Laura behind the bench with the Pod as Interim Head Coach. Photo courtesy Bryan Johnson.

INSIDE THE ODYSSEY


“But you, brave and adept from this day on . . . there’s hope that you will reach your goal . . . the journey that stirs you now is not far off.”
                               

The words above are by the Greek poet a Homer, from his second work, The Odyssey. In  both of our previous interviews with our former #33 the amazing Laura Brennan, we referred to her journey to the Pod, and the various duties she’s performed here, as an odyssey. And it is still fitting to use that reference, and the quote above, as her role this season was Goalie Coach as expected but also interim Head Coach to start the season. The odyssey is still unfolding. And it’s an appropriate quote in a couple of ways, it even contains the derivative of goaltender! Plus, brave and adept are all spot on terms for goalies in general, no? In these days of the pandemic, those on the front line often deflect praise, saying this is what we’ve been training to do our whole lives. It may be that in her profession, Laura may be doing what she has been training footprints her whole life as well. So speaking of the pandemic, Cetacean Nation wondered hoe Laura was coping with things in Connecticut. She explained

 “I am not currently not working, so I’m just keeping my days busy by working out, doing puzzles, reading, walking the dogs. And a little home project, I know you saw that on my Instagram today. It looks nice now that it’s done. It wasn’t too hard, it took the majority of a day this week. I would say about five hours, my days aren’t too long, I sleep in every day, have my morning coffee and a smoothie, and by 11:00, that’s when I start moving really:) Our governor (Lamont) just extended it until May 20th before any non-essential businesses can open.” 

We congratulated Laura on the way tthe team developed this season, especially her three young rookie goaltending partners. Over five seasons, the Whale have had fourteen different goalies on their roster, and only three for more than one season. Laura herself, Shenae Lundberg and Nicole Stock. But in Season Six, we now know that Wojo will join that group as well, after recently signing on again. We asked Laura to talk about her three Amazings in between the pipes She explained.

“The goalies that we had, they were all hand selected. Goalies that we got that we thought would be great with our culture and developing our team and being the backbone. Historically the Whale spent a lot of time in their defensive zone, so we don’t just need a good goalie, we need great goalies. All three of our goalies definitely stepped up this year. It’s probably the best group of goalies that I’ve ever been a part of, just working with or being involved with. As far as the support for each other, the competitiveness, in a constructive way, just pushing each other to be better, supporting each other, supporting the team. As I’ve mentioned before Casper (Cassandra Goyette, aka Cujo} missed only one practice, and the other goalies were at every practice all season. Casper missed because I told her not to come, she’d been throwing up and I didn’t want her to bring that to me or the team. So I had her take that night off:).

Wojo, Sojo and Cujo all came obviously shared some commonality as goalies, but each one was quite different (as even we had discovered in our first interviews with them). So Cetacean Nation wondered how Laura dealt with that so successfully. She revealed

"The way I coach is, I try to give them tips or techniques that I think can make them improve, no matter what their style is. So it’s figuring out what their style is first, by a lot of observation. Figuring out the way they move, the way they make saves, what works for them, what really isn’t working for them. And just try to make small tweaks to their game at this point. What was surprising to me, was that Brooke and Sonjia at Saint Lawrence didn’t really have a goalie coach. So a lot of these techniques and terminology that has evolved in the last ten years, they hadn’t heard of those concepts before. So I’m just trying to explain things to them that were new, but they were eager to learn and pick up on it. A lot of this is stuff that goalies have been doing for years, but it just didn’t have a name or a further explanation before, on why we do this sort of thing. Casper played a huge role in helping me teach those new concepts and theories because she’s a huge student of the game and always trying to be better. She went to a goalie coach every week through Stop It Goaltending (stopitgoaltending.com) And it was great, because when I’m on the ice coaching the team I don’t have pads on, so if I’m trying to explain something just through words, I can have Casper do the demo, and it works out really well. With them, it was fun, because they all wanted to learn"

Laura added "And it’s great to teach people who are able to get it, and implement it. Not everything that I said they liked or worked for them and that’s fine. It’s just finding ways to bring out the best in each individual goalie. It was great to see, especially with Brooke, because she did have that year off. She came in a little bit rusty, which was expected. She wasn’t totally sure of herself or her game and where she needed to be, and adjusting to the speed and everything. So for her to be able to spend most of the first half of the season in a back up position, just to work through that and stay positive and mentally be supportive of the other goalies, but also keep working hard until it was her shot to go. And once she got in there, she kind of ran away with it. So it was very cool to see" 

