Our Connecticut Whale had a very young team last season. That trend is continuing with the signing of eight more rookies so far in the offseason. But there is s twist. Several of the new players have significant experience in addition to their college careers, including international play. And another group has experience as …..teammates. And right in the middle of that group is our new forward #3 Kayla Meneghin. Kayla joins her Plattsburgh State linemate #20 Melissa Sheeran, and her Gunnery prep school teammates #24 Sarah Hughson and #70 Sam Walther on our Whale this year. Our rookies have also had some experience playing against some of our young veterans as well. The chemistry of our young Pod should develop quickly, smoothly and naturally.
Cetacean Nation caught up with Kayla on her way to a recruiting trip for Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, where she currently the Assistant Coach of the Hawk’s women’s hockey team. We asked Kayla about how that came about. She told us “ Blanch (Danielle Blanchard) the assistant coach at Plattsburgh, called me and said there was a position opened if I was interested. I had previously talked to her about what I wanted to do after college, which is coaching. She was a huge help in the process, because I was able to talk and get advice on what it is like to be an assistant coach at an elite level.” Kayla is a New Jersey native, from Clifton, just a short drive down Route 21 to where she will play away games against the Riveters in Newark. We asked Kayla how she got her start in hockey, and she explained it this way. “Well, my Uncle Mark used to skate and play hockey and I remember my mom taking us to a game. My grandma and pop pop were also huge Ranger fans and had season tickets. When I was around 6 or 7 my mom and dad took my sister, brother and I skating and we loved it. At my home rink after one of our sessions, the girls youth league their had a skate, and I remember telling my parents that I wanted to play with them. Next thing you know, I was out there giving it a try, and have loved playing ever since”. Kayla continued “I played two positions growing up. Goalie and Forward. I loved both. I loved stopping people from scoring but I also loved scoring the goals. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to play so until I was 11 or 12, I played both positions, but then stopped because I felt I could pursue a career being a forward more than I could as a goalie.” Cetacean Nation imagines that having spent some time between the pipes is a great way for a forward to be motivated to develop her backchecking game. Kayla also grew up just a few rink long passes from Floyd Hall Arena, the rink complex on the campus of Montclair State University, where she also did some early coaching as a skating instructor. Kayla’s sister Brittany just completed her own record setting career with a DVCHC Championship there for the Red Hawks women’s squad, and her brother Shawn plays on the men’s squad at Montclair State currently. Kayla told us a very cool story about how her brother helped influence her choice of her Whale uni #3. “It is because 3x3 = 9, which I wore at Plattsburgh and my brother wears #3 for his college team. He has a huge influence on why I work as hard as I do on and off the ice and inspires me to always be better. So I felt that I could have a part of him on this journey, to motivate me even more.”
We also asked Kayla about some of the other sports she played as s youngster, and through her prep career at Clifton High School, and then at The Gunnery. She told us “ I’ve always played softball and hockey growing up, those were my two sports. Finding out I had to play a third sport at boarding school was nerve racking because I did not know how to play soccer or field hockey. I chose field hockey because, I mean I thought it was like hockey and it had a stick. Kayla recounted her early days in field hockey saying “My first year trying out I made Varsity, but let me add in that I had no idea how to play or I didn't even know the rules, so when I was in the game, there was a whistle every 5 seconds. So my senior year I decided I would play goalie and started in that position. Goalie was by far my favorite position and I wish I could still play that now”. It all worked out well for the Gunnery as well, and Kayla helped lead both her ice hockey and field hockey teams to NEPSAC Championships, while still excelling on the softball diamond.
Cetacean Nation wanted to know Kayla’s thoughts on what synergy her multi sport career had with her on ice play. She told us “ I think it has definitely played a role in developing me as a hockey player, just the different types of movements and agility each sport has, definitely gave me a push and more motivation to push outside my comfort zones. That definitely relates to hockey because you are always being pushed outside your comfort zone whether its working on your skills or doing something differently in a game.” Kayla added this example, telling us “I am a right handed shot and I actually have always dreamt of being a lefty for some reason. But writing and pretty much everything I do I am a righty in. When I played softball it was so rare for someone to be a left handed hitter and I remember wanting to be one, so I taught myself how to slap hit and tried it out a couple times.” That type of desire to, as Kayla describes it, “ push outside your comfort zone” is an invaluable tool for any athlete, but particularly a hockey player. The speed and pace of the game, especially on elite levels, can put a skater literally anywhere on the ice, even in goal. There is no time for hesitation or self doubt in those situations. Part of being an elite hockey player is to constantly be expanding your comfort zone, sometimes on the fly in the middle of the game.
