Some of Melissa’s journey to the Pod. Photos courtesy of Shattuck-Saint Mary’s Athletics (top left) Quinnipiac Women’s Hockey (bottom left) USA Hockey (right)

MELISSA SAMOSKEVICH: HOMEWARD BOUND


“Whale fans…get excited! The addition of Melissa is a major move for our organization. She brings elite talent and a lot of experience to our lineup, and she’s a relentless player and dedicated leader. This is a big day for the Connecticut Whale and our fans. We’re proud to have Melissa on board.” Bray Ketchum Peele, GM Connecticut Whale

Our Whale have always been precious to the fans of Cetacean Nation. Our GM Bray went prospecting this offseason for elements to keep it so. And she didn’t have to mine the gold in Alaska, Nevada or Colorado, she found it just up the road, right here In Sandy Hook, CT. And the nugget she brought to us is the amazing Melissa Samoskevich, a top scorer at Quinnipiac University, with experience in internatonal play, featuring a gold medal with Team USA in the IIHF World Championships 2019 in Finland. Being the second overall pick by the Pod in the 2018 Draft, Whale fans have been excited about Melissa ever since. And you can see in the quote above, how Bray feels about Melissa signing with the Pod as well. And for her part Melissa told us

 “It is definitely exciting! It was kind of a hard decision with the two leagues going on, and ultimately, I think I made the right choice, and I’m very excited with my choice. The team culture was a big part of why I chose to sign with the Whale, because it seems like the culture of the team in the program at Quinnipiac. And the way that Colten, Bray and all the players talked about their culture reminded me of Quinnipiac. How is it an important part of the team and the recruiting process, and I could really relate to that. And It’s right in my backyard, it works out so nicely."

So to start things off, once again, Cetacean Nation inquired  how and where Melissa is dealing.with the pandemic. She explained

"I feel like it was kind of a wake-up call. An awful situation obviously, with so many deaths and illness that we have. But I feel like it could be a good pause for some people. I know it was for me at least. With all the chaos going on, it’s good to sit back and  say “Holy cow! Look at all this stuff I had...and now I don’t. I’m watching re-runs of the NHL on TV. It’s  minuscule to what the bigger picture is to all this, but it is part of it. I've been at home in a Sandy Hook, CT. My brother and sister ended up coming home too. My brother (Mackie) was in Chicago playing in the USHL anthen my sister (Maddie) was at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s. So they ended up coming home, which is nice, to have good family time with everybody. And, we’ve been busy. We’ve been busy working out. We created a gym down in our basement, and have an outdoor rink that we can use for pucks and other skill work. And, we also have chickens! So we’ve been working on the coop and stuff" We had to ask if the"re getting their agility drills in by chasing the chickens, like in the Rocky/Creed films. Melissa responded  “That’s so funny, because my Dad actually said that yesterday. We were chasing the chickens back into the coop, and he was like: We’ve got to take a video! Maybe one day, I’m sure we’ll chase them some more. We have a big plot of land, not farm like land but just pretty big, where we have space to put a coop. We used to have about six chickens and we made kind of a makeshift coop off the side of my Dad’s shed. But this time we went all out, because we had the time, and it’s a fun activity, it’s good family bonding. Right now we have about four roosters, because the farmer we got them from up in Sheffield, he didn’t know what was what (with the baby chicks). So he said it’s probably a 50-50 chance, so if we got roosters we could bring them back and trade them out for hens. So, now we have about four roosters, so we have to get rid of some. But they all do their little rooster call in the morning. It’s not very loud yet, but it is loud enough. They know exactly what time it is, it’s funny :)

 Continuing to talk about her training, Melissa added

"My offseason hasn’t changed that much because of the resources we have at home. My room is also in the basement, and we have a cable machine in the basement as well, but we never used it. That’s why I took that space for myself, I’m getting old enough to where I want my own space, and it’s nice in the basement. So we had kind of a base for the gym, and we just kind of added to it as the pandemic grew. So we have a really good set-up. I have barbells, so it's just the heavier weights I don’t have. In retrospect, that’s not really a necessity, because a lot of my training is focused on power and explosiveness. So as long as I get a decent amount of weight on there and just go fast with it, that works. But usually I would be training at Quinnipiac, as an alumni, training there with all the other athletes. But due to the circumstances, that’s not happening. Our strength coach at QU, Brijesh Patel is awesome, both as a strength coach as a life coach. I think the more time you spend during the summer at Quinnipiac, whether you are a student or alumni, you always just get better, no matter what."

