There are some things that just take a long time to get through. And this winter and spring, our amazing defender #8 Erin Hall is dealing with two of them. The pandemic, and a back injury. We spoke with Erin this week to see how things were going for her in both those struggles, but our effervescent Erin has a lot more going on as well. So let’s check in with this awesome first year edition to our defense corps. Cetacean Nation began by asking how and where Erin was coping with the pandemic.

 “I think it’s truly crazy! it’s certainly an adjustment from the everyday routine I’m used to! I am at home in Pembroke, Massachusetts, just kind of laying low, trying to get out each day. though. As it gets warmer, it’s nice to be able to get out and go for a walk.Just not being in the house all day is nice. Other than that, we’re just trying to get over that hump, waiting for the end to come when this thing will die down. It’s tough, but I think if we all do our part, it’ll end sooner than later.“

While we all have to find a way to cope with the pandemic, Erin as we mentioned, is dealing with another nasty situation. Her season was interrupted, then cut short by injury. We asked Erin about that injury, and what she she could tell us. She gave us this remarkably candid reply.

“The initial injury was in November, against the Riveters. I forget the exact date, but it was late November. I got kind of cross checked, hit from behind into the boards and right away, I knew. My back was just telling me, pain I’ve never had before. And so I got off the ice, talked to our doctor, and talked to Paul Fernandes our trainer. I tried to give it a go, and I think I finished the rest of that game. I think that may have been attributed to my adrenaline, it just kept pumping for me. So my plan was kind of to see how it was. And I think to a fault, I sort of downplay things. Like: Oh, it’s fine, But as I found out and the season kept going, I really wasn’t fine. But I think it’s ingrained in me as a hockey player, to kind of just put on the tough act, and keep playing. So that’s pretty much what I did. So I continued to,play here and there. I missed some games because I just couldn’t go. I wasn’t healthy enough, I wasn’t going to be able to play at my top speed,.so I missed a bit of time.Then I came back and played a few games and my last series was out in Minnesota. Which I think during the games, it was OK. But on the plane on the way home and then when we were driving home, it was just excruciating, the pain was awful.”

Erin continued “So finally I decided to go get it checked out and get all the imaging done, stuff like that. It turns out I had a fractured L5 in my back. So it was really tough. (L5 is the fifth lumbar spine vertebrae, so what Erin had was a broken back) Again, all I really want to do is play. So when that gets taken away, that’s a huge piece. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching hockey, but I don’t love watching my own team play, that’s just heart-breaking really. So to do that for a fair amount of time this season, that was tough for me. So that is pretty much of what happened with the injury. And I’m sure a lot of people were wondering why I was in and out, in and out. And that was because I was trying to make it work any way I could. We tried less minutes, and less of everything really. And it just came to a point, and we talked to the coaches about this too. Which is hard for me to understand, but putting my health first is important. And when we finally came around to it, you have to be smart about this kind of stuff. Which I don’t think hockey players are all the time, because they just love the game so much. But it was getting to the point where it effected every part of my life. So as disappointing as it is, I think in the long run, sitting out that last month or so is hopefully going to help me down the road.

Erin added "Somebody put it to me this way when I was going through it. They said: When you’re thirty or forty do want to be able to pick up your kid, you know, hold them and stuff? That’s the kind of thing I hat hits home, because yeah, ultimately I do want to do that. But the decision making process of being in the moment and wanting to play vs being able to,look at what the future will hold, that’s the real challenge. I definitely put forth a valiant effort trying to stay in, but ultimately, my back was not on the same page as I was:)

 Cetacean Nation wondered what the rehab process is like for that type of injury, and Erin explained

“Rest is definitely a huge big part of it, which again, not the easiest thing for me:) I’m more of a daily runner type of person, but rest is a major part of it. Physical therapy, I’ve been doing that for quite a bit now. And we’re working on strengthening.Just core muscles and stuff that will eventually help my back get stronger. And it’s a long road, which I understand. Like we talked about, the back has a lot to do with everything, so it’s going to take a long time.”

