Cassie Dunne #13 and Grace Klienbach #94 share a moment on the ice for the Pod in Season Three. Photo courtesy of the NWHL

CASSIE DUNNE: A TALE OF TWO CITIES

 “Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. ” — E. B. White, author, Charlotte's Web

Cetacean Nation recently had the opportunity to catch up with our former #13, defender Cassie Dunne. Cassie played her high school hockey in Philadelphia, and her college hockey at Penn State, and joined the Whale in Season Three (see Cassie’s first interview with us). Cassie returned to the NWHL in 2019-2020 after a one season hiatus, but this time, it was as member of the Metropolitan Riveters. Cassie had a great comeback season, playing nineteen games and scoring her first career point with an assist in the Rivs opening game last October. She  also picked up her first NWHL penalty, which was also the Rivs first of the season.  So we asked her how it came to be that she was a Riveter this season, and she explained.

 “So obviously it was my goal to play Season Four, and that didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to. You never know until you know. The league is trying to grow and I support that. I’m not going to be playing the rest of my life, so I’m just happy that there are more girls interested in playing.. And while it sucks, it’s the pill you have to swallow for the growth of the league. And it’s just how it goes sometimes.So I thought, I didn’t play Season Four but I’m still in shape and still love the sport and there’s still so much I want to give and be a part of. And so I went to the Whale skate and the Riveter skate in the summertime and just kept in contact with Bray {Ketchum Peele) and Kate (Whitman Annis) who are the GM’s of both teams. I just shared my interest, and as the summer wore on and the rosters panned out, I had more conversations with the Riveters, went to another Riveters skate, and then signed with them late summer/early fall. So it was definitely a process, but one that I was really committed to, and at the end it worked out to the best of what could happen. And I was just really excited to get back on the ice. And traditionally the Riveters are such a great organization, so joining them, I knew it would be great, so I was happy either way."

In Cassie’s case, the two cities in the title, are Philadelphia and New York. And in terms of the epigraph above, has she has settled in New York, is a native of Philadelphia, and commutes (in normal times) to her job in Connecticut. But these are not normal times, so she referenced all in her answer as to where and how she is dealing with the pandemic. She told us

“I am home in Philadelphia. I grew up right outside the city in a town called Wyndmor, which is right next to Chestnut Hill, which is a name more people know, So I live in Manhattan, but I came home from New York to quarantine at home with my family. And it’s been a really nice change of pace. Living in a small apartment in New York you really didn’t have the opportunity to get outside and stay outside. So times are really tough for a lot of people, but silver lining, I’m getting to spend more time with my family. And spend a lot of time outside, and get to change up my workout routine. And it’s nice to have a little bit of a change of pace. I’m not traveling. I live in Manhattan but my job is in Stamford, CT. so I’m usually traveling every day a total of three hours for my commute. It's doable, and on my better days I’m not so upset about it:) But it does get to me, so it’s really nice to have that change of pace. Now I wake up in the morning, and I work out and then just walk right over to my computer and I’m in my office” she laughed. “So it’s pretty awesome from that standpoint. I cannot complain. When I was working remotely in Connecticut, I had my favorite coffee shop that I would go to. So I kind of miss being able to do that, but it is nice, definitely a silver lining for now, we’ll see what happens a couple of months down the road. I don”t know when they’ll bring us back to work.”

 Cassie mentioned working out each morning, so we asked her about her usual off season training regimens, and she explained

 “I think that when I know that I’m going into a season, I always take time off right after the season is over, from skating. I kind of change up my workout routine a little bit. I like to run long distance, when I’m in shape to run long distance. It takes some time to get the legs there. So I’ll change up what I’m doing, so I don’t kind of burnout from one thing or the other. But then when I get closer to the season, that’s when I start building with lifting, more sprint workouts, shorter distance runs, and I try to get on the ice as much as possible. Most people can tell you, it’s just such a difference from doing a sprint on the ice than it is in doing a regular sprint. It takes some time to get back into that rhythm, so I try to get on the ice as much as I can. The summer before I played for the Whale, I was on the ice two or three times a week in the morning before work. And then it also depends on what resources I have. When I moved to Manhattan, before I played last season on the Riveters, towards the end of the summer I was having conversations about signing. But at that point there was no opportunity to get on the ice. So then it’s just simulating whatever you can. There are always hockey specific or sport specific workouts that will help you, so you’re just kind of simulating that as best you can.” 

