with players that have come to the Whale from Minnesota, Canada, or the Northeast, whether born and raised there or matriculated there. But you don’t as often encounter a player who was born raised and played college hockey in….Pennsylvania! One of last season’s new Whale did just that on her way to the NWHL. Here is our #13 Cassie Dunne’s own Philadelphia Story.
Cetacean Nation began asking Cassie to tell us a little about her hockey roots and how she began playing hockey. She replied: “I grew up about two miles from the local rink. My two siblings and I started out figure skating; Vincent, my brother, just to learn how to skate, but Bridget and I, to become figure skaters. We learned all of our edge work and skating skills on figure skates and I will always thank my mom for that decision – it was a really smart move. Eventually Vincent made the switch to hockey and Bridget and I continued figure skating for a few more years. In third grade, I made the switch to hockey, Bridget and I, and some family friends, with the help of our moms, started the first girl’s ice hockey team at our local rink, Wissahickon Skating Club.”
Cassie continued: “ Youth girl’s ice hockey is not huge in Philadelphia, but especially so when I was in third grade. There weren’t different teams for different ages, there was just one team. I was a third grader playing in a game against middle schoolers and high schoolers. We always make the joke that I was short enough to skate through some of the girls’ legs. It was such an awesome experience and I will always cherish those early years at Wissahickon Skating Club.”
Cetacean Nation wanted to know about what other athletics Cassie was involved in. She told us: “Other than ice hockey, I was a field hockey player. I played from middle school through high school and considered playing collegiately, but didn’t want to say goodbye to hockey. I went to the Springside School in Philadelphia which at the time was an all-girls school, where you can imagine hockey wasn’t huge. I was going to go to boarding school to get a better hockey experience, but I was a pretty big homebody at the time and didn’t want to leave my family and friends. I loved Philadelphia and my high school and it just felt right to stay.”
She continued: “My high school was right next to Chestnut Hill Academy, which was our brother school. To an outsider looking in, you would have thought it was just one school. Now, the two schools have merged under the name Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. I played Varsity field hockey for Springside and Varsity ice hockey for Chestnut Hill Academy, and my senior year captioned both teams. At the same time I also on played girl’s travel hockey for the Princeton Tiger Lilies, in New Jersey.”
Proximity to her family and Philadelphia and hockey also played a key role in Cassie’s choice of a college. She related: “I choose Penn State because it allowed me to continue playing the sport that I loved while giving my family the opportunity to be a part of my experience. The other schools I was looking at for hockey and field hockey were pretty far away. I remember one Saturday my mom asked me if I had finally made my decision. I looked at my letters that she had laid out on the table and I picked up Penn State. My dad cried that day, he was so excited that he was going to be able to continue watching me play. I guess he hadn’t had enough of driving hours to different hockey games and tournaments…thanks dad!
Cassie added this about her time in Hockey Valley: “My experience at Penn State was great. I had a good mix of hockey and the Penn State experience. I had an awesome coach at Penn State, Pat Fung. Pat was committed to helping me achieve my aspirations at Penn State and I think he was just excited as I was when I made Team USA, for the World University Games, and was named co-captain” Cetacean Nation was interested in how Cassie’s international experience impacted her. She answered “Playing in the World University Games in Kazakhstan will forever be one of my favorite memories. It was an amazing experience. I remember telling Shelley Looney before our game against Russia that the feeling of being there and playing on such a big stage against great competitors made me fall in love with the sport again. I think it’s easy to fall into a routine when you’ve been doing something for 13 years of your life. But to have a moment where you can specifically say, “Wow,, this is why I play the sport I do, this is why I love hockey,” is something pretty special.” Cassie helped lead Team USA into the medal round, capturing bronze in the tournament.
She continued: “The girls and staff on that team were amazing. The energy and intensity of the games was something I hadn’t experienced before – it felt amazing to play in those games. My skills were challenged and I think I grew as a hockey player and competitor in just those two weeks. It was after the World University Games that I decided I was going to enter the draft for the NWHL.” Cassie had this to say about her next step, the Free Agent Camp: ”The free agent camp was a little never racking. I was excited to be there but also nervous. I felt like I had a lot to prove as a player coming from a club program among so many coming from NCAA programs. The on ice sessions were fast paced and fun – we played a lot of 3 on 3 games, which any of my teammates can tell you, I LOVE!”
We also were curious if Cassie had always played defense, since she had shown over her career that she knows how to find the back of the net. She acknowledged: “Yes, I have always played defense. I’ve always considered myself an offensive-minded defender. I like to rush the puck and become a part of the play with my forwards. I also love 1 on 1 and 2 on 1 situations, and laying down to block the pass across the crease. Odd man rushes are slightly nerve racking, but very exciting – it’s a game inside the game. The feeling you get when you make a great poke check, or lay down to block the pass and you can hear your teammates yelling on the bench…amazing! My advice for a young defenseman? Be confident with your decisions and have a good on-ice presence. Confidence and hockey knowledge are key, especially as you’re the “last line of defense”. You want to make the game easy for your goalie, so making confident decisions with the puck and your body positioning, and being aware on the ice will set you up for success!” Great insight and great advice for the Little Future Draft Picks of our Whale!
Cetacean Nation has always thought that Philadelphia would be a great choice for a future NWHL team. So we asked if Cassie could give us some further insight into the Philadelphia hockey culture. She made her opinions crystal clear: “Philadelphia fans are passionate and fiery! While Philadelphia is not considered a powerhouse in youth hockey, the sport is expanding and the people love hockey. They have ever since the Flyers were the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1974, and the again in 1975! The Philadelphia Flyers have a committed fan base and the Flyer’s organization has a great community presence. The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation was founded by Ed Snider who was the Chairman of Comcast-Spectacor and Founder of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Foundation provides underserved children from urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, with the opportunity to learn to play the game of ice hockey and as a means to succeed in the game of life” She concluded: ”I would describe Philly as a hockey town.”The fans love the team, they are committed to their success, and they are as committed to the success of hockey as all of the sports in Philadelphia. Additionally, youth hockey in Philadelphia is growing, especially girls youth hockey. Chris Baer started a girls program within the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers organization. The program just had a great year and I am really excited to see their progress and success.”
As we have done with all of our Whale so far, Cetacean Nation solicited Cassie’s thoughts on NWHL expansion. She said: “I am so excited for the league and the addition of the Whitecaps. I think it’s amazing! The league is putting in so much time and effort to advance women’s hockey and making this move to Minnesota will help accomplish that goal. I am very excited for the future of this sport and this league and I think every player in this league is honored to be a part of the beginnings. I can only hope that one day there will be a team in Philadelphia! Like I said earlier, Philly fans are passionate and I think that a team in Philadelphia would definitely take off!” Cetacean Nation concurs, and maybe some day Cassie and her Whale teammates will be skating in front of her hometown fans and family. Two Fins Up to #13 Cassandra Dunne, for sharing her Philadelphia story with us.