Left to right top to bottom: Celeste with the RIT Tigers (photo credit RIT Athletics) , with the Metropolitan Riveters (photo credit Michelle Jay), with the Connecticut Whale (photo credit BDZ Sports), and at Penn State (photo creditPenn State Women’s Hockey)

CELESTE BROWN: The Stars Align, And A River Runs Through It

 

When the puck dropped for the first game in NWHL history five years ago, many of the players involved already had amazing stories to tell. The kind of stories that could inspire even Jonathan Swift. One of the players who hit the ice on October 11, 2015 was our #42, forward Celeste Brown is a perfect example of that. On that day Celeste and our #14 Elena Orlando laced them up as members of the Riveters. Both became part of hockey history that day, and both would become members of the Pod the following season. These days Celeste serves as Assistant Coach for the Penn State Women’s Hockey Team. Cetacean Nation was able to chat with Celeste about her time with the Whale, and a lot more recently, including that first season and game.

When we spoke to Celeste, she had just returned with her Penn State squad from their weekend season opener up at Holy Cross. Things were pretty hectic as the team, which earned two ties with Holy Cross, was getting ready to hit the road against again for two more at #1 ranked Wisconsin. Celeste told us “It gets crazy at times, a good crazy, but crazy. This first weekend it was an eight hour road trip, and you always like to win after that, but what can you do? Hopefully we’will just get better from it and learn from the experience. We take off Thursday to go to Wisconsin, and we’re flying up, We’re flying right to Madison which is nice. We don’t have to go to a bigger airport further away. We are super pumped to play the best, because you want to play the best to be the best. I think it will be a good opportunity for our kids.”

 We noted that Penn State’s tough schedule was heavily weighted with road games early on. Celeste acknowledged this and said, “We are away away home, then way again, then we bounce back-and-forth a little bit. That’s just sort of how the schedule shaped up this year It’s good team bonding though. Sometimes it’s kind of cool to be on the road, because you’re kind of living like an NHL player and just strictly focusing on the task in front of you. Again, you want to play the best to be the best As a coaching staff we were brought in here with a purpose. To get the program to an elite level. That’s our goal, so we are excited to play those top teams and show them what Penn State is about. This past season we had really good out of conference success, tying some top ranked teams and knocking some of them off. It’s really fun to do that. Our kids are fired up to play against the best competition. Any kid that has aspirations to be an elite level player wants to play against other elite level players. For one, there’s a little bit of a proving who’s better type thing, and those kids also realize that it just makes them better to play against those type of kids ”

Celeste hails from Great Falls, Montana which was one of the places visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There was no hockey there then, or ninety years later when Mark Twain kicked off his World Lecture Tour there. And it is not the easiest place to play even today. So Cetacean Nation wanted to know how young Celeste got her career started in Big Sky Country. She reminisced “I started out playing ice hockey, and the story sort of goes that I got some rollerblades for my fifth birthday and I was sort of just ripping around the garage. My dad asked: Do you want to play hockey? There was a flyer that had come home from school or something and I was like: Yeah, let’s do it! So I just sort of signed up and it took off from there. I played on boys team from the age of five until my second year of high school. And at a certain point in there, around eighth grade, I started playing for a girls team in Montana. I also played on a tournament girls team out of Arizona for a year. But I grew up playing mostly boys, actually all boys, full check all of that, it was cool. At one point we had like five girls in my age group that were playing and we’re all on the same team, the same line, and that was pretty epic. I am not sure hoe the stars aligned on that one, but I was fortunate for sure.”