Laura continued "They (Wojo & Sojo) were very supportive of each other. They had played together in college. So we had first signed Sonjia last summer, and when I realized they had overlapped at Saint Lawrence, and Brooke left for her last year, I had to make sure there was no animosity between the two of them. Because I didn’t want to bring that to the team. So I talked with Sonjia first, because she was already signed, about Wojo, and she said she was great, worked well together, pushed each other to be better, and they were actually friends. So when I talked to Brooke she said the exact same thing so it was pretty cool that they already had that working relationship, where they respect each other and push each other to be better. But at the end of the day every goalie wants to be in the net obviously. But you know when they weren’t in the net and, when Casper wasn’t in the net, she was the first one banging on the boards when someone made a save, and being super excited. And it was genuine excitement, that you could feel. And sometimes it’s hard. You can kind of tell if a goalie is not that supportive of their partner, it is noticeable. But this was like full, genuine support and excitement for whichever goalie was in the net. And it didn’t matter whichever goalie was on the bench in a backup tole that game, it was always a great positive environment for the goalies. I had a lot of “proud mom” moments during the season."

if you have read our other interviews with Laura (there are two others here on the website) you will have noticed Laura has had multiple roles with the Whale, starting of course as our #33 in net. And as her odyssey continues, she added a new one this year: Interim Head Coach. Obviously, Cetacean Nation wanted to know more derails about that! Laura obliged, explaining


“That was very unexpected. I was working with Bray over the summer as to what my role would be with the team. I was originally the goalie coach, and seeing what other coaches were out there who were interested, available, and qualified. Which it’s tough to find those coaches who are available to be a part of the league. But through searching for a rink to play in, we met Colten. He expressed interest but he had a commitment to Battle of the Blades, which is that figure skating competition that he had already agreed to. So he was looking at coming on in more of an assistant role, since he was going to be gone for the first part of the season. As the summer wore on it looked like it was going to be me and Colten and it made most sense to have me start out as interim head coach, and bring someone in to help me. My background is goalies and I’d never really done team practices for the pro level before. I’ve done a lot of skill development, along with goalies, but never had the full team practice plan, writing out the drills and all, that I had to do before. So I had Mike Bonelli come in and help me out there, and ge was great as far as coming up with the drills to work on the systems and skills I had wanted to work on."

She added "One of the strengths I did bring to the team, was knowing the players strengths, their capabilities, their skill sets. Knowing the competition and knowing the league, as this was my fourth year of being involved in the league. I have all of that knowledge base, but it was just getting it on paper how to work on things that Mike was really great with. Helping me out with that and communicating with Colten while he was away. He would kind of tell me the systems he wanted the team to be playing, and then we would try to implement that in his absence."

We asked Laura to look back a little, and tell us what her favorite part of this amazing season was. She reflected and said

“I really enjoyed working with and getting to know Colten, and learning from his experiences. And helping the team grow together and develop that team culture. Along with Colten, Mike was a big part of that too, and so was Bray. And picking the girls who were on the team, bringing in the right personalities, the right work ethics, the right skill sets.and then just watching them develop as the year went on. As an insider, or a spectator on your end, everyone can attest to the fact that team peaked at the right time at the end of the season. So that whole journey of coming together. Colten hadn’t coached before, I had limited coaching experience as far as the team goes, so just coming into it and everyone growing and developing and just finding that identity, finding that culture. We really started clicking sometime in January and really kept building and that’s something that was the best part of the season. And how we ended, we couldn’t have asked for any better of an ending besides winning the Cup. But we’ll see if that happens this year.” Fins Up to that spirit! 


Laura continued “Everyone was definitely invested, it was a totally different experience this year as far as instilling confidence in players who maybe lost it in the past years. And some didn’t have the best experience in college. I talked about this a little before, where some of the players have been saying they really found their love for the game again this year. So that was something that was great to hear, as far as feedback from the players at the end of the season. Just touching base and following up on their thoughts of how things went, their experience. So that was something we had heard quite a few time from the players, just about loving the game again, and that’s what it’s all about. Having fun, working hard, having pride. There are so many things that go into it, but it’s great to be able to do something you love doing.”

