Cetacean Nation recently caught up with Randi Griffin, one of the “veteran” rookies we signed this offseason. We do not yet know what number she will be wearing when she takes the ice for our Pod in a couple of months, but we do know her letters. They are PhD. She will receive her Doctorate in Evolutionary Anthropology from Duke University next month, and prior to that she graduated from Harvard with a degree in Evolutuinary Biology. Randi's academic studies to date have focused on how we fellow inhabitants of this planet have come to be what we are. Cetacean Nation asked Randi how she came to pursue these fields of study, and here is what she told us.” I guess I've always wanted to understand why humans are the way we are, and Human Evolutionary Biology tries to answer that question from a biological perspective. I chose HEB as my college major, and then I met a really great professor in one of my classes, Charlie Nunn. He mentored me and encouraged me to do research as an undergrad, and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to apply to grad school and keep going with research.” Randi’s dissertation for her doctorate degree at Duke dealt with the evolutionary development of the primate skull. But stay tuned, as there may be some changes in the direction of her personal narrative. Randi explained “As I discovered in grad school, I have a knack for working with data, so I'm trying to build on that. My goal is to become a dedicated data analyst (or "data scientist") I have a lot of different interests, so I'm not tied down to my dissertation topic at all!” Cetacean Nation understands how the prehistoric past played a a big role in Randi’s academics, but how about the past that brought her to the Whale?
Although she was born in Chicago, she moved as a child to North Carolina, therefore growing up as Hurricanes fan rather than a Blackhawk fan. We asked how she first got started in hockey, and she replied “ I started as a figure skater in North Carolina. That was something my mom had always wanted her daughters to do, but after two years of figure skating, my sister and I were more drawn to the speed and excitement of hockey” Randi also played tennis as a youngster, but was drawn to another sport as well; baseball. Not as a fan, but as a player. She pltched on a boys baseball team until she was thirteen, when girls softball then became available, However, as she put it “ my baseball pitching skills didn’t translate to softball.” So she began to concentrate on her hockey development. Randi Told us “ In high school, my main team was a boys club team called the East Coast Eagles in North Carolina. I also played for the Assabet Valley girls team in Massachusetts during my junior and senior year of college.” That college she referred to was Harvard, and Randi’s passion for both hockey and science was what motivated her to make her to don the sweater of Ivy League icon Harvard. As she explained “ Hockey was my life as a seventeen year old, so it played a role in pretty much every decision I made. I wanted to go somewhere that would push me on the ice and in the classroom, and Harvard gave me both of those things.”
At Harvard, Randi eventually worked her way onto the top lines as a two-way center, earning All ECAC Hockey Academic honors her sophomore and junior seasons, and was a finalist for ECAC Hockey Player of the year as a senior. She scored 21 goals and picked up 18 assists while skating for the Crimson. Randi coached both boys and girls hockey after graduating, and began her pursuit of her PhD at Duke. As a young women, the liitle girl who had dreamed of becoming an Olympian while watching the hockey during the Nagano Winter Games in 1998, seemed to have reached the end of her competitive career. But, what is past is prolog, and Randi’s impressive hockey credentials and her dual citizenship (Her mom is Korean) provided an unexpected opportunity. As Randi explained “Team Korea reached out to me in 2015, which was five years after my college career ended. They were hoping to add a handful of Korean-heritage players from North America to their roster because they had been granted an automatic spot in the Olympics, but they were short on players. I went over there to skate with them during the summer of 2015 and 2016, and then in January 2017 I moved to Korea and trained with the team full time for the Olympics.” The time and effort paid off. In spite of some on ice struggles early, the team began to jell, and they played some great hockey in their final two contests.. And the first goal ever scored in Korean Women’s Olympic history was by Randi Griffin. The puck now resides in the Hockey Hall o Fame in Toronto.
