Rachael Ade in action for the Pod in Season Four. Photo: Matthew Raney

RACHAEL ADE: RETURN OF THE SEVEN

"The citizens of Cetacean Nation will not love our #7 any less, just from further away” Cetacean Nation 2019: Rachael Ade, A Fork Stuck In The Road

On January 31st of this year in the Bubble in Lake Placid, our Amazing #7 Rachael Ade hit the ice for the Pod for the first time in two years. Rachael thus joined the ranks of those we at Cetacean Nation refer to as “Once and Future” Whale. Players who have left the ice for the Pod for myriad different reasons, but have later returned. Their ranks include Laura Brennan, Jess Koizumi, Shenae Lundberg, Alyssa Wohlfieler and Sarah Hughson. And now Rachael.

While the introductory passage from Rachael’s 2019 interview was accurate, it was great to see her back on the ice again in Season Six. So although we had a lot to catch up on with Rachael, we felt we had to begin with how she came to become part of the Pod again last season. She  explained

“With that, a lot of the reasons I wound up choosing to leave, are still very much why I play the game today. At the time last year, I was still planning to play with the PWHPA. I went to try out, and the locations that they had for the UNited States were New Hampshire and Minnesota. So the only one that was feasible for me was New Hampshire. And basically, going to try-outs, I was 21/2:hours away, and they had a bunch of really great D, and it was just one of those things. The commit level they wanted from me, and the travel was an issue. I I wasn’t working remotely yet either, and I was going to be returning to the office in January, So just between all that, and with the changing dynamics with the NWHL as well, it was just kind of this perfect storm where I just couldn’t make that work, but I still wanted to be on the ice. And the Whale have such a soft spot in my heart, and plus it doesn’t hurt it was fifteen minutes away!" she laughed.

"So with all that, I decided basically not to make that commitment to the New Hampshire team. And I reached out to Colton Orr to see if he had interest, what availability he had on the roster and all that. And really again, it was kind of just to stay on the ice. So he responded that yes, he was very interested, and he definitely wanted me to be part of the team. By that time I believe they had signed all 25 spots for their playable roster. So from there at that point in time, I was just happy to be a part of it. The PWHPA and the NWHL were not butting heads as much in the middle year of the transition. And I was was like, I just want to stay on the ice and support you guys however I can. So he was kind enough to let me practice and what not, and then basically if someone wasn’t able to go to the Bubble (the Lake Placid Season Six venue) or if someone gor hurt, then they could call me up at that point in time and that’s kind of how we worked it out.” 

Cetacean Nation noted that in previous years there had been an amorphous category on NWHL teams called “practice players”. But there had never been what became to be known as “taxi squad” like the teams had in Season Six. It was not too unlike what the NFL has had for years. There is no “minor league farm system” in pro football or women’s hockey. So we asked Rachael for more details on that and she told us

"The taxi squad, or who was later brought up to Lake Placid, It was just the three of us (Rachael, Sarah Hughson, Maeve Reilly). I believe there was a fourth player, Elena Gualtieri. Four of us that were on the taxi squad, and could be called up in a sense. And we were all basically later decisions which in a certain sense and why it was so quiet, and not really announced until the (Covid) situation occurred in Lake Placid. But we were practicing with the team full-time every day they were on the ice prior to Lake Placid. And then needing players with the Covid situation, they called us up so we could help out.” Rachael continued, talking a little more about her own experience was like at Lake Placid. “It was a good time, it was a lot of fun to go up there. It was really cool, I had never played there before, it just never seemed to happen in my youth. So that was my first time and just being on the ice was so surreal. I had watched “Miracle” and being younger, that’s what opened my eyes that event. So watching that movie and then being able to go there and stepping out on the ice and seeing all the names, it was just kind of surreal. It’s like: Wow, I’m playing in the same building” It was a lot of fun."