 Celeste continued “Playing with my boys team when I was young, a lot of it was up in Alberta, Canada. Again, I’m not sure how the stars aligned but I played on a pretty legitimate team in Montana. We’d travel up to Canada for games, and I think that season we played like 75 games with this team on the peewee or bantam level We’d play all over southern Alberta and we’d get into Calgary and Edmonton a little bit. We even took a local rink there and that was our home rink to participate in that league in Alberta. So even our home games were away at that point. It was a lot of fun. This was when I was pretty young, and it did slow down a little bit by my seventh, eighth, and ninth grade years. At that point age groups kind of came together and all played on one team. “

Cetacean Nation asked Celeste if she had always played forward. She recollected “I started as a defenseman I think, (you’re really making me think back now:)) I played D but I may have played forward until the point where the hitting started and then switched over to D. So I guess I’m actually started  playing as forward, then switched to defense. Then when I started playing with the girls, I switched back to forward again. It is an advantage (playing both positions) in understanding little things like: Hey, you need to keep your stick on the ice as a forward because it’s hard to know where you want to pass as a defenseman! Just little details like that, which kids don’t think about.”

We also asked if Celeste had played any other sports as a youngste, r and she explained “I did until age ten, I played every sport. But after ten I just focused on hockey. But I was insanely active in my neighborhood and on the playground. We were always playing basketball and football. I was sort of tomboyish, always running around, and I did extreme sports: motorcycles, four wheelers. I grew up in Montana so it’s crazy I played golf when I was still at home, and for a couple years I ran cross country I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I did it more for the friends, but hey I still did it! At NSA in the spring we had more time and we had to do another sport, so I remember trying tennis one year. I am a big fan of multi sport athletes and I feel fortunate that I played all the sports even if I wasn’t involved playing travel soccer or something. Where I was from, I would not have played soccer”

Celeste told us that after starting high school in Montana, Celeste finished her high school career at the National Sports Academy as she alluded. She explained  “Playing on a girls team was crazy! Boys hockey wasn’t even that big in Montana, and to have a whole girls team was just crazy. I went to Charles M Russell Hogh School for two years and then left to go to boarding school in Lake Placid, New York where I did my junior, senior and post grad years Going into junior year at age 16, it was sort of weird, because ever since I was young I just knew that I wanted to play hockey. And the reality was that being from Montana, you had to kind of make decisions like that. Like going to a boarding school, if you wanted to make it happen I always wanted to go to boarding school too! I don’t know how I got the idea, I can’t recall. But there must’ve been some instant that it entered my mind. Whether it was a district camp, and maybe some boarding schools were promoting their program or just hearing ttalk about boarding schools tthrough different grapevines, I am not sure. I just remember I wanted to go and I wanted to go badly. So I was insanely fortunate that I got the opportunity to go when I did”

 

Celeste had a fantastic three year career at National Spotys Academy. She served as team captain as a senior, and for her career there she scored 80:goals and registered 123 assists over 211 games. We asked Celeste to tell us a little about her experience at NSA, and she recounted “It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I think it is pretty epic to say that, especially when you made the decision at 16! But I met some of my closest friends there at NSA. I played with Jamie Goldsmith for a year, and still know her and see her out in the hockey community. A lot of those girls are still in the hockey community, and you kind of grow up with each other. Hockey is a tight community. If you are in that world, people are often going to just pop up at rinks, and it’s like oh, nice to see you! Also the mentors at NSA that you’re surrounded with, the coaches and faculty members, guide you to be not just great hockey players, but great humans too, which I think is insanely cool. So the experience is bigger than just sports, I think.” 

 Celeste continued “We played about 80 games a year, it was very sports focused. That was our life, that’s what we were there for, and that’s what we wanted to do. There are a lot of different opinions on the amount of games that you play, versus the amount of practice. But at NSA, we practiced four days a week, and then then we’d play like five, six, or even seven games a weekend. We ate, slept and lived hockey, I think is the saying. We took all of our core classes like math, science English, history, and a foreign language and got the credits we needed to graduate and get into the NCAA clearinghouse. And then into the schools that we wanted. We condensed our school day to accomplish this. We would practice in the mornings starting around 7 AM, then we’d lift, then take a break and get some lunch. Then we would go to school at 1PM and have our five classes until about 6 PM. In the spring time when we were not playing as much hockey, we would take some other classes, like maybe your AP classes. The school curriculum was set up in any capacity you needed to succeed in the academic realm. They would always help you achieve that. So I grew up in pretty much the same kind of insane type of schedule that I have now. There’s definitely a grind to it. So like you’re living in a hotel every weekend on the road, and if you factor that in I’ve been doing this since ai was 16 years old”

