Hockey Family: Nicole with her parents, Manny & Helen Guagliardo


This is the fourth installment of our “All In The Family” series of interviews with the families of our amazing Connecticut Whale Pod. In these interviews, family members have given us, as only they can, unique insights into their daughters path to the Pod. The stories about each player, told by those who know them best, their families, along with their interview(s) give us a look into the life of our Whale, often well beyond their great stats and accomplishments that are known to us. For this segment of the series, we spoke with Manny Guagliardo, father of our amazing rookie #13 Nicole Guagliardo. On the day we spoke, Manny had just returned from Orlando to the chillier weather of Chicago, actually on the day Nicole was en route, traveling to Connecticut to begin her Whale career. Manny explained

“Actually I was just on the phone with her, and her flight had a stopover in North Carolina. and it got delayed. So her connecting flight had already left .As my wife hung up with her, Nicole was running to the next gate. She was flying into JFK, and there were some available to LaGuardia. I told my wife to just let her run to the gate, and if the plane isn’t there, they will find a way to get her there one way or the other. Hopefully not too long, because one of her teammates is picking her up." he laughed. (Footnote: Nicole did arrive safe & sound!) 

Cetacean Nation started things off with Manny by asking about the exact point Nicole became a part of Whale history: Draft Night 2020. He told us

“It was exciting, and as we discussed, we know it was coming, we just didn’t know when. So you keep watching: Next, could it be next? We sat around in our family room and just kind of kept waiting. And I think the surprising thing for me was, even though you know, your hoping that it’s the next thing coming up, and when it does, you’re elated! It’s amazing, and I think my wife had a tear coming down from her eye. We were all like: this is cool, this is amazing! We’re not social media experts, my wife and I, but we did our best blasting it out to Facebook, Twitter, to the few people who follow us and a lot of text messages to people with the link. So that was cool, it was something that, you want to go back to ten, or fourteen years previous, and think: Wow, we never thought we’d get here!” Manny continued “A lot of my close friends, we were all into sports, And I am still close friends with people that I grew up in grammar school with. And we played sports our entire time. And one of my buddies said it best: Well, we finally got one, you’re the first of all the kids to make it to professional sports” We were all at a dinner together, and he was like,: Ah, that’s so cool! And he raised his glass to Nicole. Obviously, from the perspective of a parent, it’s the greatest thing in the world. But sometimes for other people it can lose the luster. They say:Oh, that’s nice. And you wonder how sincere people are. Yes, they are happy for you, but maybe, not that excited. But he was genuinely excited about it, and a few of my close friends have been genuinely excited about it too. Just the fact that she made it. So that’s also cool that you can share that with them.”

Manny mentioned playing sports himself, and we wondered if that included hockey. He explained

“My hockey background is nothing like my daughter’s. Growing up I had just played some street hockey as a kid. We didn’t grow up with a whole lot of money, and I really wanted to be a goalie. So I never did have the opportunity to actually skate or play because of the expense of it. And then when I was 26 years old, I got a phone call from somebody that needed a goalie. But it was on ice, and I really didn’t skate. So just a bunch of guys in their twenties, and we said let’s do this. And the short story is, from that time on, I never stopped playing. I found some old pads that my Dad used, that you would never use in hockey, even back then" he laughed.

"That was 1989, and those were pads from the seventies. I threw them on and I loved it. I wasn’t the greatest skater in the world, but I found out I could stand in front of the net and block shots. I still play today, and outside of some minor injuries, I have not stopped playing for any extended period of time since I was twenty-six. And that was thirty-one years ago! I’m kind of getting to the point where the legs are getting old and tired, and I may have to give it up soon. I kept saying I would stop, and I give credit to Nicole for not letting me. Of course it’s all fun for me. But a handful of years ago I said it’s getting tougher to get up off my couch because, old man hockey starts in the late evening,I thought that when it stops being fun getting of the couch, and turns into a chore, it’s time for me to quit. When I told her, and my daughter is not a crier or an overly emotional person that way, she started getting all weepy eyed. She said: You can’t quit, Dad, you can’t quit! That was a few years ago now, so she’s kind of prodded me to continue my career. It’s fun, she’ll come home sometimes, and play on some of my teams."