We asked Randi about her impressions and observations from her Olympic experience. She told us “Women's hockey generated some of the biggest highlights of the Olympics. The U.S. vs. Canada final could not have been more epic, and the Unified Korean team was a big story because of the politics. But I also thought these Games showed that parity among national teams is improving, and that hockey is taking off in Asia. Japan got their first Olympic win against Sweden, and as the 22nd ranked team in the world, we only lost 2-0 to the 6th ranked defending bronze medalists Switzerland (a lot of people didn't notice that score since it happened after we were eliminated, but that one meant a lot to us!). A month later, China beat us 2-1 in a very close game at the World Championships, showing that they are serious about women's hockey too. The U.S. and Canada are still head and shoulders above the rest, but there are now a lot of teams throughout Europe and Asia- maybe 10-12 teams - that can hold their own at the Olympic level and are serious contenders for the last few spots in the tournament. It's really cool to see that kind of growth internationally, and I think it's very appropriate that the IIHF is increasing the number of women's teams from 8 to 10 in Beijing 2022.” Cetacean Nation agrees with Randi’s assessment of the growth of international women’s hockey, and we think if will help grow the sport in the NWHL, as additional player pools become viable. Randi also maintains a website with both academic and athletic content, and she has some extremely interesting content about the Olympics and women’s hockey. Take a look at her site at http://rgriff23.github.io/
Cetacean Nation talked with Randi about how she came to her decision to to compete in the NWHL. In her answer you’ll see that the Whale and Cetacean Nation got a preview of Randi last season at Yale. She explained “We played an exhibition game against the Whale when I was on Team Korea last year, and that was the first time I considered the NWHL as an option for me. After the Olympics, most of us on Team Korea decided that we want to keep playing so the team can stay competitive internationally while the next generation develops, but since the national isn't together full time anymore, we all needed to find teams to play for. Quite a few of my teammates are going to Canadian universities or high schools next year. Since I live in Connecticut now (my partner is at Yale Medical School), it made sense for me to reach out to the Whale.” Cetacean Nation doesn’t know what the odds are of of that whole scenario playing out as they did, but we think Randi could figure it out. When we talked about her hockey and scientific role models, she told us “ I have a lot of scientific role models, but if I had to pick one recognizable name, I'd say Nate Silver. He founded FiveThirtyEight and became famous for predicting the 2008 elections almost perfectly using statistical models. He's a data scientist - someone who uses programming and statistics to squeeze insights out of oodles of data. He's not on a traditional scientific career path, but everything he does is an example of careful science, and he is great at making data interesting and accessible to people.” If you read some of Randi’s posts on her website, I think you’ll agree she does too. In closing, she had this to say “I'm really excited to be part of the Cetacean Nation and I can't wait to get on the ice this fall! We feel the same excitement, and want to thank our Dr. Randi Griffin for sharing with her intriguing path to the Whale.
Update from Randi 9/7/19: Today I got an incredible gift in the mail. Seth Berkman is a sports journalist who has written a lot about women's hockey. Several years ago, he decided to write an article or two about our team. But after meeting us, he decided that we deserved more than an article. He thought we deserved a book. Not many people agreed with Seth at the time, but the journalism gods were on his side. With just 2 weeks to go before the Olympics, Kim Jong-Un would make sure that everybody cared about our team... or at least about what they thought we represented. But unlike the media who swooped in after the Unified Team was created and projected whatever narrative they wanted onto us, Seth had been with us from the start. He had gotten to know us, come to care about us, and his only motivation was to tell our stories. For Seth, the Unified Team was not the main story, it was just another chapter. I devoured his book in about 5 hours. I cried a few times, it brought back so many memories. I also learned new things from Seth's extensive post-Olympics research and interviews. I did have a few minor complaints about the book, which I have already relayed to Seth, the most important being his inaccurate description of my dancing style as "off-beat" (he claims there is video evidence but I'm not convinced). So, if you would like to know more about the wonderful, hilarious, inspiring, complicated, and incredibly unique individuals who made up one of the most unlikely hockey teams in the history of the game, this is my plug for Seth's book. It is a labor of love, and I am forever grateful to Seth for telling the Team's story, including the unsung heroes and class clowns that made our team tick, and for seeing us as the "boss-ass bitches" we truly are. ;) You can pre-order it on Amazon!