 Celeste picked right up in college where she had left off at NSA. Cetacean Nation asked Celeste about how she came to pivk Rochester Institute of Technology to continue her hockey and academic career. She told us “It just sort of developed. I think looking back now p, that you always end up where you’re supposed to end up. The universe kind of has a plan for you. In all honesty I wanted to go to Division 1, but ended up going to Division III at RIT my first year, then going to Division 1 with the program. But initially, it just sort of wasn’t happening. So I explored a lot of Division III schools to find the right fit. That’s what was important at that point and RIT just seemed to be the school that fit me best. It was a hockey school, which I put high up on my list. Because coming from NSA I wanted hockey. I also wanted a private school, not a tiny one, but one that had good academics, and RIT fit the categories. So when it came time to make a decision that was the decision.

Celeste continued “Like I said, looking back you end up where you are supposed to end up.I was insanely fortunate, and ended up having a pretty unbelievable experience there.The first year we won the National Championship in Division III. I knew it was a possibility thar we could go to Division , but it wasn’t set in stone or anything. But then Niagara University dropped their women’s hockey program, which was Division 1, and we were able to jump to that level. We had an epic transitioning, because you go from being best at one level to being an underdog and having to prove yourself all over. Me and my classmates all had that sort of mentality and by the time we were seniors we had won our, league, and the CHA twice, and then we went to the NCAA final 8 my senior year, tallied seventy points over her career was really pretty cool. I don’t know how it happened, but It did. It was a really unique experience and I don’t know, it was just sort of progressive. The time I was at R I T it was; OK, this year we did this and now we want to get better. Sophomore year we didn’t get great but we knew now: “Here’s where we stand” and we want to get better” and we were able to each year”

 On the way to achieving so many team and individual awards and awards and accomplishments, Celeste served as team captain her final two years, and tallied seventy points on 42 goals and 28 assists. Cetacean Nation wondered what her favorite moments Celeste harbors from her days at RIT. She pondered that and replied “My fondest memories are of the teams that I was on. We were always proving people wrong, so that’s like the fondest memory and the coolest thing that stays with me till this day, The CHA championships were epic, and our national championship was epic but it was the day in day out grind that’s what I remember. Grinding, going through things that you thought you couldn’t, and proving people wrong and being rewarded That’s my finest memory really.It’s like being with your teammates and going:Well, this sucks” but knowing that it’s going to work out.”

Cetacean Nation also noticed a particular penalty that Celeste was assessed while at RIT. Partly because it was a misconduct that she picked up with less than a minute to play in a game against Penn State! We mentioned the event to Celeste and she said “Is this me? I don’t remember why, if that’s what you’re askingI it could have been a couple of things. Actually I thought I had gotten a 10 minute misconduct later on but it might’ve just been a two minute. It could have been l potentially two things: I could’ve been either laying into the ref or or maybe it was some exchanges between me and the other team. Me and PSU did not get along I can tell you that. One of my really good friends from Minnesota went to Penn State, and I love her until this day. But when we would play against each other….Playing against Penn State, those girls gave me like the hardest time. it was wasn’t completely miserable but it was just like: Leave me alone let me play! They’d be chirping at me all the time, so probably I just laid into one of them.)”

 Celeste wore #24 for the Tigers, and we asked Her if there was a story behind her choice of jersey number, as is often the case. She revealed “ I was number eight from the moment that I put on a jersey until I went to college. And if I had the choice in college I would have remain number eight. But the choice was not available so it evolved to 24, becauseI 24 is a multiple of eight. It is also an important number in my family. Grandma was born on the day, my Dad was born on the day, and now my sister’s anniversary is on that day. So it’s sort of evolved through the family. I think there’s some other dates in there too that are 24. it just sort of worked out. And then you can thank our goalie friend Nicole Stock, who is #24 as a goalie, that I had to switch to #42 with the Whale. Ha, ha since she was there first she owns the number! So that’s how the number involved and I got to be #42. Celeste then added this interesting factoid “One of our players now actually played for Nicole when she was at Choate.” The small and amazing hockey-verse!