"We came up on a Sunday, and I had to have a couple of negative Covid tests before going. And those had to be spaced out over a certain period of time. So was there is some of that going on before I came up. And when we arrived we had a skate later that day, and a pregame skate at some point before we had the game. Colten asked me to step in as a forward at that time, based on how everyone was playing and what they needed to fill. Basically I worked the next day, and went straight into the game. And luckily in January, I had landed a a full time remote job, so that was very helpful for me being able to do that with the Whale. I played the game, and as you know the next day we ended up opting out and leaving. But I’m very grateful I got to go up there even just for the couple of days to play. I don’t think you could trade for the location that they were doing it at and the rink they were playing. The Whale had a really good run, and it was unfortunate the way it ended, but it was just one of those things. You have to appreciate what happened prior to it ending. And then of course it was definitely awesome to be able to restart it again a little bit, and finish it out. “

Rachael (left) on the ice in the starting line-up for the Pod in Lake Placid on 1/31/21 Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Whale

We usually refer to Rachael as one of our Florida Whale, along with Grace Klienbach, Huey Huertas, Stephanie Mock who all played together in Season Three and as youngsters with Team Florida. But, she was actually born a bit further north, in Salisbury, Maryland. Rachael explained “Yes, basically I spent the first 3-4 years of my life in Maryland. I was born there, but most of my life I’ve lived in Florida. That’s why I put that to be my home town.” We noted that a few other Whale also hailed from Maryland, like her Lindsay Berman, Haley Skarupa, and her Season Four teammate Sam Walther.

 Rachael revealed “Haley Skarupa was one that we used to play against each other. She was a year above me, but we played against the organization she was with when I was in Florida. Then we actually played against each other in the junior league, she ended up being on a team from that area called the Pride, ironically, I think I played against the organization she was with, Montgomery, when I played with Team Florida when I was still U12 or so. . But then in Juniors, when I went to the Boston Shamrocks, she was playing on the Pride, and that’s when I played directly against her.”

Cetacean Nation also inquired about some recent travel Rachael had done in California, and learned a little more about her personal geography. She told us

"My locational status is a little complicated over the past few years.and even though I’m originally from Florida, that’s where my parents lived for most of my life. The same year I moved to Connecticut they moved to Cali. So now I go home and visit my family there in California which is pretty cool. And they have a house in SoCal, in the Valley near Palm Springs, very much a desert area. So I was visiting them and I got to see all the pets. They’ve got a new puppy, and I got to see my Mom’s tortoise, which is pretty cool. He lives outside and kind of runs around, and we feed him lots of lettuce. He loves that lettuce! And both of my sisters were home. So It was a really great time. I didn’t think I would like the desert but upon visiting it, I thought is was cool. So much more than you would expect out of a desert.”  Fins Up to that!

Last year when we interviewed former Whale Assistant Coach Mike Bonelli, he remarked that he had seen Rachael play some rec league games and that she looked strong and fast. We wondered if that was part of her offseason training, and how she had been able to adapt in terms training during the pandemic. Rachael has always had speed, but Cetacean Nation thought she looked really quick in her shifts at Lake Placid. she responded


"Thank you. It’s one of the skills or pieces of my game that I’m always trying to work on, being a bigger player in the girls game. With the pandemic it was definitely tough. I wasn’t able to skate for a good portion of it, the whole country was in a hard lockdown. But what I ended up doing, I actually Face Timed home almost every night on a weeknight with my sisters. And every night we would basically do an at home workout. Every day I’d kind of clear a space in my little apartment, and we would do multiple sets of multiple exercises. We’d work out for an hour or two, sometimes doing cardio as well. Just to try and stay fit through all of that because it was really hard. But I think a big thing for me in terms of the off-season and I think what helped help me most in terms of continuing to develop, I kind of let go of some of the structure that the college work out always had. In terms of how everyone is really doing the exact same thing. I kind of looked at giving myself a little more of what people are doing to increase their speed with sprints and hip flexors and what not. And just overall finding what works best for me. So I still format my workouts pretty similar in terms of the actual overall structure, but I change some of the exercises and some of the things that I do that fits more with me and my goals as a hockey player. Instead of just continuing to do the same routine stuff. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I could speak to, to maybe allow me to look a little quicker.”

