The last time we spoke with our amazing rookie center #15 Emma Vlasic, things were different. For one, she was not yet the Emma Vlasic the fans know now: All-Star, scoring leader, faceoff maven, and workhorse. And not just our thoughts and understanding of Emma have changed, but so has the world at this point. So we began our chat with Emma by asking how things were going in a world battling a pandemic. Emma shared

 “It’s definitely a weird time, I’m back home, I’m normally working in Stamford but now we’re working from home, so I came back home to Wilmette, in Illinois. So I’m back, my whole family’s back, so we’re all kind of just inside, and making it work. But yeah, it’s definitely kind of a weird time. Pictures you see of like New York City and places all around the world too, it’s just like you never thought that anything would be able to have that kind of an impact. It’s crazy. Everyone is staying put here, and who know? That's the thing, we don’t know when we’ll be able to travel and get back to our normal lives. It’s just a matter of how long or what approach we take, Lots of news that’s always hitting every single day, so I try to stay up to date but not follow it all day kind of thing. It’s just so much, and every news outlet is talking about it.”

All of that impacts off-season training, and Cetatacean Nation wondered how Emma and the rest of the Pod would be staying in shape in the interim. She replied

“We were actually lucky enough to work with Ben Prentiss, in Stamford, Connecticut. He has a gym at the Twin Rinks in Stamford, and he trains a lot of NHL guys and a lot of really high end college players and kind of a wide range of people. But we were actually lucky enough to work with him throughout the season. We would go and work out with him twice a week, which was really nice.. And definitely one of the biggest, if not the biggest parts of being in Connecticut and being in that location. And so we’re going to continue working with him over the summer, So obviously with everything that’s going on, it’s kind of up in the air in terms of how that’s going to look, but we’re trying to set something in motion for late spring and throughout the summer. So I’m really looking forward to working with him. He’s obviously one of the best in the business and works with a lot of really high end hockey specific kind of thing. So that’s kind of what the team, at least people who live in the area, and are able to make it to Stamford, that’s kin of the team plan. So definitely looking forward to that. But right now you’re just kind of doing your at home workouts and whatever you can get access to. But as soon as things kind of get back to normal, we’ll definitely be able to go and work out in Stamford.”

Emma continued “I think the off-season is always kind of tough. Even in college it would be kind of that way too. Obviously the NWHL is kind of different in terms of you aren’t on the ice everyday like you were in college. But still you are very active and you are either skating one night or you’re lifting the other, so it’s kind of an everyday k thing. So yeah,, the off-season is kind of a weird time. Especially the first couple of weeks after the season because you’re just kind of in recovery and reflecting and stuff. But especially with working, for me. Because I do work, it’s that much more important for me to be getting that exercise. Obviously I love to do it anyway but I think it’s even more important just when you’re working all day.”

 Cetacean Nation offered  Emma our opinion that even though she wasn’t a particularly big player, she played bigger than her size. And we thought the off-season work and in season strength and conditioning paid off. She responded

 “I appreciate that, it definitely does. It’s such a big part of my confidence that I’m able to have on the ice and it definitelt translates for me. And throughout my college, especially towards the end of my college career that was something that I really focused on. And I found that it really did translate to the on ice performance. And especially playing center for me, you’re going into the corners with the strongest and fastest players on the ice. So, like you said, I’m not overly tall or big to begin with, so I just wanted to make sure that I was able to kind of keep up with those top girls So being in the gym, and I also just love being in the gym too, that’s one of my biggest passions, so it’s kind of a good combination. Just trying to get an edge if I can, ,that’s definitely a big thing for me for sure.”

