Brinna with the Stillwater High Ponies (top left, courtesy Jeff Wheeler) RIT (top right courtesy of RIT Athletics)

BRINNA DOCHNIAK: Both Sides of the 'Fense

The evening of January 11th was unseasonably warm in Monmouth Junction, NJ this year. The sometimes chilly aspect of an ice hockey rink in winter was a welcome change from the mid-60’s F outside of ProSkate. But, things heated up pretty quickly inside that night, as the Whale won their first game of the season, in dramatic fashion in overtime. Our newest rookie #11 Brinna Dochniak, was right in the thick of things in her first game with the Whale, registering two assists in her NWHL debut. And she did it on both sides of the ‘fense, as she skated both as a defender and a blue liner. We had a chance to chat with Brinna about that, and a lot more. But let’s start with her impressions of that first game. She told us “It was fun! It was nice to be part of that and it felt good, definitely different. We had a team meeting before going into that game, about how they wanted to be different in 2020. So it was nice to be part of that meeting, and then to play in the game and be part of that first win, it was fun.”

Along with everyone else in the rink that night, we were surprised to see Brinna transition from defense to wing during the course of the game. She laughed and gave us some unexpected background on that:

“I always played defense. I mean, I played a little forward in college but nothing serious. But I would say last weekend was one of the first times (at forward) I’m a defenseman through and through. Growing up I was always told I should be a wing because I was always a fast skater. But I love the way you can see the ice at defense, and I love playing D, But I definitely can credit coaching. With how much coaching I’ve been doing since I graduated college, for how much I felt like I understood and was able to play wing last weekend..Just because of how much I had been coaching it. It felt super natural, which I was surprised at. It really felt comfortable which I didn’t expect” Brinna continued . it was fun I enjoyed it, it was fun to do that but I played D the first period. I love D and I got to do that again on Sunday. It’s important to understand every position on the ice and be able to play it, (Maybe besides goalie, I don’t think I could do that) But I think it’s important, it’s something I kind of push with my high school girls You might not be a forward but you need to understand what everyone is supposed to be doing.You never really know what’s going to happen, and that was a perfect example of that. So it was a good teaching point for me to bring back to the girls when I got to practice on Monday.”

Brinna mentioned coaching there, and it turns out that she has been coaching at her high school alma mater in Minnesota, Stillwater High. We asked her to fill us in on that a little and she told us:“We are actually a whole new coaching staff this year at Stillwater. so they’re pretty lucky. The head coach Mira Jalosuo, played for the Gophers of Minnesota. She’s from Finland and she’s an Olympian, so she’s a huge role model. They definitely have lucked out in the coaching department with talented people! The head coach has got a really good group for herself playing hockey too”

Cetacean Nation notes the Fun Fact that Coach Mira was also an Olympic teammate of our former #18 Meeri Raisanen as well. We also knew that Brinna had played softball as well for Stillwater, and wondered about her softball career, and if she would be coaching that sport as well. She laughed and said:

“I’m just a hockey coach at Stillwater, my softball days are long over.I played outfield in softball at Stillwater, and we had a really good softball team. Abou six of us played hockey and softball and a lot of girls still do now. Lacrosse is a little bigger now, but lacrosse wasn’t that big when I was younger, so that’s why we played softball. We won one state championship and participated in two when I played for Stillwater. It was a lot of fun. I love playing softball, it was something I always did growing up and was something that I loved in high school.One of the girls I played hockey with was a real good centerfielder, she was very good an All-American softball player.So I usually played left / right field because she was the queen of centerfield. My favorite part of softball, this sounds weird but I think it’s funny, I love baserunning! That was my favorite thing! baserunning, running the bases and the tactics with that. I just loved running fast and stealing bases, that was my favorite part of playing softball!” 

Brinna  has spent limited time post high school on the diamond though. She explained “I did play in slow pitch league games, but it was way different than fastpitch. but I haven’t played a lot since. I would totally do it in like an adult league some day with my friends. We haven’t really gotten together, as we’ve all just graduated from college? So someday I’m sure I’ll play again even in just one of those fun leagues.”

We asked Brinna about her other athletic activities and she told us “I played soccer up until mid junior high, and I liked it a lot. But soccer is definitely one of those sports that’s a year-round sport, so it’s hard to play hockey and soccer. So that’s something I stop playing around the eighth or ninth grade once I hit high school. I played a little tennis in high school too. We joined the tennis team, and we’re all pretty good in it. We were all hockey players and we could literally move very well across the court and they really liked having us on the team. But we just did it for fun.” Brinna added, “And I do golf, I love golfing.That’s probably the other sport that I still do a lot. I never golfed in high school! but now I’ve definitely started golfing a lot. A group of my RIT friends, once we finished hockey, we all took a golf class at RIT. And we golfed as many days as we could during the week, because we didn’t have hockey practice anymore so we had a lot of free time. So we golfed. Actually one of my friends that I golfed with was Mallory Rushton, who plays for the Riveters, we were big golf buddies. I actually stayed with Kendall Cornine, Mallory Rushton and Brooke Baker last weekend. So I arrived to the rink with the enemy, frenemies, that’s what they are. Kendall was my college roommate all four years. So, definitely have a lot of history there.”

