Our #14 Elena Orlando and her Dad Jerry at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, NJ after a Whale win vs the Rivs!

ALL IN THE FAMILY: JERRY ORLANDO


Cetacean Nation, based upon your reactions to our “Other Side of the Glass” interviews and our “Not A Whale But…” stories, we are providing more of the same, but with a twist. This new series of interviews will feature input from the families of our amazing Pod players, discussing their love of the NWHL and the Whale, and giving us some insight into our players from their family’s perspective. As Elizabeth Barret Browning might have said “How do we love our Whale? Let us count the ways! “ And when we tote all of those ways up, we can now include the “All In The Family” series as one of those ways. And  first up in this series is Jerry Orlando, our amazing #14 Elena Orlando’s Dad.

Jerry has been involved in hockey a long time. He started going to NHL games in 1967, when the NHL expanded to the Bay Area with the Oakland Seals. He also ran the local ice rink during the mid 2000's. Although his background was really in the food industry, he became GM of the rink to “save it for my kids and all other kids” .Jerry has been a scout for various organizations, ran youth hockey programs and was an evaluator for selecting girls to go to the USA Hockey Pacific District camps. We asked Jerry if when Elena and her brother Dominic started out in roller hockey, he thought it would continue into ice hockey? He replied

“One of Dominic's first coaches in roller hockey was a former D-3 player,.Mark Reiger. He lived close to Sacramento, which had an ice rink. The rink was about 1 hour from our home in Winters, CA. He asked Dominic if he wanted to try ice hockey. So he took him to the rink and Dominic really enjoyed it. So Dominic played both ice and roller hockey. Elena started playing roller hockey when she was 5 years old. In 1999 they opened an ice rink 15 minutes from our house in Vacaville, CA. So both kids went to the Vacaville rink, where Elena started to learn how to skate on ice. Both kids soon gave up roller hockey and focused on ice hockey. I always thought it was an easy transition from roller to ice hockey and Elena could switch at any time. I found out very quickly it was not that easy of a transition as the skating was different. So one of her early coaches, Ernie Hicke, who played in the   NHL during the 1970's, broke her of her roller hockey style of skating and rewired her brain to ice hockey style of skating.”

All of Cetacean Nation knows that Elena was a multi sport athlete, and a dual athlete at Quinnipiac. But we wondered if hockey was always Elena’s best or favorite sport? Jerry responded

“Elena was a super soccer player and played comp soccer. She really liked both soccer and hockey. But at 10, she missed a few hockey games because she had to go to soccer tournaments. At that point she really wanted to focus on hockey. I always told my kids they had to play all sports, but at 10 they could focus on only one if they wanted. So she reminded me of what I said and stopped playing comp soccer. But she would play local AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) in our small town until she was 14. Hockey was her main sport and she never missed a game or tournament after 10 years old.”

This is Elena at 10 years old on a comp soccer team, Davis Extreme, in Davis, CA.

We asked Jerry if there was an epiphany in the family at some point, when you realized that Elena’s talents were elite?

“I knew Elena was a special athlete when she began playing soccer at 4-5 years old. She scored 20 goals in 8 games and didn't even play all the time or played goalie. She could dribble, pass and shoot with both feet, which no other kid could do. She was very dominant. I thought to myself, "what do I have here?" and visions of D-1 soccer scholarship danced in my head. Little did I know that it was another sport she would get that scholarship in: hockey” Jerry added “I knew Elena was special as she was always the only girl on boys teams. She could compete against boys, as she was very tough/physical and didn't back down. Two incidents brought me to think Elena had the toughness to play hockey. The first one was in roller hockey. She was playing in front of the net and the defenseman did something to her. The puck went into the corner and Elena followed the puck. When she came back to the front of the net, she crossed checked the boy to the surface and stood over him. I thought, WOW, she is mean and tough. The second time was when she was playing pee wee tier hockey. She was in front of the net and when play stopped the defenseman punched her. She punched him back. They exchanged 4-5 punches before the refs stepped in. She did not back down and would have continued to fight if the refs didn't step in."

Jerry continued “As far as elite status, when Elena was a pee wee on the tier 1 team, we went to tournaments in various out of state cities. In a tournament in Colorado Springs, she was seen by a scout for a showcase in Vancouver, BC. Elena was invited to the showcase, so we went. After the showcase Elena received letters from Shattuck-St. Mary's and Culver Academy. The director of the showcase was Cami Granato. Cami invited Elena to her summer camp in Chicago. Cami had fellow Olympians at the camp, one of which was Julie Chu. The Olympians and other local men players had a scrimmage with each other and Elena, along with a couple other campers, was invited to play in the scrimmage with them. It really hit me then that she was special.”

‪This is Elena at 10 years old on a boys squirt AA team, California Gold Rush. She was the only girl on the team.‬

Cetacean Nation is always amazed at how young a lot of the girls are who go away to prep school for four years. We asked what it was about Elena that made you confident she had chosen the right path at such a young age?

