if you remember the years the NJ Devils played in the Meadowland, you might also remember that their warm-up song was often Van Helen's "Jump". So there's the obtuse hockey connection. A liitle later in this interview, we promise you another. That will come courtesy of one our outstanding group of rookies on the Pod this year, our steady left wing #18 Elena Gualtieri. Elena first hit the ice in for us mid-November, and had her first NWHL point by the end of the month. Elena continued to play a consistent brand of hockey all season, and dealt assists in both our play-off games. But when we we chatted with Elena, we had to start of course with the pandemic, and what was going on with her in that regard.
“I’m home with my parents in Rome, NY. Kent is obviously closed and we had no knowledge of this happening before spring break. So we actually went on spring break before everything closed down. So we basically just never returned to campus. I came home to visit my family, and now I’m kind of stuck here.”
As you may remember from her first interview, Elena was living and working at her old prep alma mater, the Kent School. Cetacean Nation asked for her impressions of that coaching experience in soccer and hockey, and she related
“It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed it a lot. I developed a pretty good relationship with a lot of the students. I was starting to get excited for soccer season again. It wasn’t the same passion I had for hockey, but I really did enjoy playing that sport, and I did miss it in college. It was a great experience. Winter was kind of crazy, but I was officially assigned the JV girls. And actually, Kent played Greenwich Country Day School, which is where Shannon Doyle coaches. I think Doyle missed one of the games, I missed both with the back to back AHL that weekend. think she missed our game, so we wouldn’t really have seen each other anyway, but thought that was kind of funny:) I saw Hughie (Sarah Hughson) a couple of times, once at the Taft Tournament, and then Choate came to Kent and we also played Choate at Kent. I was assigned to the JV as I started to say, but I would help out with the varsity as much as possible. The time that I saw Hughie was a back to back home weekend, so I had JV right after the varsity game, or right before. So I saw Hughie at the Taft Tournament and I also saw Kayla Meneghin there, she was recruiting. It’s funny, because she’s asking about Kent players, and it was cool. It’s an awesome experience, it’s a neat little world to be a part of “
Elena added “i was given the opportunity (to be JV head coach), the Athletic Director has asked if I wanted to be head coach. But I wasn’t really sure what I was walking into, and I’m not sure how things would have gone differently if I was head coach. But we had a team of thirty girls, and it being my first year, I don’t think it would have been the best start to my hockey coaching career. But like I said, I don’t know if I would have had more say in that, but I’m glad that I took an assistant position this year. Just so I could get settled into how things are done, what the girls are used to. A lot of my drills were a little tougher than what they’re used to. It’s more for fun, the JV side of things. But I think being in that JV system allowed me to do more with the Whale, so I was also grateful for that.”
We also asked if Elena was able to stay in contact with any of the players, and she reminded us
"So, I wasn't actually coaching a spring sport. I think a lot of our hockey girls were going to do other activities. We had a few in crew and a few in lacrosse. I think others were going to do other activities, maybe fitness, senior sports maybe. So they really weren’t going to have a crazy spring unless they were in lacrosse or crew. But I think for the most part we’re all getting outside to get the fitness in. We actually just started online learning, so right now that’s the focus. The spring was going to be a pretty quiet one for me. I was going to be the home score keeper in lacrosse, so I would have had after school obligations maybe once or twice a week, if that. For the hockey players, summer training would be more important. And, trying to maintain that in the fall. If they’re not in a spring sport, they’re definitely in a fall sport whether that’s soccer or field hockey, and we’ve got a couple of girls in volleyball, one of our captains was actually in volleyball this year. They have to be in at least two sports.”.
Cetacean Nation was curious if there was a synergy with cross-over benefits, between coaching her players and playing for the Whale during the same season. Elena quickly answered in the affirmative..
“Of of course, both ways. Just little habits that are good to get back into, like constantly moving your feet. Things I would think of while the girls were doing specific drills, that would come to my mind., And I’d think maybe I could implement this into my play as well. Not participating in the rills, but being a passer for example. I’m trying to help the girls, just firing pucks at them in certain drills where they have to shoot the puck quickly, get it off their stick, quick releases and stuff. Making really hard passes to them all the time is beneficial to them, but also beneficial to me, because I’m making hard passes when I’m playing. So it’s little things like that that go both ways. Obviously, being on the ice with the varsity girls definitely helped me get back into things when it came to the Whale. And also some other drills we had I thought we’re good, and I could dumb some of them down for the JV girls. If you were looking for certain drills to work into our system I could manipulate some of the drills from the Whale that complemented our systems, things like that. So It definitely went both ways. We had a wide range of skill level there from girls who have never stepped on the ice before, to others who it was their fourth year in JV hockey. There were some things I could do with the “learn to skaters” that were helpful for them. And of course things I can do for the more experienced players that made them and our team better. It was a lot of fun.“
We had opened up Elena’s last interview (you can check that out on the website here too) talking about assists and the satisfaction she got from making a play. We asked Elena (who had two goals and four assists including the playoffs) to go into a little more detail on that aspect of her game, and her vision on the ice.