Laura offered a specific example of what she was referencing with the following story in volving our #11 Brinna Dochniak. Laura related to us

"We got stuck in the airport after we beat Buffalo in the playoffs. Brinna and I had a flight to Boston and it ended up getting delayed for four hours. So we were sitting there and it was nice, because she joined the team mid-season and I actually got to know her a liitle more. We’re both from Minnesota, we went to rival high schools, I was a Bear, she was a Pony, right next to other as towns go. She went to school with my nephews, though she didn’t know them because the high school is so big and they weren’t actually in the same grade, they were like a grade apart. It’s a very small community, a small world, as far as a Minnesota hockey. So it was annoying to be stuck, but also a great chance to catch up with her, and see what her thoughts were, And she was one of the ones that said she fell in love with the game again. Some of her teammates from college had gone to other teams in the league and they found their love for the game again too. So it’s good overall that the league is a positive experience for players and everyone who’s involved in it is striving to make the league better, the game better, and have have a place for girls to,look to when they’re young and aspiring to be a pro, or they’re in college looking to play after college. It’s a great place to be.” 

Cetacean Nation thought that was a very cool vignette, and asked Laura if there  was something she could tell the fans about the team that they might not know. Here’s what she said

“The one thing I see as really unique, is that pretty much everyone has some sort of job that helps supplement their income from the league or is their bill paying job. It’s really cool that girls do have employers who are working with them to be able to still fulfill their dream of playing hockey. And just all the different backgrounds that the players, the staff are coming from, coming in and bringing that all together. There’s so many different skill sets and things you wouldn’t realize you have (on the team) An example of that is, we were on a plane to Minnesota last season and someone, I’m not really sure what was going on in the plane, hit the call button. Then over the intercom it was like hey, someone’s having a medical emergency, is there any medical professional,on board. And right away, Elena Orlando hits her call button, pops up, and she goes and helps this person. At that point, I’m kind of sleepy, it’s a late flight, and this was happening pretty much right behind me, basically in the last row of the plane. But I was like wow! I guess I knew she was a nurse, but I never really thought about it, because you’re usually only seeing them at hockey. So on the plane, she was that person that immediately pushed her button, went right into action, and helped a fellow passenger. Definitely came through when duty called.. And I was amazed in that moment. That’s not something I would ever think of happening. And she would never say that like I’m awesome, we were on a plane and I helped this women, but she is and she did.” We’ll say it louder for the people in the back: nurses are everyday heroes. Elena’s a nurse, ergo...

Cetacean Nation thinks it’s pretty cool that under the business suits of our coaches, there is a hockey seater they’ve worn as elite athletes themselves. They’ve tasted the sweat and the blood, and that means something. Laura chuckled but agreed, telling us
 

“There was one thing Sonjia said, I don’t think I had met her yet. I was talking to her on the phone and she said she judges teams by how fit their coaches are. And I was like man, I gotta make sure I stay in shape! My viewpoint on that is, if I want my players to be working out, to be eating healthy, to be sleeping, making smart decisions as far as controlling things they can control, I should really practice what I preach. So it’s a great way to keep me me in check and the players in check. And Colten, he’s in great shape as well. We all take pride in working hard and taking care of ourselves and just being the best that we can be. So if I’m working hard, I’m sure my goalies are going to be working hard, because they don’t want their coach to outdo them in something :) “

We finished up our interview with Laura with a discussion of the desire of our veteran players for stability in the organization, and the desire indicated by the team to return a solid core of players next season. Laura disclosed

“It’s a lot nicer to pick up where you left off as opposed to rebuilding.each year. We were able to basically figure out the best style of play for our players that we had. Mid season is when it started clicking. OK this is our game, this is how we play. So obviously there are going to be some changes to the roster and things like that. As long as we have that solid core that we’re able to bring back and build off of that and have them be leaders. And show the new girls that this is what it means to be a part of the Pod, the Whale. We are looking forward to a strong sixth season. But as far as management, coaches, rinks, that all playing out, we don’t have anything set in stone yet. But I’ll be around in some capacity, not exactly sure what that will be yet but I’m always there for a surprise or two. I’ll be involved in whatever capacity they need me to be. I’m very fortunate where I’m able to have a full time job that allows me to do this as well. So that’s something that I’m very grateful for, and I’ll continue to be involved in the team and the league as long as I can.”

That is great news for all of Cetacean Nation, and makes us even more excited for Season Six. We again thank our amazing #33 Laura Brennan for her insightful and original comments and content. And referring back to the opening quote, we do think that the journey that stirs her now, is not far off. The leg of her odyssey that leads Laura and the Pod to Isobel. Fins Up to Laura, the ultimate team player, on the ice, or behind the bench!

Part of Laura's Odyssey from the White Lake Bears to the Coonecticut Whale.