Brooke along the journey on her way to the Pod. Top left at Westminster School (photo courtesy of BW) Top right with Assabet Valley (Photo courtesy BW) Bottom right at Saint Lawrence (photo courtesy SLU Athletics) And bottom left with Plattsburgh State (photo courtesy PSU Athletics)

BROOKE WOLEJKO: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Well, obviously that’s not all they want, especially if they are members of our Connecticut Whale. But Cetacean Nation would offer that the reason we chose to play sports as children is because they are fun. Plain and simple. John Voelker, the autthor of the novel, “Anatomy of a Murder” was also an angler. He said he loved to fish not because fishing was so important, but that so much else in life was equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun. So it is for many with hockey, including our amazing new goaltender, #1 Brooke Wolejko. The pure fun she’s derived from sports, especially hockey, has played a huge part in her personal journey. And it has helped lead her to the Pod. Cetacean Nation chatted with Brooke this week, and were enlightened about the role that the joy of hockey has played  in her life.

It all starts somewhere, and for Brooke that was about 70 miles northeast of Danbury, in South Windsor, Connecticut. We asked Brooke to fill us in on her early hockey and sports career. She explained “So, I have two older sisters and they both played hockey as well, so I was always around the rinks. And I looked up to them and saw them having fun playing, and I just wanted to see what hockey was all about. So I actually started skating at four years old. I am pretty sure that it was a Learn to Skate program to start. I did that for a year or two, and then joined a team In a boys’ recreational hockey program in South Windsor. I was not always a goalie though. I started as a skater, but only for about a year. The coaches would ask each week if anyone wanted to volunteer to play goalie and I would always be the first one to raise my hand. I didn’t really have much of an interest in skating out. I just knew right away that I wanted to try the position and I loved it! Theee’s a lot going on, you either love it or you don’t. There is really no in between.”

Brooke continued, “I played softball as well. I played on a travel softball team so we played year-round. Also, my sisters started playing softball as well, so I naturally I wanted to join in. I played third base and batted right, threw right. I did play some softball last year when I was living in Maine before moving down here I played in just a slow pitch softball league but it was great to just get back out there I really missed playing.” Serving as Captain and earning All League accolades, Brooke led her Westminster softball team to a 17-0 record her senior year, and a #1 ranking in Connecticut. Powered by her .515 batting average and thirty-two RBI, the Martlets won the Founders League and the Western New England Prep School Class A Championships. Her softball squads lost only five games during her four year career at Westminster.

Brooke also played field hockey and revealed “I actually had never tried field hockey before Westy - prep schools basically required that you play three sports, and a couple of my friends, my hockey teammates, were on the field hockey team. They told me they they really liked it and I should try it out, so I did. And I wasn’t a goalie, I was actually a forward. I took a little break from being in net and had a chance to score some goals too:) I think it’s important to play more than one sport. It’s nice to get a break from hockey, and it helped me avoid getting burnt out. And it also helped me appreciate hockey more. Also playing other sports is a great way to meet new people make new friends”

As to why she chose Westminster School, Brooke explained “I enjoyed that Westminster had great academics. I actually had a few of my teammates on the travel hockey team I was playing with at the time who were in their first year at Westminster. So they were telling me about it,, and the fact was in my town at South Windsor High School there is only a boys hockey program. So my teammates introduced me to the coach. I thought it was a good way to put myself out there. I had made it a goal for myself at a young age, to play college hockey. I always dreamed about playing college hockey and I thought that was a good way to get onto that path”

Brooke continued “ I was a day student at Westminster (in a Simsbury, CT) and Mom and Dad had to chip in and drive me around a lot until I got my license. My parents had to take us (me and my sisters) all over the place. My oldest sister is eight years older than me and my other sister is four years older than me, so we’re spaced pretty far apart. We played in the same program but not in the same teams. My parents made a lot of sacrifices for us growing up like like that in sports, so I’m very grateful for that.” Cetacean Nation thought that playing three sports and considering the travel and practices, that her schedule had some long days in it. Brooke responded “ Definitely there were longer days than others. But I think it’s easy, because time flies when you’re having fun, the day goes by faster I always liked routine I guess. So I was always used to waking up, going to school, then practice afterwords and then going home eating dinner and going to bed. And then I did it all over again each day.”