 We had mentioned some of the awards and honors that Celeste had earned while at RIT, and they included some that acknowledged her academic excellence. She was  named to the CHA All-Academic Team for three years, including recognition as an All Star when she compiled a perfect 4.0 GPA one season. She graduated cum laude with a 3.73 GPA and a degree in Sociology/Anthropology. We asked Celeste to tell us a little about the classroom side of her college career. She said ”it’s a combined major and I had a minor in women and gender studies as well. I was a science major going in and I found my way to Sociology/Anthropology not because I didn’t like science or I wasn’t good at it, but because I didn’t want to work in a lab my whole life. I really wanted to be out in the world with people. I ended up taking an anthropology course and I was insanely fascinated by it. So then I took a sociology class and fell in love with the class and the professor who taught it.”

She continued “And I see today getting into various topics, I think it’s just so relevant. I guess I’m biased but I think that every human should have some classes in sociology because it is our world and it’s an important part of understanding that world you live in and how and why things happen. I think it’s pretty cool, and I am passionate about it still. I try to encourage my players to take sociology, and some of them do. I think they should try at least some type of a liberal arts, that’s just a liberal arts person in me! it teaches you to think about everything you’re experiencing, and to be mindful of what your viewing. I can’t tell you the name of every article that I read but I can tell you they taught me to analyze things In a different realm, think about things, and bring in different aspects and ask more of “why” in everything that I do.” Fins Up to that! 

Cetacean Nation observed that Celeste was part of the first graduating class of college seniors who had the prospect of the NWHL looming on the horizon. We asked about how she made the next step in her journey, and she replied “The goal was to try and go play after graduation, with it being Europe which seemed the only viable option. So I was really trying to pursue that before the NWHL was even brought up, and it was difficult. I don’t know, I just didn’t have enough connections in the world. I had a couple of leads but it wasn’t necessarily promising. Then I just caught word that the NWHL was happening and I think they announced there would be four tryouts. I thought: Oh, sounds pretty legit! My older sister, (and all my family) are huge supporters and fans, but her job allowed her to come out and be a little bit more involved. So she was like: “You should try this” and I was like: “Why not?” I did not really have a preference of what team, so I said OK let’s do it, let’s try out.”

Celeste contunued ”I think the first one I did was in Connecticut and I might’ve met Dani (Dani Rylan) there. We started exchanging a few emails about the tryouts and I thought why not try for all four and just see where things fall. Because at that time it was all tryouts, there were no drafts. So basically you had to go try out and get picked by a team. I just wanted to play, I didn’t really care where. It evolved and I got the offer from New York, and I thought: Heck Yeah! I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and that was a weird thing too. It was a weird thing again where the stars kind of just aligned I was: Yeah, let’s make this happen! So I ended up playing in New York the first year which was pretty epic. I had some common friends who were on the team so that was pretty cool to be able to share that experience with them and experience one of the greatest cities on earth”

 Celeste also discussed some of her impressions of that landmark first game saying “I think looking back, it was historic. At the time of course you knew it was historic. But at a certain point it switched, and we said hey we’re just here to play hockey. But it was cool, and I will remember that there was a big ceremony to start, and a ton of little girls which is pretty cool. So I’ll always have that memory, and I do get little memories of random parts of the game.We (Riveters) ended up losing that game but it was just great to be a part of it. Everyone was there and a lot of fans I think just stop and reflect that, Hey, this is happening! I played with Ludmila Belyako that first year and that first year was insanely epic. It was so cool that you’re playing against the best players in the world? Just be able to say that is cool and to experience it is even more so. And a different thing was playing Boston, which was full of great players, six times. A lot of those players are older, so it was not like I had the chance to play against them in college. So it’s cool to have that in your memory box and also to learn things from them to just by playing against them”