So how did little Melissa get started in hockey we wondered? She revealed

"I guess from my Dad. My Dad played at Chelten High growing up and that’s all he played really. But I think his love of the game started us playing. My Mom never played but she now has watched enough hockey to where she thinks she could give good advice" She laughed and continued "We always just shake our head at her and just say: Yes, Mom. Whatever you say:)  I started out in Brewster Ice Arena in New York, and I think I was just doing learn to skate stuff and like Mite hockey. And then one of our team managers came up to my parents in the lobby and said: Would you guys be interested in travel hockey? And my parents had no idea at that time. And he said it’s just a couple of games on the weekend in New York, just around here. And then it became this big travel hockey fiasco, and here we are:) When you’re the age of 8 and you’re hopping on a plane to go to Chicago for a tournament, I can’t even imagine. My parents must have been saying: What are we doing? she laughed.

We asked what Melissa remembered most about those experiences, and she reflected

"I think just from what I remember from this moment, my first plane ride was to Chicago for a Nike / Bauer Tournament. It was one of my first times being on a plane for hockey and it was the coolest thing. But honestly, like a lot of thise kids take it for granted, and I’m sure I was one of them in that moment. You don’t know what you have, every kid playing hockey is doing this, it’s the normal for your life at that time. I feel now that we’re older and have reflected on everything, and you realize: Wow! I am so lucky to have parents who were willing to even consider that for me. I think for kids who played hockey as seriously as we did growing up, you stay out of trouble. Which is really nice, when you think about all the different paths kids could take nowadays. That’s what my Mom always says, we stayed out of trouble .They were strict parents too. When I would ask for a sleepover or something, it was always kind of like, not a definite yes, which for some other kids it could be. We were very disciplined growing up and now that I’m on my own, I’m grateful for that. Just because I feel discipline helps my drive and my everyday tasks as a athlete."

Melissa also spoke about her early career with the Mid--Fairfield Stars, and told us

"I played for the Blues, that’s the boys side. Now there is the Connecticut Yankees or Mid-Fairfield Yankees or something like that. So we were the Mid-Fairfield Blues and I went to that side of the border to play when I was going into Squirts. I don’t even know what age that is now, I’m going to say around 10. Mid-Fairfield Stars was in my youth, and was where I grew most as a player. I played D back then too, so that was interesting. My coach Marvin Minkler, he’s at Brewster now, he was so influential for me as a player, and as a person, honestly. He had us very disciplined, he was very strict with us, he was a yeller:) But I give him major props for where I am now as a player."

Cetacean Nation asked Melissa at what age she began to recognize her talent, and realized she might be playing hockey for a long time. She considered that and replied

"That's tough, maybe around Squirts or Pee Wees. I was always raised to be humble to know that there is someone better than you no matter what, there are ways to get better. So I feel like I can’t pinpoint the time where I’m like: I’m better than everybody"she laughed. "I played for boys teams until I went to Shattuck-Saint Mary’s. I think when we had to go through those New England, Team Connecticut type tryouts with the other girls in my state and region, I think that’s when I realized that I was a good hockey player. And that was probably around age 10 too, because that’s when I remember Mid-Fairfield was recruiting me heavily, from Westchester Express, where I was playing. And that’s kind of like when I was: Oh wow, this boys team wants me too.”

So how did it occur that Shattuck was the next stop for Melissa? She explained

"I kept my options open, I visited a lot of New England prep schools. They’re all beautiful! And then I went out to visit Shattuck in my 8th grade year. and I remember my friends at school who don’t know hockey thought I was crazy. Because I was going that far visit a potential school that I’d be going to Honestly, I went in the dead of winter, and when I was on my visit, and I got  up at 5:00 AM to go to my tryout. And I just loved the atmosphere and just the experience of my tryout, it was so cool. You think of Shattuck, and that like Sidney Crosby went here, and Brianna Decker, all these people! And then you go live it for a day! I thought it was the coolest thing.Also just the number of games.  I didn’t have to,play three sports like at a New England prep school. I got to play hockey and my spring sport, which was golf. It fit me more, I felt I would get better there, with the players and coaches there. I am happy with my choice, I love Shattuck! My brother and sister went there together, although my brother didn’t graduate, but my parents love it too. It’s a big family kind of thing for us, so it’s nice. I don’t know, I still call Shattuck my home. I could go back there, and I’m such a homebody, but I'm thinking about going back and trying to teach there some point down the road. I don’t know, like I said I’m a homebody, I love my family, I love Connecticut. Wherever my family is, I am. So we’ll see but it would be cool to go back."

