The 2017 NWHL All-Star Game at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh featured six players off the Connecticut Whale roster. One of them was our young veteran goaltender #24 Nicole Stock. Selected by Amanda Kessel for her squad (along with Nicole’s prep school teammate Hilary Knight), Nicole turned away twenty-six shots to preserve team Kessel’s victory over Team (Kelly) Steadman. Impressive accomplishment in itself, but previously Nicole had also won the fastest goalie competition, giving her team a 3-2 lead going into the actual game, which ended up an eventual one point win. Cetacean Nation spoke with Nicole recently, and one of the first things we asked about was her skating ability. Here was her very cool explanation. “ There was one rule in my house when I told my parents I wanted to play hockey. I had to go through learn to skate and make it to Freestyle 1, which is the cutoff to start actually jumping and doing figure skating moves. (Here’s a link to what that process is like : thttp://www.skateisi.com/site/sub.cfm?content=testing_requirements) “Once I passed the levels leading up to this then I could switch over to hockey. At the time this was upsetting because all I wanted to do was pick up a stick. In retrospect, my parents were very smart. I used that foundation to ultimately get me to where I ended up. My dad had always told me, "As a goalie you don't have to be the fastest skater, but you have to be the best skater." Everything starts from there and my parents were smart enough to give me that foundation. “ And when you start with that foundation, you may even grow up win a fastest skater award, among other things.
Nicole comes from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, about an hour north of Chicago. Blackhawks Country to be sure. And as it turned out, that had a pretty big impact on young Nicole’s pursuit of hockey. Nicole explained it this way “I got into hockey through my parents. Both of my parents are die-hard Blackhawks fans, even following them on a east coast road trip before I was born in the mid-80's. They of course, watched Bobby Hull, Stan Makita, Dennis Savard and Tony Esposito (Blackhawks Royalty). Since they were avid fans, we always watched the Hawks on TV or listened to them (the great Pat Foley announcing) on the radio. Pat still announces but only TV, so it is always nice to go home and get the home feed to hear that all too familiar voice. When I was about 4 or 5 I started watching old Blackhawks VHS tapes that we had lying around, and players like Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour, Dirk Graham. All I wanted to do was play hockey and understand the game. I would ask my parents questions all the time. I would even dress up in my dads old gear and use the back of the couch as a way to hop the boards and sit on the bench. My parents thought I was crazy, but pretty sure I showed them my passion early in life. “ Nicole continued “I did dabble in some other sports growing up. I spent all of my free time playing outside with the neighbors. We would be playing everything and anything. Officially, I played tennis, which I ended up having to give up because I wanted to play hockey more and there was too much conflict. I played softball for a summer and that was a little slow for my taste. Hockey will do that to you! I played volleyball for my middle school and then again in high school. I also played basketball for my middle school and a travel team while in middle school. Once I got to high school, I tried crew in my freshmen fall but ultimately I was a varsity captain for the volleyball, ice hockey and lacrosse teams in my senior year. I enjoy all sports and just liked competing so to me, if I had to play I would do it.”