 Just as Celeste was part of that first season and that first game, she was also part of the always “interesting” post season. Celeste explained how that led her to the Whale. “After the first year I came to a point where I wasn’t getting signed so I had to sort of make decision to go with my career, or just be in limbo. I had an opportunity to go coach at Connecticut college. I had sort of prefaced the head coach because I knew about practice players from the year with the Riveters. They had been there in case people couldn’t make it for a particular or basically just fill numbers in practice. So I prefaced the job with the possibility of being a practice player, because I was pretty confident that at the very least I could be a practice player in that organization. I’d already played in the league for a year, so it ended up working like really well. I only got to play a few games, but I pretty much went to every practice, twice a week It’s still cool to be part of it. You’re still part of a team, still learning from other players. Kelli Stack was still on the team so you could learn from players of her caliber, and then I would go and apply the things I had learned. Either from the staff or just like other players like Sam Faber who had been playing forever. They had tricks up their sleeve that you might not pick up as easily if you’re not in those situations. That was a really cool experience for me on that level, so I’m grateful for that. And again, I just wanted to play. If I had been able to be signed again I would have played another year I think. But It was cool to be part of two organizations in the NWHL because you got to experience not only how things are done differently but also similar at the same time, and it gets you into the community more.”

After her season with the Pod, Celeste took a big step in her career, accepting a job at Penn State where as you’ve read, she is the women’s assistant ice hockey coach. We asked Celeste to tell us more about the coaching aspect of her hockey career. She responded “There was definitely a point while I was in college that I was like: Yeah, I want to coach. I think that going into college that was not the plan, I had other goals. I’m not exactly sure when it switched but it did. It’s funny, I’ve had conversations with one of my coaches from my NSA days and she used to tell me all the time in high school: You should be a coach you should be a coach! I’d be like: no I don’t want to be a coach! As I said, I had different goals going into college but maybe just the experience or something along the way maybe changed for me And now look where we are now.

Celeste elaborated “I was just fortunate with the opportunities I’ve been blessed with. Penn State just sort of happened. I got asked to do an interview and and that wound up working on both ends. I feel extremely fortunate for the opportunity, it happened and now I’m here. I don’t even know where my mind was at that time, in terms of still playing, with That’s because I practiced but only played a couple of games so if that point I think I was pretty much focused on career which is it which is fine, But I guess If I had stayed at Connecticut College I would have been a practice player agai. Who knows, maybe I could’ve played more games. it’s tough to really tell or to think what if…. But the focus was definitely on career at that point and this was Penn State. This place is incredible, and I think anyone in the world of college hockey knows the potential that it has. it was the right fit, and offered the opportunity to work for Jeff Ebersole. He’s a legend in the world of hockey coaching, so I just jumped on the opportunity and took it, and now I’m heading into my third season”

 Celeste also offered these additional insights into her coaching career. “My first official coaching job was at Connecticut College. Of course you might coach kids or coach summer camps here and there but Connecticut College working for Kristen Steele was my first position. She’s the head coach there, and was a great mentor. And I really have always put priority on who you work for and what you can learn from them. That was one of the reasons that I picked to go to Conn because Kristen has mentored a lot of female coaches, coaches that are in great positions now. So that was the first gig and I don’t know it just took off”. She continued “I feel that you learn from everyone.Every coach I’ve played for I’ve learned something from. Incan think back, and maybe I wasn’t aware of it, but I can think back to things I learned from youth coaches that I use to this day. And it may not even be hockey coaches you learn from. I have really good friends that are basketball coachesOn the collegiate level and and I learned a ton from them. It’s not hockey, it’s just coaching. SomI have mentors in that realm too and they may not even be athletic coaches, maybe they’re teachers. There is a lot of similarities between teachers and coaches. Coaching is such a white umbrella you can kind of take anything you learn from anyone, anyone and may be your mentor.”