Cassie mentioned the diffrence stresses in sprinting on and off ice, and we wondered if that had to do with the hip movements. Cassie offered

 “I am no expert in the body movements of it. But I will tell you that when you are not in hockey shape on the ice to sprint, to do a sprint on the ice feels much more painful, then to do a regular sprint out on the street:) And I’m sure it has something to do with the amount of engagement of your legs compared to the rest of your body, your legs really do burn out at a certain point. But the mechanics of it, I’m not quite sure. But hips sounds right, because it I get to a point where I if haven’t been skating for a long time, and I get back on the ice, the next day, I feel like I can’t lift my legs over the boards.” She laughed “It gets a little tough, once you start getting older. And then we’ve got these recent college graduate rookies coming out their D1 leagues, school trainers, and they’re totally in shape, and then you’ve got your Season Six girls who are still going strong. But they”re definitely, and I can speak for myself, a workout probably hits me different than some of the other girls. Now, I incorporate mor recovery. I never used to be a big stretcher, but now it’s like I’m always stretching or foam rolling. I had an injury going into college, it was a chest injury that is now giving me really bad back pain, in the discs. Ever since then, my body, sometimes when I wake up after a workout, I feel like i’ve been hit by a car:)

Cassie added “I think back when I was young and went from camp to camp, or one ice hockey practice to another ice hockey practice and we never stretched. Coaches maybe mentioned it, but no one really did it with you. And now, that’s just so critical. I think a lot of girls programs now at the junior level are starting to implement off ice training, and not focusing on like getting them out there with barbells and beating them down with weights, but really focusing on movements and balance. And recovery, which I think is super important. Back then it just wasn’t as big of a focus. Coaches and parents were thinking: If you are going to be good at this sport, you have to practice, practice, practice. And it wasn’t so much about the off ice, it was all about the on ice. But I definitely see a much larger focus and push to training your body and protecting your body for your sport, which I think is great!”

While on the topic of training and conditioning, we mentioned the Pod’s involvement with Prentiss Hockey Performance this past season, and Cassie responded

“So the Whale were real lucky with that, those guys at Prentiss are pretty awesome! They train a ton of high level athletes, so to get our girls in the league in there and working with them was a huge win. Both from a readiness standpoint, and also from just the visibility. And they also have Greenwich Sports Medicine, which is connected to them. They have a team of PT Physicians, so it was really great. I had been going there ever since I started playing on the Whale and I was working with Dr. Dustin Debroy, and I would recommend anybody to go see him. He has a great personality, and really cares about getting you on the ice and they are really committed to their athletes. That was a really awesome resource to have.”

 Cassie continued

“And then for the Rivs last year at Pro Skate, above the rinks, they have a fitness center there that does training and physical therapy. We used to train with a guy every night before practice, and the workouts were mandatory. As it is in the league, a lot of girls have jobs, and need to have jobs. And it’s from a standpoint of do as much as you can to get there. But we have pretty much the whole team there before practice, either lifting or doing their recovery workout for the game that weekend. And it just adds such another level to the team camaraderie because people take on such different roles. Whether it’s in the locker room, on the ice, on the bench, or in the workout room, like someone will always find their voice there. And it’s fun to always be together with the girls training. It’s nice that as the league continues to grow, we have more opportunities to train together and work with professionals who know the sport and know what we need. It's such an added bonus.”


