“ I love to be a leader anyway that I can, on every team that I’m on. And in different situations in life too.” Kayla Friesen, courtesy of Clarkson Athletics

KAYLA FRIESEN: BORN ON THE BAYOU, RAISED IN THE RINK


There are a lot of interesting aspects to our amazing new rookie forward Kayla Friesen as you might expect. Obviously she’s a terrific hockey player, and we’ll get to that. But, as we mentioned in a Friday Fun Fact a couple of weeks ago, she was born in Monroe, Louisiana. The Friesens are not the first Canadians to come to Louisiana. That would be the Acadians back in the 18th century. But none of the Cajuns, as they came to be called, were there to play hockey. But Kayla’s Dad was. She explained

"My Dad was just actually playing hockey (As a center for the Monroe Moccasins in the WPHL) down there at the time, and he was also over in Europe playing when my sister was born, so she’s German. So we’re also Canadian, and my brother is just a Canadian, born in Winnipeg, nothing crazy:) So we're all over the map. It’s pretty unique. My sister is two years older, and my brother is two and a half years younger. I’m right in the middle of them both.”  We told Kayla we would use the Friesen sisters dual citizenship as a Friday Fun Fact, which we did, and Kayla agreed saying “That’s a good one to use, absolutely!’

Kayla was the #1 Draft Ptck for the Whale, and we taliked about the amazing experience of that evening. And since it was streamed on Twitch, a huge gaming platform, we wondered if Kayla might be a gamer herself. She replied  “I’m not a gamer really at all. I’ve played a few games, NHL and what not. And I’m sureI have a few computer games, but I’m not really familiar with Twitch at all. So I’m kind of excited to get more in the loop with it, and get more information on it. I’m sure this season will help with that.”  

We asked if Kayla was still at home in Winnipeg, and also wondered how the pandemic was effecting things in this most unusual of offseasons.She answered

“Yep. Since once we got sent home from school, so I guess I’ve been here since mid-March. It’s been my longest time home in a few years, that’s for sure. Definitely the routine has been different, but things actually opened up right away. So it’s been pretty normal, with some new rules for numbers and masks, and everything. But I’ve been able to go to the gym. I usually go before work, and I would go at 6:00 in the morning, because work started at 7:30. So wake-up at 4:30, and get my butt to the gym. There wasn’t too many people in there so it was pretty normal, which is nice. And then I’d work 7:30 until 4 or 5 come home, shoot some pucks, make dinner. It was nice this summer, I didn’t have any courses to manage, so I had a little more free time which is nice. I had to switch from my Marketing major when I went to Clarkson so I could graduate on time. So I went to Interdisciplinary Social Scoence, which is a broad kind of major that opens up a lot more doors. Which is nice for me, because I’m not too sure which path I want to go down yet. So it’s just kind of nice having options, no barriers really, it worked out really well.”

Cetacean Nation was curious of course, how little Kayla actually got started in hockey in Winnipeg, and if there were other sports she tried as a youth. She told us

“So my Dad played, and we lived in Louisiana for two years. So I was just a little thing getting carried around to the rinks and what not. Then once we settled in back here, when I was three, my Dad put some skates on me and threw me on the ice, and let me rip around or crawl around, whatever I could do at the time. And then every winter he would build a rink in the backyard for me and my brother and sister. My Mom loved hockey too, so he built a huge rink in the backyard. I think that was an important thing to keep me engaged and excited. I grew up playing with boys all the way till my sophomore year of high school when I switched to girls. I was lucky, I don’t know how it works in the states with high school, but we had prep teams,that would be in leagues. The team I was on, was thankfully in Winnipeg so I didn’t have to move away. We weren’t in a league, but we would do showcases and tournaments all across North America. So it was a fun lifestyle in a sense, you got to play hockey, you got to travel. It makes it easier when you’re being scouted or recruited. They don’t necessarily have to come all the way to Winnipeg. We kind of meet them out there at the big showcases, and that kind of helps a lot. When I was getting recruited it was easier, and a I had a lot more eyes on me because of that, so I’m very thankful for that for sure.”

