The Friesens (from left) Rob, Taylor, Traci, Kayla & Colton now play slow pitch softball together in the summers!


Welcome to the third installment of our “All In The Family” series of interviews with the families of our amazing Connecticut Whale Pod. In these interviews, family members give us some insight into our players from their unique perspectives. Along with the player’s own interviews, this content from their families helps to highlight the reasons Whale fans are over the moon about the Pod. In this installment,we will hear from Rob and Traci Friesen, parents of our rookie #29 Kayla Friesen.

Cetacean Nation fans will recall, we were introduced to Kayla’s Dad, who was a pro hockey player, in her interview with us. And the portion of his career spent with the Monroe Moccasins, was the reason Kayla was born in the USA. So we asked Rob how he got started in hockey, and for a general overview of this career. Rob replied 

Fun fact, Kayla wanted to be a goalie! We said only in street hockey or on the backyard rink! I was not cut out to be a goalie mom. “

“Hockey was just a way of life growing up in Winnipeg. I started playing when I was 5. My father coached and he would bring me to the rink with him. Eventually I became the stick boy for some of his teams and looked up to the older boys. I knew I wanted to play hockey at an early age, and left home at age 14 to pursue the game, going to Athol Murray Notre Dame in Saskatchewan. The game has been good to me as I got an education from playing through a scholarship. I’ve been fortunate to play in Europe, across Canada and in the United States. Towards the end of my career, I became a player/coach as I knew that was where I wanted to end up. Unfortunately, an eye injury ultimately ended my playing days. We came back to Canada in 2000 so our oldest could start school. I joke all the time that we have a UN family as we have a German (Taylor) an American (Kayla) and a Canadian (Colton). My wife was a little afraid to move to another country.”

Rob concluded “As for coaching, it was a way to spend time with our family (my wife managed the teams so we could try & coordinate with our other kids’ schedules) and to make sure they had good coaching, it just progressed from there. I’m very grateful to be able to give back to the game that gave me so much joy and happiness. I’m currently coaching female prep hockey which is probably the highest level next to college.” 

Traci, Kayla & Rob at the Winnipeg Women’s High school hockey league banquet.

We were also curious about what background Kayla’s Mom had in hockey. We asked, and got a prety coolsurprise in her answer! Traci revealed

 “I grew up playing sports of all kinds, but my fave had to be ringette (Similar to hockey, there was no girls’ hockey in my day!). I would play and coach this sport right up until I got married & moved away with Rob. I had the opportunity to try out for the very first Team Canada for the 1990 World Ringette Tournament. I ended up not making the final roster but it was a great experience. Little known fun fact – when Rob & I moved to Guildford, England I played on the women’s hockey team there! I was probably the best skater (ringette players are very good skaters) but had hands of stone. My interest in hockey started at home. My family were very loyal Winnipeg Jets 1.0 fans growing up, and honestly you couldn’t not be a hockey fan in Canada, it’s almost a prerequisite. We have always joked that Kayla came out holding a hockey stick! She was pretty active in utero and hasn’t stopped since. My mom, her grandma, actually clipped & sent us this cartoon when I was pregnant with her!”

Cetacean Nation asked Kayla’s parents when the first time was that they saw something on the ice with Kayla that made them realize that she had a special talent for hockey? Rob replied

“I’m not sure it was something on the ice as she was always good and smart from a young age. I think that it was at a young age Kayla made a statement that stayed with me. “I’m going to play for Canada someday.” I thought that was bold statement, but seeing the extra time and practice she put in everyday its no wonder she has developed into the woman and hockey player she is today. “

Kayla fulfilling her childhood prophecy winning silver in 2016 at the U18 World Championship with Team Canada

Traci offered these thoughts about how Kayla embraced sports, especially hockey, early on

“I think because Rob and I loved sports, we knew our kids would likely enjoy them as well but we didn’t want to put our sports on the kids, so we let the gravitate to what they wanted. We started Kayla in mini soccer when she was 4, because she was a go-getter. And I coached so that she could play on same team as her older sister. Even as a Timbit (Tim Horton’s sponsors a lot of youth sports in Canada so the youngest teams are called timbits- their name for their famous doughnut holes), we knew she was athletically inclined. She dominated in soccer right up until she was forced to choose between her spring & winter sports. (Why do coaches do this to young players?) Hockey always wins! She started playing hockey at 4 because she demanded it- true fact.”

