The Amazing Fans OF The Amazing Connecticut Whale!

NOT A WHALE, BUT...VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLASS Volume 1

Being a fan of the Connecticut Whale and the NWHL is a special experience. It is certainly not unusual for fans to love the sport(s) they follow. But few fan bases are more passionate than the fans of the NWHL. And yet even within that ardent assemblage, the fans that comprise Cetacean Nation, the fans of the Connecticut Whale, are simply over the moon about the Pod. The players are unwavering in their appreciation of this, as you have probably experienced in person, or read in their own words. So we thought it a good time to get some insight into what exactly the NWHL and the Connecticut Whale mean to their fans. That includes as you will see, some who have a special connection with the Whale. So, we asked them. We received some heartfelt responses, some of which we shared with you in previous Whale’s Tales. So let's take a look.

Here are some thoughts from Ashley @NYR_2014, who stated:

“I’ve been following the NWHL since day one. When I was deciding what team to root for, I told myself anyone but Boston (I followed the Blades in the CWHL). Right before the season started I decided on the Connecticut Whale. Mostly because I thought their logo was cute! Fast forward four years later: Women’s Hockey basically consumes my entire life, well, my spare time anyway. The Connecticut Whale and the NWHL hold a very special place in my heart. I have a large scrapbook to prove it. I’m so unbelievably grateful to have met my favorite players over the last four seasons. Before the NWHL I didn’t know who they were. Specifically from the Pod: Chelsea Laden, Anya Battaglino, Sam Faber, and Shannon Doyle. Getting to meet each of them was nothing short of amazing and I will forever love and appreciate them. Season 5 can’t come soon enough. I was already a fan of Bray Ketchum, the 2018 Isobel Cup Champion, but I’m an even bigger fan of Bray Ketchum the General Manager. I can’t wait to see the rosterBray puts together for 2019-20, if history tells us anything, it’s Connecticut’s year. Let’s bring Isobel home where she belongs! Go Whale!”

And Jennifer @nhljennifer, offered us these comments to share:

“The NWHL has done more for me than I could have ever imagined. When I went to my first game, New York Riveters vs. Buffalo Beauts at Aviator Sports and Events Center on Valentine’s Day back in 2016, I immediately felt like there was a place for me in this community. Every single player I’ve met has been extremely appreciative to their fans and to the league itself for giving them the opportunity to play. I’ve developed unique relationships with more players than I can count, and it means everything to me. To see the same faces every week and have them recognize me and thank me for all that I do (when I feel like I should be thanking them, honestly) is such a surreal experience. Before I knew it, the Metropolitan Riveters became my home. With every hug from Miye D’oench, every compliment from Kim Sass, every selfie from Harrison Browne and every quick laugh with Alexa Gruschow, I felt more and more like I had a place somewhere. The NWHL started to mean even more to me when I began travelling to Connecticut for Whale games. The team does seem like a group of underdogs; they’re the only team out of the “founding four” and the current five teams not to win a championship and they don’t always have the best of luck with winning. However, the closer you get to the team, the more you see how much heart they have." 

Jennifer continued "My friendship with Sophia Agostinelli is something I’ll treasure forever; she makes every single person she interacts with feel special and gives her all to everything she does. And since this is a website for Whale fans, I know I don’t have to tell you all how amazing Anya Battaglino is. I quite literally consider her and Madison Packer my “hockey parents”, and it’s nice to have them as two familiar faces whether I’m in Newark or Stamford. As the years have gone on, there has been a myriad of obstacles for these players and many more, from pay cuts, to failing partnerships, and, now, to 200+ players vowing not to play in any North American league this year. What has amazed me about the NWHL since its conception is how positive every single player has managed to stay. Although they have different ways of going about it, I firmly believe that every single one of these players is doing what they believe is right and best for the state of women’s hockey in North America right now. This league has become a place where I feel at home, and it’s not the buildings that made me feel like that; it’s the players. So, in a time where many women’s hockey fans feel conflicted or like they have to pick a side, I hope that my mushy ramble about how much this sport means to me helps you realize that you don’t have to do either of those things. Everyone has the same common goal when it comes to this; to preserve and further the amazing impact that this sport has had on its fans (like me, hi!). I’m hoping my story can help the community focus on that, because when all is said and done, growing the game is what this is all about.”