“As I said above, Elena received the letters from those two schools. So we went out and visited them. Elena really liked Shattuck as it was structured with school uniforms like she had in parochial school. But not so structured as Culver was, being a military academy. So we gave Elena the option. Stay at home or go to Shattuck and most likely be a D-1 player, get a scholarship and go to a great school. At first she was hesitant. She asked if she didn't like it could she come home. I said she could come home but she had to stay until Christmas break. After 30 days she said she loved it and was staying!! My wife was not thrilled with having her baby leave home early, but knew it would be for the best. Elena had a great coach in Gordie Stafford. He really cares about his players. He made sure they succeeded both on and off the ice. They had study halls to make sure the girls did all their homework. I knew since Elena went to parochial school that she would not have any problem with grades. She had high grades all 4 years, got a D-1 scholarship to Quinnipiac and was selected for the ECAC all academic team for 4 years while at QU."

In her last interview, Elena told us about the family trips to watch her compete each year, which is just so cool. And they were never close: Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, even Europe. How did that evolve we asked?

“Since Elena was on tier teams when she was a squirt/peewee/bantam and at Shattuck, she went to a lot of out of state tournaments. So when she traveled, I went with her. I love to travel, so I absolutely wanted to go. I have been to 37 out of the 50 states (none in the south) and all the lower provinces of Canada mostly because of following Elena to hockey tournaments. I remember when Elena was a bantam playing for Calselects U14 and going to the Polar Bear tournament in CT. I remember being in New Haven and driving by Quinnipiac never imagining her living and going to school there. After Elena's senior year at QU, the women's hockey team went to Europe to played the Swiss National team. So naturally we went along, going to Italy (Milan, Lake Como, Venice, Rome) and Switzerland (Zurich). When Elena played in Sweden, we also went, visiting various cities such as Stockholm and going past the Arctic Circle to the famous Ice Hotel. Lastly we were able to go to the Netherlands as a former teammate of Elena's when she was a pee wee moved back with his family to their native Dutch town of Tilberg. So we were able to go to many countries and towns (Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris, Amsterdam) during that visit. We have enjoyed our stays and visits to the various NWHL cities Elena has played in. We will be going to Toronto this next year (even though we have already been there twice). If it wasn't for hockey, I doubt I would have visited so many places at home and abroad.”

Dad, Mom & Dom on a.road trip to watch Elena play hockey!

Elena has had such an amazing career, but do you have a favorite memory or moment so far?

 “I have many favorite memories. So I can't really focus on one. I would just list a few. Scoring her first goal on the AAA pee wee team, seeing her play at Shattuck and winning the national championship, watching her play rugby at Stanford with family in the stands,her play against the Swiss national team and in Sweden, where her coach, Lars Johannson, gave her validation to her game. Elena signing her first NWHL contract. Going to Elena's first NWHL game in Brooklyn and finally being chosen for the All Star Game this last season was so special. We wish we could have gone. The only thing left for her hockey career is scoring her first goal in the NWHL and winning the Isobel cup!” Cetacean Nation thinks this is the season these last two boxes will be checked off!

Elena is a hero both on and off the ice, there is no other way to say it. She is such a nice, pleasant, and articulate person, and as just illustrated, such a fierce competitor on the ice. We asked Jerry if Elena has always had that ability to separate her athletics from her off ice endeavors, or has that been something she’s developed? Jerry revealed

“Elena has always been a caring person, she takes after her Mom in that department. Always thinking of the other person and not herself. She has empathy for her fellow human beings and cares how they are doing. I wish others were more like her as we would be a better country if they were. Elena also has been a very focused person, she takes after me there. She has a goal or task and she is laser focused in completing the task or achieving her goal. She has had few failures in her life. As Elena has said, hockey has given her some of her greatest joys and lowest sorrows in her life. Becky Carlson, her rugby coach (at Quinnipiac), also helped make her the person and the player she is today.”

“This is Elena at 12 years old on a boys pee wee AAA team, California Northstars. Funny she was an assistant captain then even though she was still the only girl on the team!“

We also asked Jerry about what the NWHL means to him, and he told us

 “The NWHL means opportunity for me. If not for Dani Rylan, Elena would not have had a place to play. Dani saw something in Elena that others did not. Elena's not the flashiest player on the ice, but she is very disciplined, tough and strong willed to do her job. As Herb Brooks said "DO YOUR JOB". I was involved in a start up business and I know what Dani has gone through. You have to make tough decisions. Some of these decisions not everyone will agree with , but you have to make them to survive. The NWHL is growing and will continue to grow as more investors will come on board. I believe in what Dani is doing."

We followed up and asked Jerry: What do the Connecticut Whale mean to you?

“They’ve had their struggles and adversities to face the past couple of years. But, I believe the signing of Bray as GM and Colton as coach has turned the corner for the team. Colton showed how good of a coach he is. He put in a system and held his players accountable. With the coaching staff in place from the start of the season I believe the team will be very strong and competitive. Bray has done a great job in getting players for this upcoming season. So I expect the Whale to be much more competitive this coming season. Great things will be happening soon.”

Of that, all of Cetacean Nation has no doubt! Fins Up to Jerry for sharing his amazing perspective, on a key aspect of both the story and culture of the Whale: his daughter, our amazing #14 Elena Orlando!

Elena hasn’t lost her touch with the soccer ball as this pre-game warmer photo illustrates. Note: both feet off the floor!