Photos left and bottom right courtesy of Bryan Johnson, photo top right courtesy of Kate Frese

BROOKE WOLEJKO: THE BROOKE WALL


All of Cetacean Nation and the NWHL as a whole, got some good news early on this off season. One of the Whale’s amazing rookie goalie trio, #1 Brooke Wolejko, aka Wojo, was the first player signed by the Pod.. Whale GM Bray Ketchum wasted little time in putting the “Brooke Wall” back in place for Season Six. Brooke had a terrific season, and registered all of our wins in net  And all the while she was navigating herself as well as her team, towards what they could and did become by season's end. We chatted with Brooke about that and a lot more, so let’s get caught up with Wojo.

To start off, we asked how and where Brooke was dealing with the pandemic, and she replied

" I’m hanging in there. I’m in Connecticut right now at my parents house.we’re all doing our best to keep ourselves safe or healthy. Just trying to also keep busy. It’s hard when you can’t go anywhere. So we’ve just been playing games at home with each other, and spending time with them. My brother is also here so, yeah, just been spending time with family. I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and meditating. That helps me stay sane during this time.:) I watched the news the other day, and they were talking about potentially closing parks down. I don’t know if they were talking about just Connecticut specifically, or anywhere in the US, but that’s because we can only do so much during this time and a lot of people have been going outside and taking walks, and hiking and stuff, it’s too bad. I know I’ve been outside as much as possible, at home in my backyard just to get out you know? This too shall pass."

You may recall that when we first interviewed Brooke, she explained to us about the Orange Theory workouts she uses for fitness. We wondered if that was something that could translate to an online presentation. Brooke answered

"So they are posting workouts on their website, they're at home workouts, and I’ve done two so far at my house, and it’s been great. And I think a lot of places are starting to go virtual and either do live workouts, live yoga classes, or just post ones on their website for people to do. So that’s great if they are able to do that, and give us that option, and give us the ability to stay active at home. I was bummed at first when they closed because of the whole pandemic and the same with the yoga place I go to. Both of those places, that’s my routine there! Yoga keeps me calm and sane and Orange Theory keeps me in shape. So once both closed, I was like: Oh no what’s going to happen now? So it’s great that they give us that option online. I only started doing yoga this year, besides goalie camp growing up. I only started my membership this year, and it’s been great for me. Stretching, keeping my hips loose and just ready to go for the ice. Goalie is hard on your hips and knees, so yoga definitely helps with that flexibility. It helps a lot for me mentally, to focus on being in the moment and shutting off my mind"

Brooke had gotten back into coaching this season, so Ceracean Nation asked her to tell us little about that too. 

" Yes, I coached at a Pro Crease (procreasegoaltending.com/home) it was really fun. Unfortunately right now, we can’t really do much, the rinks are closed. We haven’t done anything virtually, I don’t know if that is in the works right now. Maybe they’re just getting things together for us. I don’t know how long this will be going on for and their summer camps, there’s a lot of summer camps.. Spring hockey was cancelled, I don’t know about the summer, I guess we’ll see if we have to go virtual for coaching. During the season I had so much fun coaching many different age groups of kids. It’s really nice to be able to give back to a young community of goalies, and share my experience with them and be able to teach, pour my passion out to them."

Brooke continued, explaining how the program worked and what her duties were.  "So we actually work with a lot of different youth organizations throughout Connecticut and New York I believe p, as well. But I mainly work with organizations in Connecticut. So we go to team practices during the season. There are many of us coaches, so we are assigned to a bunch of different organizations. And we’ll see them once a week, go to their practice, help out there, it varies. Coaches sometimes give us the entire hour to work with them. And sometimes coaches only give us ten or fifteen minutes. to just work one on one with them. Then they’ll get into their team drills, then our job as coaches is just to float around. If there’s two goalies, two teams on the ice for practice, I’ll bounce around the two ends and observe them and give whatever feedback I have to them. And then besides that we also do clinics, they call them mini camps. Mainly on Monday holidays when the kids don’t have school. We’ll do a mini camp, and that consists of a couple of on ice sessions, and there’s a video session off the ice. Sometimes Dr Jason Emery will come, who is a sports psychologist who I’ve actually been working with and interning for him,. So he’ll come and talk to the goalies, and have certain activities for them. Stuff like that and we’ll do some clinics, and the full camps are mainly in the summer."

