Grace in action against the Riveters during Season Three. 📸: Matthew Raney

GRACE KLIENBACH: Act II, Scene 94

One of the highlights of this off season for the Connecticut Whale fans of Cetacean Nation, was the return to the Pod by our #94 Grace Klienbach. We had a chance to speak with Grace recently and had the opportunity to discuss a number of things that had been on our minds. And since she became one of our “ Once and Future” Whale, our very first question delved into that. Where was our energetic fan favorite last season? Grace quickly filled us in on what occurred. “Last season I think the stars just didn’t align for me to play, but I think that was a good thing. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. My dad ended up having a heart attack in October and my family needed me to come home to help out. My dad was recovering and needed extra help with work and things around the house. Our house was damaged by Hurricane Irma a few summers back, so most of the hockey season for me was spent on top of the roof with my dad, taking off the old roofing and putting up the new. Once that was done, we moved on to tearing down the old pool shed and rebuilding a new one. I was needed at home and that is okay, it was where I needed to be. I’m glad I had the ability to go home and help my family out as much as I could. Family always comes first. But that being said, myself and my family couldn’t be more excited that I am playing for the Whale again this season!”

One of the other things we first thought about while preparing to chat with Grace, was the fact that the fans had really missed #94 last season, both on and off the ice. We had heard it in the stands, and on our social media. When we mentioned it to Grace she replied, “Because I was away from it, obviously I didn’t hear what other people were saying and I wasn’t aware that I was missed. But I am glad I was, and I’m glad to be back now. I wanted to play for the Whale, and I really wanted to be in Connecticut. And the one thing that I really did love the most about the Whale were the friends, genuine friends, I made on the team. I got a lot of support from a lot of different people. Even though I wasn’t on the team last year, I still had awesome friends there.”

And it was those friends, like #9 Kaycie Anderson, and #33 Laura Brennan, who kept her informed and urged her to attend this year’s Whale Free Agent Camp. She did, and was signed up by GM Bray Ketchum, as our first veteran forward to join the Pod. Grace said “Bray I did a really good job at the tryouts evaluating players, but of course I guess I’m a little biased:) She didn’t know much about me obviously, because this is her first year. She knew I did not play last year but that I had played the year before but didn’t know why, and she didn’t just write me off. I think it is awesome that they got a former player as a General Manager. Grace has said that “Whether it’s the best team in a league or the worst team in a league I’m going to play the same, so it really doesn’t matter to me who were playing.” We’re sure Bray saw that competitiveness and fire in Grace on the ice at that camp, and Grace’s attitude surely played a role in how #94 returned to the Pod as a member of Bray’s Bunch!

A big part of Grace’s life last season revolved around her involvement with 14Hockey. Cetacean Nation has posted some about this enterprise than Grace and former classmate and hockey star at Neumann University Shayne Morrissey has put together. We asked her to tell us how that got started, and what it’s all about. Grace filled us in “We met freshman year at orientation our freshman year, and first semester we had five classes together so it was pretty inevitable that we would get to know each other. And we first started talking about what became 14Hockey last summer and into the fall. Shayne was saying he really wanted to do his own hockey program. He already did clinics and lessons but he wanted to try to make it bigger. So we started talking and playing around with names. We got a logo we took a look at everything this summer and to try and see what we could do with it, and we had our first camp. What we actually do is drills for local teams, camps, clinics and private lessons. Teams have asked us to come out and conduct practices so the coaches can sit back and watch the players in a different perspective. Instead of just correcting every single detail they can watch it overall. It has wotked very well this summer. Our first camp was great, and our second even did better which, was awesome. Then we also had a three on three tournament, the first time we ever thought about doing that. The last one we had we actually had too many kids. We had 108 kids show up and we had to turn away 15 others.It was amazing how makids showed up! We were not expecting it to explode as much as it did.A lot of parents signed the kids up the day before and we were like 0h my god this is too many kids! Before we didn’t have enough kids and then all the sudden we had too many kids!”

As to the camps themselves, Grace explained “We do everything together so we have two different perspectives.I like to focus on the skating and puck drills. Puck control, and skating Mohawks and figure eights and those kind of drills. Shayne likes to do a lot of the tricks and stick skills like popovers for example. He’s got all those fancy skills and puck tricks, so we both bring different elements to it which is good. Depending on which kids come, I teach certain things And Shayne teaches certain things. So depending on what the kids want or need, we have different skills to offer. And since we both have different perspectives to as well, I play professional women’s hockey and he plays professional men’s hockey, we offer a well rounded field of knowledge and experience.”