Manny added “When we were younger, I used to sneak her onto the ice. You had to be18, and at 14, 15, I’d ask the other team: Hey, it’s my daughter, you don’t mind her playing, right? Then of course they’d end up saying: Oh my God, she’s really good! And then they regretted having her play." he laughed. "So I said I would continue to play until I could play legally with her on the team, so she forced me to continue. So that’s my career, nothing special. I never really learned from anyone, I never joined a club or organization. It was just “old man” hockey, and I just learned to play from watching TV, and I enjoy it. It’s fun and my only disappointment in it that my close friends, who I grew up,playing sports with, are not hockey players. We grew up in a middle class area of Chicago, and nobody really skated. It was the inexpensive games you’d play. touch football,and baseball. It ended up we played baseball in high school together, and even into our forties."

"I didn’t quit baseball until I was in my mid-forties. It wasn’t my love, my extended baseball career was because of my friends, while my extended hockey career was because I loved hockey. I don’t have any friends that I grew up with who play hockey, but some of my hockey friends I’ve been playing with for over twenty years. I think if my old friends played, I’d want to,play every day. There’s such a difference sitting in the stands and being on the ice, it’s a total different perspective of the game, it’s so much more fun. It makes you think twice when you want to go and be critical of someone. You say wait a minute, this is not as easy as it looks sitting in my recliner with a beer in my hand. It gives you a different appreciation for the entire game, A-Z. If you have an opportunity, whether it was what I did or pond hockey, try it. it just gives you a different understanding and you appreciate it more if you played.” 

At this point in our conversation we asked Manny what memories he had of Nicole’s early days in hockey. His recollections include stories of Nicole’s passion for the sport of hockey, and one in particular will have you taking at least a quick glance at her skates this season, more specifically, how they’re tied. Manny revealed

“I always tell the story of how she would always come with my wife to watch me play, And she would tell my wife in the stands: I’m going to play hockey, I’m going to play hockey. She was like three or four, and it always was: I wanna play, I wanna play! We both just said: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Kids that age change their minds every thirty seconds. So we heard, but we didn’t push it. So finally she started to want to learn how to rollerblade, and to learn how to play hockey. I remember my wife saying to her: If you can’t tie your shoes, and tie your own skates, you’re not going to play, we’re not going to take you out rollerblading. So, she spent an entire day in her closet (my wife says it was three hours) until she learned how to tie her shoes/skates. She was so determined that she wanted to rollerblade, because that was the precursor to when she could ice skate. And she did it! She rollerbladed and then got on ice. And again, I thought it was going to be: Yeah, OK, this is fun, but let’s get off. But I remember the first time she came out to a skate. It was a practice I had with my team. Nicole and my son were both out there. My son came off the ice and said: This is stupid!! because he kept falling over. But Nicole just loved it. She shuffled her feet around and just loved it. "So fast forwarding a little bit, when she started, as you see in the picture, she wanted to be a goalie. And she played goalie for an entire season. Actually, the first year that she played, they won the championship for their league, and she was the goalie for it. She didn’t even understand a shootout, and they won the game in a shoot-out. As she saved the last shot, that was the game winner, and everybody else was jumping up and down, and she’s still standing in net waiting for the next skater to come in” he laughed.

"As a side note to that, as a goalie parent it’s think that your kid let up a goal and it’s all her fault that they would lose the game. And I’m a quiet father, I’m not one of those yellers or anything, I just watch the game and let the kids have fun. But I was nervous as heck. And they had a professional camera crew, which I think was actually just one camera, from the Blackhawks. Somebody knew somebody. But they needed an announcer, so I agreed to announce the game! So that took some of the nervousness out for me! “But going back to Nicole, that summer I said: Let’s get you some classes. Because as I said, I hadn’t really learned anything, except what I’d watched on TV or YouTube basically. So we got her some classes, and I think in the second class, the automatic puck shooter got her on the top of the knee. She was in terrible pain, and she never put on goalie pads again! I’d say that was her best decision ever, that was a great choice. That is my recollection of how she entered the game and eventually ended up being a forward, and got out of that goalie gear from the picture. That’s what she had always wanted, she wanted those goalie pads, she wanted to be a goalie, no matter what. But it just took one shot on the knee, and she didn’t have a knee protector, to change her mind quickly, and I’m glad for that. But she did get to play goalie one day during her high school career. We didn’t have a goalie, so it was like: Nicole, you’re the only one who has done this before, put ‘em on! She was horrible! She forgot how to flop, technically she was terrible, but I think the team one anyway! She does have a little different viewpoint of being a goalie, because she did it for a year and had that one game at Barrington High School. I think all players should get a taste of what it’s like to be between the pipes, because you look at the game a tad bit differently when you’re sitting back there. So yeah, at least get a sense of what it’s like standing there waiting for someone to fire that rubber puck at your head" he chuckled.