 Brinna’s second weekend with the Whale was our series with the Whitecaps, which coincided with Hockey Day Minnesota 2020. So we asked our Minnesota native Brinna, to tell us about that event. She explained:

“They usually have it fall on a Saturday, so high schools participate. I coach the Stillwater High School girls, so we’ll be playing on Saturday. Boys hockey also plays on Saturday. Girls play Tuesday and Saturday and the boys play Thursday and Saturday so there’s always a ton of games on Saturdays anyway. So games always fall on Hockey Day. I’m sure they put it on Saturday for that reason. Everyone will be playing. She added “The Stillwater girls actually got to participate in Hockey Day Minnesota.It happens every year, but some teams do get to play an outdoor game for Hockey Day in Minnesota. My first year on the hockey team was in eighth grade, so 2010 and a couple of years before that, Stillwater got to be in the Hockey Day Minnesota game outdoors, which was really cool and I heard a lot about it. And actually right after I graduated from Stillwater, the girls got to be in outdoor games again, so I just missed it. Hockey Day Minnesota, for everybody who plays hockey, it’s an important weekend and it’s fine Minnesota hockey. It is just like a whole different culture than normal high school hockey. It’d just crazy, unexplainable if you’ve never gotten to play in it. It’s a really great culture to be a part of and it’s so much fun .”

Brinna grew up in the town of Marine on St. Croix, MN. It is located along the St Croix River, about forty minutes northeast of Tria Rink in Saint Paul, home of the Whitecaps, Brinna told us “It’s a natural border between Wisconsin and Minnesota, So I live on the St Croix River. I’ve never been one to buy a fishing license every year, but I do spend a lot of time out on the river recreationally. We have a boat, and most people that live around here just naturally have a boat. With the river and all the lakes. It would be hard not to spend most summers out on the water.”. So, we wondered how little Brinna got started playing hockey. She explained:

“Well, just growing up in Minnesota, it’s pretty natural. My Dad played hockey, college hockey, at Wisconsin-River Falls. So he was a hockey player, and then my brother, he’s 41/2 years older than me, he played hockey. He played a little bit of juniors than he went to college, so my brother was a very good hockey player. So it was kind of a family thing, it’s just pretty natural to do in Minnesota. But my Dad and my brother playing, obviously was helpful in getting me into it and teaching me things.”  Brinna continued “We (my Dad and I) coach together now at Stillwater, and he was always my coach growing up. And it wasn’t one of those things, like where a lot of kids don’t like having their parents as coaches as they get older, he was always my favorite coach. He taught me to skate from a young age and I would say skating is my strongest suit as a hockey player, and definitely I credit that to him. He taught me how to be a good skater from the start. So I never took a skating lesson because he was my coach. And my brother too, he was a beautiful skater, so I think my Dad just really knew how to teach us how to skate.” adding laughingly “which is really helpful because you can get out of a lot of pinches when you know how to skate fast! I love skating. It’s fun to skate just in general, but it is (really) fun to be good at it.”

Brinna used her skating skills early on playing club hockey, as well as representing the Ponies of Stillwater High, alternating between the two based on the time of year. She explained:

“I played with the Minnesota Blades since I was little. We were one of the first girls teams, so I played for the Blades every summer and fall. So any season high school hockey wasn’t going on, I played for the Blades. We did a lot of traveling, and playing in tournaments as we got older. We did Stoney Creek, and all those bigger recruiting tournaments. With Minnesota hockey rules, once high school season starts, you have to play high school hockey. And that wasn’t an issue, because I loved playing high school hockey. But it was nice to have both worlds there and meeting new friends and playing hockey in other places, exposing yourself to colleges I loved it, playing for the Blades was really fun.”

Brinna had a stellar career for Stillwater High, and by her senior year had developed impressive scoring skills. Fun Fact: Six years to the weekend she scored her first NWHL points, she had a goal for Stillwater against White Bear Lake. Brinna looked back and talked about some of her favorite memories there.