That high school that Nicole mentioned was Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school here in Wallingford, Connecticut. But heading to Choate wasn’t high on the list for Nicole, even well into her last middle school year in eighth grade. She told us “Being from the midwest, boarding school is a bit foreign, especially back in the early 2000's. My parents were looking for ways to get me exposure in the girls game, since I had played boys hockey my whole life, in order to hopefully help me play at the collegiate level. A former teammate who was a year older than me had just gone out east to boarding school and so their family suggested it. In the spring break of my 8th grade year, very late in the boarding school process, my family and I went on road trip out east to visit 12 schools in 8 days. I had a running list of my top schools as we visited and got a feel for different campuses. Choate was toward the end of the process and we walked on campus during their spring break, so there were no tour guides or students on campus. They handed us a map and told us we could do a self-guided tour. My parents were a little put off by this, given we didn't really know what we were looking at, but we quickly scurried around campus and then went back to the admissions office for the interview. I interviewed with a man named Andy Noel, who since lost his battle to cancer. He was awesome. After speaking with him and seeing the campus, I fell in love. I could not tell you why or what exactly it was, but I knew in my heart Choate was the place for me. My mom was shocked that it went to the top of my list, given our lack of tour guide on our visit. Needless to say, Choate needed a goalie and somehow some way we financially made it work. In the fall I was being dropped off. Even to this day, my entire family would agree that Choate was the best decision we ever made and, even though my mom had reservations at the time, there is nowhere else my mom would have liked to see me grow as person. Choate will always have a special place in our family. “
Nicole continued “Once at Choate and given everything they have to offer, I immediately got involved in as much as I could, and sports were no exception. I tried crew my freshman year, but didn’t love it. I played volleyball my next three falls, and I played ice hockey and lacrosse in the winter and spring.” Nicole had an outstanding career on the ice for Choate, and ended up winning a couple of New England Prep Championships. Also playing for the Connecticut Polar Bears while ar Choate, she won a National Championship. So Cetacean Nation wanted to know if there was any moment from her day’s at Choate that stood out for her, and we lover her reply. Nicole said “ There are so many great athletic moments as a part of my high school career. Many I recount with teammates as the years fly by, but I would have to say that one of the most ridiculous was the bet I made with my hockey teammates before the New England Tournament my senior year. I made a bet that I would dye my hair blue if we made it to the New England finals that year. I didn't think that would actually happen given Cushing and Nobles, were very strong that year and we had lost to both teams earlier in the year, but when you have Hilary Knight (yep, that Hilary Knight) on your team you shouldn't bet against yourself. Needless to say, we beat Cushing in the semi-finals and so that was that. One of my teammates and I got ahold of hair dye and quickly got to work. A bet is a bet! Well, in all my wisdom as a 17 year old, I decided to dye my hair blonde first, to make the blue stick out. That backfired and I ended up with a head of greenish/grey hair. My parents were not thrilled and immediately after flying home I had to get my hair stripped and dyed back to some version of the brown color it is. Not my brightest moment but certainly an unforgettable memory.” Cetacean Nation neglected to ask if a photo existed, but it would make a heck of a TBT some day!
Nicole’s talents are as impressive off the ice as they are on it. For example, she is the second Whale we have discovered also plays the violin, our #25 Juice Baribeau being the other. Nicole elaborated “My mom always wanted my sister and I to try new things and in fourth grade when everyone chooses an instrument, I chose the violin. I played from fourth grade until my freshman year at Brown. I enjoyed playing, but I didn't have the true time to commit to it in a way that would have taken me to the next level. I played in orchestra at Choate as well as continuing with private lessons through high school. I have not picked it up in a while, but the last time I did I was shocked that I could still do what I was able to many years ago. I still have my violin.” After Choate, Nicole took her goalie gear and violin to Brown University. Nicole came out of Choate with several great choices for continuing both her hockey career and education. We asked what attracted her to Brown, especially academically. She revealed" Being a part of the Ivy League and the educational opportunities that come with playing at a school like Brown was always a dream of mine. I was very fortunate to have opportunities to play at the next level and I chose Brown because of the tradition, history and ultimately the school away from the rink. Also, academically Brown afforded me the opportunity to pick and choose classes. Since there is no set curriculum that you must follow, I was able to take many different classes at a wide range of levels, so not just Econ 1 or Eng 1. I took an upper level political science course my sophomore fall and fell in love. It was then that I discovered my passion for history as well as our foundation as a country. I really enjoyed my concentration and happy that I had the chance to take the classes in order to discover it.“
Cetacean Nation mentioned Nicole’s off ice activities, and another very cool one was sportswriter for the Brown Herald! When we asked Nicole how that came about she told us “ESPN and Hockey Canada were two things that I thought would be my next step out of college. Being around sports, watching, analyzing, etc were always things I wanted to do. I had never done sports journalism but I thought it would be a good experience to at least understand how it worked, so I found my way onto the Brown Herald staff. I wrote for a a bunch of different sports and really enjoyed it” Being a star athlete, Nicole found herself on the other side of the microphone a few times as well. One of her interviews was a twenty questions type format, and this particular answer she gave to the question “If you you could have any superpower...what would it be and why?” intrigued us. Nicole had replied " That is a great answer, so Cetacean Nation asked if she had a “2019” version of that answer. Nicole's reply reveals another of her talents, her sense of humor (if you hadn’t already noticed !) While still sticking with her great original reply, she added “My superficial answer is that I would like to be able to eat whatever I want without consequence. I feel like we would all love this super power! I know that when I am training for as long as I do and as hard as I do I need to treat my body right and fuel right which leaves behind things that are tasty and not great for you so that it where that comes from.”