Melissa's hockey career really started to take off during her years at Shattuck, culminating her career as senior captain of the Sabres, when she scored 56 goals and 38 assists in 50 games.And she also became a multiple gold medal winner with USA Hockey, representing the US on various levels in international competitions. So we wondered what memory from her Shattuck years might be her favorite. And she told us 

Whenever I think back to Shattuck, I can’t pinpoint one experience. I never won a National Championship there, which is kind of rare for Shattuck. Because my sophomore year I played on the U19 team, and my class played on the U16 team. So all my class members won a National Championship. So I’m sure a lot of boy and girl hockey players at Shattuck would be like: 2014 when I won the National Championship" Melissa laughed and said "I don’t have that, but it really doesn’t matter to me. Everyone makes fun of me because Inwent there and didn’t win a National Championship but it was such an incredible place. Just the atmoshere at Shattuck and the people you meet. I have lifelong friends from there, I’m forever grateful for that. We had a five year reunion that got cancelled because of Covid, talking about Shattuck just brings me back"

Melissa on the ice with Shattuck. Photo by ‪Jerome Turbeyville‬

We also asked Melissa to tell us a little more about her experiences with Team USA.

"I think it’s so interesting that different countries and different teams have different characteristics and qualities about them, I remember when we went to World’s in Finland, Japan was so fast and energetic. Obviously you have the three big guns: Canada, Finland and the US and then all the rest. They still bring a good game but I think the drop off is so big in skills from those theee countries to the rest. There’s always good players on each team, can’t take that away, but just as a team overall I think the drop off is bigger. So when you play different countries like Japan, or Czech Republic, you just find different characteristics., which make them hard to play against. It might not be the same as other teams, and that was really cool to see that. as I grew up, U18 and then the Senior Team."

And when it was time to leave Shattuck for college, Cetacean Nation wondered how d Quinnipiac become Melissa's choice, and she stated  "Honestly, I remember during the recruiting process, someone told me: You’re going to,know when you get on campus, this is where you want to go. And Inhaf that feeling when I stepped on campus. I was in the main quad and I was facing the clock tower and I remember thinking, I’m going to go here! It was a hard decision just because I liked the other schools that I ended with, but I’m so happy with it. The friends I made in my class, nd obviously the other classes at Quinnipiac are going to be life long friends. Obviously my experience with them and how much I grew as a player And the facilities were so cool with the basketball and hockey together with our gym there. Have you seen the outlook behind the rink? On a clear day, it’s beautiful, you can see New Haven and little bit of the ocean. Every home game, my friends and I would take a walk up to the University Club, top level, and we would go out there for a quick five seconds before the game."

Melissa added "It was so cool there, not just the facilities, but I knew I was going to progress as a player, and a person. Because of the coaching staff and the team culture. Team culture, now that I’ve gone to Quinnipiac, I really have a passion for. Because I know how important that culture is now. Females are more emotional, and we deal with things differently than boys. And I think it’s important to realize that as fans, and as female athletes. And as a female coach, I think the culture you create for a team is so impactful for the way people grow, for the way people get better. We didn’t have any drama, which is kind of rare for a women’s team. You hear about other teams that deal with a bunch of different stuff, and Quinnipiac we didn’t have any of that, there wasn’t a place for it just because of how strong our culture was, both between coaches and players."

By the conclusion of her career at Quinnipiac, Melissa ranked third on their all-time list in goals (54) fifth in assists, and fourth in points. Melissa spoke about her stellar career with the Bobcats, and explained

"My freshman year we won the league and went to the tournament, but as a freshman you don’t realize how hard it is to do that. As a freashman class we were: Oh, sweet, we’re winning every game. College hockey is not easy, but… :) That had to be one of my favorite moments for winning. But I think in general, the rest of my three years, I was realizing that it is so much harder to do. Our leaders my freshman year we’re kind of a big part of that win, Cyd Roesler, Nicole Kosta, Nicole Connery, they are all unbelievable leaders. I think my three years after winning that league championship, were more important to me, because in those experiences you got to see how special that moment our freshman year was. And how we kind of just grew from the different leaders we had. And  I think my class as seniors, we were also great leaders. And I think that’s really the biggest takeaway I have from Quinnipiac."


Cetacean Nation loved the focus on growing and leadership in those comments by Melissa. And we followed that up with asking her about this little factoid: She scored a goal in her very first game at Quinnipiac. 

