Bray Ketchum Peel: The Architect of Bray's Bunch

Cetacean Nation has been writing about Bray’s Bunch pretty much from the first signing she made for the Whale last May, which if you recall, was our Captain #6 OW Shannon Doyle. And just a few days before the Pod’s first win, we caught up with the architect, our amazing General Manager Bray Ketchum Peel. Bray is no stranger to fans of the Pod, as we watched her terrific on ice career unfold before us during her three years skating against us  as #17 with the Riveters. Bray scored seven goals and registered three assists against the Pod for the Riveters, and recalled “Ryan (Whale Coach Ryan Equale) was never too happy about that”. Bray’s final NWHL goal,was also scored against us, on March 18; 2018 in the play-offs. “The slap shot” she correctly recalled. And Bray played both with and against a lot of Whale over the years, including current  Pod members, the aforementioned Shannon Doyle, & #26 Jordan Brickner as NWHL opponents, and #14 Elena Orlando as both. But:now in season five, one of our favorite “frenemies” is part of the Pod, and we couldn’t be happier. 

Bray’s remarks on where the Whale are headed are especially intersting in hindsight, but we’ll get to that in a bit. But first let’s step back and see what Bray, told us about her early days on the ice. Bray is a from Greenwich, Connecticut and we asked her how she first got into hockey. She explained:

 “I started because of my brothers, they all played with the Greenwich Skating Club. And we’d play street hockey in the driveway, and they”d always put me in the goalie equipment.to shoot on. And then I started going to al, their games, my two older brothers, and then finally got on skates. I think I started when I was a Mini Mite, so like five (years old) I was playing for the Greenwich Blues, and then I went over to the Greenwich Skating Club, after the first season. Andit just took off from there, I did it with my brothers. There’s five of us, my older sister and my oldest brother didn’t play much, but my middle brother and my younger brother both played. Neither of my parents played, which was so funny. Everyone always thinks that my Dad was a hockey player because he’s a hockey nut, and he’s probably never missed a game in my life. My Mom would go to all the games as well. And when my brother started playing college hockey it was always tough which game they were going to go to. They tried to split it pretty evenly. My Dad roomed with all hockey players in college and just became a hockey fan there. And he played on the club team, but he never played more than that, just club or rec.”

Cetacean Nation has long been a proponent of multi sport athletics for kids. So you can imagine how much we liked Bray’s response to our question about her own sports background. She told us:

“I was really into sports, I played everything at recess, from football with the boys to hockey and all that stuff. And then as I grew up, I played field hockey and lacrosse as well through high school, and then actually played a year of lacrosse my senior year in college (more on that coming up). I never played soccer or softball, but field hockey I played a lot in high school, and we did like one fall camp. But my sports in high school were primarily lacrosse and ice hockey, but I love golf and tennis and squash wen I was younger. I played a lot (of sports) and it bothers me, especially nowadays, that kids are specializing so young. Because I think,playing all those different sports really helped me as an athlete, not only with hand-eye coordination but justt learning about different team dynamics and all the things that come with being on a team. And also prioritizing, and dealing with academics as well as sports, is so important. And managing your time as a young kid. So I am a huge believer in playing a lot of sports, and doing things that you,love, not just specialing at age ten these days, that’s insane. Being a multi sport athlete) it was definitely very important in my growth as both an individual and an athlete, I would say.”

 The prep school where Bray participated in three of her main sports, field and ice hockey, and lacrosse, was nearby Greenwich Academy. Bray had a remarkable career on the ice, leading the team in scoring, and to Championships. And as a senior captain, she was named the New England Prep School Div. II Player of the Year, and was selected as NEPSAC Women’s Athlete of the Year and was named the school’s best athlete. So we wondered why, with the options she had to further her education, like Brown, Harvard, or other Ivies, she chose Yale. Bray revealed:

 “I went on a few official visits, some of the schools you mentioned, BC, some schools out of the Ivy League, and I just had that feeling when I stayed over at Yale. I loved the team and I really liked the coaches at that time, and I don’t know, i just felt at home. Whereas with other teams, there were questions I had or felt a little uneasy with certain things. So when I left my official visit at Yale, I knew right away that’s where I wanted be the next four years. Thankfully, it was close to home so again, my parents can be at all the home games, supporting me. And my brother was just up the road at Quinnipiac and then transferred to Sacred Heart, so it actually ended up being great. We were all close by, and they could make most of our games. I just had that feeling (about Yale) I loved Yale, and those teams are some of my best friends, and they will be for life, and I’m really thankful for the opportunity I had there. Bray laughingly,added, “Even if it wasn’t that successful on the ice” 

Perhaps not in terms of wins and losses or Championships, but there were a lot of great moments during her four years skating as a forward for the Bulldogs. Bray had a near perfect balance of goals (41) and assists (43) and never ranked lower than third in points any season. She won numerous team and conference awards and ended her career in Yale''s career top 12 in goals (41, 7th), assists (43, 12th) and points (84, 11th). But her favorite moment at Yale was not a specific play, game, or season. When we asked what it was she replied:

"Honestly, it’s the teammates that I had. Each year it was a totally different team, which was exciting. And the friends I’ve made from those experiences are the most special thing that I’ll take out of Yale. Playing with someone like Mandi Schwartz, who unfortunately passed away my senior year, having that chance to build a relationship with her family. And all the close knit bonds that even my parents have with some of the parents on the team, it was a pretty special place in that regard. And obviously there are some games I remember, certain instances, but I would say overall the people I met there and the relationships I made"

Cetacean Nation thought that was a great answer, and told you a lot about the type of person Bray is. But as she said, there were some games, and we actually posted about one early in the day that we interviewed her, and Bray remarked “So funny! One of my best friends who’s in that picture with me celebrating, just sent me a message, I guess her family, her brothers , had just sent it. And she said “We made the family chat! I love that they follow you, you must have a huge fanbase.” Well, we are Cetacean Nation, the fans of the Connecticut Whale, so yes, there are a lot of us!

 When Bray’s hockey career ended at Yale in her senior year, her athletic career as a Bulldog did not. Remember that Bray played lacrosse in prep school? So did she, and as a senior she joined the Yale lacrosse team becoming a dual athlete. Bray related:

" I’d always wanted to play both sports, but unfortunately because I was trying to make USA Hockey camps, I was focused solely on hockey. So I figured once my senior year hockey season was done, I was going to try lacrosse. Not knowing I was going to,play, obviously we do running, and some training like sprints (in hockey), but the hamstrings were definitely not ready for full running in lacrosse season. So that was tough, but it was fun. It was tough because it was my senior spring, and I didn’t get to enjoy that aspect as much, but it was great to be part of a team again and do a different sport. But I will say it was definitely hard coming back after playing the last time, in my senior year in high school. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I had a hat trick, the last game against Stony Brook, I think it was. I definitely wish I had played all four years, it would have been a lot easier, but obviously hockey was my number one priority, so….".

Bray was correct about the hat trick in her last lacrosse game at Yale, and we checked and she also had an assist and four ground balls, and four shots on goal. That’s the same number of SOG she had in her last game on ice for the Bulldogs!

 Bray had mentioned her former teammate Mandi Schwartz, whose #17 Bray wore in the NWHL instead of her own Yale sweater number 27. Mandi has played 73 consecutive games with the team before being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2008. After a courageous battle, Mandi passed away in 2011.Her Yale community banded together during her illness to try to locate a match for a bone marrow transplant for Mandi, and the efforts have continued in her name with the Mandi Schwartz Foundation. Bray explained:

"We have the annual marrow donor drive at Yale which we started in April,of that first year, 2008, when she got sick, to try and find a match for her. And it’s been going on ever since. The Yale football team does a great job, they run it with the hockey program and the whole Athletic Department. It is great getting involved, and we’ve set record numbers. I think they’ve now found over sixty matches from that and other drives in Mandi’s name. And of course just last year the St Louis Blues announced a match had been found through one of their drives. It’s been very impactful, getting to know Mandi’s parents and doing it with them, they’re an incredible family. And obviously Jaden has been very successful with the Blues, and that’s been helpful there. They’re a great organization that backs the Foundation in all that we do. Her other brother Rylan is playing overseas. My teammate Aleca (Hughes) started the Foundation, and we were the first two to be on the Board, and we have a few others as well on the board. But basically we’re trying to spread awareness for the cause, and raising money to help fund these drives in Mandi’s name. We are actually hosting the White Out For Mandi February 1st at Yale and we are working on organizing that. Mallory Souliotis from the Boston Pride and I do not have games that day, so we will both be there”