She added “And then basically I play on a men’s league team” she chuckled "which is where Mike would have seen me. The guys are great. A bunch of them have played some pretty high level club hockey or maybe even some DIII stuff. And so it’sone of those things that no matter how far they’ve gone, guys just have different muscles, they’re bigger than you. So the speed of the game, the way they’re making decisions, it pushes you. Even just getting your cardio in, I’m skating up and down the ice and my one stride while maybe efficient in general, I still need three of them to match a guy who is 6’5” " she laughed. "So that helps too! “

Rachael mentioned her sisters, and fans who have followed her social media have come to know that her younger two sisters, Rebekah and Raquel are hockey players as well. We asked Rachael for an update on how their careers are going, and how much she still coaches or advise them. And what they are feeding Rebekah, because she is now taller than her! She laughed and said

“We always joke that she stole a little height from my middle sister! We attribute a lot of her growth to her sleeping. When I was at UVM, she would visit with my Dad or my Mom, and she’d be up for everything. And then all of a sudden when she would travel back, she would like sleep for two days straight. Through all the commute, between driving and flying, and just be wiped out for a whole other day. She always was sleeping! She’s a little better lately, but that’s probably what did it." 

she continued  “Raquel is actually going to the University of New England, that’s my middle sister. So she’ll be playing for them this upcoming season. And then Rebekah is going to be playing for Ironbound in New Jersey. She will be housing in New Jersey so she can go to practice and all that regularly. Basically Rebekah is an ‘03 so she could be a senior this year. But between their two ages being so close and Racquel just going to college, she’s going to look to go to college in about two years from now. Having the ability to go a little later, especially when you’re playing sports, she’ll have the advantage of that. I feel like for all the sacrifices they made in terms of getting dragged around to rinks when I was younger, I can at least give them a little publicity if I’m talking to someone.”  We are sure all of the fans will be keeping an eye out for them as they continue their journey in hockey as well. 

The Ade hockey sisters: Raqueal, Rebekah & Rachael!

The “Once And Future Whale” like Rachael are part of a more common league wide trend, understandable as the league matures and there are more former players out there that may come back. We think that type of movement of players will continue, and will include players moving between the NWHL and the PWHPA. With membership in either organization becoming less stigmatized to the other. We asked Rachael her opinion on that, having even one of the players who have crossed back and forth between the two. She said

"I would agree. That’s part of the reason I why I ended coming over too. To be honest, again,, a lot of why I went there I still want to happen, and that holds true in terms of my values. But a big part of playing there was that we were trying to get everyone on the same page, and in that way because of what needed to happen, it created a big divide. But it has kind of come that the NWHL is no longer preventing the PWHPA from getting what they want to obtain. So it’s allowed things to be a little more settled, not quite as much animosity between the two. So I do think you will see more transition, more movement between the two leagues in the upcoming year. Now in my opinion, I think at some point we do have to coexist and get everyone on the same page, if we want to grow the game. But I do think some of the changes that continued to happen in the NWHL was partially due to the push the PWHPA kind of put on them. Because there definitely was pressure for them to do a little bit better by people. Not that they weren’t doing well, but it kind of was like: Hey, you are doing great, but we still need more. Do you know what I mean? We’ve seen things like more private ownership of the teams, we’ve seen a salary cap increase. I think some of that came from the stance that the PWHPA took. But again, at some point we need to merge into one.it’s just going to be interesting to see how that all goes down.”

 So related to that, we asked Rachael about her plans moving forward, and she told us “I think right now for me It’s just about playing next year. I still want to play next year, that’s what I want to do. Beyond that I’m not sure yet, but for right now without having a reason not to be playing, and with having means to still play, there’s no reason for me to give it up. As much as I love it and just the experiences that I’ve had, the memories I’ve created, and friends. Definitely looking to play this next year, then just kind of go from there and see where it takes me.” Rachael is a past NWHL Foundation Award winne, and has always been active in growing the game. With so many things up in the air the past year. we wondered about her involvement in things along those lines, like coaching. She answered  “So I have been coaching at the Danbury ice Arena with one of the girls teams. But unfortunately, A little while ago that did fold .I was a big advocate for the Whale coming to Danbury too, because that’s where I was coaching. And I was like: This is where we need to be, this is a very good arena! We had girls playing there, and I was just hoping it would work out. I have also been doing work with the Rangers a bit, doing some Learn To Play clinics with the girls. And then Lou Pedetella, who is also with the Rangers organization, he’s been trying to start up a team here. So I’ve been on the ice a couple of times with him as of recent. So I definitely have done A little less than the past year, partially due to the pandemic. But I’ve stayed active and I think probably for me, the biggest thing is having little sisters myself. Thinking about how I would feel when I got my jersey signed by other girls who were playing when I was little. It’s such an important part of the development to keep this game going, so I like to continue doing that.”

