We are on the cusp of Season Four of our Connecticut Whale and the NWHL. Cetacean Nation thought it is a good time for a retrospective look at some of the lore and legend that our Whale have created over their first three campaigns, the past that is the prologue to this season. Cetacean Nation has often commented on the impressive young women who comprise our roster each season, and appreciates both their on ice and off ice skills. So who better to talk to from our inaugural season then our former #5, forward Kate Buesser. And as it turns out, that would be Doctor Kate Buesser, by the way.
Kate is one of our original Whale, joining the Pod after a stellar career on the ice for the Harvard Crimson, and a three year career and a Clarksom Cup Championship in the CWHL with the Boston Blades. She played in thirteen games in the 2015–2016 regular season and three in the Inaugural Isobel Cup Playoffs during her season with the Whale. She accumulated three goals and a pair of assists as a unique version of the league’s former designation of “practice player”. Kate explained the label and the circumstances of her joining the Whale,.“It was truly by chance that I came to be a Whale player! I had just started at Yale Medical School and was helping out the Yale women’s team as a volunteer coach in my spare time (their head coach, UK Flygh, was my assistant coach at Harvard and their assistant coach and fellow Whale, Jess Koizumi, was a former teammate on the Blades. Jess reached out to me about playing for the Whale and we worked out a deal where I could be a “practice player” who only played in games. I had to focus on medical school during the week so I couldn’t make the practices (located 45 minutes away), but I was free on the weekends for games.” Of note, the teammate Kate mentioned, our former #56 Jess Koizumi scored the first Whale & NWHL goal in the league/season opener agaInst the Rivs on 10-11-15.
We asked Kate if she had considered continuing her NWHL career another season or two. Kate replied “Playing another year in the NWHL just wasn’t going to be an option as my time commitment to medical school became more and more.” She added “I am currently an intern (which just means the first year of residency) at the Washington University in St. Louis program. Only 4.75 more years to go!” It was Doctor William Osler, widely regarded as the “ Father of Modern Medicine” who once wrote “The very first step towards success in any occupation is to become interested in it” We posed that as a dual question to Kate about her roots in both medicine and hockey. Concerning her choice of a medical career she had this to say. “The decision to pursue a career in medicine came early in my college years after taking a course on human anatomy and physiology. It was just the coolest (speaking as a nerd)! I had thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but after working at an animal hospital between high school and college, I decided I wanted to be able to talk to my patients. Thus, medical school became the goal” As to her major, she explained “I usually tell people that my major is biology when the name in full is actually Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB). Essentially the biology department at Harvard became so enormous that they splintered the biology major into several disciplines (Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Human and Evolutionary Biology, etc). The OEB designation was most similar to the Biology of old, meaning I could take courses in all these disciplines and have them count towards my major. I just couldn’t commit to one splinter!”
Cetacean Nation further inquired as to what spurred her decision to enter the field of orthopedics, and Kate gave a very unique reply. ”In terms of orthopaedics, it is truly a collision of a lot of factors. Orthopaedic surgeons have the classic story of getting hurt as an athlete and then seeing their orthopedist help them back to sport…I don’t have that story. For me, my athletic career played into my decision because of how we as athletes biomechanically think about our bodies during training. We isolate muscle groups in the gym for strength, we create muscle memory to improve skills, and we “listen” to our bodies to maximize recovery. Being in-tune with how muscles and bones act is an important part of understanding orthopaedic injury mechanics and how we can help patients recover” Kate continued with the following fascinating insight “Orthopaedics is also a very 3D spatial specialty, which is suited for how my mind works! We take 2D X-rays, CTs, and MRIs to understand fracture patterns in a 3D manner, which then allows us to decide how we want to fix the injury. Lastly, the people who tend to enter into the field of orthopaedics are absolutely wonderful…and who doesn’t want awesome teammates at work!” Cetacean Nation thinks that a mind that thinks in a 3D special capacity would also be a big plus in a lightning fast, multi layered sport like hockey, as would an appreciation of your teammates.