 The White Out For Mandi game on February 1st will be at 3:00 PM vs Quinnipiac at Ingalls Rink. We will post more info on the game and the Foundation in the coming days, on our social media sires (see our Home Page for links)

 Before moving off campus, we asked Bray to tell us a little about her off ice time in the classroom at Yale, where she got her BA in American Studies. She said:

"Originally I went in thinking I wanted to get my teaching degree, and they actually got rid of the education major at Yale. So I took a few classes in that area, and then after Yale taught a few years while I was in Boston and in Brooklyn. The first year I,played with the Riveters, I taught pre-school, I loved the little kids, After working at Chelsea Piers and coaching them, I thought that’s what I want to go in to. So, that got taken away from the Majors, and American Studies is basically American History. It was pretty generic, nothing too exciting and nothing that’s helped me since (laughing) in terms of my career! :) And being in a liberal arts school it was Econ, History, English, and I chose history.”

 Perhaps her degree in and of itself hasn’t helped in her career(s) to date, but her liberal arts background undoubtedly has. And along with the off the chart competitiveness of a pro athlete, she took a dive into the maelstrom of entrepreneurship with a plant based beverage, Upwild. Bray filled us in on that venture: 

"Unfortunately we closed the business last year. My oldest brother had the idea. He moved back from Hong Kong and wanted to start something, and was very into sports nutrition, and working out, and was a big cross-fitter. And he came up with the recipes, met with food scientists in Canada and then came up with the whole business plan and everything, And then mid-way through that first season with the Riveters, he asked me to jump on board. And so I sort of became his sales/ partnership person, owning that side of the business, which was interesting. It was definitely difficult, the market in NY is pretty saturated with a lot of those kind of products. We had a plant based ready to drink shake.It had to be refrigerated, it had all these healthy ingredients which ended up being very expensive, So it was expensive to make which meant it was expensive to buy, so unfortunately it didn’t end up working out. But we learned a lot and it was fun doing it with him. He has the business entrepreneurial background and I have the sales, and obviously the athletic background to reach out to certain communities. I didn’t know what working with my brother would be like but we didn’t get into too many fights and we’re still family and we’re still friends :) I think he’s the only sibling I would be able to start a company with, though. It was an Interesting experience and all the Riveters loved Upwild. Our trainer Ashley Robbins was one of our biggest customers, so that was great and they were all sad when we had to close.”

 But as we know, the major focus of Bray’s post collegiate life has been hockey, and that began with the Boston Blades in the CWHL. We asked Bray to recall those days for us and she obliged, saying:

"I was working at Chelsea Piers right after college. I had graduated and wanted to keep playing hockey, I didn’t want to give it up, so the CWHL was the only opportunity at the time. I had landed a job in Connecticut, so I commuted, which was crazy at the time, especially with not being paid and all the traveling. So I would commute from Connecticut to Boston. I can’t imagine doing that now! We did it all for the love of the game. I only won one Clarkson Cup, I think one of those sites has me playing for three seasons, but I only played twice. I took a season off, so it was the season before I played with the Riveters that we won (the Clarkson Cup) I believe it was 2015 (it was), it was so long ago. With the Clarkson Cup, I remember some of us in our locker room just looking at each other, and it was like this is the first big championship I’ve since I was in high school! So it was pretty awesome to accomplish that with the group we had. It was basically the US National Team on our roster, so we were pretty stacked . That was a fun experience and great to be a part of.”

