Elena heading up ice in Season Five against the Beauts. Photo by Phil Zolla

ELENA ORLANDO: HERE SINCE JUMP STREET


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’s he 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. But 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,”🐳

Elena in action in the All-Star Game. Photos courtesy of BDZ Sports


Elena
continued with this example of what she was saying. “I think this past year kind of showed that too. The team that we had last year, everyone kind of counted us out in the beginning, but as the year went on we grew, our chemistry developed, we got more confident. We knew what each other was going to do and our confidence just grew from that. We went into that Buffalo game, and people were like: Oh, they’re going to lose for sure. And I think we surprised a lot of people with how well we were playing at the end of the season. We didn’t make these huge adjustments by adding thirty new players, we just made a few tweaks here and there. We had the confidence and we had the culture, the right culture to develop. So I think that was really important and I think that we surprised a lot of people at the end of the year. And that’s what I’m going back to saying: the rollover to the next year. You just bring that, what we developed at the end of the year, and put it into a new season, We’ve got a longer time to develop, over the summer players get to train, and then you add a few players here and there and you have a team that’s starting off on a good foot.”

We followed up with Elena about the end of the season, and asked how the team felt going into Buffalo for the playoffs. She gave us this open assessment.

“The confidence of the team was at a really high point for the season. We were going into that game not wondering what was going to happen. We were going into that game like we’re going to win this game, there is no other option. We’re going to win this game, we know what we have to do, we know how we need to play, and we are going to win this game. It wasn’t coming in cocky, like : Oh, we’re definitely going to bear them, it was just coming in confident with how we have developed over the season. We had the right tools and we had the right game plan to be successful. Don’t get me wrong, Buffalo had a great team last year, and we’d never go in there and say they are not good. But we just came in with a sense of confidence and calm. We were calm about it, and knew what we needed to do. Even when we got down 1-0 at the beginning of the game, there was no panic on the bench. Everyone was: We’re going to go back out there and take care of business. So I think that’s a huge testament to the coaching staff and the players. From the beginning of the tear when we were a completely different team I would say, to the end of the year where we kind of had that confidence going in.” 

Cetacean Nation also wondered if Elena thought there were some things the fans might not realize about playing in the NWHL. She thought that the players in general were pretty much open about things, but she did shed some additional light on the curiosity that is ProSkate Rink in Monmouth Junction, NJ. Specifically, the board height at the bench. In terms of the “jump rule” itself,m that makes it an issue there, Elena said

 “I have such a different perspective from being here so long, so that rule doesn’t even phase me anymore, because I have been playing like since year one. So I’m just like it’s just part of the game. I think that for people just coming into their first year, they’re so fresh in, and they’re like this is a huge difference! They kind of have a fresher vision you could say, as to what’s really surprising about it, But New Jersey? They have the highest boards, and they’re super skinny! SoI remember I would have to get a running, skating, sprinting start towards the bench to make changes, because I would have to use my momentum to just fling myself over half the time.I’m not as small as Maddie (#2 Maddie Evangelous)I and I think we were joking we had to get her a little booster chair or something to stand on, I don’t even know how she did it. Those boards are like up to your chest and I’m like I don’t know how I’m supposed to jump over this, you can’t use the door. You’re just really hoping there’s a whistle, that’s kind of the secret. When you’re coming off and you have to jump those high boards, you’re just really hoping there’s a whistle right before you get to them, then you get to use the door! Your just praying, maybe if I dump this on net they’ll cover it and I’ll be able to get off and actually use the door :) “ Laughing, Elena concluded “That’s my answer, the boards at the New Jersey rink are abnormally high, and you need a sprinting start to get over them! “

Cetacean Nation then dialed it back a bit and reminded Elena that she had been part of the first interview we did here. it was a three player story, with Elena, Emily Fluke, and Sophia Agostinelli, and we talked about possible expansion, pre-Whitecaps. All three actually picked MInnesota and Pittsburgh as likely landing spots for the league, so 1-0 so far. Since expansion seems imminent once again, we asked Elena if Pittsburgh was still at the top of her list and if there were there other likely spots?