Switching over to her beginnings in hockey, we were curious about what other synergy she found between medicine or academics and hockey, and how they may have impacted her careers. . Kate offered “Hockey and academics for me were both important for me as I was making my college decision, but what really tipped the scale in favor of Harvard was my time spent with the players on my recruiting trip and the opportunity to play under Coach Stone. The players at Harvard were educated in the roots of the program and really made a point to appreciate the women who blazed the trail ahead of them while creating a trail of their own. The Harvard Hockey tradition of excellence that pulled me in wasn’t just about the skill of the players over the years, but more about how much fun they had playing together and working to improve as a group. Coach Stone also knew how to get the most out of her players. I contend that I wouldn’t have been as good of a player graduating from college without having her as a head coach. I learned to think the game in a way I hadn’t before, and that was by far the most important skill I took away from my time at Harvard.” During her time on the ice at Harvard, Kate won multiple awards including some All-Ivy and All-ECAC selections, led her team in scoring, served as tri-captain as a senior and finished her career with a 43 goals and 48 assists over 131 games for the Crimson. She also earned a spot on the US National team. About that Kate remarked “I don’t think that there is a manual on how to become part of the national team pool, but for me it was a result of focusing on the small things each day and trying to improve for my Harvard/Boston teammates. If you spend all your time focusing on the National Team it is really easy to create an emotional anchor of worry and self-doubt. It was the times where I was having the most fun playing hockey and had the most confidence in myself as a player that I got the chances to participate at the national team level. “
But it is not the stats or awards or honors that Kate recollects most fondly. In both her senior essay at Harvard and her Hall of Fame induction speech at her prep school, Brewster Academy, she focused on the aspects of team that transcend metrics. Kate told us “For me it is the same at every level. Team sports are about the stories, experiences, and laughs you have with the teammates, and the success I enjoyed was a byproduct of those relationships. I think this is best exemplified by our Harvard Hockey alumni meetings. We barely talk about wins and losses because the stories we share are so much more important than games. Any time I have with a former teammate from any level I played is spent on catching up on life, not about their stat line”.Cetacean Nation also did some catching up on Kate’s early athletic career. We asked her about her start in hockey and any other sports she may have participated in. Kate answered “I moved to Wolfeboro, NH when I was 8 and my mom wanted to get us started in whatever activity a lot of other kids in the area were participating in. The first year just my older brother played ( hockey), but after that my twin brother and I also started playing. I played field hockey, lacrosse, and crew, but also was big into hiking and waterskiing during the summer months”. Kate was the MVP of both the hockey and crew squads at Brewster Academy, and Cetacean Nation thought that was a pretty awesome multi sport background. Knowing her uncle had been a National Champion rower at Harvard, we asked if that was an influence in her pursuit of the sport. Kate replied. “ I wouldn’t say it was just my uncle…I come from a crew family starting with my grandfather (rowed at Yale), to my parents (both rowed at BU), to my older brother (rowed at Northeastern). They all had the string-bean type body build that helped them excel! I think it is an absolutely beautiful sport to watch, so when I got the opportunity to jump in the boat I took it!” Kate added “The biggest positive about being a multi-sport athlete is how well-rounded you become both athletically and as a thinker of the game itself. There are always important takeaways from other sports, whether it be in the systems that you run or the mentality you need to have to succeed (think pain tolerance with crew races, set plays in field hockey, etc). I also believe that being involved in so many sports was protective from burnout. I did summer hockey camps here and there in my early teens, but truly didn’t play year-round hockey until I was 16 because I was busy being being involved in other sports” As her concentration in hockey increased, Kate wound up playing for the Assabet Valley club team as well, helping them to capture the U16 National Championship in 2006 and the runner up spot he following season.
Her club, prep and collegiate success on the ice gave Kate the opportunity to join Boston in the CWHL, where she played for three years. She scored 16 goals and recorded 32 assists over 63 games, and won the Clarkson Cup with the Blades in 2013. After joining the Whale, Kate went “Shipping Up to Boston” in a sense. Kate was one of three Whale players, along with our #6 Shannon Doyle and #13 Kayleigh Fratkin that Whale loaned to the Boston Pride. It was to augment the squad for their game against Les Canadiennes of the CWHL, played in conjunction with the NHL’s Winter Classic. It was an historical, but ultimately tragic game, with Denna Laing suffering a devastating injury. the injury to Denna Laing of the Pride. We asked Kate about her memories of that day and she told us “The game was an incredible opportunity to showcase women’s hockey at an event that reaches a wide audience. The cool crisp day and the fresh air reminded me of playing on Lake Winnipesaukee growing up, and the fun I had with my family and friends on our makeshift rinks. I am also a huge Patriots fan so being able to be hosted at Gillette Stadium was really cool on a personal level! But whenever I think of the game, my thoughts always go to Denna. I met the Laing family when I started playing for Dennis with the U-16 Assabet Valley team, and have constantly crossed paths with Denna at Princeton and her sisters at Harvard. Denna has displayed super-human strength during her recovery, and I will continue to cheer her on from St. Louis.” Cetacean Nation was also interested in Kate’s comparison of the CWHL and the NWHL at the time, and she opined “It is hard to compare the leagues head-to-head because I left each league at very different times in their development. When I left the CWHL, it was the only league around so the speed, skill, and strategy were essentially national team levels. If you look at the Montreal, Boston, and Toronto rosters during those years, well over half of the women playing were either on the US/Canada national team or had spent some time in the player pools. With the inaugural season of the NWHL, they were able to attract a lot of those players to the league, but still had to fill out rosters with graduating D1 players who hadn’t had that national team experience. I think as the league grows and you have more and more elite players filling out the rosters, the end result will be what I saw at the end of my time with the CWHL.” Kate continued, commenting on the growth of the NWHL saying “Part of the growth is opportunity, and that is the biggest thing that the NWHL provides to graduating seniors. While the player salary is an added bonus that the CWHL couldn’t provide when I was playing, it is still not a livable earning for most players, so I hope to see that improve as we try to reach a larger fan base. One way to do that is to start to form more partnerships with our NHL counterparts. At the end of the day, however, the NHL is a business, and the women’s league has to show that we have a viable product that can hold onto an audience and create income. Only time will tell but I have high hopes!”
In conclusion, we asked if Kate was active in any of her sports currently, and if she has gotten a chance to see the Whale as a fan. She said “Right now, unfortunately not! I have my bag sitting in my apartment though,so I am prepared if the opportunity arises. I actually just met some people the other day who are involved in the St. Louis Speed Skating Club so I might have to see what that is like! I did get to see one game in Northford (vs Boston) which was great because I had the chance to see a lot of my old Blades and Whale teammates at once. But unless they start playing in St. Louis I don’t think I’ll be making games anytime soon! It was great catching up with Kate, and we loved hearing of the continued success of one of our Pod’s Progenitors. Cetacean Nation salutes our #5 Katherine Buesser, MD. Kate’s hockey career will always be a part of who she is, and there will always be a hockey sweater under her long white jacket or scrubs. And sometimes it will be a Whale jersey, because what’s past is prologue, and once a Whale, always a Whale.