 Cetacean Nation has recorded some humorous references to Pro Skate from our Pod. this offseason. And we mentioned one to Cassie, about Elena Orlando who had talked about having to speed up up to get momentum to jump onto the bench after a shift.because the boards were so high.  Cassie laughed and said

"And that’s funny, because Lando, she’s got three or four inches on me! But I felt the exact same way. I would say half of our defensive line was all pretty much the same height, and there were times that if you were absolutely gassed from your shift, you would come to the bench and somebody would have to pull you halfway up and onto the bench. It was very high, you had to have some speed and give it a little bit of a jump, it’s just like one of those funny little nuances of rinks. But yeah, they were very high! I don’t know if it’s safer to have them higher so when guys are checking, they are less likely to be thrown over the boards, I don’t , know, it varies across different rinks and just depends on how the rink is built. Like when you’re standing on the bench the bench is higher up than the ice surface so it’s not bad getting on to the ice, but bad getting off the ice. You never know whether that was an intentional board height or maybe it just worked out that way."And on the rule about having to jump over the boards, Cassie added ”That’s something you have to teach when the girls join the league, first game of the season somebody opens the door and it’s like: Oh, no! Close the door, close the door! And obviously nobody understands why until we tell them:”

Cassie also offered this about her home rink “Obviously from my standpoint, location is very important, and we want to try to build a consistent fan base . So that’s really important. That was one of the great things about Newark, that facility was really nice, just from a transportation standpoint. I got on the train from Manhattan when I was playing on the Whale, and it took me 12 minutes. A lot of the Rivs Nation fan base is located in Brooklyn, and it’s super important, because we love the little girls and their families that come, they are such a big part of what we do, But the people who are buying the tickets are older, and we have to keep working on and building the fan base of older fans. So being in a place where they’re living is key. I feel like, and this might just be my view, I feel like me and none of my friends have cars these days, especially if you’re living in the city. So if these people can take public transit, it’s like come on!” 

Photo by Kate Frese

Cassie referenced Little Future Draft Picks just there. And she offered further comments on how important the player interaction with them is.

 “I think that for most of the girls, if not all of them, that’s one of the most important things about the league. Kind of the connection, and the ease that we have of meeting the fans at that grassroots level. The league is so small right now, that it gives us the ability to have an impact with these girls, which is really important. And Inthink if you ask any girl in the league, they’ll say that after a game they’re so excited to join the autograph line. Because if it wasn’t for those girls, and if we didn’t have the same vision that they have right now, then nobody would be there on a Saturday night. That’s one of the most important pieces to all of it. I’m glad that they’re happy, because we definitely do appreciate their support. It’s at least something that the parents of the girls, and the girls definitely appreciate. Sometimes it can be a hard pill to swallow. But to most of those little girls, it doesn’t matter who really won, it’s the fact that they’re at a professional women’s ice hockey game And then just having that opportunity, for them that’s kind of like really life life changing for them, sing they have that opportunity. Seeing the personality of the players is really important too, and can effect so many things other than just hockey. I think that is one of the things that the league does really well is making the players available to the fans, and Inthink that is really important. “

And speaking of young fans, high school hockey player and budding journalist, Cara Hickey is familiar to the fans of Cetacean Nation from her contribution to “Not A Whale But… on this site. And, familiar to Cassie as well, who said

"I know her! I spoke with her in the middle of the season last year, and then she came out, her and her Mom, to a couple of games. And brought me out a paper her piece was published in.”  You can view Cara’s article.about Cassie "Though She Be But Little, She Is Fierce" here:

https://thearrowheadonline.com/article/‘Though%20she%20be%20but%20little,%20she%20is%20fierce’

Cassie remarked  “I’ll have to send Cara an email and tell her I’m pretty sure I grew an inch this season, so she might have to edit her piece, she laughed. i think I can safely be listed as 5’4” now. A lot of the girls in the league get requests from fans or girls who are either studying journalism in college, or some type of sports media. And most of the girls in the league are always willing to be a part of whatever story it is or content piece they’re working on. Because part of the growth is to build visibility, no matter if they’re sharing it in college or actually publishing it in some piece. So it’s important for us, and important to help those people grow their skills. And if we are what they are interested in while doing that, that’s awesome. It’s a win-win for both.”

