If you followed the Whale at all during Season Five, you will recall that they were compromised on defense by injury. Starting out the season a ltlle light on the blue line, injuries to Erin Hall and Jordan Brickner put a lot of strain on our remaining defenders by mid-season. Hanna Beattie moved from forward back to defense.and did a great job, but some more numbers were needed. As the new year started, the help had arrived, and one of them was our #20 Laurel Hill, from Huntsville, Ontario. Laurel arrived with a splash, and her first two games skating for the Whale were victories for the Pod. And in her second game, our 2-1 shoot-out road win vs the Riveters , she had her first NWHL point on our only regulation goal. Cetacean Nation had an opportunity to chat with Laurel recently, and found that her life was a three part symphony, consisting of hockey, miusic and healthcare. So let’s listen to what that sounds like in Laurel's own words.
Before the pandemic, Laurel was living and working in Connecticut, and we asked how and where she is dealing with the situation. She explained
“So, kind of early on I found it was important to stay home from work if it wasn’t essential. So I’ve been trying to make the most of the opportunity and give s little bit more to social media. I am a physical therapist, so one of the things I’m passionate about is educating people on staying active and healthy. So I’ve been doing some daily, short movement base things that you can do. I know a lot of people are stuck in their homes right now, maybe sitting more than they’re used to. So I set a timer and do a few movements to keep you active though the day. So I’ll just try to put some more posts together, keep myself busy, and I enjoy doing it."(Laurel has some really cool and fun videos laurel.hill.dpt) “
Laurel continued “And I’ve been back in Canada where my family is, to spend some time, which has been kind of nice. But, that made me have to be in quarantine for fourteen days! .So I finally got out of that, which is pretty exciting. We have a basement, it’s not that bad, but it’s a little bit chilly down here. It’s nice to be back and on the regular floor where it’s a little bit warmer. It’s also been uncharacteristically cold since I’ve been home. We had a bunch of snow the last few days and it’s been below freezing for awhile. And it’s April! It’s a beautiful spot, I loved growing up here, lots of lakes and outdoor stuff to do. It’s been a good place to grow up for sure."
The DPT that you see attached to Laurel’s name stands for Doctor of Physical Therapy. We asked her if any of her work could be done remotely. She told us
“For me it’s kind of been suspended. I know the clinic I’m working for is still trying to serve patients, and do so more on a virtual basis when possible. So that is happening, but they have had a very large decrease in the number of patients that are seeking care right now. So not everyone is continuing to do that stuff. So I kind of took it upon myself to see what I could do from a social media standpoint. So,posting when I’m at home and providing what I can, but not officially for the company I’m working for.”
That led us to ask about Laurel’s interest in fitness, and she mentioned that it also includes an interest in CrossFit, and she explained how she came to be involved in that.
“It was 2014 when I finished my collegiate career (at Saint Norbert in Wisconsin). And that spring, me and a couple of teammates were wanting to do something and stay active, because we didn’t train for hockey anymore. So one of my teammates had recently tried a CrossFit, so she got me onto trying it, and I’ve kind of been doing it on and off ever since. But that’s definitely kept me in pretty decent shape over the years, and in some ways, I would say I am more fit than I was, even playing everyday in college, so that’s definitely been helpful. And certainly helpful leading in to playing this year, when I hadn’t been playing for a while."
In fact, befire joining the Pod, Laurel had last played hockey in the CWHL, and we asked how that came about. She recounted
"As I was at Saint Norbert, I really grew as a player, having the opportunity to play every single day. And my development from freshman year to my junior and senior year was pretty significant I think, because of that. By my senior year I absolutely loved hockey. I mean I always did, but I felt like I was at the top of my game. And I couldn’t imagine being the best I’ve ever been, and not playing anymore. So it wasn’t really until towards the end of that season, that I started thinking should or could I keep playing next year? And so I decided to see what those options were, and potentially take a year off between undergrad and graduate school, and keep playing keep playing hockey. So that is when I looked into the CWHL, and eventually made it on to the Toronto team, which was very exciting. I really didn’t know what to expect, coming from a DIII school and playing with players who were considered very high caliber, and they certainly are. But that was a pretty awesome opportunity to play, and torealize that I can play with those players and contribute to the team a bit, and just have fun with them. So that was a pretty cool opportunity.”