The fall after that last Clarkson Cup marked the start of the NWHL, and Bray and many of her teammates made the move to a paid professional league. Bray reminisced:

" With the Riveters it was different. I felt more involved in that, more like I had an impact on that team, just because I played a lot more. I’d been on the team two seasons and we’d kind of been working towards this goal from the beginning Obviously we started off at the bottom of the league in year one and made our way to the top. And I’m thankful to have had Chad (Wiseman) as well as a coach for that season. I think he was one of, if moot the only reason, we won that Championship.He was so dedicated to our team and coming in from Canada every week, The.amount of travel he did, to leave his family, it was an amazing group, and the sacrifices people made on that team are pretty incredible. You look at Stretch (Johnston) too, driving from Albany, there were a lot of players on that team that had a lot of character. It was a close knit team, and that was one of the most special hockey moments in my career. And obviously winning it in New Jersey with all,our loyal fans was just icing on the cake. I thought then that we had the most loyal fan base. Some of those home games were pretty epic, how loud they got, and how packed the stands got. So I was really happy to be a part of the Riveters, it was pretty special and fun to be on"

Since she was there when the puck dropped for the first ever NWHL game, we asked Bray, as we’ve asked other players from season one, for her impressions of the day. She recalled:

 "It was pretty cool for me, because it was in Connecticut at Chelsea Piers where I worked for three years prior, so I had a lot of family and friends in the stands, some colleagues But I remember just having chills, seeing all the little girls so excited. Dani Dropped the puck that game, and it was unbelievable to be a part of. We were making history right then and there. And then seeing the autograph line, with all the Whale players too, it was pretty surreal. It’s kind of a blur. And then a couple of weeks later getting our first paycheck was pretty awesome as well. You kind of feel on top of the world.”

Bray had mentioned the little girls at that game and the autograph line, and we remarked that seeing the joy and love the Little Future Draft Picks show interacting with their heroes was worth the price of admission alone. Bray responded:

"We love it too! I remember our first year playing on the Riveters, I felt so bad, all these fans were waiting around. It was late, it was Sunday night, and they had to drive back. Some of them came from Philadelphia, and they were sitting there and they had to deal with us after a loss. They were so positive, and you wanted nothing more than to just hug them, and give them your autograph and just chat with them. They make it so much easier.”

Cetacean Nation also asked how it was for Bray coming to work as the Genersl Mangager rather than a player anymore. She answered:

 

"It has been an adjustment for sure and I think there were a lot of things that I didn’t know. Al I did in years 1 to 3 is show up to the rink, put on my gear and practice or play games. It was very straightforward. I think I learned a lot this year which is great, and I think having a different perspective has been interesting as well. Obviously I I retired after my third season, but I wanted to be involved in the game in some capacity and I’ve been coaching, and playing in women’s league outside the NWHL So when this opportunity came up, I thought it would be interesting, this perspective, being able to have the close relationship with players and hire a staff and deal with things that you don’t necessarily do as a player. I really enjoy it. Obviously our record doesn’t show much about the team. We are so close to that first win! Our girls have worked so hard, and Colton and Laura has been awesome as coaches this year and Colton really cares. He came in ready to go and wanted to meet all the players and get to know them. This is a totally different team, the last home game was a totally different team than what I saw in October. We’ve improved tremendously and that’s been really fun to watch and be a part of. I think there’s a lot to be proud of for our organization and hopefully it will end on a better note than we started on, it’s been fun. Definitely there’ve been moments when I miss playing, but this perspective is something important to have. It’s something I've always been interested in doing”

Cetacean Nation certainly agree with Bray’s assessment, and we passevpd along the many positive and supportive messages we’ve received from throughout the fanbase. Everyone loves Bray’s Bunch, the Most Exciting Team In Hockey. Bray concluded with this:

"The biggest thing is putting together a group that’s going to mold and mesh together. And obviously that’s the hardest thing, as well trying to get feedback from the college coaches and other players in the league that they’ve played in I’m glad people are saying that about them because I feel the same way"

 Fins Up to that! And Fins Up to our amazing General Manager Bray Ketchum Peel, for the great insight and perspective she’s given us on her career and the Whale. . She may be going to work now in a business suit, but she’ll always be wearing that #17 when we think about her.