In her career outside of hockey, Cassie is also involved in communicating, not with her fans, but in the corporate world. And she drew comparisons to show how the communications are such a key part of the growth ffor the NWHL, stating

 “I am on the communication team at NBC Sports Group, and my focus is in executive and internal communications. So, I write executive notes, work on company and corporate initiatives that funnel down from NBCU to the different divisions of the business. So that incorporates a lot of volunteerism and event planning. And like any communications industry that you’re in, it’s just learning the importance of making yourself visible, and giving time. And I think the girls in the NWHL do a really good job of visibility. The brand of the league is really, really active on social media, especially Twitter. And I think you’ll see, that with a lot of companies and organizations, that the social media platforms aren’t just space for them to post.They are also a space to engage. And I think the league and the girls do a really good job of communicating, responding and engaging with the fans and other brands, and athletes on social media. And so I think just being in this Com’s role, studying communications in school, it’s learning the different avenues and platforms and voices and ways to reach and communicate with people. And I think from a grass roots level with the league, it’s just about building that voice and building our community and getting different people to talk about the league. We’ve had a lot of good pick up this year, people writing articles about the league and the difference between the league and the boycott. Sometimes any press is good press, and you just have to roll with the punches with people’s different opinions.”

Cassie added  “I think Dani (Rylan) does a good job of making statements when they're needed. And so I think we continue to build and continue to grow our voice, and the more stories that we can get out there and promote our athletes, and what the league is about, the better. Toronto was a great choice for an expansion team. It’s obviously a huge hockey city. But also, the people, the women that are spearheading that organization and own the team, and the other people they’ve hired to build that team, it’s great. And the people running their social media channels, they’re doing a great job, and they are really building their voice. Their graphics are awesome! Content is super important for people these days, and I think it’s really important for the league to get to a space where you look as professional as you can. So the better the images, and the graphics, and the repetition we have of posting, more people can expect to hear from you, and they know who you are. And maybe when they don’t and they have to look you up, they can see everything you’ve been talking about or who’s been talking about you.That is really important. So I think the league is doing a good job with visibility and communication. And I think the girls in the league really add to that, by always being open and willing to talk with anyone who wants to talk about the league. And I think Anya and Madison Packer are really, really good examples of that. Of always being ready to have that conversation, whether it’s talking about the boycott, and the league, or talking about the fun things, they are such a go-to couple. And I think a lot of girls in the league have learned from that. So it’s really great that people at the top who are leaders, showing everybody else that your voice is important and being a part of the community and the growth is just as much your role as it is on the ice.”

Cassie with budding journalist/hockey player Cara Hickey at Pro Skate. Photo courtesy of Kate Frese.

We spoke a little bit more about Anya and Madison, and  Cassie told us

“They got married in Newport, Rhode Island last summer. And it was awesome. First things first. Their love for each other is probably the most beautiful part of it. They’re competitive, they’re loving, they’re fun,. They’ll call each other out, they’re honest. And it’s so real, and you just feel so comfortable at home when you are with them.Because they are two really awesome people who are passionate and caring. So just from that standpoint, to sit there and hear their vows, I was crying. It was really nice. They obviously had family and friends there, and teammates from different walks of life, and having all of us there in one room is always a fun time!” 

Cetacean Nation also wondered Cassie did any public speaking as part of her dutoes at NBC Sports, and she explained

“I don't. I get up and talk in front of different groups in our businesses, presenting new initiatives and events. I actually used to really, really hate public speaking, so in college in the Coms major you have to take a public speaking class obviously, and for some reason, they offered a class online so I chose that one. It was really the easy workaround way of basically recording yourself public speaking to absolutely nobody:) So I kind of took the easy way out there, but I think in my role and as I’ve learned from different people in the industry and spent more time in my career I definitely have more comfortability there. But I still get nervous for sure. It’s a little bit of a performance nervous that you have to get over. First shift, then you are good to go!”