After being away from the the game for a year (check Brooke's first interview here for more on that) we wondered about the synergy of coaching while playing, and if it was helpful in getting her back to where she wanted to be on the ice?

"That’s a good question. It definitely helps to be involved in coaching because it allowed me to really see what other goalies are doing, kind of get back into the swing of things. I was pretty nervous to get back into coaching and playing, because it had been so long. I was worried that I wouldn’t be as fresh, I guess. I had to shake the rust off with coaching and playing. But I guess coaching kind of gave me more confidence in my ability,. There was a lot of uncertainty coming into the season, I didn’t really know how the experience would go playing, and truthfully, I didn’t know a lot about the NWHL. So I was excited to play hockey competitively again but there were  a lot of unknowns and that created a lot of anxiety for me. And I was worried about not being able to keep up with the other players, and things didn’t just click for me. It took a while to get used to the speed of the shots and kind of get my body used to moving around in the crease again. It’s a unique position, it takes a while to kind of get used to putting your body through moving in that way. So it's hard, it was hard at first, I guess frustrating. Because I wanted to shake that rust off quickly you know? But I’d say that only motivated me to work even harder to get back into it."

 After taking a year off,  Brooke came back with a great season as we know. Cetacean Nation wondered if there was an  epiphany where she began to feel it all coming together. When she felt she was that Brooke Wolejko again?  

"Oh, man! There definitely was a moment, I can’t pinpoint exactly when. I feel it was right about halfway through the season, maybe a little bit before that. It definitely took some time. But I definitely did have that epiphany, where I’m like: Ok, I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. I’m gaining confidence in myself and I’m letting those little frustrations go. And that just really was an awesome moment to have, where I finally was believing in myself. Like OK, I can do this! I can play at this level! So part of it was battling that self doubt."

We thought that it was impressive that Brooke did not let the obstacles she identified overwhelm her, but was able to show the mental toughness needed to use them as part of what drove her to succeed. She commented

 "I owe that a lot to my teammates, the fans and coaches as well, for keeping me going and  giving me that support. Actually I remember talking to Laura at the end of the season, and she was saying she knew, she could tell, that in the beginning of the season I wasn’t ready. Obviously deep down I knew that I wasn’t completely ready to be playing in games again because it took some time to get back into things. But to hear her say she was aware of that and she didn’t want to throw me into a game where I’m not completely developed yet, it meant a lot. To hear her looking out for me and knowing that I just needed more time to develop. She’s great. I’d also say that my goalie partners Sonjia and Cassie played a huge role just being supportive of me. They are both so talented, so they helped me right off the bat to push myself and keep competing. We were also having fun! We had a lot of fun just goofing off in practice. We knew when to be serious, but it was fun to just keep things light and be weird together! "

Photo by Michelle Jay

Brooke had a terrific season obviously, and was very popular with the fans. She was voted one of the Fans Three Stars of the Season.Brooke was also very popular with her teammates, and received great shoutouts on social media from them. Every player we talked to post season has also commented on how much she meant to the team. We discussed this with Brooke, and she reacted

"Oh wow, that really means a lot to hear that I made an impact. I’ve always been someone to put others before myself and it’s incredibly important to be supportive of people. I had so much fun this season, I can’t even put into words. My teammates, they’re amazing. They helped me, they believed in me, which helped me believe in myself. They kept me going. When we weren’t having a good start to our season, no one really hung their heads low, we just kept using it as fuel to work even harder and keep building and keep improving on that. I think that shows that it was a special group to be a part of, everyone gave it their all and just never gave up. And that really, I think we all played a major role in that. The passion certainly was there, you could tell by watching us play." 
Cetacean Nation thought a special moment this season is when Laura Brennan had all three of our goalies in uniforo for Opening Day, and Brooke agreed.  "Definitely, I think it was one of best groups of goalie partners a I’ve ever had. We firmly lifted each other up throughout the season, whether it’s needing a little pep talk between periods, or right before the game to get pumped up, motivated, and just to have fun. Just to remind each other to have fun, is something that as goalies partners I feel we did a great job doing for each other."