Kayla added  “I definitely did the whole soccer, volleyball, basketball thing. And St. Mary’s introduced me to field hockey which was kind of cool. I guess one thing I didn’t know going into that, was you’ve got to shoot right-handed, and I’m a lefty. So it was a good thing I grew up golfing as well, so I could kind of have that in my back pocket, which definitely helped.me. I grew up going into golf tournaments. My Grandmom, my Mom’s mother, was a big golfer. So whenever we’d go to the lake, she and I would steal off in the morning and go golfing, which was always fun. Golfing was, and still is, probably my second sport. The other one I enjoy doing most. It’s a great offseason thing for sure.” 

Kayla as Captain of the Saint Mary's Academy Flames. Photo courtesy SMA

Kayla continued ”So I played on a boys team my freshman year, and then I just played for Dakota’s high school team (Dakota Collegiate, in Winnipeg). And I knew at that point I was going to have to make the transition all the way to girls. I wanted to be competitive and I wanted a shot to play in college. So the opportunity came up for me to play at St. Mary’s Academy which is nice. Because I was also looking out west, British Columbia, and Alberta, certain prep schools there. But I was lucky enough to stay at home and do the exact same thing they were doing.”  Fins Up tp that! So how did Saint Cloud State come into the picture, we wondered. Kayla revealed

“Saint Cloud was the first team ever to reach out to me. I think it was grade eight or nine, so I was pretty young. I didn’t know what to do at the time. And then I actually looked at other options and what not, but ended up feeling that Saint Cloud was the right choice at the time. Girls are committing even earlier now, the beginning of high school, which I think is risky. Because you don’t really know how they’re going to develop. Because high school is where you kind of find your roots, your skills and your talents and kind of turn into the player you hope you’ll be. So it’s risky, but if you get the right player at the right time, it’s perfect."

Kayla spent three seasons at Saint Cloud State, and just missed playing for our former #9, the amazing Molly Engstrom. Kayla told us “The girls absolutely love her there! She’s been awesome for them.i enjoyed my time at Saint Cloud. I loved the girls, we had a really good group of girls. It just kind of came down to that there were little things here and there kind of bothering me. I think going into my third year, I was kind of losing my love and passion for hockey. And growing up that was my big thing, it was hockey, hockey, hockey. I loved the sport and would do it every free moment I had. And I felt myself losing that. And I knew that wasn’t something I was going to sit back and watch happen, and let happen. So I had a few conversations with the coaches, teammates, and then with my parents.And it was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life regarding hockey, to leave. So I wasn’t sure if there were going to be other teams wanting to pick up someone going into their senior year. So it’s definitely scary, but exciting at the same time. When I finally made the decision, Clarkson reached out right away, and it was a blessing. I knew a couple of the girls on the team, and when I decided to go there it was one of the best things that could have happened, for sure.Sometimes all you need is a fresh start in a sense.” 

Over her three years at Saint Cloud, Kayla played in over one hundred games and was a consummate two way player. She ranked consistently high in offensive categories for the Huskies, and had more than twice the amount of assists as goals. And, she led all team forwards in blocked shots as well. She was also named Captain in her Junior year. We asked Kayla if she embraces a leadership role, and she gave us this terrific response

“I don’t think you ever need a letter to be a leader or a role model.i think having a letter on your chest puts extra pressure on. Sometimes people handle it, sometimes they don’t. But at the end of the day, a letter on your chest doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t make anyone look at you differently, or it shouldn’t. I think being a leader comes from within, and there are different leaders in every aspect of hockey. There’re loud leaders, hard working leaders, on ice leaders, off ice leaders. So I think growing up, just because the experiences I've gone through, I love to be a leader and role model. I do coaching in the summer when I’m at home. So getting to be a little bit of a role model for girls and leading them in the right direction, and kind of sharing my story with them, is something that I love doing. And then obviously at Saint Cloud, I was the captain. And that was was a big honor, absolutely, being a junior. I don’t think that had happened there. So it was a big accomplishment and an honor and it was definitely, a challenge I was willing to take on. And I did a pretty good job. Everyone has their own opinion:) I love to be a leader anyway that I can, on every team that I’m on. And in different situations in life too.” Cetacean Nation notes that Kayla was also an assistant captain for Team Canada’s 2015 Silver. medal winning Women’s U-18 Championship.

