Photo top left & bottom right by BDZ Sports. Photo top right UMD Athletics, and bottom left by NAHA

Meghan Huertas: Huey Won’t Back Down

 

Meghan “Huey” Huertas is one of our four Whale who have come to us from Florida. Huey hails from Boynton Beach along the Sunshine State’s Atlantic coast, about an hour north of Miami and twenty minutes south of West Palm Beach. West Palm Beach’s Perfect Vodka Arena was the next to last place that fellow Floridian Tom Petty appeared in concert in May two years ago. Even though he co-wrote his iconic hit “I Won’t Back Down” with Jeff Lynne five years before Huey was born, he captured her persona in the words of that anthem. Anyone who has watched her play, or skated with or against her, would concur. How could she have ended up other than as a Bulldog (Minnesota-Duluth) at some point? Cetacean Nation got some insight into this and a lot more recently, from our #43 Huey Huertas.

 

Over the past two seasons with the Whale, Huey has appeared in seventeen games. She had an injury shortened season in 2017-2018: so we asked how that was doing. She explained to us “ I am still recovering from surgery but am feeling much better. I’m cleared and back in the gym which feels great.” Cetacean Nation knows that recovering from injury requires hard work and adjustments for the athlete. Huey’s modus operandi on the ice is as a hard worker, and she knows about adjustments too. It is more than 2,500 miles from Boynton Beach  (population about 70,000) to Stowe, Vermont (population less than 5;000) where Huey attended prep school at the North American Hockey Academy (NAHA). The highest average summer temperatures in Stowe rarely are as warm as the average winter temperatures in Boynton Beach. We asked Huey about her other adjustments at that time and she told us “ Being born and raised in south Florida, moving up to Stowe, Vermont was a big culture shock for me. It was initially a hard transition but it helped me mature (I was about 15 years old at the time). It was also a big adjustment hockey wise. At NAHA we played around 100 games per season which I wasn’t used to. Even though I was playing for multiple teams back home in Florida, our season was much shorter compared to NAHA.”

 

Before we delved into some more about her time at NAHA, Cetacean Nation wanted to go back to Florida and Huey's early hockey career. As to how she first got interested in the sport she explained “ When I was five years old, my parents took me to a Florida Panthers game and I fell in love with hockey. Although the Florida Panthers got me into hockey, my family and I are HUGE Tampa bay lightning fans. Go bolts!” We also asked Huey if she had begun on ice as a figure skater, but she said she had not, saying “I actually never was a figure skater. My parents said when I first learned how to skate at skating clinics, I’d stare at the other side of the ice where there were hockey clinics going on.My neighbor Mikey played hockey, and when we were kids my brother, Mikey, and I would play street hockey every day after school until it got too dark.” Huey continued “ Hockey has always been my passion. Up until I was 15 years old:  I typically played for multiple hockey teams per season. I also played a lot of roller hockey.”

 

Huey then elaborated “I grew up playing boys hockey for the Florida JR Panthers and the Golden Wolves. In middle school I started playing for a girls team down here called Team Florida which was made up of players statewide. My fellow Florida Whale team mates (Rachael Ade, Grace Klienbach and Stephanie Mock) were all apart of Team Florida as well. Team Florida was primarily a travel tournament team and we didn’t practice because everyone was so spread out throughout the state. While I was playing for Team Florida I was also playing boys hockey for the Golden Wolves. Traveling to girls tournaments around the country got me exposure which eventually led me to be in contact with NAHA.”

 

North American Hockey Academy is a unique all-girls boarding school, typically comprised of about forty student athletes, Other than the very low student to faculty ratio of about 2-1: the other singular aspect there is the year round hockey program. It is the only sport in which the school competes, which is how it can offer the 100 game league and tournament in schedule Huey mentioned. During her senior year, her Championship squad lost only one league game. Cetacean Nation asked Huey about her memories of NAHA and she told us “ I’m still really close with a lot of the girls on my team from that season. One of which a lot of NWHL fans are familiar with: Kaliya Johnson. Kaliya was on my team with me my senior year. It was fun being able to play with her again when she was on the Whale (‘16-‘17). Like old times“
Here is a cool video of Huey from her Winter Eagle days, (with a guest appearance by Kaliya) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oXSGtXL7sQ.

And in the NAHA photo in the collage, Huey and Kaliya (Boston College) are joined by teammate Jessica Hon (St. Lawrence).