It is not hard to recognize that Rachael is a Chicago Black Hawks fan. We wondered how that came to be considering where she grew up.
“Just to add to the complexity of my history" she laughed. "My Dad’s from Illinois originally, so him and his family are big Blackhawks fans, big Chicago fans professional sportswise. So he brought that with him, and he’s the reason I started playing first place. So I gotta honor Dad, and I lucked out that they won a few cups in my time, so that’s where that’s from. Unfortunately Brent Seabrook (Chicago’s long time defenseman) retired this past year, that was my player. So I’ll have to get a new one”she laughed.  We wondered if Rachael had a particular favorite hockey moment as a fan, and the Black Hawks figured into part of her answer, but so did something else. She  responded

“A good question. I definitely was not one of the kids that went home and watched the NHL or hockey between my practices. I was on the ice a lot, so that’s part of it. But I think there are two of things I would say being a fan of the game and the players of the game. One of the cool things that I had happen was I was at an OSU camp (Ohio State University. Kind of a youth camp where they invite you, you get a letter of interest and you go. And I remember the college girls came out and we got to meet them, and they were signing all of our stuff. Some telling me: “You’re already taller than me! " she laughed. "But they were all playing in college and doing exactly what I wanted to do. So that is one of the things that I probably think of as one of my favorite things as a fan. Just that experience, that part of having them give back to me.”

She continued "And probably the only other thing that would be notable for me would probably be the Black Hawks first Stanley Cup (20009-2010). I remember all of us sitting around and watching that, and my Dad jumping up in the air yelling: We won! It was a huge thing because it had been so long since they had won. Those are my two, just being a fan of the game."

We also discussed with Rachael the likely growth over the next decade or so for the NWHL, and asked what she could foresee in terms of expansion. She replied

“That’s a tough one. Because in certain ways, with us being ice hockey, the kind of fan base we have is more similar to the NHL, just in terms of women. So I think if you compare us with the the WNBA, I think our fan base  is more similar to the NHL as compared to the NBA in terms of expansion. But at the same time, I think we are in a very different time, and things are growing a lot more quickly. And I think in certain sense, we haven’t had something in a very long time. And there’s been more development through college, you are not seeing us being drafted before we graduate college. So it’s a little different too, with the kind of players you’re getting and what you can fill. So I would honestly say I think it will be a mix. I don’t think we will be growing in size as fast as maybe some of the other leagues currently. But I also don’t think we’ll be sticking with six for a very long time. I think kind of going back to the merging of the two organizations, the PWHPA and us as a league, we already have five teams on their side and six on ours. And with a merger, that alone would mean we’d have a different kind of growth from anything we’ve seen yet. So think there’s room where we might see a different expansion than the NHL, and the AHL etc. where we already have these two leagues Maybe there will be seven or so high-level professional teams and maybe we’ll get to the point we will have some feeder programs too.”

As we had done with several players recently, we asked Rachael if she could tell us about herself that most fans wouldn't know. She considered this and replied

“Hmmm, I guess probably one of my favorite is, do you know that game where they do two truths and a lie? And you have to figure out which ones the lie? One of my favorite ones to put in there was that I was actually supposed to be in walking braces when I was really little. Just because of how I was built, my hips and everything. It’s a story I get told more than anything, I was very young, I couldn’t tell you exactly what age, but probably younger than four. So I was probably pretty little. But my mom was like: No, we are not going to do that! She had a done a lot of work as a physical therapist, and she studied and became a PTA. And it turned out for me then, I went on to do a bunch of different sports, when I was younger trying them all out. And then pursued gymnastics until I was 10, and obviously played hockey. And I’m still pretty flexible with my hips. So yeah, I think that’s something I don’t think anyone would have seen coming from that request to now. So that’s probably one I put in for that game, because it’s a surprise. And it is a positive thing for me, obviously, in terms not having to wear them and still be athletic. And I’ll tell you, flexibility and hockey really go together, you might think it doesn’t, but I tell you it does!”

We wrapped things up with Rachael and thanked her for her insightful and candid comments. She added “As always, I just want to say thank you to all the fans Because the love keeps you going. The fans with how great they are, all across different hockey bases, it’s awesome.. And we couldn’t do what we do without them.” Spoken in the true spirit of the Foundation Award winner she is. Fins Up to that! 

“Lettuce” not forget to add this photo of Rach feeding her Mom’s desert tortoise!