“Pittsburgh would be awesome, going back to a couple of years when we played neutral site games there. How great that fanbase was, we sold out both times there, how great the atmosphere was. And they have a great facility. So I think that’s definitely a great option. Not exactly out of left field, but Nsshville too. I know that for the All-Star game we had there it was crazy, essentially. So many people showed up to watch it and down there they have a very passionate hockey fan base, so I think Nashville would a really cool place. And I’ve never been to a Nashville, so I’m a little biased on that, I’ve always wanted to go. So if they got a team and I had an excuse to go down there, I think just personally that would be really cool :) But elsewhere, I feel that somewhere up in Canada too, just because hockey is Canada. Everyone plays hockey there, there are so many talented athletes up there, I think that would be a really great option to kind of expand across North America as a whole, not just the US. So I think Canada would be a really interesting choice, you know how passionate Canadians are about hockey. So I think kind of giving them that local fanbase to build off and everything, would be really cool. I’ve been up to Canada a few times, and I’ve always liked going up there. I think that in a main city like Montreal or Toronto, they have really passionate fans. Look at their NHL teams, they sell out all the time, it’s impossible to get tickets to go to those games. So I think that Canada would be a really great option, because they love hockey up there so much that it would be really successful to have a team there:” 

In the epigraph for this interview, we noted that among Elena’s many awesome awesome moments and accomplishments this season, she was an NWHL All-Star, and so we asked her what that experience was like. 

“It was awesome, just to be straight up, it was awesome! It was so much fun. I was grateful to be a part of this. It was my first All-Star Game, and it was overall a really great experience. Being able to go up with my teammates and experience it, a lot of us were first timers, so being able to experience it together for the first time was really cool. Also just being able to meet other people on teams. You know who they are because you play against them, but you don’t get to interact as much with them off ice, person to person. So I thought it was really cool to be able to actually meet people that I play against and learn about them, kind of get to experience what they are like off the ice. It was just really cool overall, the festivities and everything like that was just exciting and the fans were awesome. So I thought it was just an overall really cool experience.” Laughing again she added “Bummed we didn’t win!”  

The Whale were a defense centric team this season, but the defenders often enough got involved in the attack and scoring, Elena included. And twenty-two different skaters picked up points for the Pod, a team record. We discussed this with Elena and she said

"I think it’s a testament to the team as a whole, the coaching staff and everything, to build a team that is so well rounded, you’re not relying on one or two people to do the job every time. You’ve got people that everyone can contribute to it, so that’s a huge testament to Bray building a great team, and then everyone stepping up and contributing. It’s easy to get assists when people are scoring goals :). I think that’s great, because in past seasons we haven’t had that before. So I think that’s really awesome, to see how much the program, the organization as a whole, has grown over this year. “

 Cetacean Nation also noted that other than blocked shots, there are few defensive statistics. Things like poke checks, sweep checks, and pass deflections are not on the stat sheet, and sometimes overlooked. Elena responded

“I definitely agree, and i'm more of a defensive defenseman, so what I do on the ice isn’t going to show up on the score sheet. But as long as the team is successful I don’t really pay much attention to the score sheet, personal stats and everything like that. I just want the team to be successful and I know that if play my game the way I should, if I play a sound defensive game, I’m going to leave it to everyone else to play their part and do what they do best, and score and put points up So I’ll contribute, I’d love to contribute when I can. It’s something I strive to do better each year, to contribute more offensively. But I focus mostly on doing my job to the best of my ability. Like you said, it’s not going to show up on the stat sheet, but I think it’s also an important part of the game: be sound defensively.”


As we wrapped up our conversation with Elena, we mentioned that we had noticed several of her family at a December game this season, and thought that was pretty cool to have that much support from such a long distance. Elena agteed and explained:

“They plan an annual trip to come see me, last year, this past season obviously, they came out here (to Danbury) the year before they were in Minnesota. They’re great supporters and I’m so lucky to have them, to have them supporting me obviously throughout my whole hockey career. But it’s always nice to just see them off the ice, because I don’t get to see them that often. My parents are in California, my grandmother is in California and my brother is in Chicago. We don’t get to see each other that often so I always look forward to these annual visits where we can actually hang out in person and everything.”

Very cool indeed! We thank our amazing #14 Elena Orlando for her insightful, straightforward and entertaining content. The next best thing to watching our savvy defender play hockey, is to hear her thoughts on the sport. And here they are! Fins Up to that, and anxiously anticipating an announcement about Elena lacing 'em up again in Season Six! 

Elena competing in the hardest shot competition in the 2020 All Star weekend in Boston. Photo courtesy BDZ Sports