Laurel continued “So the first season was definitely challenging, as much as it was an amazing opportunity that I enjoyed. It was very different from the college set-up I guess you could say, In college you’re practicing everyday and playing more frequently, to then go to where you are only practicing a couple of hours a week, and you’re not as familiar with your teammates necessarily. And then just the mental side of the game was more difficult for me. I think it really challenged my ability to be confident in myself. It certainly wasn’t that I got into this league and it was the best year ever of my hockey career. It was definitely challenging, but I enjoyed it a lot. And I think since having that experience, I’ve grown a lot as an individual and as a player. To hone my skills without relying on others to keep my confidence high, I think that’s a really important part of the game that can sometimes be overlooked. To be mentally ready for whatever challenges come throughout the season".
“And then my second year I ended up tearing my ACL towards the beginning of te season, I can’t remember how many games I played, so that was kind of a bummer. It was the second season, I was gaining a little more confidence, playing a little more, and I felt like I used to while playing. And then I tore my ACL, so that season ended a little shorter than I wanted or expected. But It helped me make that transition into being a little more academically minded again, getting into a doctorate program and going to school.It probably would have been hard to leave hockey without having to leave hockey, if that makes sense.” Spoken like a true athlete, and it certainly makes sense to us.”
Since Laurel played in the CWHL with Toronto, and is Canadian, Cetacean Nation was curious what she thought of the NWHL expanding with the Toronto franchise. She replied
" It’s pretty exciting news! I think it’s really awesome to see the NWHL growing, and expanding. And Toronto is definitely a hockey city, so it makes sense to expand there and I’m kind of excited to see where that goes. We had the opportunity to play in the MasterCard Centre, which is where the Toronto Maple Leafs practice ice rink is. It was a really beautiful rink that we played in. We had our own locker room, which was pretty nice as well. And we certainly had some good fans out there, a lot of young girls who are playing hockey came out,so it was a lot of fun.”
Laurel just mentioned the little girls playing hockey in Toronto, so we asked how little Laurel got her start in the sport in Huntsville.
“Way back when I was a kid, my Dad and I used to watch the Saturday night hockey, Hockey Night in Canada. I don’t really know how old I was, maybe five or so. I was second oldest in my family, my older sister was into dancing, not really sports oriented necessarily. But for whatever reason, I loved watching hockey with my Dad, and started telling him: Dad, I want to play hockey! He told me that he was going to sign me up for figure skating, but I told him I wanted to play hockey, and he signed me up for hockey! And then also just growing up in a Canada, we always had a little pond near our property somewhere, or a lake. So I started to skate, I don’t even know, as I was walking I guess I was on the ice. I learned how to skate on the pond, and then said: Dad, I gotta start playing hockey” So then he signed me up.I think I was seven when I finally got to play, and Ivs been playing pretty much ever since.”
Laurel continued “Huntsville is about two hours north of Toronto, a small town, so there was not a lot of girls playing. So I grew up playing with guys, and started out kind of more in just house leagues as a kid. I don’t think I”ve ever put on the goalie pads, which is kind of surprising. I’ve always played as a skater, but I’m not sure when I decided that I prefer defense, but I think it was when I was playing house league.I just kind of preferred that position where you can see more of the play and control,what happens, I liked that. I”ve been on defense most of my career I would say. “I didn”t necessarily have ambitions to play on a rep team. And then one year there was kind of a conflict between playing in the hose league and playing cello. I grew up playing cello, and we’d have cello group,on Saturday or something, so my Dad looked into me playing on a rep team.”
Note: As defined by Hockey Canada: Rep (Representative) hockey is the highest calibre of hockey available in any given association. Rep teams typically have 11 to 15 players who represent the more skilled and talented players in their age group. Rep hockey is a fast-paced, highly-competitive level of hockey that offers exceptional players a challenge.
Laurel added “And from there I realized I really enjoyed playing at a higher level, competitive mindset of hockey. I played on the guys rep team for a while until bantam/midget, then I started traveling so I could play on girl’s .teams. It was a hour and fifteen minutes away to the nearest decent girl’s hockey team. “ Laurel laughed So, lots of traveling over the years!” I certainly appreciate the time they (my parents) took to drive me, but especially with my Mom, she did a lot of the driving, it gave a lot of really good quality time for us. We were able to talk, and just enjoy time in the car, it was kind of a blessing as well.”