We had discussed a little bit about her high school days, so Cetacean Nation asked Kayla to tell us a little about the process of switching from her hometown school to a boarding school. She explained “ I actually heard and was being recruited by The Gunnery my 8th grade year of middle school. But I did not want to go away to school, being so young I guess. I kept in contact with some of the girls on the team after playing with them the summer before my freshman year. One of my good friends, Erin Sullivan who I played with on our travel team, ended up going. She invited me to Beantown with her to play with Gunnery going into my senior year of HS. After that I just loved being around that team and really wanted to try to play with them and attend Gunnery because the stories and memories they have told me. So I applied again and decided I was ready to go away to school.” Kayla fondly offered some insight into her time at the Gunnery, revealing “There is a lot I can tell you about The Gunnery. I am overall grateful that my parents have sent me there and that I was able to make the relationships I did while I was there. I met some amazing people who have helped me become a better and well rounded person today. Gunnery is a small community, we were always around our friends, the teachers and advisors were extremely helpful, and they all helped me grow as a person. If I did not go to the Gunnery, I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Plattsburgh New York is located where the Saranac River empties into the Cumberland Bay of Lake Champlain, just over an hour south of Montreal. Cetacean Nation asked Kayla how she decided to trek north for her college career. She explained it thusly “ I did not know where Plattsburgh was at all when Coach Houle and Blanch started recruiting me. When I took my visit up there for their ECAC Championship game, that’s when I realized how far north it was. But I loved everything that Plattsburgh had to offer, the school, the team, the culture, the coaches and the community. I always go back to this when people ask me about Plattsburgh. But I looked at Plattsburgh late in my senior year, and it was my third choice. I had two other schools that I loved so much more, but when I stepped onto Plattsburgh’s campus I just felt that it was the right place for me.” Cetacean Nation thinks that having that ”aha moment” on your campus visit is one of the coolest college experiences you can have. Kayla also offered some insight into how the Plattsburgh portion of “the band” first came together. It was no bed of roses initially, as Kayla shared in these compelling memories. “Just had to bring this up too, Melissa and I were rivals in HS and we did not get along whatsoever. When I found out she was going to Plattsburgh, I was very hesitant because I was not sure if we would get along. Committing to Plattsburgh, we realized that our rivalry had to end and we had to get along no matter what. We reached out to one another and congratulated each other. From there on out we have been great friends, ended up being roommates freshman year, and linemates. Sheeran is an unbelievable person and has a huge heart and would do anything for anyone. I am so happy that we chose to go to Plattsburgh and build on our friendship because she is someone who I will always rely on.” As we mentioned earlier, with those types of personalities joining the Pod, team chemistry will not be an issue, but a strength.” Kayla also shared this amusing anecdote from the academic side of her Plattsburgh. Speaking about her BA in Communications, she said “ I chose communications because there was no math involved, haha. I do not like math, I am not good at it so instead of taking business, communications seemed to fit more of what I was looking for.” Cetacean Nation thinks Kayla honed her communication skills quite nicely, and they will serve her well in any future endeavors, especially coaching.
Kayla’s assault on the record books and her impact on the Plattsburgh program are a matter of record. During her career, the Cardinals skated to an otherworldly 107-8-5 record, winning three National Championships. Kayla tallied 86 goals and 102 assists for 188 points over that stretch, good for 4th all-time among D-III players, Kayla was a three time All-American selection, and won numerous conference and tiournament awards as well. Cetacean Nation wanted to know what moment might have stood out for her amongst all that success. Kayla revealed “ There are so many great memories I will have from Plattsburgh. Although I have had the success I have had there, I couldn’t have had any of that without my teammates and coaches. But my favorite memory had to be winning the team’s second National Championship against Elmira because that was our freshman classes’ first championship and it was against our rivals. That made it that much more exciting.” Kayla also shared this insight about what she enjoyed most on the ice with the Cardinals. “ If I could just play on the PK (penalty kill) I would! That is by far my favorite special team. I love being gritty, and blocking shots and sacrificing my body. It gives me a lot of adrenaline in games,” Pretty awesome perspective, Cetacean Nation would add that Kayla had a particular knack at scoring short-handed goals, and also had great success on the power play as well.
Cetacean Nation asked about the process by which Kayla has become one of our Whale. She explained “ Towards the end of my collegiate career I did not want to stop playing so I applied for the NWHL. I went to the Buffalo Camp and did not have the best experience there. I was offered the Saint Anselm job and have fallen in love with it. So I thought my playing days were ove, but then the league reached out to me and I thought about playing again. I was honestly torn between the two and I did not know if it would work out. But this is a great opportunity and a chance to be a part of history, so I wanted to give it a shot. “ Kayla also commented on “getting the band back together” saying “ It’s amazing. I always loved being teammates with Sarah and shes a great friend and teammate. I am so incredibly proud of the career she has had at Elmira and I can’t wait to see what she can do for the Whale. As for Sam, she is an incredible athlete; she stands on her head, unbelievable goaltender, I can’t wait to play in front of her again. Now as for Sheeran my college linemate, we always said how we wanted to play at the next level with each other and now we have the opportunity to. There is so many great things about her, a role model, a great friend, great teammate and even greater leader. I am excited to play with and for the Whale this season. “. Kayla concluded her remarks with a shout out to the fans. “To the Whale Fans, I hope you enjoy watching us this season and we continue to make you all so proud! I am extremely honored and grateful of the experience and of the history that we will be a part of together! Fins up!!” All of Cetacean Nation wishes a Fins Up right back at you #3 Kayla Meneghin, and we also look forward to her Whale songs, now that the band is back together!