And obviously, while talking different aspects of communication, Twitch came into the discussion. And we had to ask if Cassie was a gamer. she replied

"Oh god, simple answer:No! Never have been and never will be. I’ve tried my hand at a few video games, and I am godawful and I really have no interest! she laughed.  But on Twitch as our broadcast partner, Cassie had nothing but praise “I just think it’s an awesome advancement We need visibility and we need a place to live, and stream, and share with our fans. So to have that partnership, and to have a partner that is really invested in helping us grow our voice, and grow our league, and give us that visibility, that’s all we can ask for. From my understanding, Twitch has been a really great partner. And we’ve done some other things on Twitch, Packer did a gaming contest during the All-Star weekend on Twitch, so there’s been some fun things outside of game broadcasts that we’ve done in partnership with them. And if you see the stats people have posted in season, about how many people streamed in October, and the different months it really just shows you that if it’s available people are willing to watch it. I think the WNBA and the women’s soccer team are huge examples of: If you post it, they will come kind of thing. We just need that visibility and that will help grow the league so much more so."

“It was good to have us on Twitter for the first couple of seasons. I mean it wasn’t the best platform or the best technology. I think it was hard for fans to watch on Twitter. But I know that from just a personal standpoint, when my sister was pregnant the season I played on the Whale. It was really far and few between that my family came to Whale games, just because mid-season she was due at any second. Then after Poppy was born, she was in the NICU for a little bit with respiratory problems, so my sister was trying to be really careful. So it was few and far between that my family was coming to games. So the opportunity to watch it on a Twitter was really important, and now we’ve grown from there and have Twitch which is just a better platform from a connectivity standpoint. So I think that’s really important, and I like what you’ve said about how the announcers were able to build that into their broadcast. I mean, hats off to them, that takes time and takes research and studying. They wouldn’t be able to add in all of those comments and commentary from the fans, if they didn’t know exactly who was on the ice, and who wears what number, etc. So they really put a lot of time in preparing for our games which just makes it all the better and all the more professional."

"It’s funny, I’ve sat with Anya before when she’s broadcasting a Riveters game. And that girl, her fingers move so quickly, she has her headset on and she is broadcasting a game,she’s got her phone in one hand and she is reading what the fans are saying, and watching the game, And she is responding, she is totally locked and loaded! It’s a really fun thing to watch. If any Rivs fans out there, when they go to a game, they should try to situate themselves next to Anya, and kind of see the magic happen, because it’s pretty exciting “

Cassie had done some coaching, and when we asked her about that aspect of hockey in her life, she explained  “While I was playing for the Whale I was working remotely for Comcast, which was my first job out of college, and I had an amazing boss at Comcast who was so supportive of my goal in hockey. Before I had taken the job, I told her I was in the draft for the NWHL that’s my dream. And if I get signed, I’d love to go. And she was like: We’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there. So she brought me on, and a month later I was signed. I had to go into her office and she stood up, and gave me a hug, she was just as excited for me as I was. And she was like p: Do this! Go there, figure it out, you can work remote, that’s what technology is for. She was so supportive, which for me was awesome, because it’s kind of what I needed. Because to leave a job at such a great corporation as I was just starting my career, and to go play hockey? My parents, I think their heads would have turned a little sideways. So the fact that I could keep my job and go and do both things was awesome. Because I was working remotely, I had more flexibility, so I started coaching a U12 girls team, the Ice Cats. And it was fun. Those girls are so excited, they love the sport they love anyone who’s out there interested in helping them and I think they especially gravitate when they see a female coach. Their eyes open up at you and they”re either being sassy because they like you or they’re totally ready and willing to listen to anything you say.”

Cassie skating with one of the a Little a Future Draft Picks at Pro Skste. Photo courtesy of Kate Frese.