Nicole has a reputation for having a very hard shot, and we asked Manny about that as well. He explained

“A lot of work for her to get that shot, and she worked hard. She used to spend hours and hours in front of our house shooting at the net. And my garage doors were destroyed, absolutely destroyed. As a matter of fact, they were white doors and they had black puck marks all over. I remember one of our neighbors asked : What happened over there, was it a gangland shooting? What’s wrong with those doors? And it finally happened, that Nicole had beat the doors up so badly, one day I was opening up the garage and the brace in the middle busted, and the whole door just kind of caved! I told Nicole: That’s it! I let you do it, but I’ve got to buy new doors. You cannot shoot pucks out here anymore”  he laughed. "Just her determination, she’s always been driven for hockey. Whether it be sitting in that closet learning to tie her shoes or just dumping a bucket of pucks in the driveway. She’d just shoot and shoot. She’d be out there a couple hours a day shooting. The reason she can bring it, is because she was determined to work on her shot to get it as hard as she could. Work and determination are important, but after awhile it can work on your mind. And a lot of players can get burned out. It’s the ones that can balance it, and still have that drive, and still want it, like Nicole does, that are impressive. I just go: Wow! . I don’t have that, I had played baseball and hockey, and actually my best sport was bowling, I’m a better bowler than I am anything else. I was not Nicole. I could have put my mind to one of them and maybe played it to a higher level, but I never did. So I look at Nicole and go: That’s what it’s like, that’s what a professional is. Going back to when she was 12 or 13, that work ethic, this what a professional looks like growing up as a child. These are the ones who make, those who have that drive and determination.”

We asked if there was an epiphany for Manny and the family, when they realized Nicole was different from most of the other kids. Maybe a specific game or event? He told us

“I don’t know that there was just one time that I said: Wow, this is what she wants to do. Because she was always so determined that this (hockey) is what she wanted to do. I guess the way I would answer the question is this. She went out for basketball one summer in a summer league. I’m not a basketball guy at all, and it was with this middle school, and for whatever reason, the girls said come out and play. And she didn’t understand the rules. So even though there were times that to get around people she would just dribble out of bounds, and just go around them. And she actually checked somebody to get the ball away! I heard one parent yell: That’s the hockey girl! But she could shoot unbelievably, she would just drain baskets. Nicole also loved to get praise, and the coach was like: OMG, you’re good we really want you! We’d like you to play on the feeder team going into the fall session, we really want you. Nicole asked when is that, and the coach said it started in October and would be all winter. And Nicole just said,: Oh no, I play hockey. And that was it. She never played on a basketball team or any other team again. Maybe some volleyball, but that wasn’t a real team. Even though she was good at basketball, and you thought maybe she would try to do both, she didn’t want that to interrupt anything that had to do with hockey. So when she found out it was the same time frame she was just like: Nope, I won’t play basketball anymore. So that was it. So to answer the question in a roundabout way, that’s knew she had the drive for one sport, that was it. Nothing was going to get in the way, no matter how good she was at something else.”

Manny continued “And it wasn’t that she was just OK at basketball, she was really good. I remember there was a play where she made a three pointer, and I swear it was like after the draining the three she did the Michael Jordan shoulder shrug, the exact same thing. She turned around, drilled the basket, turned around to everyone on the bench and shrugged her shoulders" he laughed. “I didn’t make her decision, I didn’t tell her to play or not to play basketball. As I said, I’m not a basketball guy but I’d have been happy to watch her play. As a little aside, my grandfather was a great basketball player, I think that’s where Nicole gets it, he was an amazing athlete. He was asked to play for the team that would travel and play against the Harlem Globetrotters. He did play against them back when they really kept score, and beat them! That’s when Abe Saperstein asked him if he wanted to travel, but at the time his mother really didn’t want them to do it. So if Nicole had wanted to continue to play basketball, I would have been all for it, because it would have been a cool legacy because of her great grandfather. But she just said: Hockey, hockey, hockey! “