We talked with Kayla about the Whale’s great work with our Little Future Draft Picks, and asked if she had been part of anything like that in college. Turns out, she certainly had. She explained

 “At Saint Cloud there would be little skates, and little practices that we’d go to. We’d just volunteer and go and skate with teams and what not. At Clarkson we had the Little Knights Club Fan Club. So after every game we’d do little events for them,. We’d have a Halloween stuff, Christmas stuff, arts and crafts and what not. More just making sure they felt included. And it allowed them to get to know us, not just see us on the ice, but actually get to know us off the ice. Which I think is super important for any young girl growing up and wanting to be a hockey player, to kind of follow our footsteps. And maybe make it to the level we’re at one day. So giving them the chance to get to know you as a person, by allowing us just to talk to them. Get to know them too, and to influence them,motivate them, and kind of make them excited for the road they can go down if they choose hockey.” We think Kayla is going to be a big hit ar the autograph table!

Cetacean Nation also asked Kayla to look back over the past four years and tell us some of what comes to mind. She replied

“I think just being a part of that league, the NCAA, was a huge honor itself. You grow up watching those girls play. North Dakota was always closest to me, so I grew up watching them. My Dad coached the University of Manitoba here, the Bisons. The men’s team would go down and play North Dakota, just for exhibition games, so our family would always go. So just getting the atmosphere, seeing the fan base, the energy in the building, getting to experience that was something cool for sure. Because you look at sports right now, there’s obviously a difference in the size of the fan base for men and women. Clarkson had a huge fan base for both men’s and women’s hockey, so getting to feel that energy and feel supported, and have kind of a sixth man on the ice with the crowd, was super cool. I don’t know if there is a specific game or anything that was my favorite. But at Saint Cloud we got to play in the outdoor game. We ended up playing UMD outdoors at Saint Cloud, which was cool. Just the whole Hockey Day in Minnesota, the set-up was super cool. Just to get back to your roots and play outside again. So that was probably one of my favorite memories. I’m sure there are more I could think of, but that one was super cool, super different, super unique.”

Along those same lines, Cetacean Nation asked Kayla about her first game with Clarkson, 9/27/19. She scored her first goal for the Knights that day at Syracuse in 4-3 win. She recalled

“That was definitely exciting for sure. First game, first point, that’s definitely something I’ll remember forever. Actually, one of my best friends (Whale Draft Pick Savannah Rennie) who grew up playing with was on Syracuse too. So that was pretty cool, being my first game, a different team and everything. So having her on the other team kind of brought me back to my roots, and made me appreciate everything that much more. I got two goals in both of those games (a home & home with a Syracuse) and I got an assist in the second game when we were at home. Pretty hot start for sure.”

Kayla as a Saint Cloud Huskie and. Clarkson Knight. Photos courtesy SCSU Athletics (top) and Clarkson Athletics

So we asked Kayla when it was that she became aware of the NWHL and started thinking about hockey after college. She said

“I definitely knew about the Canadian league (CWHL) more than the NWHL. Because I knew lots of girls growing up who were in it. And actually it was pretty recently when I found out about the NWHL, I knew it was around, but I didn’t know too much about it. So I definitely did a lot of research and educated myself on it, as well as the European leagues, and the PWHPA. I didn’t think the PWHPA would benefit me in the sense that I don’t know how much time I have playing hockey. I absolutely agree with what they are fighting for and what they want. But for me, to be able to fight for a Championship and play in a league, was something I wanted to do with my remaining playing years. Then with the whole pandemic, I didn’t know if going to Europe would be safe or not. I didn’t want to get stuck there, stranded there and sent home and have to pay a bunch of money just to get on a flight home. And then when I had conversations with a couple of teams in the NWHL, it sounded really exciting and promising. And then I had a conversation with Colten Orr. I actually grew up with his nephew in Winnipeg, kind of a smal, world there! So just getting to know his style of coaching and his systems and teams, I just thought he and I would get along, and he would be someone I‘d definitely want to play for. I’m excited to,play for him, to be a part of this team, and grow the game of hockey for the female side.”