Grace elaborated, telling usShayne came from somewhere where hockey was everywhere and I came from somewhere where hockey was nowhere to be found. When he was a kid he would just go outside and shoot pucks or do puck drills. We were joking and talking about it the other day and you would have thought I did not like hockey:) if I wasn’t in the rink for practice or a game, whenever I was home I didn’t touch a puck. I didn’t shoot a puck, I didn’t look at a puck, I literally did nothing with hockey except whenever I had practice or had a game. We lived on a farm and we had a net and my dad would try to get me to shoot pucks and I’d be like, Oh, I’m OK. I loved hockey, but when I was home, I was home. I associated that attitude with being home and there’s just not a lot of places to play where I’m from. Even when I was down there last year I didn’t really touch the ice. One, because I was busy helping my parents with stuff around the house but then Two, it’s so hard to find a place to skate. Even where I am right now, I still have to drive an hour and pay tolls there and back and make it a whole event for me to go to train at the hockey rink. And end up playing playing with bunch of older men who don’t know what they’re doing:)”

We asked Grace how long the camps lasted, and if 14 Hockey was going to be a year round enterprise. She explained “The camps were all weekend camps, but next year we’re going to try to to do some weeklong camps. Right now it’s mostly just a summer thing only because we both play, so after the season we’ll get back to it. We don’t really have the time to actually build it up anymore at this point. And the other “problem” is, I work at Fairfield Ice Academy (with Laura Brennan) and I cant promote a competitor while I’m there :) Seriously, I love working there and I love working with Laura. It’s an awesome atmosphere and since I was coming back to the Whale, Laura asked if I would coach again this year. I am also an athletic trainer! and work about 42 hours a week. I usually work some overtime and then work at FIA, and also give private lessons. I was probably working way too much in season three, but it was awesome working with a friend. So although right now 14Hockey is mostly an off-season thing, we are going to try to keep our social media pretty active. We ‘ll talk about it, and post pictures from the camp. I think that what we are going to do is to be proactive with the parents to keep us up-to-date on what their kids are doing. For example, if they score their first hat trick or something like that, they could send pictures and the information, and we could post it. So we will remain active on social media but not on the ice coaching during our playing seasons.”

Grace then began to talk again about her initial NWHL experience. Specifically she addressed some of the nuanced aspects of being a professional athlete. She told us “My first year, season three, it was great having girls who could help guide you. It was kind of like in college freshman year. You could ask the upperclassmen how does this work or how does that work. There weren’t any players on the Whale that I did not get along with my first season. Everyone was great! If I ever had a question, there were so many people there willing to take you under their wing and show you this is how this works. It’s a lot nicer than college because you’re an adult now and more mature, and you don’t feel embarrassed to ask how something works. I really liked it because there’s less drama and we’re not dealing with all that stuff we are all just adults who are playing professional hockey. We’re not forced to be there.”

Grace continued “I loved college and I loved playing hockey in college but playing professionally was was a lot different, it just awesome! Everyone does their thing and everyone shows up and does what they’re supposed to do. Like I said, there’s no drama in between so it’s perfect. The only thing that I wish is that maybe in the beginning of the season there were a couple more practices than what we have. it’s hard to just have two. I know I was disappointed in some of the practices from my first season which were only 50 minutes long, which is not enough when you have only two per week. I feel that practices are when you really start to kind of match, mesh, and jell as a team. You do so many drills with so many different players you start to see who works together and who doesn't That type of practice is what I liked about college. I do know it is extremely hard with everybody working jobs. But if maybe there was a third optional practice that you can go to, (but if you can’t it’s OK) I think that would be a good thing. I would go to those kind of practices anytime I could because I think it would just help us all as a team and individually”.

Grace added “A lot of people I talk to, ask about the practices and everyone is always shocked that we only practice twice a week with one game on the weekend. They say “That’s it? and I say “Yeah, that’s it”. And I tell them that that’s just where her game is right now By comparison in the pro leagues that Shayne (Morrissey, her partner in 14 Hockey) plays in, that is their job. They wake up in the morning, they go to the rink, they work out and then go home. They do that for four days that they have a games and one off day each week so they are on the ice six days a week. It is very, very different We’ll get there eventually.”