Kayla (in blue) in 2009 playing with the boys (top) with boys, and Kayla (bottom middle) in 2014 with the girls.

Traci also added this anecdote “When she was 6 she got “called up” to the 7/8 boys’ team for a few games. I will never forget sitting in the dressing room with her as the coach was going over some game play and talking about offside – Kayla leans over and whispers what is offside! At 5/6 they are still playing ½ ice free for all hockey, so offside is introduced at 7/8. I quietly explained it to her and am proud to say she never went offside and got her first recorded assist in that game.” Fins Up to that Little Future Draft Pick! 

Kayla had spoken to us about how much she enjoyed golf, and Traci explained a little more about that, stating

 “Rob and I have always enjoyed golf and once the girls were old enough we started taking them to the driving range and putting them in summer golf camps. I think Kayla was 9 or 10 when the golf pro at the course we took them to said she had the most natural swing he’d ever seen in a young player. They provided a video analysis of her swing and compared it to Michelle Wei. She played golf on her high school teams (both at Dakota in Gr 9 & St Mary’s in grades 10-12) and made it to provincials every year. She still plays and it her favorite offseason sport.”

Traci then added “She was also a very good roller hockey player and ball hockey player. We used to have this huge national ball hockey tournament here in Winnipeg called Play On. She started playing with her boys from her hockey team and eventually started entering a women’s team, which won the whole tourney in 2014!”

Another one of a Kayla's multi sports was handball. Here she is (#77) with her 2013- High School Handball provincial champions

As her former coach, we asked Rob to break down Kayla’s game for her new Whale fans. He stated

“I would say she’s a two hundred foot player. Very good in both ends of the ice. She has great vision, very good creativeness on the ice and is not scared of anything, she likes the tough areas of the game. A very completive player who puts the team first. She will contribute in all areas of the game. She’s not flashy, but she can make things happen. I actually don’t know a lot about the Whale, as I’m learning more about the team and league. Kayla is very excited as the team is bringing in some very good female hockey players and she is looking forward to playing with all of them. So I would say they are looking pretty good heading into this season. As for the role she will play, I know what she is capable of, but that’s going to be up to the coach as to where she fits into his system.”

We had noticed Kayla’s history of leadership, and also asked Rob how that developed. Rob said “I think it came gradually, as a young player her teammates expected her to step up as she could score goals and lead by example. Later she had good mentors when she was one of the younger players on her team and saw how it was to lead by others.”

One of the Friesen family's favorite memories, the 2018 NCAA outdoor league game for Hockey Day in MN

When Cetacean Nation spoke with Kayla, she told us about some of the road trips her parents had taken to see not only her, but her siblings playing. So we asked Rob and Traci if they had any interesting stories about those road trips. The story they told might have surprised even the Coen Brothers

“One of the craziest roadtrips we took was in Feb 2015. We drove down to Fargo, ND in a blizzard. We were supposed to fly to Washington, DC from there. It was so bad that the border closed shortly after we crossed and we white-knuckled it the 1.5 hrs to Fargo to find out all flights had been cancelled and interstates were all closed. We ended up getting probably the last hotel room in town and had to share with another family- talk about close friends! The girls were so upset about not getting to tournament. Many other teams got stranded in Toronto, Minneapolis and Chicago. Some actually made it to Washington but they had a major storm there too. It was a crazy time and we tried to make the best of the weekend storm-stayed in North Dakota.”

Kayla meeting some of her idols: 2012- Hayley Wickenheiser, 2013- Jonathon Toews, 2016- Marie Philip Poulin

Cetacean Nation thanks Rob and Traci not only for their content and insights into Kayla’s journey to the Pod, but for the awesome photo-journalustic input as well! Fins Up to the International Friesens from the great hockey town of Winnipeg!

Kayla at the The Clash Tournament in Minneapolis in 2013