Cetacean Nation also spoke with Manny about Nicole’s high school career at Barrington and Chicago Mission. He explained

“Her high school career at Barrington, it was mostly for fun. They allowed the girls to play on two teams, and her club hockey (Chicago Mission) was her serious hockey. And at Mission, it was about work, and making sure you learned the game and worked your way to get a spot on the team The high school hockey at Barrington was a release. She was on the team with Andrea Renner (currently playing for our former #10, Lindsay Berman at Northeastern) and they were head and shoulders above anyone else at Barrington. So it was fun for her, because there was not a lot of pressure. She didn’t have to worry about missing a shift or getting benched if she made a mistake. So it was a great release to just play and enjoy it. Nicole mentioned it in her interview, but it just turned out that we built the team by finding anybody who had and any skills. Barrington utilized players from four different high schools, and we did our best to find anybody who had played that we could gather together. And we did get lucky one year and got to play in the championship game at the United Center in Chicago. Overall, it was a different experience, a different feel, bit it was a fun time for her. It was nice to see. There were days that she would come home from Mission unhappy, because she either had a bad practice, had a bad game, things weren’t going well. There were days that it took a toll. But at Barrington, it was always: Let’s go have some fun! And that’s exactly what she did.”

As is often the case, none of the schools where Nicole played were very close to the Chicago area where her folks live. So we asked Manny about how they made out going to watch Nicole play in college. He replied

 “We tried to get to as many of the games as we could. When she was playing for Mercyhurst, her home games were closest to us, with the exception of when they played Lindenwood. Saint Louis (Lindenwood) was a little less than a five hour drive and Eire (Mercyhurst) was a seven hour drive. So we made almost every home game, and the Lindenwood away game. The other schools were further away and tougher to get to in her division. They were further east, and the drive was going to be too long, and there often were no direct flights either. So we didn’t get to see too many other away games for that reason while she was at Mercyhurst. I’m sure she told you the story, during those years she didn’t get too much playing time and for us, as parents, to spend a lot of money and effort to get to a location to watch her get a handful of shifts, that started weighing in our decision on traveling. Once she got to Lindenwood, there were some of the same travel issues, because it was in the same division. We did get to see probably every home game that year.”

Manny continued  "But Adrian was a whole lot easier, because we were only about 3 ½ hours away, and all the competition was close. And we knew it was her last year, and in her last year, we missed very few games. Home or road, we were able to get to them.Adrian is a little south of Ann Arbor, and when I was younger, I would make a lot of trips to Detroit just to do something with either my wife or my friends. So I know that drive very well. It was so much different than getting in the car to go to Mercyhurst or even Lindenwood. Adrian was the easy drive, just get in the car and go.And we could even surprise her, ans a couple of times she surprised us coming home for a visit. Those trips were fun, you’d look forward to it. Most of the trips were by car and it was fun, we enjoyed it, we enjoyed watching Nicole play as many games as we could. And now in the NWHL, we are about five hours from the Minnesota team, and about nine hours to Buffalo. And fourteen hours to Connecticut. The good thing is that some of the teams are easier to get to by flying, like Boston or New York, and go from there. So I’m looking forward to whenever they get play started, when the whole Covid thing is over, and a schedule comes out, to even getting to some of her road games with the Whale. It will be fun not only to watch games, but to visit some of those cities again. Hopefully they might have a neutral site game a little bit closer, like Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan! That would be great because there are a lot of folks that would love to see her play nearby. If it was just jumping in the car for a couple of hours to see her play in Milwaukee or something like that, I could get many, many more people to come, so it would be cool if something like that happened. “

Cetacean Nation brought up the subject of Twitch, and we discussed the excellent job the Phil DiGubilio and Erica Ayala do on the game calls. Manny appreciated the importance of a top flight broadcast team and platform, and said

“It makes a difference, If you are presenting your product it gives it a professional feel, it gives it more creedence. In college you have all levels of broadcasting. Some are kids coming out of the communications program and they’re doing their best. But some, like the guy who did the Lindenwood games, were excellent. He had been doing it for many years, and I thought he did a very good job announcing the game. It gives you a must better feel, especially for those people you are dying to get to watch the game and develop interest in women’s hockey. You want it to sound as well as it looks. It does make a difference with professional broadcasters” Fins Up to that for sure!