Besides helping her hockey performance, the hours in the gym seemed to have made Emma pretty durable as well. She was the only Whale rookie to play in all 26 games, and we wondered if she had always exhibited that type of durability. She said

“I would say that probably except for my freshman year I would say yes. Sophomore through senior year, definitely. From what I can recall, I didn’t have to miss any games for injury or anything, which was very fortunate obviously. But, I think working out and being in the gym, and stretching and rolling out, and all those kind of things, I think that also helps in terms of injury prevention. I want to be out there and want to be sure I can compete at the highest level and I think taking care of your body is a big part of that, so yeah, that’s really important for me”

One of the first things that all the fans in Cetacean Nation noticed about Emma early on, was her skill at taking draws. She was a plus performer, and ranked near the top of that category in the NWHL all season. We wondered how that came about and if face-offs were always a specialty of hers. Emma revealed

"Yeah, it’s kind of weird. In college it wasn’t, but I really didn’t start playing center until my junior year. And ir was never something that overly stood out, in terms of something I was really, really good at. I think it’s something that I’ve learned how to kind of approach differently. I think you learn from doing it more, and that’s kind of been my experience. I’m not going to overpower someone in terms of strength in the face-off circle, but for me it’s more of a technique. Being quick and kind of having that reaction time. I think that’s the way that I kind of approach it. Because as I said, I”m not going to be trying to power through someone, or body the person across from me, but more so try to use my reflexes and kind of use the speed aspect of it. In college I would say it was probably average. But the beginning of this season it was definitely a pleasant surprise and something I took pride in throughout the season, and wanted to obviously make sure we possessed the puck as much as we could.” 

Cetacean Nation thought that would be a hard skill to hone, and wondered if there was a drill for that. Emma reflected and said

"Now that I’m thinking about it, in college we would, practice every day, and Thursday this;would have been, because we played Fridays. So at the end of Thursday practices we would always do face-offs and we would have a competition for whoever could win the faceoffs, We’d have like a one on one competition where you’d keep track of how many you won. So we did that my senior year at Thursday practices, so it was something we did practice a lot. In the NWHL I don’t think we actually practiced face-offs once, that I can recall:) So I don’t know, it’s kind of a weird correlation, those numbers, but definitely something to practice, But we take so many in a game, I think for me, you learn from doing it, the more ones that I took. Also you end up with there being only five teams, and four that you play against, you become familiar with players that you’re going against, and kind of know their tendencies, so that was was something that in college you’re going against so many different people But in this league you knew who you were taking the draw against and you knew your history and what you need to do. It’s kind of fun that way, definitely makes it interesting.”

So that seemed like a good point to segue to the All-Star game, where Emma played with another face-off ace in Jillian Dempsey on Team Dempsey! Emma told us

"It was a great experience,and I think it was an honor playing on Jillian Dempsey’s team. She’s a great player and playing against that entire Boston team, is always a challenge, and we always look forward to playing against them. But yeah, it was a great experience. You play against a lot of these players, but then to be kind of able to meet them in person, and get to know them on a personal level at the All-Star game is also a cool experience. As you said, for me it was my first year so everyone was kind of new, so it was good to be around players that you weren’t overly familiar with and introduce yourself and everything. From that standpoint it was a great experience and Boston obviously hosted a great All-Star experience. It was definitely an honor to represent the Whale and also just a lot of fun to be there with my fellow teammates as well.”

We had referenced some of the impressive stats that Emma compiled in her rookie year, leading the team in scoring, goals, shots on goal, and face-off win percentage. But Emma also led all Whale forward’s in blocked shots. Emma commented

"I didn’t realize that! I didn’t know that statistic. That’s something that I think is a product of playing center, and just kind of being in front of the net and trying to block shots some of the time. It was definitely something I wanted to get better at. I think all of the defensemen in this league do such a good job of shooting the puck and getting it through, so I think it is really important to block shots. And I think you kind of see that against the better teams especially, you have to make sure you’re in the lanes. It was something I wanted to work on and focus on, because I think I definitely need to improve in that department. It’s always something to work on, it’s always a challenge especially with players who release the puck so quickly, and you also have to be in the right spot obviously. But again, probably a product of playing center and being in the middle of the ice, but it’s encouraging to hear that at least I attempted to block some shots:) Trying to play a two way game is what I pride myself on, and I think working on my defensive game was definitely something I wanted to do, and you are always able to improve offensively too. It was a lot of fun trying to create offense and also play a good defensive game I definitely pride myself on trying to play a two way game and helping my team out in our zone so that we can try to create in the offensive zone.”