On the ice at Brown, Nicole had a remarkable career. By her junior year she had established school all-time records for most saves in a period (27), game (66) and season (1,027) for the Brown Bears. And during her final season, while serving as the Brown Bears Captain, she added most career saves (2.848) to that list as well. All four records still stand, and that type of play is what earned her selection to both All Ivy and all ECAC teams as well. And, Fun Fact: she also picked up a couple of assists along the way! But Nicole’s competitive playing days seemed to be at an end, with no NWHL yer in existence. But she stayed involved in the game she loves. Nicole told us “ I was an assistant coach at Northeastern for one year in 2009-2010 while Dave Flint was away with the Olympic team. I had a great time learning from the other coaches and seeing the game from the other side immediately following my playing career. I really enjoyed my time there. It wasn't until I was back at Choate as a faculty member that I started my MA (in Sports Leadership) at Northeastern. It was mostly online so I was able to work and do it at the time.” Nicole continued “ I played on our faculty team at Choate for a few winters and would bike and run as workouts. I really did not to a lot in terms of hockey shape before going back to the Blades. When I made the decision to do that, I got back into a lifting routine and kept working on things like foot speed, etc off ice to help translate back to the on ice.” Nicole added “ I went back to hockey because ultimately I love the game and I wanted to compete again. I am a competitor in everything I do, hence the Ironman (more on that in a bit) but I really wanted to go back to enjoying success and failure as a group and growing with the people around you. I missed the camaraderie of the teammates and being around people that also love the game. “
When Nicole next decided to lace ‘em up again in earnest with the CWHL and the Boston Blades, she hadn’t missed a beat. In her first and only game for the Blades, she shutout the Brampton Thunder, playing on the ice with former Choate teammate Hilary Knight, and future Whale teammates Jessica Koizumi, Kaleigh Fratkin and Kelli Stack. And it was the next season that those latter three joined Nicole as OW’s (Original Whale’s) for the inaugural NWHL season. Nicole started twenty-one games over the first two seasons for the Connecticut Whale, and was the number one goalie for the Pod in 2016-2017 when she was selected to the All Star team as discussed in the opening. We asked Nicole if she would share her thoughts on that first season with us. She recounted “Being a part of the beginning of the NWHL was something unlike any athletic experience I have had. At the time, I never thought about the impact or really the overall influence that it would have. Really we all just wanted to play hockey and prove that women can do exactly what the men do, make a living playing the game we love. That being said, it is not quite enough to make a living, but hopefully that was the first step to something bigger. It is the same as the first women to play college hockey. They didn't have much and probably went through a good amount of strife to forge the way for the females that play today. Looking back in 10-15 years, hopefully, we will see women playing and making a living. That first game was just the first stepping stone to making future dreams come true. I am sure I will look back on it one day and find it really cool to be a part of something that hopefully has deep significance.” She then added “For myself I just wanted to play hockey and to be able to do that was a bonus. I enjoyed the game and sure there was hardship along the way, but nothing great comes without some bumps in the road. The winning streak to start the first season was pretty incredible. The ability to play with girls that have an incredible amount of experience and learn from them. Carpooling with teammates to practices/games. Making new friends along the way. So many different things that have influenced me moving forward. It was an incredible life experience. “
