Emma Vlasic in her days as #15 for the Yale Bulldogs. Photo courtesy of Yale University Athletics

EMMA VLASIC: The Latest Whale From Yale

Our Connecticut Whale and Yale University have shared some special connections over the years. Two years ago the Pod hosted the Korean National Team in New Haven at Ingalls Rink, with former Yale star Stephanie Mock skating for the Pod. Former Whale players Kate Buesser and Jessica Koizumi have coached with the Yale Women’s hockey team in the past. And in the first ever game in the NWhL the win went to former Yale Bulldog goalie #32 Jaimie Leonoff. And on the brink of season five, Yale grad Bray Ketchum is running the show for the Pod as their GM. One of her early additions this past offseason was our #4 Taylor Marchin from Yale,, who re-signed with the Pod on June 1st. Two months later, Yale forward Emma Vlasic signed on with Bray’s Bunch. Cetacean Nation recently had an opportunity to chat with Emma, so let’s get to know our latest Whale from Yale a little better.

Emma hails from Wilmette, IL just north of Chicago. Emma told us “It is BlackHawks country, like 30 minutes from the city” It is an area that has produced a couple of other Whale, Nicole Stock from Buffalo Grove, and Jordan Brickner from Lake Forest. Emma added “I didn’t know that was where Jordan was from. I found out she went to to Wisconsin, but I didn’t know she was from Illinois so that’s pretty cool. I have not actually met her yet. Our new goalie is also from Illinois, Sonia Shelly And I have played against her. I played for CYA which Is Chicago Young Americans and we were always rivals with the Chicago Mission where she played. And also with Yale we played against her at Saint Lawrence too.” When we had interviews Sonjia she had also mentioned those facts, saying “Two years at Chicago Mission….from 2011 to 2013, I actually played against Emma Vlasic, who I also competed against against throughout my college career as well.” And while Emma was at Yale, the aforementioned Taylor Marchin was a teammate of her’s for two years, From familiarity comes chemistry, and the Whale do have a lot of those type of connections!

So Cetacean Nation asked how it all started for Emma in Wilmette. Emma recalled “My dad was kind of big on hockey, and started all three of us in the sport. (I have an older brother and younger brother), He would always build ice rinks in the backyard in the winter, so as early as two years old we were skating around on the outdoor rink, just playing and practicing. I mean, all three of us just loved it! At about six years old I was put on a more structured team in Wilmette, so I kind of started my playing there. I played with the boys actually, until I was 13, in Wilmette. Then I went to CYA where I played all my high school hockey. So then the backyard rink was a pretty big factor. My dad and his brother both played growing up, and they grew up in Montreal and that was a big hockey place obviously. So hockey was big for the family even before.”

But besides hockey, Emma had another sport she was passionate about: baseball. She revealed “Growing up, baseball was my second favorite sport! i’m a big Cubs fan, although it’s kind of trying times right now :) I remember watching in 2016, that was amazing. After 108 years without winning the Series, it was our time for sure. And game seven was a great game. Emma continued “I threw right handed and batted left handed, and played with a boy’s team. I had one softball tryout while I was a freshman in highschool, but I didn’t really like it and it wasn’t the same.Baseball is a different game and throwing the ball is a lot more difficult, and hitting was different. it is simply a different sport. So I played baseball through my freshman year in high school, and that was my last year. I always loved baseball, I don’t know what it was about it. No one else in my family played. My dad liked it to some degree, but obviously hockey was number one. I love playing while I was growing up and I’m thankful that I had that experience i’d really loved to play catcher. I don’t know why but I loved being behind the plate. I’ll still throw ball with my brothers, but I haven’t played a game in a quite awhile.”