"I did", she said. "I remember we played in an exhibition game and I scored then, I might have scored during the real first game, I don’t remember. But I remember coming off the ice and thinking, that was an exhibition game, that might not count" she laughed. "At the end of the day it doesn’t matter, but I remember that." Melissa also scored a goal in her first regular season career game on Oct. 2, a 3-3 tie with Mercyhurst. She began her Bobcat career with a seven-game point streak, the second longest by a rookie in program history and the second longest to open a season in program history. We mentioned that Whale had a couple of players who had a history of scoring in inaugural games, including our #94 Grace Klienbach.  “Statistics like that are fun, I love those" Melissa replied "Honestly, whoever it is, I just hope we win the game at that point. But I’ll be trying" :)

Off the ice at Quinnipiac, Melissa majored in History with a minor in Psychology. She told us

"I was in the Masters a Program at Quinnipiac for Education, and I still have a fifth year to finish. Quinnipiac is letting me take off with my dreams in hockey and train and play, until no more. Then I can go back and finish if I wish to. So I was in Master’s classes too, which kind of sucks, because my BA doesn’t stand for that and that was a big chunk of my classes, the education aspect. I think I want to be a teacher someday, maybe a coach too. Throughout my internships, I was just primary education, K -5 and I really enjoyed it,  I was in the primary school part of the program, but my plan was to cross endorse, as it’s called, so I would  be eligible to teach K-12 when I graduate. It’s kind of all up in the air right now, but that was my plan. Maybe I’ll teach all subjects, maybe I’ll teach history, who knows? I wasn’t a Student Teacher, from the terms and, because you “student teach” your fifth year. But I was in the classroom helping out and doing that every week, which was a good experience, I really enjoyed it." 

She added "I feel like really enjoyed my history classes. My junior and senior year I kind of indulged myself in the history part. I went into college undecided on a major, just because I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to pick something and just go on with it. So eventually I picked History, because for the education program it had to be Biology, (and there was no shot I was taking a science.:) or Math, (and I’m not very great at Math, to be a major) so it just kind of came down to English ot History for me. So I picked History. Because I really learned from my professors to love and look at history in a different way than you are taught in your high school years, you know? I just really enjoyed history. One my Professors, Phil Guduti, had Tuesday night lectures for 2.5 hours and nobody wanted that class. He was also a high school teacher, and whenever he had a class at that time, I would take it. And all of his classes were unbelevable. No matter what they were, even the Civil War, and I don’t really like the Civil War era, but he made it interesting, which I think is cool. A lot of the classes that I liked kind of result from who the professor was and how they taught it. Which is a good thing to learn and to know with me being a teacher down the road."

We asked Melissa if a particular time period interested her in terms of her studies, and she replied

"l found myself really enjoying WWII and 20th Century history. I loved learning about WW II and Pearl Harbor, because I feel like we relate to that. Maybe because there have been so many movies, and it wasn’t too long ago in respect to other parts of history. I feel I was able to relate more to those types of people in that time period, and I found  myself really kind of gearing all of my topics in non-history classes towards WWII and that era, if that makes sense. It's just a common thread I’ve found. American History was interesting to me because of where we are, and it was so cool to learn from my classmates. People think in so many different ways, and I love learning from people and dealing with different perspectives. Especially in college, you get some people who think completely out of the box. I felt like that was probably one of the coolest things because a history discussion in a class can get pretty heated and off the tracks, and I think that was awesome too."

Even though she is known primarily as a point producing forward, Melissa has had some experience on the blue line as well. She recounted

"My sophomore year at Shattuck, we didn’t have a very good team compared to Shattuck history, and I was a D then. I really didn’t play a lot of actual D, I was like a fourth forward.  Coach Stafford, probably because I rushed the puck up way too much:) just moved me up to forward to kind of get the mojo going. I’m not sure whether he was doing it for the team, for my own good, but it worked out. And then I was kind of just like a rover. And it was really good that I was able to play both because it makes you more valuable on a team, even a national team. In college I played one game on D my freshman year in college. I literally went into Coach Cass Turner’s office the morning of the game and she gave me a crash course on Quinnipiac’s defense:) It was so overwhelming, but it worked out it was fine. I remember that I ended up playing forward again towards the end of the game,  because it was a close game, but we ended up winning it."
 