When we asked her about her favorite moments during her prep school years, Brooke reflected “Hmm, my senior ice hockey season we won the New England Championships and that was an amazing memory. That’s what comes to mind we played against Nobles in the championship game. Lexi Laing (Boston Pride) played for Nobles, and I was also playing with her at that time with Assabet Valley, so now I had to play against her in the championship Against of my teammates, and they had an undefeated team.Until that game. It was a great note to end on as a senior. I had a great four years at Westy. it was a great experience and when I think of my time there, I always think of that game. We had a talented team, but I wouldn’t say we were the most talented.Of course Nobles was undefeated,and they have a great program, so I think it’s a lot more special that we had that will to win. We all wanted to win so badly, and worked so hard, and worked together and I guess that just made it more special.”

Mentioning Assabet Valley again, Brooke added “I was fortunate enough to play for Assabet Valley. They have always had a powerhouse of a program so I was very lucky to play for them. It was unbelievable winning a national championship with them, actually not one but two. It was absolutely incredible I played with three current members of the Boston Pride, Malory Souliotis. Lauren Kelly, Lexi Laing. They were great, very talented players. The hockey world is small and I know a lot of people in hockey. it’s really a nice little community. I also played with Amanda Boulier (our former #3, now a member of the Whitecaps) at Westminster for a year, and she went to Saint Lawrence. I looked up to her a lot and she was a great role model for me. So when I heard about her going to Saint Lawrence, I got in touch with the coach and wanted to check the school out. I got a tour of campus, and the campus is gorgeous. I got the same feeling that I got when I had toured Westminster. It had the same kind of small tight knit community feel to it, and I just kind a new it was the place for me. It felt almost like a bigger prep school school, I just had that feeling about it.”

Besides playing with Boo at Saint Lawrence, one of Brooke’s goalie partners was her current teammate, our #31 Sonjia Shelly. Brooke told us “Sonjia and I are great friends and she’s awesome. I was very fortunate to play with Saint Lawrence for those three years. They have a great program there and it was a great experience.” Things began great for Brooke, and she quickly won her first start of the season, even picking up an assist. Almost a year to the day later, she recorded her first shutout and compiled a 12-5-1 record over her three years, with a GAA of around 2.50. But as our former #92 Katka Mrazova said in part, statistics show a lot, but not everything, .Brooke stated “I feel like playing at such a high level at that time in my life, I got too caught up in the competition. I was putting too much pressure on myself. I ultimately found myself losing my love for the game and losing my confidence. Hockey has always been a great outlet for me. It helped me escape the stresses of everyday life and it seemed like I was losing that. I knew that even if it was just for one more year, ,one more season, I know I wanted to find that love for the game again. So that’s when I started looking at other schools.”

Brooke further revealed “Plattsburgh had just won their fourth consecutive national title that year.They have an incredible program there. I had reached out to Coach Kevin Houle expressing my interest. And honestly, it was pretty hard to find a school that was willing to take on a goalie for only a year. A lot of schools that I talked to already had goalies that were committed to the school two years in advance. So when Coach Houle got back to me, I was thrilled. They were just graduating their starter so they were looking for a goalie.I had explained to him about my background at Saint Lawrence. I just wanted a chance to show what I could do, as well as experience my love for the game again add Coach Houle gave me that chance, and I am super grateful”. So we would imagine, is Coach Houle and the entire Plattsburgh State hockey family. Brooke led all Division III goalies with a microscopic 0.95 goals-against average, and save percentage of .962. She compiled. 10-2-1 record, including six shutouts, earning NEWHL Goalie of the Week twice, and was named to NEWHL All-Tournament Team, as well as the Norwich East-West Hockey Classic All-Tournament Team among other honors. She led the Cardinals to the League Championship with a 23 save shutout against Oswego State in the title game. Their run ended in the semi final round of the NCAA tourney despite her 43 saves, as Elmira and future Whale teammate #24 Sarah Hughson prevailed 3-2.