 

Emma played her high school hockey with the Chicago Young Americans. winning the Illinois State Championship 2011 and 2012. She served as Captain, and won multiple awards, including scoring titles and Team MVP. We asked Emma to fill us in a little more on that type of high school hockey experience. She explained “They had a hockey program at New Trier High School, in Wilmette, but Illinois high school hockey is a little bit different. it’s not as good as the Minnesota or Wisconsin high school hockey, and so a lot of the higher end players would be playing club hockey. So that’s why I never played, but some of the girls did. In boys hockey you couldn’t double roster, but in girls hockey you could. So some of my teammates at CYA did play for their high school teams but I never did that. With CYA we did do a lot of tournaments, and even in U14 we were traveling a lot. It’s a big recruitment phase for a lot of colleges.So we were coming to the East Coast a lot, and also Canada. The game in Illinois was growing, and we were one of the better teams and we would always compete with Chicago Mission for the State Championship. There were actually four teams out of Illinois when I was growing up, and it was a good experience, I was there for six years. And I was lucky to live just 15 minutes from the rink. We had a good coach who was able to to help a lot of girls get to play Division I or Division III. We brought s lot of people from all over Illinois. We were very competitive and made some National Championship appearances. It was always a lot of fun amazing how much it was growing, not just on the East Coast but in the midwest, and on the West Coast it’s growing everywhere.”

When it came time to start thinking about college, Emma had the same types of criteria as many young student athletes of her caliber do: a great academic school with a great program in their sport, on a campus they love, with teammates who become family, and coaches they can respect. Emma had an additional criteria, and only Yale University could meet it. It mentions in her bio on the Yale University Women’s Hockey site that Emma told them that she chose Yale “To be able to go to one of the best universities in the world and follow in my grandfather's footsteps is a dream come true.” And as described in that same bio, Emma’s grandfather Ivan Vlasic received his Master’s Degree in International Law in 1958 and his PhD in Air and Space Law in 1961 from Yale. Cetacean Nation asked if he also played hockey, and Emma replied “Yes, he did play, but not growing up really. But he was a big hockey guy, and obviously his two sons, my dad and my uncle played. But he went to Yale for graduate school so that was definitely one of the big reasons why I wanted to go there”

We had noted that Emma majored in History, and when we asked her about that, her comments revealed more of Dr. Vlasic’s influence across the years. “Yes, and I specialized in European History The professors were good, and my grandfather grew up in Yugoslavia. He fought in the Second World War, and that’s what I wrote my thesis on. So from the beginning I wanted to take classes in European history. That’s where I had my biggest interest. I thought all right, this is what I’m interested in and I’ll definitely have something to write about in my thesis, and so it came to be. have I ever visited the former YugoslaviaI actually haven’t visited the former Yugoslavia but my Dad has been to Croatia. He would go because he would visit his grandmother with his Dad, but I have never been. I definitely want to go, it looks beautiful. I’ve just been to Scotland to visit my aunt there, so I haven’t been to Eastern Europe but I really want to go. My grandfather unfortunately passed away when I was 14 so he never even got to know that I was going to Yale.” We told Emma we didn’t know how those things worked, but that somehow we thinks he knows, and she agreed.

On the ice at Yale, the Bulldogs experienced some struggles in the won-lost column, but played better than their record might have indicated, but with little puck luck. All of Cetacean Nation can understand how that is sometimes the case. We asked Emma about moving into the college game and asked her to tell us of some her experience at Yale. Emma recounted “Definitely the college game is very different , and that is kind of what people tell you going in, it’s very different. I had success in high school but it doesn’t always translate right away to the college game. You definitely have to work at a whole other level above what you did before. It’s a lot faster,it’s a lot more physical, and there’s just so many good players. People that I hadn’t really heard of or played against in my case. And our league the ECAC was very good, and we had three or four teams that ended up going pretty far in the national championships. It was always very competitive every night we were playing. I didn’t really play a whole lot my freshman year, but in my sophomore and junior year I was kind of able to figure it out a little bit more and gain a little bit more confidence. And also just put in more work over the summer. I think that was a big key for me, seeing how that work in the offseason was able to translate onto the ice. Yale was always a lot of fun. I had a great group of people, and my teammates were always great and we always had a good time. And we won some big games here in there but it wasn’t always very consistent, which I think was the biggest thing for us just that consistency.”