“All my friends that I played hockey with are still my best friends We talk all the time and we have a group chat that’s always kind of chiming off. I guess the pretty simple answer is, you don’t forget your friends. But a specific moment? One of my favorite games I ever played was a section final championship against Hill-Murray. We didn’t win, but I just remember that game being really fun, the section finals, My RIT friends are the same way, but there’s just something about those Stillwater girls that was so fun, Everything we did together was fun. Still to this day, everything we do together is fun. So they made everything fun, but a specific game would have to be that final game my junior year just making it to that point. Hill- Marie went on to win the state tournament, so when you lose a close game like that to the state champion it’s a good game it’s a good feeling. Kind of,it sucks, but it was a good game, a fun time” Brinna continued. “High school hockey in Minnesota is really, really good quality hockey. You can’t really beat it! All the players are good and it’s so fun when you’re playing in those great high schools competitions. I wish everyone else could experience it too. It’s really awesome, there’s nothing like the state tournament in Minnesota for boys and girls hockey. I knew every year, that I wasn’t going to school those three days, whether I was in the tournament or not. Everyone gets to skip school so everyone can get to go to the tournament. It’s like a holiday every year. I never went to school those weekends, my Dad always let me go to all the state tournament games”

 Those club tournaments really helped lead Brinna to the next step in her hockey career, which was RIT, Rochester Institute of Technology. She recalled :“We went to all those tournaments, the ones that college coaches attend. So that was helpful with my recruitment there. They were able to watch me play. Most high school teams also do a holiday tournament that some coaches come to, so I know our RIT coaches came out and saw me there But it’s easier to expose yourself to colleges when you can play in those big tournaments”

RIT thought Brinna was a good fit, and the feeling was mutual. And the results of their connection was a success, both on and off the ice. She was a multiple CHA All Academic Team selection, and in addition to her athleticism as a skater, was a skilled shot blocker as well. Brinna recalled how it came to be RIT:

 “I had looked around Minnesota for sure, but I always knew I want to go out east so RIT was one of my first visits. I had visited other schools with my hockey team but RIT was my first official visit that I did outside of Minnesota, and I just knew. I committed there junior year, so it was a little earlier, it wasn’t late in my senior year or anything. I just knew when we went there. They were building a brand new, beautiful rank which obviously was super appealing The coaching staff, thr campus, the location, it just felt right, so I made my decision pretty quickly. So yeah I’d visited some schools in Minnesota a few out east but it was a pretty easy decision with our RIT after I visited and experience being on campus” We asked Brinna if she knew another player who had starred at RIT, our former #42 Celeste Brown. She noted “I never played with Celeste, she was one year before me.But she was there on my official visit and everything so, I had met her. I didn’t really know her, but I played with a lot of girls who loved her and thought so highly of her. I didn’t know she had played with the Whale, we never really had a chance to get to know each other. But everybody knows Celeste Brown, she was kind of a legend at RIT, very very important to the program.”

We posed the same question to Brinna about her days at RIT, as we had about Stillwater. We wanted to know what her favorite moment/memory was. She thought, and answered:

"The same type of concept as Stillwater: all my friends. They made everything fun, there was never a dull moment with those guys! But a specific moment would be that goal in the playoffs the last game of my career. It was really special. It was a really good way to end it, Obviously it sucks that we lost, and I’d rather we’d won than I scored a goal” Brinna added: "We were down two-nothing against Penn State Early in the third. It was kind of like, someone’s got to score, so just being able to score that goal. I was never a big goal scorer: but scoring that goal, we were all just so excited! The five of us on the ice just tackled each other to the ground. We had like a whole third, we’re down by just a goal, and I had the feeling like Oh my God we’re still in this game. So I felt really good and it just brought life to the whole arena. It was just a real feel good moment for me, and I wish we could’ve ended up winning that game. I would’ve rather had the win than the goal, but it was just a really good positive way for me personally to end my career. I’ll never forget that goal”

Since what we do is interview our past & present Amazings on the Pod, we were eager to talk to Brinna about  something we found while doing our research for this interview. That’s the fact that Brinna earned her BA in Journalism, is an accomplished photographer, and experienced at conducting interviews herself. We asked Brinna how that got started, and she explained:

“I knew I think that’s what I wanted to do going into RIT I was on the newspaper in high school and there’s a newspaper class I did my junior year and I loved it. And then in my senior year I actually took journalism. We had a newspaper class and a journalism class so instead of doing the newspaper class two years in a row I did the journalism class I don’t really remember why I did that and it kind of sparked my interest in journalism. The first time I visited RIT, there was a Journalism major on the team, Melissa Bromley. I talked to her and she really enjoyed her major. I went into college feeling that I would be into journalism, so I stuck with it all four years. So that’s why I picked Journalism. I mean I love it, writing has always been fun for me. finding stories and writing about stories interviewing people, and getting to learn things I always really enjoyed that. Journalism is really fun for me, I like talking to people and I always enjoy doing investigative reports I don’t know why, it is always super intriguing to me, kind of teaching people abou things that maybe they don’t know, maybe enlightening people on some information that could be new to them. Journalism was always fun and the professors at RIT were awesome. It was a smaller major there, but that kind of made it fine because I got to know everybody. I just love journalism talking to people and finding things out”

