Cetacean Nation recently had the opportunity to chat with another of our Whale goaltenders, #33 Laura Brennan. Laura offered fascinating and informative perspectives on hockey, goaltending and her path to the NWHL. We think that you will enjoy accompanying her on her odyssey into the crease for our Whale. If you lined up thirty or so randomly selected NWHL players at center ice and then randomly passed a puck to one of them, odds are your pass would end up on the stick of a Minnesotan. So it is no surprise that Laura’s story also begins in Minnesota, White Bear Lake outside of the Twin Cities to be precise.
Laura had this to say about her roots in Minnesota. “Growing up in White Bear Lake, MN there was no shortage of opportunities to get out on the ice and play. Every small community had its own outdoor rink complete with a warming house. We would spend hours after school and on the weekends playing. We’d pack a lunch so we didn’t have to go home. If we weren’t playing at a local park many of my friends had backyard rinks or frozen ponds and lakes to play on. For me, an outdoor pickup game is one of the purest forms of hockey. All ages and levels playing together, having fun, and including everyone.” Laura acknowledges the benefits of multi sports in youth athletics, citing her own early involvement in soccer, and then as a softball player until her junior year at White Bear Lake High School. But hockey was always the main focus. During her stellar prep school career, her many accomplishments culminated in her being a finalist for the Senior Goalie of the Year Award in Minnesota. presented by LPH (Let’s Play Hockey).The honor reflects academics and community activities, plus citizenship and coachability in addition to excellence in the crease.
Cetacean Nation is always interested in the genesis of player’s numbers. When asked about this, Laura explained that: “Youth hockey goalies usually were given number 1 or 30, and I was born on October 30th, so I became #30.” But by the time she arrived at Minnesota State, a veteran goalie already had that number. So, as she put it “I liked Patrick Roy (legendary NHL goalie who wore #33) and also the number three, so I became #33 from then on.” After finishing her prep career for the Bears, the next stop on Laura’s odyssey was at Minnesota State, where she arrived with a flourish. As reported at the time by CBS Sports:
“Brennan took the country by storm in her college debut as a freshman on Jan. 3, 2004. Even though the Mavericks were outshot 54-16, Brennan made 53 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory over then nationally-ranked Providence College. For her efforts, she was named USCHO.com's National Defensive Player of the Week and also garnered WCHA Rookie of the Week honors.”
After three successful years between the pipes for the Mavericks, Laura’s odyssey took a fortuitous turn, as partly through her hockey’s contacts, she was able to transfer to Quinnipiac University for her final year of eligibility. Quinnipiac had graduated their previous goalie, and Laura was a perfect fit to step in and start to bring Quinnipiac to the next level. Laura explains her decision to make the move this way: ”On my first visit to Quinnipiac, I was blown away by the beauty of Connecticut and the campus overlooking Sleeping Giant. The Coaches and others at QU were so welcoming, I knew right away that this would be the place for me to finish my hockey career in those pre NWHL days”
Laura added veteran leadership in her stint at Quinnipiac, on a spirited but often outgunned team. Her season can best be understood by the fact she made a combined eighty six saves in a two day period in back to back games against Harvard and Dartmouth. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to stand up to a forty goal barrage, and to do it two days in a row is a daunting task. But then Laura Brennan has always thrived on the unique pressures of goaltending on her odyssey.
As referenced in Laura’s words, there was no NWHL in existence, no easy way to continue her hockey career after Quinnipiac. But she was able to find a pretty special way to remain in hockey. Laura explains: “After completing my senior hockey season at QU, I needed to do an internship to complete my degree in Sport Management/Marketing. I landed a position with the Tulsa Oilers in the CHL. One of the hardest things was standing in the tunnel before the games waiting for the team to be announced to take the ice. There is nothing better than the epic build up before the team hits the ice at a hockey game. I found myself getting teary eyed as the they stormed out and I was left standing there in my business suit. At that time, the NWHL didn’t exist and this was my way of staying close to the game I loved.’