Emma showed constant improvement during her career at Yale, with 36 of her 45 points being collected over her last two seasons, and she was elected Captain as a senior. One of her noteworthy games came when her two goals led the Bulldogs to victory over #3 Clarkson. Cetacean Nation was impressed by her nearly perfect balance between goals and assists, and her success on special teams. Emma explained “I played center the past two years, but I was recruited as a left-wing because I played left-wing a lot with CYA. But then I kind of developed into playing center, and I really like the position. And that’s what I was most successful at my junior and senior year, so I would say I am probably center right now. I don’t know what it says on the bio, but yeah, I would say center. It was great to have the experience on the power play and penalty kill. Penalty killing was always a big responsibility, but it was something I learned to do over the course of my college career. And being on the power play was also a lot of fun. That was something I had done in high school, and I wanted to implement it into my college game as well. That was always an exciting part of the game for sure. I would mostly play upfront on the power play, as I was kind of the passer in a lot of situations.”

So every college athlete comes to a point where they must face the fact that life as they’ve known it is about to change, and that their career may not continue. The attrition is greater at each level. So Cetacean Nation wondered when Emma started thinking about the future of her hockey career. She responded “As early as say May. so even before I graduated I was talking to people about it. So I definitely wanted to continue playing, but I didn’t really know what that would look like or where exactly. I definitely wanted to keep playing in some way. I was kind of considering overseas. Obviously the CWHL had folded, and there was some uncertainty with the NWHL. But ultimately I wanted to play in the states. I think growing up, the NHL was just like my favorite thing. My family would always watch and it was just such a big part of our family and what we did? We just love hockey and we all play except my Mom. So to get to be able to play in the National Women’s Hockey League,while It was not an option growing up, obviously I think that when it started up, and became an option that was definitely something that I wanted to do.”

This was Emma’s first offseason and preseason as a pro, and we asked how she has been training, and if she had done or plans to do any coaching. “In terms of the offseason, I didn’t want to change too much in my approach. So I kept my same workout schedule that I had in summers past. And I was lucky enough to still work with my strength and conditioning coach from Yale over the summer. He was very helpful with suggesting, workouts and continuing to work with me in that way,so that was really helpful for sure. As to coaching, every time I came home from college during the summers, I would coach with some of the Wilmette girls. And this other guy that I kind of knew from hockey in the Illinois/Chicago area, asked me to come out and coach, and a lot of that was with the Wilmette girls as well.Plus I did some clinics some with CYA. it’s always fun to come out and work with some of the girls But right now I am looking at getting into something in finance, and just kind of starting my career, and getting exposed to that kind of world. But definitely hockey will always be a big part of my life, whether that’s coaching or playing,whatever. I’m not planning on doing it full time. Maybe not now full-time, but definitely always keeping that in the back of my mind.”

This year for the Whale, Emma will don jersey #15, and we asked if there was any particular story behind her choice. She replied “I was number 44 in high school because of my cousin (Marc-Édouard Vlasic) who plays for the San Jose Sharks At Yale, I kind of just came in and like all the numbers I want to be were taken so they said you want to be #15 ? And I said: Yep,#15 sounds cool. So I figured why not just continue from collegeI I do like #15, is a good number:)” We concluded our interview with Emma discussing our views on the continuing positive impact of the Whale on the game, especially the efforts to engage with our Little Future Draft Picks. Emma concurred, saying “Definitely, with the improvements they’ve made in the past few years. And from what I’ve heard, it’s only going to get better, And that is something for younger players to see and help in terms of growing the game for sure. We’re people who want to make a difference in the community, on the ice in the corporate world, whatever. For the kids it is a wide exposure to people who are really motivated, who want to help people and just make a difference. It’s a great opportunity for those amazing kids, but it’s also great for the kind of excitement that it brings from our standpoint too!” Cetacean Nation thanks our amazing #15 Emma Vlasic for letting the fans get to know more of her story., and for choosing to come to the Nutmeg State not just for her college career, but her NWHL career as well. Fins Up to the latest member of our Pod to make the jump from Yale to Whale. Fins Up to that!