Our #94 Grace Klienbach centering a line of her Dad Eric Klienbach and fiancé Shayne Morrissey

ALL IN THE FAMILY II: ERIC KLIENBACH

As you know from our first installment in this series, based upon your reactions to our “Other Side of the Glass” interviews and our “Not A Whale But…” stories, Cetacean Nation is  providing more of the same. This new series of interviews features input from the families of our amazing Pod players, discussing the NWHL and the Whale, and giving us some insight into our players from their unique perspectives. Along with the player’s own interviews, this content from their families will round out the reasons Whale fans find the Pod, as Robert Palmer would have said: “Simply Irresistible” Next up in in this series of interviews, is Eric Klienbach, our amazing #94 Grace Klienbach’s Dad. Pretty good timing, as we talked to Eric just prior to Grace signing on with the Pod for her third season last week.

Grace, as you probably know, is one of our contingent of Florida Whale. Not known widely as a hockey hotbed, we wondered what background Eric had that might have led first his son Barron, and then Grace out onto the ice. Eric gave this intersting reply

"I played football in high school, a bit in college, I was in the Marine Corps the Corps heavyweight boxing champ in 1985. I tried out for the San Diego Chargers, then almost made the Arena Football team in Miami,when i was 32. So I tried a little bit, didn’t make the right connection. But while I was working in Miami, I got tickets from a client for a pre-season Panthers-Lightning game. back when Manon Rhéaume was playing for Tampa. Only my son was around then, and he fell in love with the sport standing on the seats in the Miami arena. Also, I’m from Philly, and Bobby Clarke ex- Flyer,was Panther GM and that got me interested and I eventually became a season ticket holder. So we got my son involved in hockey, starting with roller hockey first. I got certified as a USA hockey coach while Barron was playing, and when the kids were playing for the Florida Eels I actually scouted for the program for a couple of years. Grace was kind of a rink rat, and she learned a lot by watching her brother Barron, whose career was cut short by injury. A guy named Angelo Gallo who was out of Kissimmee, told us he had girls playing and asked if Grace wanted to play, she was about ten, and she said: OK! " 

A little foreshadowing there with Manon Rhéaume, a goalie, who of course was the first woman to appear in NHL (preseason) game. There was more foreshadowing in what Eric told us next.

 “One of the first girls Grace ever skated with was Rachael Ade (our former #7 and Grace’s teammate on the Pod in Season Three) Rachael could skate circles around her at the time, since had been playing for six years. But within two years Grace had caught up to everybody. She was on Team Florida when they went to USA Nationals in San Jose, CA. In San Jose she had a game where she had three points in one shift. She was just going to the center, and boom, puck in, boom puck in, Hannah Bramm and Rachael Ade were on that team as well.  Grace also played on a team with Ron Duguay’s (former NY Ranger) son Noah, and Grace was the one getting in fights. She went to Hockey Night Boston playing on a Jr High boys team, and she was the only girl on any of the teams. They won it all, and since Grace was averaging a point agame, she was being targeted. She always played on boys teams, and a couple of years was even the Assistant Captain She always pushes to the limit.”

He continued “Both Grace and her brother went to Edison Academic run by Frank Scarpaci, who also ran the Florida Eels where they both played. She also played a season or two with the Tier 1 Elite out of Ohio where they are allowed to bring girls from other states in. Rachael Ade was playing for Pittsburgh and Grace ended up playing for the Ohio Phanton Flames. Jeff Madill who had played with the NJ Devils coached there."

 

Grace skating with the Boston Shamrocks

As Grace’s career developed, we wondered at what point the epiphany occurred when they knew Grace might be playing hockey for quite awhile. And it was a positive that came from a negative as it turns out. Eric explained

 “Something sad happened when she was a junior (high school) She went with some of her girlfriends to Disney Wide World Of Sports for a roller hockey tournament, and broke her ankle. We thought her hockey was over because that’s when the schools started recruiting players. But John Etore from Canterbury wanted to give her a shot, and she made her comeback there, playing with some Olympians. From Canterbury she then joined the Ohio Flames. We were living in Fort Myers at the time, so every other weekend we had fly her to either to Chicago or Detroit to play hockey. She got to play Tier I Elite vs Anaheim Lady Ducks, Minnesota Thoroughbreds Honey Baked. Little Caesars, Belle Tire etc, playing in that league and did well. And that led to being invited by Bob Rotunda to join the Boston Shamrocks where again, Rachael Ade also came to play. Once Grace played for the Flames in a game in Detroit, against Little Caesars at the Fairgrounds in this big old building. Up on the very top there was glass, but the glass panes were missing. So we’re indoors, but the snow was blowing inside! . It was like an indoor/outdoor game, it was only about twenty degrees in the building” he said, laughing at the memory.