Obviously the Guagliardo’s are new to the NWHL but Cetacean Nation discussed several aspects of the league, the Pod, and the sport of women’s hockey. Manny offers the following comments

“Those who don’t watch women’s hockey don’t realize it’s a physical game, and size makes a difference. You ‘ve got to have some girls who can win those battles in the corners and along the boards. It helps if you’ve got size, it’s going to make a difference. I think it’s good that the Whale have more size this season, it’s going to benefit them in the physical game. I’m also glad to see Colten Orr is staying on for another year. It’s nice to have someone with NHL experience behind the bench. I think it’s good for the team, and good for Nicole to learn from someone like that. So I’m looking forward to her first game, but also to her first practice. It’s a new experience for her. In college everyone is within a few years of each other in age, and you have similar experience with who you are playing with. At this level, no it’s not, There are other rookies, but there are veterans that have been playing for many years. They are older, and they have maturity outside of hockey. That works it’s way into the hockey too, I’ve seen that in Nicole. The difference from her being a college hockey player and acting like a college kid, and now that she’s going to become a professional, her attitude has changed a little bit. She now has to kind of weigh-in not only hockey life, but life in general."

"Unfortunately the girls don’t make a whole lot, so she’s got to find herself some supplemental income and she’s now realizing: Wow, this is life! So to work with some of those other girls that have been there and have been doing it for 4, 5 or 6 years. I think it’s going to be great exposure for her. An opportunity to learn from those players as well as Colten. You hear it all the time listening to game: The rookies are looking to the veterans. There’s a lot of truth to that. I can give my parenting advice to Nicole until I’m blue in the face. But there’s a difference when it comes from somebody who’s been through it all and is still doing it. It gives a little more credence to what I’m saying when it comes from somebody like that. So that’s why I’m looking forward to the next chapter I guess you could call it, or next level of hockey and life for Nicole. Hopefully it transpires in the professional game as it did into her last two years in college. She was back to her confident 16 year old self on the ice. She had a fantastic year when she was 16, confidence glowing, she led the team in most offensive categories. And it was nice for her to get her confidence back in those last two years in college at Lindenwood and Adrian. And to be the player that was inside of her and just needed the opportunity. And again, I hope it transpires to the new league and continues steamrolling as itdid the last two seasons."

Manny reflected back and said "When she was younger we put her in the boys program. She was probably about 6 or 7, And somewhere around four years, five years into it, she was around 11 or 12, the Director of Hockey for the program was from Vancouver. He had obviously seen a lot more hockey than I had. Anyway, I sat down with him one day and said: Parents are starting to tell me to put her into girls hockey because she needs to get the exposure. I said I had to pull her out. I felt bad about it, etc. And he looked at me and said: You realize that she easily could be one of the best girls coming out of Illinois, especially in 1998. I kind of laughed at him and said: Get out of here! I just said she was a good girl playing on a boys team, and I wanted to get her exposure because I wanted to get her some offers to play in college. That’s all I was looking at, nothing more than that! And to see her where she’s at today, I never dreamed it. She always wished it, and before the NWHL started she wanted to be an NHLer. So you never dream that there would be a team, and not only would there be a team, but she would be good enough to actually make it. You just go: Wow! So I go back to that gentleman who was the director there, I wish I had a way to contact him, to let him know he was right. He could see it. “

Manny concluded by saying "I told Nicole a couple of days ago especially with the changes being made, I think this is an opportunity. I think you are on the ground floor of something that can really get bigger within your career. So at least you’ll be able to ride that wave of women’s hockey getting more and more exposure and maybe getting more in line in terms of money, with some of the other professional sports. Especially professional women’s sports, which would be nice."

 Cetacean Nation thanks Manny for sharing these insightful stories and anecdotes on Nicole and how she went from just another Little Future Draft Pick, to our #13, Nicole Guagliardo of the Connecticut Whale. Fins Up to that!

Goalie/Dad Manny with some hardware, joined by his son Anthony, wife Helen and our Little Future Draft Pick, his daughter Nicole