 Brooke also offered these insights into her remarkable year at Plattsburgh. “Kayla Meneghin and Melissa Sheeran (our former #20) are great teammates and great friends. I’m happy I get to play with Kayla again. At Plattsburgh we had a good close team, really like a family, we had a close bond. I have a lot of good memories from Plattsburgh, but if I had to pick one though, I think I would say the road trips. With the team spending time on the bus on weekend trips it was always a lot of fun. I think we grew closer that way. I can actually remember a tradition, that on the first road trip for Plattsburgh each season, every freshman had to get up in front of the whole team on the bus and sing a song. Now I thought I would be exempt from that since I was a transfer senior, but nope:), I was wrong! And there is a catch to it too:. we weren’t allowed to hear ourselves, so we had to wear headphones with the volume cranked up! So I’m not a good singer to begin with, so you can imagine how it would sounded, not being able to hear hear myself. It was definitely funny and I could tell I must have been awful just based on the girls facial expressions as they were all laughing. It is definitely something funny to look back on.I do not remember what song I sang, I wish I remembered but I  think I blacked it out from embarrassment:) We mentioned that in her Plattsburgh Women’s Hockey bio, Brooke stated she liked “food and coloring books” She laughed, “Ha,ha! I guess that was a little bit of a joke! But at the same time I have actually used adult coloring books before, to help me relax. And there are times that it is actually a helpful way to calm your mind down and helps you to really focus on the present moment. YI love food, and I wish I could cook more than I do. After graduating I tried to get into cooking but it’s not really for me:) I think I need to practice more. That’s what it is, if I was a better cook I would cook more.”

Cetacean Nation also wanted to talk about Brooke’s college major which was psychology, especially since she moved into the field right after graduation. Brooke explained “I think what Initially drew me to psychology was being a hockey goalie. I’m not necessarily saying that when skating out the mental process isn’t as important, it definitely is. But especially having that added pressure on me as a goalie. I was interested in psychology and wanted to learn more about the mind and different techniques to use to help kind of train your mind to change negative thinking to positive thinking. And I studied psychology both at Plattsburgh and Saint Lawrence. Actually, I have been personally affected by a mental health problem.And I guess I want to be able to learn about about mental health issues to be able to help others going through similar challenges. And that’s why I decided after graduating, to work at a school that specializes in helping kids deal with mental health issues.”

 Speaking definitively, Brooke stressed “Mental toughness is important, it’s huge. I love the pressure of my position, but when it becomes too much pressure it’s not fun anymore. You have to learn how to work with that pressure and learn ways to build up that mental toughness. If you have a tough night, you have to learn how to let it go. Hockey has to be fun. When I was talking about my experiences at Saint Lawrence, I said having fun was the reason you started playing in the first place, and I wanted to get that back. I wanted to have fun again. Some people thought I was crazy just for asking about leaving, when I had only a year left to go. They’d ask:Why change schools now? But I wanted to have fun, even though it was just one year. I still want to be happy and end on it on a positive note.” Cetacean Nation thinks that Brooke demonstrated incredible mental toughness through the process of changing colleges in her senior year. And the ability to reach down inside a deal with a cornucopia of issies like that is admirable to say the least. That kind of mental toughness will not only serve her well between the pipes in the NWHL, but in all aspects of her life.