Melissa added 
“I was a volunteer assistant at QU this past year. It was awesome, just to get the feel for what coaching on the other side was like, rather than from a player’s perspective. That title ends after the season ends, but I was planning on doing it again this upcoming season, just for the resources and to keep learning. But we’ll see about that just because of all the circumstances in our world right now. And as a volunteer assistant coach at Quinnipiac I got to practice with the team when needed this past year. And a lot of the time I would be on defense or wherever they needed me so I played a lot of D this year. So I enjoy it, it’s different. I just find that when I am on the ice no matter what I’m doing I’m happy with it. In a PWHPA game I also had to play D. I was listed as a D for some reason that weekend. It was frustrating at first because those games come few and far between so you’ve been getting ready to play and then you get there and find out you are on defense and it’s like: Oh, OK. I enjoyed it it was definitely a different pace than practicing at Quinnipiac was, but I did  well, I enjoyed it, it was a lot of fun. Wherever I’m playing on the ice I’m happy with it."

With all of her experience with the National Team, plus some time in Sweden in the SDHL and with the PWHPA last year, Cetacean Nation was interested as to when playing hockey after Quinnipiac become a part of the equation for Melissa. She informed us "Throughout high school, my interaction with older hockey players wasn’t all that extensive. So being in contact with Cyd Roessler and all those girls at Quinnipiac, and seeing her going to the Whale, and what other girls were doing after college, I knew I wanted to play after college. Because being on the Olympic Team has been one of my goals, since I don’t know when, forever. So having them to look up to was really impactful and helpful that I had them for that."

And so as is our wont, we inquired about Melissa's nickname and possible number with the Pod. We asked if the nickname "Samo"  was still in place and she replied

"Yes it is, I guess so. It’s all of my siblings nickname now, but I think I’m the OG Samo! If me and my sister are walking down the hallway at Shattuck when I come back to visit and someone screams: Samo! I’m the one to look first, but they’re talking to her. But I’m like: Nooo:) But that’s what everybody’s been calling me in the hockey world. My nickname started when I went to Shattuck, so like all the boys and all the coaches that I know back home from when I was younger, they don’t call me Samo. So when they see me they’ll say : Oh, what’s up Samo? And kind of make fun of me about it, and I’m like Ok, calm down:) Because back then everyone called me Melissa, three syllables,  but in hockey everybody has a nickname. If you eat a French Fry the wrong way, they’ll call you French Fry .The smallest thing, I think it’s funny! So my teammates call me Samo or Melly, they’re funny, everybody thinks up nicknames! "

And as to her number with the Whale Melissa revealed " I think I’m going to be #11. I started wearing #11 when I was at Mid-Fairfield when I went over at age ten. I wore it one year at Shattuck, but I wanted to switch it up, I don’t know why, so I wore #4. And then I wore it while at Quinnipiac too. I got assigned #39 for the National Team and I kept that when I went to Sweden for a month. I wore #39 because I liked to think, a new phase in my life. Now that I’m playing back in Connecticut, I just felt like if #11 was available, why not carry it on, and keep going with it? I feel like #11 is like home to me, when I think about numbers. I don’t know, athletes get all weird with numbers:)" 

As you noticed in the beginning of the article, Melissa is from Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Everyone there was effected by the horrible school shooting that occurred there,, nearly eight years ago now. Melissa had talked about it in the past, and Cetatacean Nation asked if she could talk about it now. She shared this with us: 

"I am able to talk about it. It’s been so long now that I think about it, but honestly it feels like it’s just been last year at the same time. It was awful, and terrible. But at the same time it brought our community together in tremendous ways. That may sound insensitive, but he’s just looking at the positive coming out of it. It’s tragic but it did make our community grow. It’s so hard to explain to someone, the unspoken camaraderie that we have. I am so proud to be from here still, even though something terrible has happened. It’s crazy. I am sure you’ve heard of Peter Manfredonia (double homicide suspect being held on $7 million bail in CT) There have been some cruel people online saying things like: “Newtown people are nut jobs.” And things of that sort and I think that is completely AWOL it is a hard topic to talk about but I feel like there are people like this everywhere in the world. Just because they’re from Newtown doesn’t mean that everyone from Newtown is homicidal, we are all supporting each other and at the end of the day we have a great community And that’s how it should be thought of. It’s the same exact thing as when people stereotype people of color. Right now, in today’s world having an open mind is the most crucial thing."

As we concluded our chat with Melissa, she added two more thoughts on coming to the Whale remarking "It will be fun play against all of my old friends there, and I think that’s a testament to how much the league has grown. And my family is a big extended family that has learned to love hockey and they would tailgate and come to all my Quinnipiac games, and they are excited to come to my Whale games now. Hopefully, they can fill some seats in there!" Fins Up to that, and a Fins Up to the enlightening content that our #11 Samo Samoskevich shared with the fans here.