An interesting aspect to this offseason for Kayla, was her competing in Muscle & Fitness HERS magazine Ms Fitness Competition. The contest proceeds benefit Homes for Wounded Warriors, founded by former Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen. We asked Kayla to tell us how that came about, and why she was hoping to win to help her open own gym. Kayla explained

“I actually got an email from a family friend, and it said fill this out, and fill this out. So I did that, and I did some research on it and thought it was a pretty cool opportunity, for sure. I grew up training in gyms, working out in gyms, and a couple of my family’s friends had gyms. So I think that was something that even when I was younger it would be pretty cool to open up my own gym. i always think the environment and the energy in a gym is something a lot of people should be around. It’s always positive, it’s always supportive, and it puts you in a good mental state. I just think that aspect, if you include that in your life it’s just going to help you in your all around life. Within your job, within your family. You just have a positive outlook on life and when you have motivation, and goals. I think just being able to work out, and be around those kind of people and kind of have that mindset, it just dictates your life in a positive way. And it influences you and everyone, when you chose to challenge yourself In a better way, in a positive way. A positive lifestyle, just being able to give people that kind of energy in their life and help them with whatever aspects they want just through fitness alone, would be something pretty cool to do. “

We had posted about Kayla’s progres on our social media, and reposted some of her Mom’s posts about it. Kayla exclaimed

“Oh yeah, she loves her social media!” she said laughing. And I love that she’s on social media, she’s part of it all. I have to teach her a couple of things. She’ll come running over to me with: How do I do this? How do we do that? I mean, those are always like humorous moments. She just loves being in the loop with everything, which is kind of cool. She finds out stiff and shares it with me and I share it with her. It’s definitely a good thing. She’s super excited, she’ll be all over that all year long.”

 We asked if she thought her Mom would give us some content for our All In The Family” series, and Kayla answered in the affirmative. “Oh yeah, she would jump all over that chance! She would love that. Oh yeah, you’ve got the green light for that for sure.”

Some of Kayla's photos from her Ms Fitness Competition!

Following up, Cetacean Nation wondered how her parents fared at getting down to games at Saint Cloud and Clarkson. Kayla explained

 “Saint Cloud was a five and a half hour drive from Winnipeg, so my sister is down in Missouri playing softball, they flipped weekends here, and there. They’d come pretty frequently. It was a twelve hour drive to Missouri, it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t the greatest But there was always good weather down there, so they were always happy to be there. My brother at the time was in Winkler, Manitoba, so that’s about an hour and a half drive from home. So they definitely got their driving in, that’s for sure. But Clarkson was a little bit harder, because it was a flight, but they came down once or twice. And my grandparents came down once too, so that was nice. It was fun to have them. My Grandpa’s all over hockey, he loves it! He’d probably call me once a week, to check in or whatnot. So I got a lot of support from home which was nice. And to finally get to see them in person and show them around was fun. This season they’ll definitely come to Minnesota (when the Whale visit the Whitecaps)"

My brother’s playing out in New Hampshire, kind of close to Connecticut, so they could see us both in one trip. He’s playing Juniors, he just graduated from high school last year, so he’s going through the junior process. He’s got a couple of years to go, but he’s talking to some schools in the States, so hopefully he can get an offer at some point. It what he wants, he’s been following me along, he said he wanted to follow in my footsteps, so hopefully he gets a chance to continue to college."

 Before we wrapped things up with Kayla, we asked if she had played any softball herself. She told us “I did not, that was my sister’s thing, she was a pitcher. But definitely some summers where she’d make me back catch, and she had a wicked curve ball. So literally me and my brother would put on our hockey equipment and sit and back catch and get balls rifled at us. It comes at you quick!” she laughed.  And we think the rest of the NWHL will be saying that about Kayla real soon. She has a history of fast starts, and she’ll be coming at them quick. We thank Kayla for her insightful content, and look forward to her causing mayhem for opposing defenders and goalies. Fins Up to being born on a bayou and raised in a rink!