At this point, Erin took a pause and said “I have to give a shout out to my doctors. The team of doctors and my physical therapist, because hey’ve been dealing with my antsyness. It’s always a question: WHEN CAN I RUN, WHEN CAN I SKATE, it’s always that stuff! So just a huge amount of gratitude goes to them, because they’ve been working diligently with me for so long. So I’m thankful they’re willing to deal with those questions on a weekly basis. During the season, Dr. Kowalsky (ONS Medical) our team doctor was really great, and the way they stay in touch with us as athletes is important. And postseason I worked with Dr. Cha, and he kind of put me in the right direction about what my rehab would look like. And he was very helpful and very knowledgeable. And my Physical Therapist Sam Kushner is just tremendous. I feel he is part of my family now, because I’ve seen him so much and for so long. It truly takes an army to get back into it after a serious injury, so I’m just really grateful. And then additionally, the support that my family has provided me, that is really what gets you through it I think. So it’s going to be a bit of a road for me, but I’m positive I’ll be A-OK at the end. So I’m hoping that the rinks are open, and I’m hoping early summer to get back on the ice and get back to my normal routine. Obviously I’m doing plenty of off I’ve stuff right now just to keep up my conditioning and strength as much as I can. But I would say that I would be looking to get back in the Ice in my skates by early summer.” Fins Up to that!

In her first interview with us (you can check that out here on the website) Erin told us about her plans to pursue a nursing career. And as you may have noticed on her social media or in our posts, Erin has been accepted into nursing school. We asked her for some more details on that, and offered that it was a remarkable time to be diving into that profession.

 “I know, I know! It seems like I got the news, and then all of a sudden this whole pandemic thing came around. I’ve heard it from a few people now and they’re like: Are you sure you really want to do this? And I’m like: Yeah, you know what? It’s going to be really good for me. So, it’s scary for sure, but I think it’s ultimately really going to be good for me.”

 Erin continued “So the program I got accepted to is actually an accelerated program, so I will have my RN in a matter of sixteen months, starting this September. So it’s going to be relatively intensive I think. But I believe the way the first semester works, is that you have classes three days a week, and then it changes from there. So I don’t know exactly the particulars yet, but I know the basic outline of what will happen. And like I said, sixteen months from now I will be a Registered Nurse. Which is kind of crazy to think about, but it’s the program that I really, really wanted to get into. So that I could get to work sooner and start helping people sooner, rather than a more traditional four year kind of program. So I’m excited!”

Cetacean Nation thinks nurses are everyday heroes in normal times, and especially so now, and we salute Erin for that. Perhaps it’s that hockey type mentality that nurses have too. Erin agreed and laughed “That kind of run into the fire, kind of just full speed ahead, bravery and everything” 

Our #8 Erin Hall launches a shot vs Boston. Photo courtesy of Bryan Johnson.

Erin is not the tallest player out on the ice, especially for a defender. But we've noticed she gets a lot of leverage on her opponent and is skilled at handling bigger players, and asked her about that aspect of her game. She replied

 “I think that is something that I’m well practiced at, because I’ve pretty much been the same height since, I don’t know, seventh grade. I think the majority of the time I’m playing against people who are going to be taller than me and bigger than me. So I think it’s important to use my strong base you could say, to the best of my ability. I definitely think it’s something I:m very used to, Because I’ve been this size for a long time. And so I think you try to make the best of it. I think what also helps me out is my ability to skate. Even if someone has longer legs than you, if you’re a good skater, you can still keep up with them no matter what. So skating in particular was something I always put a lot of effort into, because I knew if I was good at it, it would keep me in the game pretty much. But I would agree with you, I think I know how to leverage myself pretty well on most occasions. Which is helpful when you’re playing against other people in the NWHL.” 

Even with her shortened season, Erin tied for sixth in blocked shots on the Pod. We discussed shot blocking a little, and wondered how much of that is reaction vs anticipation. She broke it down for us

"I think the majority of time, blocking shots is at first, reaction. But you can also anticipate where the puck is going to go, if you are well practiced in blocking shots. So I have played mostly on teams where coaches value you blocking shots. Because it shows you know how to play in the D zone, and that you are willing to lay yourself on the line, so that the puck doesn’t get to the goalie. So I think that it can be both. You have to react quickly but you also can anticipate where the puck is going to come from off the player’s stick, so you’re in a better position. And personally, I take a lot of pride in blocking shots, because I think it’s just another thing you can do in your own zone to help the team and get the puck out faster. Although I must add that my Mom always comments that she hates seeing all the welts on me from the pucks:) But you have to do it, it’s part of the game. Generally I take the chance to block as many shots as I can. And I think Iearned a lot from Shannon Doyle this year. When you never thought she could block it, she still blocks it. I think that’s really cool that I got to,learn a little from her too.” 

We also discussed the facts that some key defensive skills don’t really have stats.Things like poke checks, sweep checks, and deflections of passes for example.  We thought these things were some of the types of skills that Erin displayed this season and asked her about that.