“I wouldn’t call myself a flashy player, but I do value making the right play and making the right pass. Obviously scoring a goal is fun but it feels good, bit contributing to that is just us rewarding. I think to be honest, that one’s (vision) a little natural. My Dad has always said that he’ll be watching me play and I’ll make a pass, and he says: That’s not what I would do. Then it ends up on a stick and he said how the hell did she see that! Maybe some of it is luck, but I do try to get my head up as soon as I can. That was a big adjustment for me coming into this season, after actually not being on the ice for quite some time. I mean Match was the last time I played, I was on the ice in the summer a little but just with coaching, I wasn’t really active at all.” And Cetacean Nation noted, not getting run into. “Exactly, I didn’t have high end, high speed Division I and Division III players on my butt:) But I think adjusting to the speed was kind of a big difference, because again, I hadn’t been on the ice, so I was kind of just jumped into it. It was definitely an adjustment, and I think that’s why as the season went on my, I guess,vision, of the ice was more obvious to others.”
So we had an inkling about Elena’s playmaking and assists, and we had mentioned her balance of goals and assists at Connecticut College previously. But we were impressed about her physicality on the ice. Elena is not that big, but was very aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck and always seemed to be active in traffic. We wondered if that had always the case for her. She considered that and said
“It’s hard to recall. My line my freshman year (at Connecticut College) had some pretty crazy success, I think we had over sixty points as a line. We were all kind of doing some of the work. Sophomore year I didn’t have as much luck, I had a pretty off season. I wasn’t with the same line, I was kind of bounced around pretty frequently, all season. So I struggled a lot my sophomore year, and I think junior year I just came out really hungry and did not want to keep on the downwards slope. So I don’t know if it’s something I developed from my sophomore slump, but I wanted the puck. I wanted to make plays with the pick. Obviously, everyone likes to,play a little offense, so I was just doing everything I could to keep the puck on the right colored jersey’s sticks. Actually they let a lot go in the NESCAC, so maybe that carried over. But that came from Kent, our coach, who is the same one who is there now, never liked, and still doesn’t like, offensive zone penalties. So I guess I’m careful how I go into the corners, but still need to be aggressive. And strength is something I’ve had to make up for because of my size. So that’s been a huge goal of mine the last few years! just to get stronger, and add explosiveness too. Not being bounced off the puck, being able to rub someone else off the puck. They might not be expecting someone of my size to do that.”
Cetacean Nation noted that can frequently result in a few extracurriculars from the outmuscled skater. Elena replied “There is a lot of that too, definitely a lot more was let go in the NWHL than in college. Packer (Madison Packer of the Rivs) was one of them that comes to mind, She reminds me… of almost the whole Bruins team, but kind of like Marchand:)”
We had mentioned Elena’s two assists in the playoffs, and we asked her about the Whale mindset going into the playoff game vs Buffalo. She replied “Obviously we know we can play with any of the teams. We had a couple of tough losses to Boston and Minnesota but there were also a couple of games against both teams where we definitely improved. We knew we could hang with them and we just had to keep that in mind. No one was expecting us to do much in the play-off series, so we just kind of went at it with nothing to lose. I think obviously the new players helped a lot, giving us a lot of depth. But I think over, all we grew a lot as the course of the season went on.”
As a rookie coming into the league, and with little prep time as discussed, we wondered if there was something about the league, team, players that Elena learned this year or didn’t know before? She immediately responded
“One thing that immediately comes to mind is the rule of having to jump. You have to jump the bench, you can’t go in the door unless there’s a whistle! It’s a rule! Luckily, I’m not the only one who was a little bit slow to learning this rule, but I think a ref actually gave us issues because we kept using the door. It was tough (for shorter players) especially in the Riveters rink, that was tough. You had to come to the bench with some speed, that’s for sure. It was actually kind of nice when there was a whistle, because then you could use the door, you didn’t have to jump.” she laughed.
Continuing, Elena added “On a more serious note, not that I wasn’t expecting much, but because it was kind of a fluke, me playing. I didn’t know how able I was going to be able to do this. I guess I didn’t think it was going to be possible with my schedule, so I didn’t look into it. I just wanted to get on the ice and practice, that kind of thing. A friend of mine and I were just going to reach out and see if they needed practice players, but it still would have been a lot. We thought they were still in Stamford, we didn’t realize they had moved to Danbury. So one of the assistant coaches at Kent reached out to Bray because she knows Bray, and that’s just kind of how my journey began. I just went in to practice, and I guess they liked what they saw, so that’s kind of how my journey started. But I guess I was, I don’t want to say surprised, but everyone was so welcoming, down to earth, and respected you as a player. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to be that easy of a transition. I was really happy with the team I landed on. I’m sure now it’s that way with every other team, I”m sure there is a great dynamic amongst every team.”
Elena interrupted herself to add, “I did know Kayla from before, and I did want to say that before I forget. So I guess walking into a team like this, everyone has one goal. Everyone wants to win. Everyone is there because they love to play hockey. And that also is something that was exciting for me, because coming from a DIII school, not everyone has hockey as not their passion, I guess. Although everyone on your college team loves hockey. I would definitely say I was one of the few on mine who really wanted to work at getting better, really cared about getting better. Being part of an entire team who feels that way about hockey is nice for a change.”
We wrapped up our chat with Elena by asking her for some thoughts on the progress of the NWHL. She responded honestly “It’s kind of hard for me to say. I started late and barely had a full season, so I don’t know that much about the league. But obviously there is a growing love for hockey on the women’s side, and hopefully it will be a bigger league, hopefully there’ll be more teams. Obviously as you see with late signings of college players, girls still want to play after college, so I think it's definitely still growing.” Cetacean Nation appreciates our #18 Elena Gualtieri jumping into our chat today and offering her candid and insightful content, as well as the boost she provided the Pod when she jumped onto the the ice this season! Fins Up!