And here’s what @sabrinsesch told Cetacean Nation about what the Whale mean to her and her daughter, with a special shout-out that we loved

“People. To me the NWHL and The Connecticut Whale are all about people. The NWHL and the Connecticut Whale were founded at the perfect time. My daughter (honorary captain in the photo beelow) had just started playing hockey and the Connecticut Whale appeared right under our nose! We were able to attend the first Whale game and from that moment forward our love for Women’s Hockey and the Connecticut Whale have only grown. We have been fortunate to not only watch the Whale play at several venues, but also have had the honor of getting to know many of the players on the Whale and several other goalies from the league (my daughter is a goalie). Every player, no matter what team or venue or outcome of the game, has been nothing but friendly and professional in every sense of the word. They respect their fans and take a keen interest in the young women who come to see them.”

Sabrina added ”The players are never in a rush to leave and always seem to be aware of the incredible opportunity and responsibility that they have being Professional Women’s Hockey Players and part of the NWHL. The majority of the Whale players and staff know my daughter by name and without fail make her feel to be part of the family every time we see them play. There is one person in the NWHL who has made a particularly impact on and will always be special to my daughter and that is Laura Brennan. Laura exemplifies the best the NWHL has to offer. She is not only a fine goalie and coach but also an excellent role model for female hockey players everywhere. She finds the good in every situation and in every person whether they be a player, coach, fan or student. She is one of the most genuine people I have had the pleasure to meet and is an asset to the league. I wish the NWHL and The Connecticut Whale years of continued success”

We wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments, especially the sincere admiration for our #33 Laura Brennan. Fins Up to Sabrina for sharing her thoughts, and Fins Up to our amazing Laura as well. We will continue to share these expressions of support and love from our fans on the other side of the glass periodically in future Whale Tale’s.

When you have attended a Connecticut Whale home game over the last few years, you may have crossed paths with two cheerful and dedicated siblings, Danny and Tiffany Melillo. Working off the ice at our hip one games, their pleasant demeanor, enthusiasm and positivity make them the perfect ambassadors for our game. Cetacean Nation thought you might like to get to know them a little better, and they have graciously agreed to share some of the story of their love for hockey and the NWHL.

Tiffany told us, “ We grew up in Morris Park, The Bronx. When I was a kid, my parents put me in ballet but I quit that as soon as I was able to join the Morris Park Roller Hockey League when I was 6. I remember walking by the park and saw kids playing and knew I wanted to join in. When we were older, we started playing ice hockey with the Mt. Vernon Hockey Club.” Danny added “My old man is a big Ranger fan, so we were always watching them on TV. The earliest living memory I can vividly recall is watching Wayne Gretzky’s last game. He took my sister and I to our first Rangers game when I was 4 years old, and have been hooked ever since. It's always been the singular thing I cared most about, but beyond that it developed into a family thing”

Danny continued “Growing up we lived four blocks away from a roller hockey rink, so whenever there was free time, my sister Tiffany and I would be out there just messing around. We played in the Morris Park Roller Hockey League for years, I started when I was 4”  Tiffany added “I played ice hockey with the boys until I was 14. Then I joined different girls teams in Westchester, NY, then I played for the Quarry Cats U19 team in Montclair, NJ. I went to Fordham University, which unfortunately did not have a women’s team. While in college, I joined the North Jersey Phoenix. At the time, the Phoenix was a member of the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference,(http://www.westchesterhockey.org, so it was pretty cool to play against other colleges even though my college did not have a women’s team.”