 If you follow Cetacean Nation on any of our social media, you won’t be surprised about the next subject we delved into with Celeste: fishing. If you know anything about fishing, and you’re chatting with someone from Montana, you ask about fishing.. Come to find out, Celeste is an angler. She informed us “I do fish, I fly fish. I picked that up like three or four years ago and progressively got better. And now I’m to the point that I know what I’m doing and can go on my own. But I will not put myself in an an expert roll. I still have to learn some of the nuances because flyfishing is very intricate.”

Cetacean Nation agrees, and notes that Isaac Walton wrote in his seminal work The CompleatcAngler that “It can be said that fishing is so like mathematics , in that it can never be fully learned”

Celeste continued ”But it’s an unbelievable sport, it allows you to connect with nature and also clear your mind. You’re always applying and learning the skills which I think fuels enjoyment. I actually started to fly fish during my year At Connecticut College. I’ve always liked to fish but not like this. Of course you might go camping and bring a casting outfit, and might throw in there, but I was never really into it. My sister’s boyfriend is a really good fly fisherman. We had an opportunity to float a river in Montana for five days, basically fly fished down the river. It’s a huge flyfishing river named the Smith River. That first trip was when I got introduced to it and I was not very good at it because you really have to learn it. So that was the first year and then when I came to Penn State, I thought well, I actually enjoyed that and I would like to get good at it. So I took some lessons to learn more and just kind of stuck with it, but not as much as I would’ve liked. The next summer I got a little bit better and then again this last summer a little bit better. And I again I got to do that Smith River float I was home for a little bit more time and was able to go out and learn some more. And now like I said, I’m on the level where I can go out by myself now or with my friends here at Penn State. I can go fish and still be learning, it’s pretty awesome actually.”

Celeste added “This year when I was on the Smith it was unbelevable for fishing. My sister says she thinks I’ve been tainted. The fishing was unreal Basically you could pick any fly and paint the bottom black, because the cicadas were out and if you can get it to go where it needed to go you were catching something. And on the last day I caught like a handful of massive trout They were brown trout in that area. Anncouple of other people in our group caught rainbows throughout the five days. it was just unreal. Noting against fishing in Pennsylvania, I mean I know it’s good. But I have not caught a fish that size here, so I guess I am a little bit tainted:) But I’m so fortunate to be where I’m from. It is challenging fishing in Pennsylvania, not that is it isn’t a challenging in Montana but it’s a different kind of challenge. I talk to the people at the fly shop and they tell me you’ll become a better fisherman out here, and I say: OK, don’t chirp Montana, It’s a different world out there! It’s tough I tell people it’s unbelievable and they should go, but then I think: Should I really be telling him to come here? I don’t know, it’s a double edge sword. You want to tell him to go there, but you don’t want to tell him to go there.)

 We concluded our chat with Celeste’s by asking her whether she thought women’s hockey was moving in the right direction, She stated emphatically “100% It is moving in the right direction! I don’t think you can even argue that it’s not.It’s growing both on the youth level and collegiate level. And on the professional level I don’t know what exactly is going on this year, but I think it will grow. Like you alluded to earlier, it’s like a Lay’s Potato Chip, you can’t eat just one. You can’t watch just one game you’ll be back for more. The more people who experience it the one time get kind of hooked. It’s really weird how it works, but they are hooked! They think: Yeah, that was actually legit! It’s just a matter of getting those people more and more hooked but it’s moving in the right direction. Women’s hockey has a ton of not only aesthetic qualities, but for youth girls, it’s empowering and helps him with a lot of different life skills. And it teaches them that they can use those skills that they learned athletically and apply them to life, whether it be critical thinking in a new situation, or communication skills with your teammates. All of that I only see as positive things from the sport because that’s how I choose to look. It’s just a matter of everyone that isbin the hockey world who is involved now to positively promote and build the sport. I think that anyone who’s experienced the sport and understands it, and it has done something for them is optimistic about the sport. Whether you’re playing it, or you’re a fan or you have a family member who plays, anything. it could be the smallest sort of ounce of connection, and you can understand the benefits to it.”

We thank our amazing #42 Celeste Brown, and hope the stars continue to align for her. And we wish her and her Penn State squad the best of luck the rest of the season. Fins Up Forever Celeste!