Cetacean Nation recently had the opportunity to chat with one of our eleven rookies, #23, forward Nina Rodgers. Featuring a wicked wrist shot (video of vs Boston College here: https://gfycat.com/ficklegleefulequestrian ) 80% of Nina’s 26 goals and 30 assists in the NCAA came in her final two seasons at Boston University. Her role at BU was different than what it was her first two years as a collegian at Minnesota, where teammates and future NWHL opponents and Olympic Champions, Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi, provided the offensive spark. Nina certainly contributed to the Golden Gophers success, and played in 81 games for Minnesota, and won a pair of National Championships prior to her transfer to Boston University. Nina was was raised in Minnesota and California, started high school in Vermont, and finished college in Massachusetts. And now she is beginning her professional career in The Nutmeg State with the Whale. Nina Rodgers continues on a roll that has lead her into the NWHL.
,Cetacean Nation as always, was curious how it all began. Here is what Nina had to say “My sister started playing when she was around 9 yrs old and once I saw her out there, all I ever wanted to do was play hockey. The only thing is, we are four years apart, my birthday is in April and you had to be five to start mini mites hockey. When I finally turned 5 yrs old I said “So I play hockey now!” And it about broke my heart when my mom told me it wasn’t hockey season and I had to wait. All I could say was “but I’m five”: (while holding up five fingers and tears in my eyes!) Once hockey season came back around however, you couldn’t take me off the ice. I was the absolute definition of a rink rat growing up. There would be four scheduled practice times for mini mites and I would skate each and every one of them back to back. I remember coming off the ice in between sessions and telling my mom “Coach say I go again!!” with the biggest smile on my face. My mom and I always joked about how I would never ask her if I could stay for another, I TOLD her coach said I could stay. I think right then and there I knew I had fallen involve with the sport.”
As is often the case with our Whale, Nina has athletic skills other than hockey, which were developed at an early age as well. Her talents on the hardwood were advanced enough to earn her spots on travel team basketball squads. Nina told us “ I grew up playing all kinds of sports, you name it I played it! My two favorite sports growing up were basketball and hockey, and yes, as you can imagine, it was hard playing two sports that were in the same season. Trying to balance which practice or game to attend and eventually having to decide to focus on one once I got to high school. I always knew that I loved hockey more than all the other sports so it wasn’t too difficult choosing hockey. Something about the speed and the need to be able to do multiple things all at once is what captured me into loving hockey.” Nina also spoke about the beneficial impact of her early multi sports career on her development as a hockey player. “Growing up a multi-sport athlete I think really helped me become the hockey player I am today,. Having to learn all the skills for each sport taught me to not be afraid to try something new, it might be hard and awkward at first, but eventually it will click. Looking back at my experience playing other sports I can see how different aspects of each sport can all be applied to hockey, and this is what I love the most about the sport.” There were a few hurdles to overcome in her early hockey career, and adjustments to be made, One of the most significant was a move from the State of Hockey to California. Nina explained “ My mom, sister, and I moved to California when I was 8 or 9 yrs old. When you think of California your first thought isn’t hockey being a thing in California. So this move was a huge adjustment for me, coming from Minnesota where it seems like there is a rink around every corner. I didn’t play hockey for about a year, instead I was my sister’s biggest fan at all of her softball games! After that long, razor-scooter riding filled year, I fortunately found a rink and a team to play for again.”
The interesting twists and turns were far from over for Nina as she kept rolling along. As her skills developed and she began to attract more notice, Nina headed back towards more traditional hockey environs in Vermont. Nina tells it like this “For my freshman year of high school hockey I decided to go play for NAHA (North American Hockey Academy), in Stowe, VT. At this time I was still in California and I thought this was a great opportunity to play with and against older, faster, better players from all over, in order to continue developing my hockey skills. After a great year filled with lots and lots of games, laughter, and awesome memories, I chose to move back to Minnesota and play for Hopkins High School (located about thirty miles west of Minneapolis near sprawling Lake Minnetonka) Going from playing 81+ games to just 20 games in a single season was a big difference but I think this gave me a chance to focus more on school, as well as the behind the scenes of what it means to be a high level hockey player.” Her return to the Hopkins High Royals was beyond successful, and she accrued an otherworldly stat line of 72 goals and 64 assists In ninety-three games. Fun Fact: one of the opposing players she skated against at rival Maple Plain High School, was her current Whale teammate #9 Kaycie Anderson.