Tiffany told us “Dan and I coach Learn-to-Play with the Westchester Hockey Organization (WHO), which is part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone program. The other coaches are some of our teammates and coaches from the Mt Vernon Hockey Club (where we first got involved with ice hockey) so it’s pretty fulfilling to come full circle” Danny recalled “I started playing ice hockey at 8 years old, and played travel hockey for several organizations across Westchester/NYC. I played my high schoopuck with Fordham Prep. I still play beer league with a team called the Pelham Bay Shamrocks. I'm on the ice 4-5 days a week, as I coach with a youth program, the New York City Cyclones. I love every second of it”

As to other sports, Tiffany said “In high school, I was the captain of the varsity volleyball team.” Dan related his sports background as well, saying “I played baseball as a kid and am a big Yankees. As a Bronx guy, that's mandatory. I watch a lot of soccer as well, namely Manchester City. That would be my secondary sport at this point, in terms of how frequently I watch. But still, it’s well beneath hockey for me”.

We also asked both Tiffany and Dan how they first get involved with the NWHL and the Whale. Dan explained “The only thing I ever wanted to do was work in hockey. I majored in Sports Management, and after graduation, actively sought out any opportunities involving Hockey Operations. I saw a listing for a related internship with the NWHL and went from there. My sister had actually played for Mark DeSimone, who was an assistant coach with the Riveters. I reached out to him to explain what I wanted to do career-wise, and how interested I was in working with the league. He spoke with the league and got me an interview. Initially I had preferred to work with the league itself or the Riveters, as they were a closer local option, but at the time the Whale needed more staff-help. That's how I wound up in Connecticut. No regrets” Tiffany revealed “I was very excited when the league was first announced. I got chills at the first NWHL game I went to because a professional women’s league was something that I only could dream about as a kid. I never thought that it would be reality. When Dan got a job with the CT Whale, I volunteered to do the scoreboard”

Tiffany continued, explaining “For home games I get to the rink early and help set up the merch table and during the game I do the scoreboard and scoresheet”. Dan added “My responsibilities have fluctuated a bit over my time with the team. This is my third season being involved. This season my focus was almost exclusively on running the home games. Though a big part of the job is taking care of the necessary prep work, game days are still quite hectic. Starts with getting the merchandise tables and box office set up, distributing time sheets, getting the pre-game introductions/honorary captain in order, arranging the intermission activities, and breaking everything down at the games' conclusion. I usually arrive 2 1/2 hours before puck drop, and leave around an hour after the game.”  Dan added “The accessibility of the players, there's not a professional league of any sort out there where fans have as much access to the players as they do with us. My favorite part of any game is seeing the little girls in the stands and realizing how much they look up to and idolize the women playing. That's what it's all about. Building off that, whenever we have honorary captains and youth intermission teams, seeing the way everyone interacts with them from the players to the coaching staff, really making it special and a lifetime memory for them, is one of my favorite things about the league.”

And lastly, we asked them a few fun questions:

Tell us something that people might be surprised to learn about you? Tiffany: I had a picture of Henrik Lundqvist on my 13th birthday cake. Dan : I have a role in Scorsese's "The Irishman"

Favorite Dunkin’ beverage?  Tiffany: Hot black tea with milk and sugar - I get it almost every day! Dan: Caramel Cappuccino, iced or hot.

Favorite Chipwich, original or peanut butter? Both: Original! 🐳

Fins up to Dan and Tiffany, and we look forward to watching them enhance the Whale Experience for years to come!

And here are some thoughts from this amazing voice in the crowd, a very unique perspective, by one of growing base of fans we also call Cetacean Nation, Brieanna Scolara, @_bscolaro. . Brie is a former netminder for the Blue Hens at the University of Delaware, who has continued her education (MSW, Columbia) and founded her own company (Scolara & Associates, LLC) in NYC, and still finds some time to guard the crease. Here is what Brie had to share about the NWHL and the Connecticut Whale:

"I first learned about the #NWHL in late 2018. I stumbled across a link to apply as a Free Agent for the '19-'20 season and I almost couldn't believe my eyes that there was finally a professional women's ice hockey league, and that I actually had the opportunity to try to be a part of it. I didn't quite know what I was doing, but I gave it my best shot and participated in a series of camps and trainings across Summer 2019. Even though I didn't make it this year, I felt like I had accomplished my lifelong dream of advancing the sport that I've loved my entire life.” “The last time I was able to live this dream was when I played with University of Delaware Women's Ice Hockey team from 2008 - 2012. From the time I started, the team transformed from barely being known, to participating in our first National Tournament and advancing as a top team in our league. Like it is for many players, hockey was my life during college, on and off the ice. Unfortunately, after I graduated, I didn't know how to exist outside of my love for hockey. There was no place for female players like us to go. I decided to continue on graduate school and was forced to give up my sport altogether. Instead I focused on building my career in Manhattan.”