We also inquired further into exactly what type of work Brooke has been doing for the past year in her field of psychology. She informed us “i am an educational technician at Sweetser, Ed Tech III for short. I was working in a middle school classroom and we would assist the classroom teacher with their educational plan for the class. Each student has an individualized educational plan and an individual ICMP, which is an Individual Crisis Management Plan. There was a document that we could always refer to and it would suggest certain things we could do in crisis situations, Say a student puts their head down on the desk, or screams or yells, basically exhibiting how they try to cope with an individual crisis situation. And explains what ways we can help them. For example, say a kid is struggling with a math problem and they get really frustrated, and they can’t manage their emotions to the point where they get up and leave the room and slam the door.I would be the one to follow them and and then talk to them about what just happened. I would try to talk them through The ways.that they can handle that situation better next time.And ultimately help them get back into the classroom and teach them different coping skills they can use when they feel strong emotions. So that was pretty much what I did. The school I was at was a private school that had one elementary school class, three middle school classes and three high school classes, all in one school. It was pretty small. So my job was mainly helping with behavioral issues and helping students manage their emotions better. I had a great experience there and I learned a lot. it’s very important work, it’s hard work but it’s definitely rewarding. Right now however, I am focusing on hockey. I am going to be a goalie coach for Pro Crease, and that will be fun. I used to goalie coach summer camps in Maine, so it will be fun getting back into coaching. But I also want to focus on getting my masters, possibly in sports psychology. Although it was fun working with the kids in the school at Sweetser, sports are my thing, that is more of my passion and I’m excited about it.”

 Cetacean Nation was interested in how Brooke kept herself in condition the past year, and she told us “I played in some pick up hockey leagues, and and I also have an Orange Theory membership I don’t know if you’ve heard of Orange Theory, but it’s basically a situation where you have a coach that runs your class and you rotate between the treadmill and the rowing machine the floor exercises.The floor exercises are either ab exercises or working with free weights. The coach basically tells you what to do, and you get a heart rate monitor. Tha Heart rate monitor indicates what to do. There is a screen that you can look up at and see your, name your heart rate, and what zone you’re in. It’s called Orange Theory because ideally you want to spend 12 minutes in the Orange Zone out of a 55 or 60 minute workout, Zones are graded by color. For example, Gray Zone is your resting heart rate. You work your way up into the Blue and the Green and then the Orange. And the Zone after that is Red which is basically the danger zone. There you’re working yourself too hard and you have to turn it down a bit. So Orange Theory really helps me stay in shape. I like the structure of it and I like the coach telling us what to do.It helped me push myself more that way, like if I’m in the Green Zone, I know I can push myself even more.”

We asked Brooke about her unform #1 and she told us “ The #1 for the most part has been my number. I think I was number 30 on Assabet because my goalie partner had already taken a the number 1. That was funny because she told me she was normally #30, but she had switched to #1 and they won the National Championship.. So she didn’t want to switch after that:’ She didn’t particularly like #1, but she felt that she had to keep it. So I just picked #1 because it was another goalie number 1, 30 or 31, there’s not really more of a story behind it than that.” Brooke concluded our chat, stating “I am very happy to be with the Whale, and very excited about the upcoming game at UConn. I’m looking forward to it, but I I’m glad that we have the two practices this week. Because personally, I still need to work a little more shake the rust off. And it is good to have that time together as a team before the season starts, to just get back out there and get our feet under us.” Brooke also revealed that at a recent practice her nickname from Saint Lawrence resurfacedd. Brooke’s former SLU goalie partner #31 Sonjia Shelly, called out to her: Hey Woj! Brooke explained “I had that nickname in college, and Sonjia still calls me Wojo or Woj (she usually calls me Woj) Kayla Meneghin was surprised when she heard that at practice because I was not called that at Plattsburgh just at Saint Lawrence. She said: Oh wow, it should be like Sojo and Wojo!” And as all of Cetacean Nation has surmised as they just read this, so shall it be! We thank our amazing rookie goalie #1 Brooke Wolejko, for the candid and insightful content she shared with us. We are sure Wojo will continue to have a lot of fun with the Pod. After all, what could be more fun than bringing the Isobel Cup to Connecticut? Fins Up to that!