 Cetacean Nation wondered if Brinna enjoyed being the interviewer or the one being interviewed, and she offered this interesting reply:

“I like them both! The biggest part going into an interview is being prepared. Sometimes in interviews it’s the worst if you’re interviewing someone and you’re having a hard time building off some of the questions, it’s good to have something preplanned off just in case. But the best interviews, when you’re giving them, is when it goes in a completely different direction then maybe you were intending and you find a whole new story, that’s always super cool. The most interesting thing I think about interviews is, you’re going to something with somebody thinking you know what you’re going to get from it, and you get something completely different and that’s the fun in it.”  She continued “You find out new things about people or things, that’s one of my favorite parts about interviewing people, that potential. But In being interviewed, I like that I have a journalism background because I know what it’s like to ask questions and try not to give just a really short answer. Being able to give them that little anecdote or tell them some stories or elaborate on things and help them find a way to ask new questions that maybe they weren’t thinking about asking. So I think about that when I’m being interviewed. That’s helpful in having that background just knowing the difficulties of interviewing, it’s not always easy.Journalism is just such a fun thing I love it obviously there’s a little bit of passion there, so that answer was easy to happen"

.Concerning her photography, Brinna told us “I haven’t been able to use it a lot lately but I have a DSLR, a Canon Rebel T6 My parents got it for me for Christmas my sophomore year, and I have a few lenses that I use. My cousin has been really helpful with me with my photography. He’s a media guy for Target and has really taught me how do use my camera. I took some photography classes at RIT too. I’ve always just been interested, and it’s nice that there are people in my life who are super talented and just can teach me things”

So, with her journalism background, might Brinna be putting some of her experiences with the Whale into writing,  we wondered.

“I haven’t really thought about it. Actually, I’ve kind of taken a step back not on purpose, but just because I finished my journalism courses at RIT the first semester of my senior year and then I got into my marketing business mino. And now with my job, I’m the marketing director for a boutique women’s clothing store, so I’ve just been really doing a lot of marketing stuff lately. But I want to circle back. Maybe I need to start personally writing for myself, or try to figure out how I can get back into writing because I really haven’t written in a while. So it really isn’t something I’ve considered, but now that you’ve planted the seed in my head, I can potentially see myself doing that!"

Brinna continued

“Social media is really the biggest (marketing) platform that I use, A lot of Instagram a lot. I’ve been spending most of my work time on Instagram and things like that so yeah we do a lot of social media. I did start writing a little bit, doing some blogs for the store, but I kind a let that one go a little bit because I’ve been focused on our online presence and online sales. But I’m definitely learning a lot and gaining a lot of experience from it. It’s kind of cool to have that freedom to do what I want within my marketing, so a lot of my efforts are in social media and nowadays that’s where everyone’s at. Everyone’s on their phone, their social media platform is in their hand and that’s the easiest wait to reach people. We don’t do Twitter. It’s a women’s clothing store, so Twitter wouldn’t be a huge platform for us, but Facebook and Instagram are. And it’s helpful to with my photography. I love Instagram for that purpose. (Check out Brinna’s work on Instagram at joriandjune) It's super cliché but the saying a picture is worth 1000 words, you could write a huge story about something but also tell an important story with a photo. So I like that aspect as well. Not a lot of stories are being told with women’s clothing, but but I like to see how are photos can affect people and push sales and bring people into our store. Kind of build a customer loyalty and customer base and connect with our customers, so I enjoy that part of marketing. But I feel like I add my journalism in connecting with people because you want to build relationships with people especially for a small locally owned business so we don’t have $1 million to be using ( for marketing) But connecting with your customers and making them feel like they know know you, and my journalism background probably helps with that.”

We wrapped up our conversation with Brinna talking about how she became a member of our Pod. She explained “Bray, the GM of the Whale, reached out to me and just asked if I was interested and I was. I really didn’t look into playing hockey right away after college, I was just ready to take a little break. I wasn’t hanging the skates up forever but I was kind of just ready to move back home to Minnesota and figure out what I wanted to do so. I didn’t look into playing at all. But she reached out to me right after Christmas and with the nature of my job I’m able to work remotely at times, so my boss was super flexible with that for me. And with my coaching the girls understand, and they’re OK with me missing a little bit here and there to play hockey, so it just worked out. I was happy to do it and be able to and I’m really happy Bray reached out to me because it’s an opportunity I really didn’t know that I wanted but I’m really happy to have had it now." Brinna concluded "I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be a part of the Whale we have super good support I’ve only been part of the world for a week and and I can already feel the support, which is nice. I just want to say that I’m thankful for the opportunity and excited for the rest of the season I’m just happy that the fans are so supportive I think that’s just awesome. The fans are appreciated, we appreciate all the support and hopefully this is the year of the Whale, 2020! All the girls have been saying it, and I agree!"

New league, old friends for our #11 Brinna Dochniak