Cassie pointed out “It shows how big of an impact it is, when you put a woman in a predominantly male sport, and you keep growing the sport, and then thise women continue to give back to all the other girls that start taking your lead. It’s a really powerful thing and it’s really important But now that I live in Manhattan and work in Stamford CT, and also travel to New Jersey for hockey, I was not doing any sort of coaching this past season. Maybe down the road, I think it’s something that I would consider. It’s hard when you have a job that’s not particularly 9-5, I just have to leave the office whenever it is that I’m done. It would be hard to manage, but at some point if I could, I would like to. We had some teammates on the Rivs last season who coached a lot of different girls teams and they’re just like running from ice rink to ice rink, and I don’t know how they don’t get burnt out by that. I don’t want to be in a freezing cold ice rink other than I have to be:) Going from practice to practice a I think my toes would fall off from being so cold. But they love it, and the girls love them” 

In her first interview, Cassie had told us that 3 on 3 games were her favorite part of practice. Cetacean Nation wondered if that was because they were just plain fun or if there were specific things she worked on in that scenario. She elaborated for us

“For me, I think there is just so much space to make plays, and connect with your teammates. It’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be a game. It’s not like a drill. You’re getting to go out for thirty seconds at a fast pace with your teammates and try to make something happen. It’s typically pretty high intensity and most of the time one team has to score over the other team, and someone has to win. If you don’t, you’re either skating or picking up the pucks, so there’s always some kind of , incentive.”

Ok, so what Is your opinion on 3 on 3 in overtime situations, we asked.

“I think it would be extremely exhausting. When we do 3 on 3 at practice, most of the time it’s in the zone or the neutral zone, so most of the time you are not doing a three on three on the full ice sheet. And when you do that, we refer to that as an undercover bag skate. Which probably means your coach thinks you need more conditioning or maybe practice wasn’t going so well, or you lost a game or something, and they’re secretly skating you in a game format. So 3 on 3 overtime, I think would be cruel. I would be way too difficult! Most of the guys in the NHL are six something, and they cover a little bit more of the ice than we do with our stride. But still, I imagine 3 on 3, that would just be bad. Ties would be bad too!”

We hadn’t gotten into it in her first interview, but we were curious, as always, about the genesis of her jersey number, and Cassie revealed

“On Team USA I was #4 which I was fine with, I liked that. It’s not my preference, but that one was fine. So three! My brother played hockey growing up and he always wore #13, so I was such a little tomboy, I always followed my brother around. So when we finally weren’t playing on the same team anymore, I wanted to start wearing #13. But other than that, visually, I just like what a three looks like. On different teams, if you join the roster and somebody else has #13, my next go to is something else with a three in it. Outside of #23, I don’t know why but I can’t get behind that. So when I joined the Whale I was excited because nobody had #13 . And when I joined the Riveters I had a little bit of an argument with Cailey Hutchinson, and did not win that battle. So she was #13 and I took on #3. When I first got to high school we had someone on our team who was #3 and #13, and I was obviously the youngest of all of them, so I went with #33. Which is a goalie number, it’s not really a player number, so I definitely have gotten some stuff for that one! I couldn’t not go with the threes, so I did what I had to do:) I don’t know how some people gert so lucky. I’ve had teammates that said: Oh no, I’ve always worn this number. I’m like How? All right, I haven’t been that lucky!”

 

As we wrapped up our chat with Cassie, she looked into the future a bit and offered her opinion on the upcoming NWHL Season Six  “I think that there are a lot of sports that are returning way before hockey will return. So it’s nice in that sense, that we will have learnings, and we can figure out what protocols work, , health wise, and what doesnt. And we’ll probably really just be able to follow suit of what other sports are successfully doing, which will be really helpful.” An excellent point by Cassie, and a possible silver lining for the NWHL. Cetacean Nation thanks our amazing former #13 Cassie Dunne for her sharing her thoughts and candid insights on these on and off ice topics. No matter what number, no matter what sweater number, Once A Whale, Always A Whale! Fins Up to you Cassie!