Grace also offered these insights about her teammates, and the lives they live. “Everyone takes things seriously, there’s no missing practice because you have a class (like you might have in college) The players are dedicated and willing to make sacrifices, often having virtually no social life, full-time jobs, practices at night on weekdays and games on weekends. We’re making sacrifices because we love playing and we are obviously not doing it for the money we’re just doing it because we love it.The playing professional hockey in the NWHL is a special opportunity not many people get in their lives. I think the fact we’re the first ones is awesome. I remember my first year everyone talking about the Founding Four. it’s so great to be a part of that and no one can take that away from us, which I think is so special. And, the fact that we all have full-time jobs and are able to do that because of the fact that we are so strong willed and can make it work. We come to practice, then give it our all on the weekends always communicating with our work to make things fit. I definitely think that is special.

Commenting on her own particular situation  Grace added “And at my own work (Orthopaedic Specialty Group), they have been more than flexible with me. They even told me that if I need to be at a special event they are good with me not working at a certain time even if it’s not a game, maybe it’s a community event to go to. They know that I’m here for hockey, and they are more than accommodating with that, which is awesome. Grace also explained “OPG is where our team physician was from (in season three) and that is actually how I got the job thee. They also have a contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers which is pretty cool too. I still want to go back to school, and plan to go to med school as well when I finish playing. But I do feel like I can try that any time, while playing professional hockey is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Grace also told us this story about her place of employment “Ten people from my work came to one game just to watch me play. They never went to a game before but then they started coming because I was from their workplace. So our careers can actually help bring fans. We are building a fanbase through our work, because we do have those full-time jobs there”

One of the changes to the NWHL since Grace last played in season three, is the expanded schedule. We asked her about that and she told us “I think it is awesome, I love it, The more games the better for me. Especially as I mentioned, with where I’m working they know I’m up there for hockey they have no problem with letting me get days off and adjusting my schedule to fit. I am still jealous of all the men’s league where they get to play so many more games than we do. I do wish it was more like college with the number of games and practices. But we do have a lot of weekends this season where we are playing multiple games and which is awesome and I love it. I am really excited since gives you a little more time two to bond and and get used to each other and even mess around with lines. I feel like you have to give everything a little bit of time, and this gives the coaches more time to see who works well together and who doesn’t and to try to mash it out before we make our push for the playoffs”

The Whale will be playing their NWHL games in three new rinks, including home ice at the Danbury Ice Arena. It will be four new ones for Grace, but our home venue will not be unfamiliar. Grace revealed “I have played in Danbury, and I think we had a couple of Junior New York Ranger events and we were up there a couple of times with their youth program. In fact, it was one of the first community events I did when I was first with the Whale. And after that Rachel Ade and I used to actually play in the men’s league there. I did find it was nicer (than TCR) but it’s been just under a year since I was there last. aI don’t know if they did anything different, especially with the Danbury Hat Tricks coming in, I don’t know if they’ve done anymore to it or not.”

Grace also weighed in on possible future NWHL expansion, and feels strongly, as does Cetacean Nation, that Philadelphia would be a great fit. Noting that Pittsburg should be the next expansion site, considering the crowds that showed up for neutral site games there, Grace commented “I think that we should have a neutral site game in Philadelphia, and obviously advertise for a long time in advance, and see what kind of turnout we get. I think that Philadelphia would be pretty awesome, I think we should 100% have a team in Philly. I think it would work well because there’s just so much hockey there. It’s kind of outrageous how much hockey there is! Some of the girls that I coached in Philadelphia will be playing in Connecticut this season, and they’re going to come to some of the games There’s a girl I used to take out on the ice with me when I coached the mites in college and she would skate out with me for the national anthem. She still follows me which is pretty cool, and she came up to watch me play the Rivs, and plans on coming up for another game this year.

She cintinued ”Fans from there travel a distance to see us but I really am hoping that we get a team in Philadelphia. As much as I love the Whale, if we had a team in Philly I would love to play! And especially with Shayne and I doing our 14Hockey programs in this area we know more kids, we know more parents. We’ve been involved in Philadelphia hockey since 2013, our freshman year. I wasn’t involved as much as he was from the get go, and literally everyone knows him here, so it’s just the right fit in terms of area, And if there were an NWHL team down there then 14Hockey could be a year round thing. Even if Shayne was on the road, I would still be around to keep things going.Fingers crossed, fingers crossed:)”

Cetacean  Nation was excited about the return of our #94 Grace Klienbach even before talking with her, and we are even more excited now. So keep an eye on Grace in Act Ii wih the Pod this season, on her stage which is the surface of the ice rinks. Scene #94 is bound to be really exciting! Fins Up to Grace, for these great content and insights she shared with us.