 

Returning to Huey as a player not inclined to back down, Cetacean Nation asked about the influences that help mold her tenacious style if play. Huey offered “ I think there were various factors that helped develop me into the player I am. Growing up playing boys hockey helped me develop an edge. I had great coaches in Florida when I was a kid, Steve Lynch and John Feist amongst others. Playing at NAHA helped me develop as a player. You’re on the ice with the top elite players from around the country every single day. We played a lot of mini games during our practices which opens up the door for creativity and also learning how to read and react to the game.” Cetacean Nation thinks It is that sixth sense of where you are and what is going on that often separates talented athletes. In hockey, players at the elite level seem to not only know where the puck is, but where it is going. Huey continued “Hockey is a game of reaction. Everything happens so quickly. We had a lot of freedom on the ice to be creative as opposed to playing very structured systems which I think helped me. I was learning how to read the play and then react. It eventually became an instinct. Also playing with talented players you learn from each other and push each other to become better on the ice. Minnesota Duluth had the greatest impact on me however. I had very talented, dedicated coaches and players that really helped my over-all game. I become a well-rounded player. I was fortunate enough to play in one of the most competitive leagues in college hockey (WCHA). Playing teams like Wisconsin, North Dakota, and the Gophers were some of the most fun, competitive, and fast-paced games I’ve played in.”

 


Huey began her collegiate career at the University of Vermont, but circumstances there led her to re-think that decision. She then chose to continue her career with the highly ranked Bulldogs of UMD, the University of Minnesota-Duluth. As Huey explained “After I received my release from UVM, I received a phone call from Minnesota Duluth. UMD is a big name in college hockey. They have an outstanding program, having won 5 national championships which was the most in any NCAA D1 hockey program at the time. I had a great conversation with coaches Laura Schuler, Shannon Miller, and Steve Macdonald. I really liked what their program and culture was about and I also liked their coaching/playing style. Also one of my great friends and former teammates was playing there. I committed shortly after, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. It was a perfect fit for me and I had the best 3 years I could have asked for.”


The reputation of the UMD and Minnesota hockey culture is legendary. We asked Huey about that and she agreed. “ Bulldog hockey is a tradition of excellence. You walk down the halls of Amsoil Arena and see the pictures and banners of some of the greatest hockey players who once walked those very same halls and wore a Bulldog jersey. You become a family with your teammates and staff. You become close with the community. Televised games, attendance averaging 2,000, 3,000 fans each game. Duluth is a hockey town. Being able to put on that Bulldog sweater was an honor.”  Two recent additions to our Whale Pod, Michelle Lowenhielm & Katerina Mrazova were teammates of Huey’s at UMD. We asked her if she could tell the fans anything about what to expect from them. She replied “ I was fortunate to play with both Lowenhielm and Katka. They are both hard working, talented hockey players and even better people off the ice. I’d tell the fans that they are both very fun players to watch. Also I always joke around with Katka and call her Datysuk ‘cause she has filthy hands.” Anyone not impressed by that last reference, please check out some YouTube video of Pavel Datsyuk, the “Magic Man” doing his thing for the Detroit Red Wings or Team Russia,

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Cetacean Nation also solicited Huey’s thoughts on the expansion to Minnesota with the addition of the Whitecaps, and the state of the NWHL. She opined “The hockey community in Minnesota is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Some of my favorite hockey memories on and off the ice took place during my time in Minnesota. It was an incredible experience to play hockey in the “state of hockey”. I think it’s fantastic that Minnesota now has a NWHL team. The league seems to be taking steps forward each and every season which is great to see. Last season we got the opportunity to play in Pittsburgh which was a lot of fun. We had a great turn out. I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road there was a team in Pittsburgh. I’m going to throw Wisconsin and maybe another Minnesota team on that list as well.” Huey continuedGrowing up, I honestly didn’t focus too much on playing college hockey or even professional hockey. Of course it has always been a dream of mine [to play division 1 college hockey and professional hockey] but I simply played because I loved to play the game. Throughout most of my career there were no professional women’s leagues in north America.  The NWHL has given players the opportunity not only to play professionally but also continue playing the game after college. Prior to the NWHL and CWHL, your hockey career ended after your last game in college whether you wanted to stop playing or not. Now players have the choice to continue playing.”Cetacean Nation agrees, and reiterates that the Future is Female, and the Future is Now. And all of hockey and society will be better as that grows.

 

Huey concluded her remarks by offering these words of gratitude for her NWHL career to date. “I’ve had a great time playing in Connecticut for the past two seasons. I’d like to thank all of the fans for your support and contribution to the memories I’ve made. I’d also like to thank my teammates, the Connecticut Whale organization, the NWHL and my family. My family have been my biggest supporters since day one and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today both on and off the ice.”
Fins Up to our #43 Huey Huertas, and her life of not backing down, on or off the ice.