Another aspect of Emma’s rookie season that really stood out to Cetacean Nation was the success she had in centering a brand new set of linemates down the stretch. When Allie LaCombe and Katelynn Russ joined the Pod late in the season, Emma became their center. Emma revealed

"I loved playing with Grace and Sarah and they’re two really good players, and I definitely enjoyed playing with them. But towards the end of the season we had some new additions. And Katelynn Russ, we played on the same team in my hometown, for the Chicago Young Americans. So we both have history dating back quite a while before college, and she obviously ended up playing at Union, so I was definitely familiar with her. And then Allie LaCombe also is a very good player and also someone who kind of forced me to elevate my game too. It was really fun playing with them and we definitely had that chemistry, and I think we probably would have liked to score a couple of more goals but we got very close so many times. We kept telling ourselves it would go in. And it did in Buffalo, I thought we played pretty well in Buffalo for the first play-off game. But I think if we had played together for a longer period of time I think you would have seen a lot more offense kind of develop later on. But even in the brief time we were able to play together we were starting to create a lot, and definitely it was a lot of fun playing with those girls"

 Emma added  "Buffalo was a tough team, and obviously we had trouble with them earlier in the year so it was good to kind of prove ourselves at the end, after we hadn’t seen them for quite a few months. The future is bright for this franchise and it’s definitely exciting and I hope that I can be a part of that, and I definitely want to be a part of that.”

Three of the last four games the Whale played were against the two teams who will eventually play for the Isobel Cup when things resume. We asked Emma how she saw that game playing out. She replied “I think that if I would have to choose just one, I would probably say Boston, just because, I don’t know if it’s the first time a team’s gone 23-1, but that’s obviously pretty impressive. Obviously Minnesota is a very good team and I think that they got better as the season went on, and they were a lot harder to play against down the stretch. And so you never know, I think any team can beat any team on any given night but if I had to chose one right now I’d probably say Boston. But also hoping that Minnesota will give them a good game, and maybe they’ll be able to pull it off. That would also be quite impressive too. I’m excited to see what happens!”

We also asked Emma to reflect back on her rookie season, and what else stood out for her that we hadn’t touched on. She said

“It was such a great experience, and I met so many great people We had a great staff obviously, but also just meeting the girls on the team and kind of just getting to know everyone was just really good. And I think we had a really good team dynamic, and like I said, everyone was really easy to be around. We would have a good time and just have a lot of fun, just going to practice Tuesday or Thursday. Then obviously getting together for games on the weekend. So schedule-wise definitely a lot different than college, but I think that I was able to adjust as the season went on and kind of figure out what I need to do to play at this level and I think and as we had talked about, the future looks bright for this group I did have a great rookie season and just hope that I can continue to be a part of this group and see where we can take it. We had a lot of people who contributed in a lot of different ways. We had a lot of people who were willing to do what it took to win games. Obviously, we did struggle in the regular season, but I think it was obviously very clear that we improved along the way. And I think you saw that in a lot of individual players too, and the way that they were able to elevate their individual game, and that allowed the team collectively to be better down the stretch. We are definitely a hard working team, there’s no doubt about that.” 

We wrapped up our conversation with Emma, touching on something we had talked about in her first interview: her favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. Emma said “I was looking forward to baseball season starting, and it’s too bad it was pushed back. With David Ross (new manager) I’m hopeful for the Cubs this season. So we’ll see, but as you said, not too much change going on but but we have to have confidence I guess, and we have good core players returning. So hopefully David Ross can right the ship a bit, and get us back to World Series contention.” But as they say, we’ll definitely have to take a wait and see position on that, especially this season. Cetacean Nation thanks our amazing rookie #15 Emma Vlasic for providing so much excitement for the Pod this season and for her refreshing takes on the topics we discussed. The future does look brighter for the Pod, with players like Emma to keep the Whale skating towards Isobel as The Most Exciting Team in Hockey.!