Nicole already had a career path she was pursuing as we’ve seen. And after she left the Whale at the end of her last season, she continued to follow the off ice (mostly) part of it, continuing her career at Choate, as an administrator and head girl’s varsity hockey coach. She was honored by the National Ice Hockey Officials Association, receiving the Vincent J. Reilly Sportsmanship Award for her dedication to the game and leadership of her young student athletes. Nicole is now doing the same type of things at Lawrenceville School in central New Jersey, where she currently holds a position as Assistant Athletic Director and girls hockey coach. With her long experience with boarding schools, as both a student and administrator/coach, we asked Nicole to tell us something about what type of student-athletes she looks for. She replied “ Putting on my coaching/recruiting hat here. I am a boarding school product and believe deeply in what we do as educators and mentors. I do think that we do more than just coach at this age group. These kids are looking for role models and mentors as well as a coach. They want to be relatable. In that case, i think we are always on as leaders and mentors. I love what I do because you get to know your kids and their families in a different way than at the collegiate level. Many students come back and talk about how their experience at boarding school has shaped them. I feel the same way. There are many people at Choate I thank all the time for everything that they gave me during my time there. It would not have been the same without them. That said, we look for student-athletes to come to Lawrenceville that want the holistic experience. Sure they want to play hockey at the highest level, but they also want to have an excellent academic experience, be able to participate in clubs and other sports. Multi-sport athletes have dwindled but the benefits are enormous. To put the skates down and go play something else always helps with burn out, injury, etc. I truly believe in trying new things and taking advantage of all that a school like Lawrenceville.”
Nicole’s continuing personal athletic career away from Lawrenceville is another good example of her interesting off ice activities. She has recently completed her first Ironman competition (a grueling swim, bike, run event), and that’s just the beginning. She has another planned this summer up in Whistler, British Columbia. Nicole stated “The biggest thing for me is having a goal and working toward something. I feel like as I grew up playing hockey there were always goals to attain and now that I don't have hockey this was something I could set my mind to. I started biking right after college and I really enjoyed it so from there I was finding ways to add to it. Bike and run which was fun, and then I took on the water. This was the biggest obstacle, since I had never lapped swam in my life. I knew how to keep myself afloat but nothing past a doggie paddle and certainly nothing in open water. But again, I put my mind to it and dedicated time to it and eventually it came around. It is probably the thing I am most proud of in life. Don't get me wrong, I am slow and have stroke issues, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever done and to teach myself to do swim and then compete in open water was a pretty neat feeling. Once the I was able to complete the three aspects I have now learned how to put it all together and competing in an Ironman is just a different animal. The mental and physical aspects are like nothing else i have ever done. To cross the finish line last summer at my first full was an incredible feeling and something I will remember forever. To accomplish something like this on my own as opposed to the team sports that I have played for so long was totally different. You rely solely on yourself and there is nothing else. If you don't bring it, you don't finish- Simple! You can't point a finger at someone else. It is just you and the three disciplines to accomplish your goals. I played team sports growing up so this is a completely different feeling but a satisfying one to see all your hard work pay off in the end.” And so it has always been for Nicole Stock, the hard work paying off. From the little Future Draft Pick who used to vault over her parent’s sofa like it was the sideboard, to an NWHL All Star goaltender. She has always been willing to identify a goal and start working towards it. Concluding our conversation, we asked Nicole if she had any words for the fans. She replied “ Mostly I would like to say thank you! Thank you for supporting us. We love what we do and it would not be possible without your constant support. It is greatly and deeply appreciated! “ Cetacean Nation greatly appreciates our OW #24 Nicole Stock taking the time to reminisce and catch-up, and we’ll be following her Ironman races as well! Luck against foe, and Fins Up!