In her first interview, Brooke had told us that bonding on road trips with her teammates, was one of her fondest memories of college hockey. So Cetacean Nation asked what that was like with the Whale.

"Road Trips are so fun! It gives us the opportunity to really bond as a team, get to know one another. Especially spending like six plus hours on a bus to Buffalo, we have a lot of quality time together, which makes it even more special.we stay entertained. I feel like meals were planned a little  better, but there were times when we would need to load up on a pregame meal. We weren’t going to have somethin before the game, so we’d ear pre-game meals four horsemen before, because we’d go to the rink two before the game.So  there were moments definitely,  where we were like: We need to fill ourselves now or save a bunch of snacks! at certain time to survive:). Orlando (#14 Elena Orlando) makes the best banana bread! Chocolate chip banana bread, oh her chocolate chip banana bread is to die for! It’s so good. She’ll bring some to practice to hand out afterwards, it’s awesome. She’s quite the baker!"

You may have noticed that in addition to ice hockey, Cetacean Nation is quite fond of ball hockey. We write about the exploits of our Pod  in the off season on the ball hockey courts, whenever we get the chance. In fact, we talked about it in our recent interview with #24 Sarah Hughson, who told us how ball hockey (and Sarah) had a big role in bringing Brooke to the Whale after a tournament last summer. Brooke gave us some more details

"We had a blast! I remember being nervous, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into playing ball hockey, I’d never played before. So here I am going to a tournament in Ocean City. I knew Sarah (I call her Hughie) from just growing up playing hockey. I played against her at Elmira, the hockey world’s small. So it was nice to have a familiar face to go to this tournament with. I remember Jason Kelly, he was the one who reached out to me about ball hockey and asked if I would be interested. I saw over social media that Hughie played on the USA Ball Hockey team, so I messaged her on Facebook and asked her thoughts about ball hockey, and she liked it. She told me she loves it, and I’d have to try it and told me about this tournament that was coming up in the summer, Ocean City. And they needed a goalie too, so it was perfect. I basically messaged her at the perfect time."

Brooke continued "And so, Kayla Meneghin was on that trip, she started playing too. This is basically how I found myself on the Whale. It’s just crazy how this happened. We took a picture at the end of the tournament, and Laura saw a picture that Hughie had posted and said: Who is this goalie, get me her name! Colleen Murphy was there also, that’s where I met Murph, Hughie and Murph had played for the Whale that past season. I just remember leaving at the end of the tournament, we were going out separate ways, they were all like you should really try out! Murph was like: Go to the Riveters! And Kayla and Hughie were like: Come to the Whale! At that point, I did not expect I’d be where I am today, I was just like, yeah, maybe. I was a year out of college, nit playing competitive hockey, so that didn’t seem like something that was realistic. I was past that point, where I was just like: Oh, it’d be hard to come back. And then I get a message from Bray and Laura, just because of a picture of us playing ball hockey. It’s incredible. I have Hughie to thank for this incredible journey:) "

The Whale have had fourteen different goalies over five seasons, and Brooke will be joining a small number of them that have played more than one season: Laura Brennan, Shenae Lundberg and Nicole Stock. We wrapped up our chat with Brooke discussing.that the mindset of the team seems to now be one of stability. And they they have developed a talented core of players and demonstrated they want to keep that core together. She commented

"I think it’s great that Bray is looking for more stability and trying to bring back core players. And I really hope that most of our team comes back, I had so much fun with them and I think that especially the way we finished, finishing on such a high note, just makes me eager to come back next season and really make a statement. So I really, really hope that my teammates come back. Of course it would be great to welcome new players as well, but I really loved playing with the players I did play with. It helps to know how each other plays, it’s hard to build that team chemistry when we don't  know each other. Also if we can just keep going and build that team chemistry that really showed at the end of the season and turn it over to next season., that would be huge. So yeah, I really hope there’s more stability on that end. I'm looking forward to next season and the pandemic being over, getting back on the ice. I’m just really excited for the future of the Whale"

Cetacean Nation could not agree more! We thank our amazing #1 Brooke Wolejko for her candid and enlightening content. Fins Up Wojo, can't wait to see you in Season Six!

Sarah, Brooke & Kayla in the fateful photo that helped launch a career !