Brie continued: “Fast forward to 2019. After summer tryouts ended and the '19-'20 season was gearing up for launch, I began to follow the Connecticut Whale. I met a few of the players during summer tryouts, and was able to connect with some of the coaching staff and thought it was awesome how many of their players engaged on social media with their fans. I was also drawn to the beautiful green jerseys and thought the Whale itself was one of the coolest team logos I had ever seen. My first NWHL game was a Whale home game versus the Beauts early this season - I watched intently from the stands and was not afraid to shamelessly cheer them on. It felt like my dream was once again alive - only this time, it was through being an active fan and advocate for the NWHL. I'm not sure where the future will take me - but one thing I know for sure is that I will not stop advocating for the future of girl's and women's hockey. What the Whale and the NWHL represent is monumental for the development of the sport of hockey and the next generation of players.” Cetacean Nation thanks Brieanna for sharing some of her inspiring story, as well as her love of the NWHL & the Pod. Fins up to that!

And how do we remember our Game Days as fans or athletes (or both)? Well to a great degree it is through the lens of the artists who capture those events for us. In the NWHL, we have several gifted, and hard working individuals who record the history being made in this league. We caught up with one of them,  Schuyler Meyer of Schuyler Meyer Photography, and asked him about his craft and the Connecticut Whale. Here is what Schuyler had to say.

We were curious how Schuyler first got started with photography. He explained: "I've always "kind of" been interested in photography. A story I always like to tell is that in 5th grade, I participated in the school science fair. My project was about this body of water near my house (we'll call it the puddle pond). On the day of, I was presenting my project to the judges and I was going through my PowerPoint ("Here is a photo of the puddle pond in winter, ...in spring, ...in summer, here are photos of animals that live around the puddle pond, here are some plants from the area..."), and about half way through the presentation, I realized that I had forgotten to do any actual research, and my entire project was just a PowerPoint presentation with some photos I took."


Continuing he said "I became much more serious about photography my freshman year of college when I was elected historian of the baseball club. And then I became even more interested and serious about it when I started working for the school as a student photographer my junior year. I see these two points as like level one and level two of myself being a "photographer". Prior to that, I was just taking pictures with my Kodak point and shoot (like anyone would with a cell phone nowadays)"

So when did hockey come into the picture?"

 "For as long as I remember, I've loved hockey. My dad played at Franklin Pierce University (prior to their NCAA debut) and I think he got me into it. I played for a couple of years when I was younger, but for various reasons, I stopped. Hockey wasn't really that popular in my area, so it was kind of always on the back burner. Once I started at Clarkson University, my interest in hockey skyrocketed. The highest level of play I had seen in person before Clarkson, was my dad's high school alumni game, and then seeing top tier D1 hockey was mind-blowing and I was transfixed from that first game. (It may have helped a little that the first game I went to, the Clarkson Women shutout Syracuse 9-0 with a hat trick from Geneviève Bannon.) Plus, the hockey community and culture in Potsdam is amazing as well. Additionally, I played intramurals and a little bit of club hockey throughout my entire time at Clarkson."

And how did you get interested in the NWHL, specifically the Whale?

 "I first learned about the NWHL when one of the Clarkson players was drafted (~2017ish) and I've been a big fan ever since. Despite being a big fan of the league, I still can't decide on a favorite team, however, I've been rooting for the Whale a lot this season. After graduating from Clarkson last spring, I was looking for more hockey to replace all the Clarkson hockey that I'd be missing out on now that I was no longer there. And then it was announced that the Whale would be moving to Danbury (which is really close to my home), so I bought season tickets and have gone to as many games as I could this season."