Grace wasn’t getting a lot of looks from D1 schools because she wanted to be an athletic trainer and there too many clinical hours required. She had to decide if she wanted to go to a D1 school and finish her training when she graduated, or go to a college where she could do both as an undergrad. She might have been looked at differently coming out of D1 program. But she thought hockey was done once her college was done, because there was no pro league at that time. The first day of athletic training, the professor said: There are 48:of you and only 12 will graduate with a degree in Athletic Training, and it worked out that way. But he also said no one playing a varsity sport would be able to earn that degree. Not only did Grace graduate as an AT, but her senior year she was captain and ran the practices. When she was there Neumann played in tougher schedule than is currently the case now for Neumann as well."

Literally a bad break that Grace made her comeback from, and started along the road that led to the Whale!

Cetacean Nation also asked Eric for his thoughts on Grace in the NWHL, the league, and the Whale going forward. He offered

“Watching the games in Season Three, for Grace there was a huge difference going from DIII to NWHL. Maybe not for some of the D1 girls, but for a lot of the D3 girls it was. Fortunately for Grace, she has always been a fast skater and used to pulling her own weight. One of the biggest challenges at Neumann was that nobody could keep up with her, there is nobody to pass to nobody to dish off to. That sometimes makes it difficult to develop fully.It’s an entirely different team this year, but still with a core of veterans like Shannon Doyle who is flat out a great, solid all around player for the team, just a rock, and smart. And same with Elena Orlando. The league league had a good season last year, and picking up Toronto, I think was huge. Toronto in the CWHL had actually drafted Grace before the the Whale called just before season three. We had literally made living arrangements, as I have friends who live there, so we were making all the plans for Toronto. She was going to go to the tryout camp, but Connecticut put their money where there mouth is and said we want you to come play, and signed her, Dani Rylan (NWHL founder) was instrumental in getting Grace in the league back in Season Three, getting her to sign with Connecticut over going to Toronto in the CWHL. Dani has done an amazing job of keeping this league going. And her story coming along coming along and fighting the NWHL battle is amazing. “

“The NWHL lets some of these players know that it’s not college and done. I think Grace would have made the same decision she made about her degree, but some of these girls coming up, they now know that if they want to continue to pursue a career in hockey, as a player , coach, trainer, they have a chance to go pro. They have a chance to elevate themselves above the other college player graduates. I think it’s important that the girls see that there is a possibility to get some notoriety/celebrity status (and money) and an opportunity to show you’ve worked hard and become an athlete at the highest level. It gives them an opportunity to validate that. That they are a pro athlete, I think that’s important.”

Eric also offered some comments that are especially salient to the Pod, a team with six DIII players on their roster, and two more who finished their careers in DIII. “Some people think that even the 4th line DI hockey is better than first line DIII. But some of the girls in DIII didn’t have the opportunity to go Tier I Elute or a powerful New England prep school, to get recognized by the DI schools. And now they have a chance to develop and excel in the NWHL. So the league (and most notably the Whale) gives players who are achievers like Grace, who graduated with honors and was Captain of the hockey team, to go play pro. It’s like they gets a chance to fulfill a dream that has now become reality.

Cetacean Nation can confirm that at the start of last season, Eric accurately predicted that Grace would be an All-Star. He added “I just hope that this year she gets another chance to prove that her speed wasn’t a fluke:), a reference to her battle with Allie Thunstrom in the fastest skater competition. Eric mused “Could you imagine a line with Allie and Grace on the same line, could anybody defend that?” We think Eric was speculating on seeing that line in the ASG, not prognosticating a trade.:) Eric further commented on the ASG saying he is not in favor of the running game clock, something several players have mentioned as well. Eric also revealed this ASG related  fact: Grace Works for a great orthopedic company. They have a bunch of locations throughout Connecticut and they had a Grace Klienbach Day at the clinic. Anybody who wore Whale paraphernalia or dressed in Whale colors, were entered into a drawing. Two winners each got four tickets to the All-Star Game plus hotel accommodations for people to go cheer for Grace at the All-Star game.” Fins Up to that!

Anyone who has followed Grace's recent career, especially on any of the Cetacean Nation social media, knows about 14/94 Hockey (1494hockey.com) For those who don’t, ir is a hockey training company run by Grace and her fiancé Shayne Morrissey, out of Ice Works in Aston, PA, just south of a Philadelphia. It was the home rink for Grace and Shayne when they plated for the a Neumann University Knights. As we finished up our chat with Eric, he gave us this cool bit of Grace’s hockey history there “One of Grace’s first Team Florida games, when she was about eleven years old, was at aTwin Rinks. She faced off against Mario Lemieux’s daughter. He would come watch the games and they would have to put him behind the bench so he wouldn’t get mobbed by the  fans :) Anyway, I think I have a picture of Grace somewhere inside that Aston rink that game,when she was about eleven years old. There are four sheets of ice at Twin Rinks, and the picture off Grace is on the same sheer where she ended up playing her collegiate home games during her career at Neumann.” Again, a little foreshadowing in the tale of Grace’s journey to the Whale!

Cetacean Nation thanks Eric Klienbach for sharing some of Grace’s journey with us, from the unique perspective of her family. Fins Up Eric, we’ll see you next season in Danbury!

Our speedy Grace racing up ice against the Buffalo Beauts last season!