Being an elite female hockey player in Minnesota in those days meant that you were probably going to skate across the path of the Minnesota hockey legend Winny Brodt, and that is what happened. Nina related “ Summers in Minnesota were my favorite because it was filled with hockey if you can believe that! Thanks to Winny, the top girls from all of MN high school hockey were given the opportunity to play with each other pretty much every weekend. During these weekends you could really see the depth of Minnesota hockey because the best weren’t separated 3 to a team, they were all on the same teams. It meant something, at least to me, to be able to wear that MInnesota Whitecaps sticker on your helmet throughout the summer. And trying out for national camps and such, competing against and along side of the best of the best of MN hockey.” And it has come full circle, as both Nina and Winny, who has re-upped with the Whitecaps at age forty, will be squaring off at least three times this NWHL season. Nina added “When I heard that the MInnesota Whitecaps were joining the NWHL my thoughts were “Finally!!” Winny has done so much to grow the game of women’s hockey in MN and having the Whitecaps join the league is an awesome step in growing the game even more.” Included among Nina’s accolades and achievements during her time at Hopkins, was becoming a member of the U.S. Women's National Under-18 Team, earning a silver medal with Team USA at the 2014 and 2013 IIHF U-18 Women's World Championships.
As we began this article, Cetacean Nation mentioned a little bit about Nina’s collegiate career being split between Minnesota and Boston. Nina gave us the rest of the backstory as to how that came about, and how it benefited her as a player and person. “Being from Minnesota, and partially growing up in MInnesota, the State of Hockey, you can imagine why it was always a dream of mine to wear the “M” and play for the University of Minnesota. So when the opportunity preceded itself I jumped at it. Unfortunately though, it just wasn’t the right fit for me. I was so determined to fulfill my dreams, that I didn’t take into account the other aspects of being a college D1 student athlete. One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make was transferring., adjusting my thoughts about how my future would look, and realizing that my dream wouldn’t become my reality. What I know now that I didn’t know then, was that this decision would also be the best decision I ever made. It led me to chose a school I could fully be myself in, as well as get the support I needed academically, physically, and most importantly, mentally. Boston University, my teammates and their company exceeded the expectations I never thought to have when I chose BU as my new home. Although my journey wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. I am forever grateful for all of the amazing experiences I had and the people I’ve met along the way.” Current Whale teammate #6 Shannon Doyle, also skated for the BU Terriers in her college days.
While discussing her career and journey to Connecticut, Cetacean Nation asked Nina what signing with the Whale meant to her. She responded “If you’re a kid who loves sports, you’re a kid that at some point in time dreamed of playing professionally. For me growing up, like many girls my age, the only professional hockey teams were for men. And so I as a kid I wanted to play in the NHL and when playing around in the driveway I’d always say “he shoots he scores!!” knowing that it was a men's league. Now that there is a women’s professional league and I am fortunate enough to get this chance to play professionally it is amazing. I can’t put into words how thankful I am to once again live out my childhood dreams playing for the CT Whale in the NWHL.” Nina shoots and she scores, with those comments!
And speaking about shooting, we asked Nina to tell us a little about how she came to be so proficient at playing an off wing, in her case, left wing as a right handed shooter. She said “ It's a little unorthodox to play left wing as a right handed shot but for some odd reason I love it! Don’t get me wrong, it was an adjustment for sure, but once I learned about and how to use the little advantages of being an offside wing, my game improved dramatically. Playing off wing didn’t come naturally to me, but growing up as rink rat, playing as many as 9 games in a single weekend, you play where the coach needs you. Playing where the coach needs you teaches you to not be picky and work with what you’re given. If you aren’t as good as you should be in an area of your game, you have to continue to work at it, otherwise it will always be the weakness of your game.”
Finally, we asked Nina about the significance of the number 23 that she wears, and she replied “For no reason at all I have always wanted the number 2 on my jersey for every sport I played. Eventually my favorite number became 20, as its the number 2 plus a 0, What could be better right?! Once I transferred to BU the number 23 stuck with me and I didn’t want to change it again if I didn’t have to. Lucky enough I’ll be sporting #23 for the Pod and I couldn’t be happier!! Nina added this note for the fans “I cant wait to be a part of the Pod, and see and meet you all! Thank you!!” Cetacean Nation thanks our #23 Nina Rodgers for sharing these parts of her story with us, and we look forward to her keeping the roll going this year with the Whale. Fins Up Nina!