As an elite professional hockey player, our amazing #14 Elena Orlando is part of the less than 1% of the 1% that reach the pinnacle of their sport. But Elena is also part of a very exclusive club within the NWHL as well, dubbed the “Original Eight”. These are the amazing athletes who have competed in and promoted the NWHL from Season One through Five. They have been here since jump street. Elena is joined in this remarkable octet by her teammates Shannon Doyle and Jordan Brickner as well. Elena has now played in 90 NWHL games over her career, and is among the league all-time leaders in that category. It was one of Elena’s best seasons, as she served as Assistant Captain, had a career high in points and was selected as an All-Star. And she continued to show every game why she is considered, not just a defender, but a shut-down defender. Since jump street.
We had the opportunity to chat with Elena last week, and before we got into any pure hockey talk, we talked a little about banana bread. We told Elena that the subject of her chocolate chip banana bread, particularly, how good it was, had popped up several times during our interviews with her teammates recently, so we asked her about that. Elena laughed and said
“Yeah, it really seems to be a hit among everybody. I try to bake it like once a week or so, something nice for the team and everything. Everyone seems to like it, and I like baking so everyone gets a little bit of something out of it! That makes me feel good, because I’m like a people pleaser, so when I bake stuff I put a lot of emotion into it. And it matters that it’s good, because I want people to eat it and actually enjoy it, and not just eat it because I brought it, you know, that kind of situation,” No worries there! Elena’s goalie Brooke Wolejko gave a typical review of Elena’s culinary prowress saying that “Elena makes the best banana bread! Chocolate chip banana bread. Oh, her chocolate chip banana bread is to die for! It’s so good.” That’s more foodie stuff than we usually hear about, and there’s a little more later. But we thought it was time to ask where Elena was and how she was dealing with the pandemic, especially in terms of her training or workout routines.
“I’m still in Connecticut, in Norwalk, still working just and figuring out what I can do with my free time also. As far as training, just taking advantage of what’s available. The gym that I had a membership with before this whole thing happened, they’ve been doing like online training. Instagram Live; Facebook Live, .videos of different training routines and stuff like that.it had like kickboxing classes, strength classes and conditioning stuff. So I’ve just been taking advantage of those opportunities, because unfortunately I don’t have weights here, I have a pair of two pound dumbbells, which obviously is not what I’m used to working with. So I’m just kind of using household items like laundry detergent, filling up backpacks and using those for squats and everything.
Elena continued "It’s just kind of been making do with what we have. It’s been kind of nice, so I’ve been getting outside more. I’ve been going for runs and kind of trying to do some conditioning stuff in my driveway essentially. Just being outside, trying to take advantage of the nice weather. But pretty much that’s what we’re working with! So pretty much the parks are all closed. The local high school and the middle school that’s nearby, like it’s walking distance for me, and they have football fields that would be really easy to go and do training on. But everything is locked down now, you can’t get on the fields. I mean, tennis courts are closed, everything’s been shut down so just using the road and like I said, my driveway.and stuff like that, and that’s pretty much what we have :) “
Cetacean Nation thought that sounded like training in the original Rocky movie, and Elena responded "Yeah, exactly! I’m going to have to go run up steps and things. I don’t have any meat carcasses to punch though:) Mine’s less dead animals, more just backpacks and laundry detergent, things like that.". We thought that made sense, since we thought Elena was more of a sushi person than a filet mignon person. She corrected us on that though, saying "I do love sushi, I do love sushi. I can’t complain about a good steak, but I like my meat to come to me cut up, I don’t want to have to cut it up and everything like that.:) Plus those meat lockers can get pretty chilly, even for a hockey player. :)
Cetacean Nation also spoke with Elena about the way that there seemed to be a self- realization in the league, and the NWHL really established itself in Season Five. She agreed, saying
“Definitely. I think this year was a great year across the league. Sponsorship was up, we had more games, and player interaction was up, I think everything was. We had a 50/50 revenue split, and that kind of stuff just shows how successful the league has been and this year was no different, but I think it was even more successful than it had been in the past. Look at the Twitch views, over 8 million, you’ve got to look at the amount of different sponsors we had, either they were team specific sponsors or league wide sponsors. And I think all of that really made a huge difference in the vision of the league and the perception of it, and the experience of the players as well.”