Do you have a “game plan” for your game action shots?

" For the most part, yes. Each game I try to come up with a specific shot or type of shot that I want to try and capture (ex. panning, wide angle, bench or crowd reactions, etc. or something much more specific). I will also decide beforehand (or during the first period) where I want to shoot from - in the corners, behind the net, the highest place I can go (ex. top of the bleachers), home / away side, etc."

And how many photos do you take on a Whale Game Day?

"It can range anywhere from like 300 to 1500 photos, with the average between 600-800 per game. If I'm using both my camera bodies, then that number (and average) will go up, but I usually just shoot with my one camera."

Most fans snap photos with cell phones. Are there any pro tips on how they can take a better photo with their phone?

"One of the most essential things I've learned is that a photo is not just the subject, but also the background and the lighting and a whole lot of other factors that are equally as important. While fans with cell phones may not have as much control over certain things like lighting, they can change their framing and angles. A different framing of the same photo can change the entire emotion of that photo. So, try reaching down and angle the camera / phone up or reach up and angle the camera / phone down - try different things. If possible, walk around - close to the ice, far away from the ice, left, right. Basically, in summary, sometimes the best photo may be taken from your seat, with your phone at chest level, and sometimes you may have to move around (within reason) to get the best photo. I'm also a big fan of symmetry, so if it's possible to situate yourself in the middle of the stands or behind the net, a cool photo may come out of that."

Cetacean Nation thanks Schuyler for his great content here, and for continuing to help tell the story of the Connecticut Whale and the NWHL. From his lens, to our memories, Fins Up to that!

Our next contributor, Brooke Brennan has a very unique point of view on all things Pod. She is the wife of our amazing #33 Laura Brennan. And here is what Brooke had to tell us about her Whale experience.

"I became interested in the Whale after going to my first game during the inaugural year. Laura (my wife) played for Lisa Giovanelli (Giovi) during her time at Quinnipiac, and invited us to a game since she was now coaching the Whale. I had been to a few NHL games previously which I had enjoyed watching but seeing the women play completely changed how I felt about watching hockey. The speed and the skill level really blew me away. I couldn’t get enough, and dragged Laura to all of the Whale home games after that, during that season."

"I remember sitting upstairs in the restaurant at Chelsea Piers with Giovi and Laura after one of the Whale’s last home games and Laura jokingly saying to her, “if you need a third goalie to sit on the bench and get paid for it next season, I’m your girl!” Sure enough, in June after the season had ended, Giovi called Laura and asked her if she would seriously be interested in trying out for and potentially playing for the Whale. At this point, I had never seen Laura play (goalie) before, besides on an old DVD from her Quinnipiac days. I had seen her give goalie lessons before, but this was totally different. She kept insisting that she was retired, but I really don’t think she had much of a choice in the matter. That’s because there was no way that I wouldn’t have made her go to the tryouts! I was packed and ready to go watch them, before she could even pack her bags for the weekend. Fast-forward to today, she’s been with the Whale ever since; as a goalie during year 2 and 3 and as part of the coaching staff for years 4 and 5."

"The Whale have always been the underdogs, year after year which make them even more of an exciting team to watch and root for. Even with the changing roster, they’ve always been a team that play their hearts out and don’t give up regardless of what is thrown at them. I respect the players’ determination, commitment and willingness to do what it takes to hang with the best of them. Seeing the coaching side of it, I am in awe of the time and dedication that the coaches invest in their team.. In terms of the NWHL as a whole, I think it’s incredible that Dani Rylan was able to create the first women’s league that was able to pay their players. I’ve enjoyed watching it grow each season despite setbacks and outside influences. The league as a whole has proven to be resilient, kind of like the Whale!"