Laura also held a marketing position with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but found her way back into the ice, once more through her hockey contacts. One of her college teammates’ father was a hockey coach in Sweden. Laura spent a season overseas, playing for his team there.. Not seeing her future as a Swede, she returned to the states. She began playing goalie here in recreational men’s leagues. As Laura recounts the experience: “I tried playing in adult leagues after college but didn’t really enjoy it so I stopped playing completely and turned to coaching. I love playing goalie because I love the pressure of the position and having to strive for perfection. You can’t make a mistake without everyone in the building noticing. In rec leagues, I didn’t feel that pressure and the position lost it’s allure.” Not avoiding pressure but seeking it out and confronting it, is a theme that runs through Laura's narrative. .
She joined the Fairfield Ice Academy in 2011, and although involved in the sport through her work there, she spent roughly eight years without playing competitive hockey. At that time you were more likely to see her honing her managerial skills than stopping pucks. That could have been a happy ending to an intriguing hockey story, but it wasn’t. Goalies are used to bouncing back up, and Laura bounced back up and into the crease. And again it was her extended hockey family that brought her back onto the ice as a player.The Assistant Coach she played for at Quinnipiac, Lisa Giovanelli, was now the Assistant Coach of in the newly formed NWHL for the Connecticut Whale! She reached out to Laura, who went through the tryout process, and pulled her #33 sweater back on. This time as a member of our Connecticut Whale.
Laura has put down roots in Connecticut, and is now the Director of the Fairfield Ice Academy.(www.fairfieldiceacademy.com) and is especially happy for the opportunity to give young athletes there first taste of life on the ice, and it comes early.The process, or in fact the mini-odyssey of these players begins as Laura said: “....from when they first crawl on the Ice, to standing, to skating, to playing hockey”. She also oversees multi sport camps at the Academy, that often serve as the youngster's first exposure to skating or hockey. Laura added these thoughts: “Through my career at Fairfield Ice Academy, I have dedicated my life to growing the sport. I believe that skating is an important life skill that everyone should have. I love seeing our students build confidence and their passion for the game grow. I am very fortunate in that some of teammates also work at the rink and help teach classes and clinics. I love having them out there as it shows the girls that they can strive to be professional hockey players and the boys learn that girls are great hockey players too. Having the opportunity to introduce children to the game that has given so much back to me is something that I am truly grateful for.”
Laura bikes eleven miles round trip to Fairfield Ice Academy every day, and stays fit additionally by rock climbing at their facilitiy’s wall. The strength and balance needed for rock climbing and the aerobic and strength benefits of biking are all great cross training for a hockey goalie. And since college, Laura has also incorporated yoga into her fitness regime. The focus and centering of that activity are also beneficial for a goalie’s concentration while out on the ice for three periods, facing the pressure of scrambles like the one in the photo accompanying this article.
Cetacean Nation discussed with Laura the recent addition of the Minnesota Whitecaps to the NWHL. She has attended their games, and friends have played for the squad. But Laura also suggested that the region could easily support another team. She elaborated: “I am very excited about the Whitecaps joining the league and can’t wait for the chance to play in front of family and friends back home in MN. I would love to see the league continue to expand and think Madison, WI would be a great location as well. The university has a history of being a hockey powerhouse and they could easily travel to MN. Eventually I think it would be great to have an Eastern and Western conferences in the NWHL.”
Cetacean Nation agrees, and it would be beneficial in financial, logistic, and promotional terms to the NWHL, in the same way as it is for other professional sports leagues. Based on neutral site games the Whale have played in Pittsburgh, she also gives a nod to that city as an expansion site as well. She was impressed by the enthusiasm and support the fans showed for both teams in the Steel City.
Goalies are often perceived, not entirely without cause, as different. When we asked Laura about this, she said that she didn’t have any habits or tics related to her goaltending, just an ever present water bottle. She concluded “I guess I’m pretty normal, but then every goalie probably says that.”
Cetacean Nation applauds Laura’s journey to the Whale and her life in hockey not as ordinary, but as extraordinary, Fins Up for #33 Laura Brennan for sharing both her passion for hockey and her odyssey, with the fans of Cetacean Nation.