 “I think for my game, those type of plays are really important, because I like to play my game aggressively. So I like to be right up on the other team’s forward, so they have less time to get in and set up and all of that. So I think that like you said, a poke check is sort of undervalued. Because it could happen a lot of times in a game where you bust up a play and it’s really important because you saved them from entering the zone. So I definitely put a lot of stock in the ability to stay up on the other team’s offense and kind of prevent them from getting in. Which could be perceived as playing a little bit risky, but again, I think my ability to skate and recover is a huge part of why I play agessively.”

Continuing to speak about the Whale defensive scheme, we discussed the role our centers played in the D this year. Erin observed  “I think that worked out pretty well. Once Coach Orr got there, we pretty much worked out what our system was going to be and what our identity was going to be as a team. I think that’s really when the idea of having our center play low and play responsibly in our zone to help out the D was really picked up. And I think that it showed in the games. We got scored on less, and we gave the other teams less opportunities to score. I think it showed that we got more and more disciplined throughout the year and we really relied on our centers to play defensively and to help us out down low. And like any good hockey team, you have to play in your defensive zone before you can play in your offensive zone. So once we really nailed down that system and kind of got hold of it and everyone was on the same oage, I think that the centers playing down low was a huge, huge win for us."

Althogh Erin had a couple of years of pro experience in the CWHL, this was her first year in the NWHL. We asked if there was anything she discovered about the experience that she might not have anticipated. She provided this great response

 “I think that something I found out about being a part of the Whale was that first. there was a lot of adversity for myself and the other players from Massachusetts. And I think that despite that level of adversity, which was having to travel that long, I think it didn’t matter. Because we were all doing it together because we loved to play the game. So I think what I learned mostly was that if you love something, you’re going to find a way to do it mostly. And I think that was a little surprising for me, because I think that going into the season, I knew it was going to be challenging trying to figure out the logistics of practices and games and all that kind of stuff. And all the while getting schoolwork done during the day and for my carpool pals, going to work everyday. And how were we going to figure that out? And I think that we found out a lot about ourselves through those journeys every day. And I think that we came out on the other side much stronger, and knowing that we could do whatever we need to do.

She added "Because we love the game, and if you love it, you put whatever you need to into it. So I think that is pretty much my biggest takeaway. It’s something not directly related to being on the ice but it’s a huge, huge part for us, and for me. And I would say that probably was the most challenging part.Because when I played in the CWHL, I obviously played for Boston, and that’s a thirty minute drive away. So then all of a sudden you’re talking about a three hour drive, without traffic, for an hour or hour and a half practice. So that is what I would very firmly call adversity and I think if you can conquer something like that, you can pretty much do whatever you need to do.”

 We loved those comments,  so then asked Erin if there was something about the team or league that the fans might be not generally realize. She responded

 “That is a good question! I think that something the fans might not know is where the league is heading. Because as a player in the league, I think we have the very best view and a front row seat so to speak, of what the future might hold for us as players and for the fans. I think that this season in particular was tremendously positive for the NWHL. Starting from the level of play that was demonstrated from everyone, it was incredible. And then I think you could go all the way and touch upon the sponsors. There's a number of huge, huge sponsors that have shown they support women’s hockey and that’s a really, really good thing. Because ultimately it comes down to sponsors,.You can have fans watching your games but you need to know you have people supporting you financially as well. And so I think that from a player perspective, talking to a fan, I think it’s important for them to understand how much support they give us and just to really understand that we as a team feel supported. And that that’s nice as an athlete, that people actually care about what you’re doing and and the sport you’re playing. So I think that’s kind of an inside peek at what we experience as the players, it is kind of a cool thing for fans to know. “

We also discussed with Erin, what seems to be the developing Whale plan, highlighted by several signings already, to bring back the core of the team for the 2020-2021season. She commented

"I think that would be really, really good, especially how the end of the season kind of shaped up. Again, I hate watching, but it was incredible to watch the way that they played in those games, especially in the semi-finals and the games leading up to them, they were just really, really special. Just to see and be part of that change, because it was a tough start to the season, there’s no denying that, but just to see where it ended up I think is very,very encouraging for the Whale”

We wrapped things up and thanked Erin for taking the time to chat, and especially for re-living what had to be painful memories of her injury She replied “It’s a pleasure to talk to you, and again, it’s another part of this sport which is nice is that women actually get interviewed, I think it’s very common for someone in the NHL to give an interview, but for someone to ask a woman’s hockey player for an interview, that’s an honor. So why not take the chance and do the best you can:) “ We think all of Cetacean Nation will agree, that she did pretty darn good! So Fins Up to our awesome #8 Erin Hall, the irrepressible Hallsie! We can’t wait to see you out on the ice again in the very near future! 

Erin and Jordan Brickner protecting their goalie. Photo courtesy BDZ Sports