"I think that the league, the individual teams and players are all a great example of women’s empowerment. They are teaching future draft picks how to fight for what you want and what you believe in. It’s great to see little girls and boys at games, looking up to the players and wanting to be like them when they grow up. As a teacher, you can preach all you want to kids about how to be perseverant, to work hard and to work together and problem solve with others, etc. But here, seeing it in person is way more effective. During year 2, one of the little girls in my class was an honorary captain and to see firsthand how excited she was to not only be around the players, but also on the ice with them, was awesome to watch. I’m hoping that each new season brings more exposure for the league, and with that, new fans. Everyone that I’ve brought to games has commented on how impressed they are with the skill level of the teams in the league and how fun the games are to watch."

"Laura jokes around all of the time that I’m more obsessed with hockey than she is. Seeing that she is from Minnesota, you can probably guess how invested I am in her team as well as the league! I go to every home Whale game and try to go to as many away games as possible. If I’m not at the games, I’m watching them on Twitch (and also periodically yelling at the tv!). Ever since that first game that we went to, I’ve tried to learn all about the game as a whole. I remember seeing the goalie leave the ice during a game in year 2 and wondering what was wrong with her (was she injured? Did something happen that I didn’t see?) and being totally confused. I’ve now been watching the game long enough to know that duh-it was a delayed penalty! I also remember wondering why hockey players take such short shifts but quickly realized why after playing 3-on-3 for the first time and feeling like I was going to die 20 seconds in. I’m not quite ready to be on the ice making calls but my hockey knowledge has definitely improved since then."

"Not only have I tried to learn more about hockey, I have also made it a mission to learn how to play. When I met Laura, I knew how to skate (not well) but had never really been too interested on getting on the ice at the Fairfield Ice Academy (where she is the director). One night shortly after I met her, she had invited me to come out and skate with some people and I almost had a panic attack once I was standing there in the middle of the ice with huge men and women whizzing by me. I lasted maybe all of five minutes and then decided I didn’t want to get hurt and that she was insane for even suggesting I come out there. After watching the Whale play, they have inspired me to get out on the ice and try it for myself. A few years ago, the mother of a child in my class asked me to sub for someone on her hockey team during a tournament, after finding out that I had been learning how to play hockey. At that point, I had just started learning and even though the chance of me playing was already very slim, once I mentioned it to Sam Faber. And she was trying to encourage me to go, by telling me that she would also be playing in that same tournament, it was definitely a hard no! That would’ve been very embarrassing! "

Cetacean Nation thanks Brooke Brennan for her unique, insightful , and entertaining content! Along with the rest of Cetacean Nation, she’ll be cheering hard for the Pod starting Friday night, and all through the playoffs. Fins Up to that! 🐳

The following comes from Cara Hickey (hickey.93 on Instagram) a high school hockey player from New Jersey. Here is what she told us.

"I found out about the NWHL during my freshman year of high school, in 2017. I was just starting to play hockey at the time and wasn’t playing in any league. I fell in love with theleague and all the teams. I followed the league a little and really got into it during the 2017-18 season. They were fun to watch and showed me there was somewhere for me to play if I chose to continue with the sport. The second game I went to in person was the playoff match between the Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters in the 2018-19 season where I was job shadowing Matt Falkenbury, the Riveters’ play-by-play commentator."

"That opportunity showed me the careers options on and off the ice that the NWHL creates. I saw the behind the scenes of a game and got to see high level talent. I remember leaving and thinking how I wanted to play just like former Whale forward Katarina Mrazova. I work hard on and off the ice to strive to be like the players I watch in the NWHL. I work hard in school as well in classes such as journalism so in the future I will be able to cover the NWHL and the Connecticut Whale. The Whale and the NWHL represent a future in professional sports to women and girls and the development of professional women’s ice hockey that will hopefully trickle down to the grass roots."

Cara touched on some great points in her brief words, that illustrate the league’s mantra, “It’s why we do what we do.” While the players were full throttle competing that evening in Newark, and Matt was in the thick of it calling the game, it was more than great hockey and entertainment taking place in the rink. By their actions, another Future Draft Pick had been inspired to dream her dreams which include the NWHL. A calming and happy thought in these trying times. Fins Up to that!