Following up on Elena’s point about more player interaction, we talked to her about her interview with the Gamer Doc on Twitch’s “Open Ice” show. We had interviewed Dr Migliore here at Cetacean Nation as well, and she told us really enjoyed doing Elena’s interview. We asked Elena about that, anf if she was a gamer herself. She replied
“Not really, not out of a lack of interest, but just kind of out of a lack of time I guess. But growing up my brother played almost all the video games. We had all different gaming consoles and stuff and I loved watching him play. And sometimes he would let me play on his, a two person game or something like that. I enjoy video games when I get time. If I do it once and awhile it’s always nice. But I don’t have a gaming system or any computer games I play right now. It was kind of funny, because we were talking about it, how this would have been a perfect time to have a gaming system, take advantage of the free time we have, and get into some games we’ve kind of been interested in. But unfortunately no, I don’t really game that much.”
Elena continued "I think the show was awesome, I think it was a great way to interact with fans in a real time type of interview session. And you know she asks great questions, she’s a great interviewer. You got to know a person, but then you got to know a person in a way you didn’t really expect. She would ask offhand questions and make comments and you’d get answers that you didn’t really expect to learn about players. I thought it was a really awesome way to kind of market the player, market the league, and say kind of: This is what it’s all about. Look, these players are real people too and they have interests that maybe you’d be surprised by, and things maybe you share a common interest in. “
Elena also offered some great input and perspective on the NWHL’s broadcast partner Twitch, and the game feeds featuring Twitch Chat.
“Seriously, I would re-watch games, or watch other team’s games, and I just thought the chat aspect of Twitch was sooo awesome, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen! You watch a NHL game or a NFL game on TV, you don’t get to interact with the commentator, you don’t get to ask real time questions. And so now when you have Twitch Chat and you have the announcers, it’s a skill that is so impressive, to be able to commentate the game, and answer these questions at the same time. That’s beyond impressive. But I thought it was just really cool because it really kind of helped bring in and intertwine the game with the fans. Same thing we were talking about with marketing, these fans get to interact with the announcers in real time, and you’ll have interviews between periods and everything. I just thought that was really cool, how fans can ask questions like: Oh, who’s out there right now? Who is number 4, or something like that. And the announcer could be like: That’s so and so. You’re not sitting there like: I don’t know what’s happening, I’ve never seen this before! You get to ask questions and learn, or get your questions answered as the game goes along. I think that’s really unique and I think that’s really awesome! You can interact with people across the country, across the world, and be watching this game together with people you haven’t even met before. It’s not like you even have to text each other, you can just communicate on this chat. You’ve got fans interacting with each other, and interacting with the commentators!”
We also discussed the Whale’s indications of wanting to return as much of the theIr talented core as possible. And as part of that, the desire for stability in the organization Elena and the other five year veterans, Jordan and Shannon, had expressed to Bray pre-season. Elena explained
"I definitely agree with that. In the past seasons there has been a lot of turnover, whether it be coaching staff, GM, players even. It’s important to build from year to year and not be essentially starting over every year. You want to bring back as much of the core as you can, and maybe add a few pieces here and there. But just going from season to season, you just really want to kind of have that chemistry be able to overlap each year, just rollover to the following season. And when you have a lot of players either going to different teams or just not coming back, it’s kind of hard, because like I said, then you’re essentially starting from scratch every year. And you know it’s going to happen. You’re going to have those moments where maybe you have more new players than you do returners. And you’ve got to grow and you’ve got to learn and there is always an adapting period no matter what, every year, because you’re going to have those new people.”
Elena emphasized “But I think the more returners you have, and a returning coaching staff, and a returning GM and everything like that, it really helps to build the chemistry. Because you don’t have to learn from a brand new coach the next year. You don’t go from one playing style to a brand new playing style the next year. If you can have that consistency, it really helps with starting off a new season. To really be able to be like: Hey, we already know this stuff and the majority of the team already knows this stuff. We’re just going to put the newer players under our wing and we’re going to do this as a unit. As a core, we have an idea of what we’re doing already versus starting from scratch every year where you’re like: I don’t know what to expect, do you know what to expect? No! So I think that’s been kind o a hard thing for the Whale, because, you know, new rink, new GM, new coach, new players, stuff like that. I think that’s really been, I don’t want to say frustrating, but it’s been a challenge. But I love Bray’s idea, I love the vision that she has to bring back the core group and add pieces where we need them. I think that really does help going in to a new season, where you have people that already are familiar, either playing on a line with them or just on the ice with them where you kind of just know what the other person’s going to do, and having that chemistry. And letting that chemistry rollover like I sai. It really helps to get the season started on the right foot, rather than just in a stagnant position where everyone’s still learning."