EMMA VLASIC: PICKLES OF THE POD


 “As long as skating was as perfect as this, it made no difference whether Holland were on the North Pole or the Equator..” Mary Mapes Dodge Hans Brinker: Or the Silver Skates
 

There’s been a lot of good news early in the process of putting together the Pod in front of Season Seven. And one of those bits of good news was the signing of our Amazing #15 Emma Vlasic for her third season with the Whale. Emma is quickly moving up the list of Whale career stats in several categories. And wearing the “A” on her sweater last season, she has just as quickly established herself as a team leader on the Whale as well. She is a veteran presence after hardly more than a rookie’s worth of games. If NWHL fans didn’t know who Pickles on the Pod was coming in, Emma’s All-Star Season Five performance changed that. And because we had never broached the subject before,we asked Emma about the entomology of her nickname. She explained

 “I think it stated, the first I heard about it, was with my cousin (Marc-Edouard Vlasic) So I think my cousin’s nickname for a while with the San Jose Sharks was Pickles. And people abbreviated it to like “Picks”, so there’s kind of various versions” she chuckled.." So that’s kind of when I heard of it. And then it started for me kind of at Yale, but most people just called me Vlasic, I would say.. And now with the Whale, everyone calls me Pickles! I don’t think anyone calls me Vlasic or anything else. And so I’ve kind of adopted that nickname. I kind of know that’s what I go by now, and even away from the rink people call me that. So yeah, it’s Pickles, that’s my name now. It’s kind of funny though that most people called me by my last name at Yale but now it’s everyone calls me Pickles. It’s kind of funny how that transition happened. It’s definitely unique, and I know it’s all in good humor, good nature,”

When we caught up with Emma recently she was on vacation. She told us

“I’m actually in South Carolina, I’m here last week and this week with my family for vacation. I’ve been coming here (Hilton Head Island) since I was very young. I’ll be in Connecticut for most of the summer, but in South Carolina right now. I need to work on my golf game a little bit, and there’s some really nice courses here.We’re trying to plan a a day to go, it's definitely something to do here. My brother and I are trying to get into it, because a lot of hockey players are really good at it.” 

Season Six was a bumpy ride in the NWHL, and we were anxious to hear Emma’s thoughts on her experience up at Lake Placid. Emma shared

 “Obviously it didn’t end the way anybody wanted it to, definitely difficult circumstances. We were just trying make sure we got in a season, it was so tough. There were so many other leagues at a high level who didn’t get to play, so we were lucky that they ( NWHL) tried to pull something together. For the first three games it was a really good experience. I really liked what I saw from our team, and obviously wins against Buffalo and Boston were huge. I felt really good about that. And I would have obviously liked to have been able to play out the tournament. But once things kind of started to shut down, it was unfortunate. But at the end end of the day everyone’s health and safety is the number one priority. But I really liked the direction we were trending in.”

Emma continued  “It was kind of tough, we went through an almost two month period where we were in between, wondering what would happen. Then we were back on the ice practicing. It was kind of crazy the way things played out, and obviously we didn’t put out that best performance that we wanted to against MInnesota. We did a lot of good things in that game, and I don’t think the score really reflected how the game was played. And I think we out shot them, I believe. But it was a good experience up until we had to shut it down. But like I said, in terms of takeaways on the hockey side, there were definitely good things. Kind of a bittersweet ending obviously, especially when it didn’t come to fruition in the last game. We certainly would have liked to be playing for the Isobel Cup in the final but I think there are a lot of things to take away, both good and bad. I think we’re all looking forward to a normal regular season schedule. Where we’re able to work on our game throughout a twenty plus game regular season. And then obviously make a push for the playoffs. So, we’re trending in the right direction I think, is the biggest takeaway from Lake Placid.”

Cetacean Nation also wondered if Emma had ever played at Lake Placid before, and what the experience in that historic venue is like.

“I had never played there before, it was really cool being a part of that tournament. Being in that rink and seeing all the names and everything obviously from the 1980 team. Everybody knows about that and has seen that movie and so it was really cool to kind of bring it full circle and be there. It was just a really nice little city too. And we walked around a little bit when we could, even though it was cold. It was a great experience, and it was definitely a great place. They could not have chosen a better spot in the sense that there is a lot of history there in terms of hockey and you want to be a part of that. It was just cool as I said, just to see all the names on the wall from the Olympics and everything of years past."

Emma added "The rink was really nice too. We are a fast team, so we kind of used that to our advantage, there’s definitely a lot of room out there.The ice was reallly good, they do a really good job (Fans who tuned in on Twitch will remember Aaron The Zam Man). Definitely a good surface to be playing on and we tried to use the bigger surface to our advantage. A few adjustments here and there” are chuckled. “a little more skating. Other than that, you just try to play yout game. I think the game is trending in that direction, even in the NHL it’s becoming a really fast game. And I think we want to play fast, it’s the biggest thing for us. And I think we did that pretty well. And I think the game just keeps getting faster and that’s great for the game and for the players. It makes for exciting hockey, and definitely exciting to be part of too.” 

The highlight of the season undoubtedly came on January 27th in the Whale’s game against Whale nemesis the Boston Pride. And the centerpiece of that game was the play of Emma Vlasic, who led the Whale to comeback with a goal & three assists in the third period, earning her StR of the Game. We asked Emma to take us back to breakdown that amazing period of hockey. She said

 “I wish I could say something was different or something clicked, but I it was really just: Keep at it and trust the process. It was actually kind of frustrating, our line was kind of a bit slow to get going in Lake Placid. That was our third game, and so you’re working, you’re working and you’re just kind of waiting for that one bounce to go your way. Yeah, it was just trusting the process and keep working for that first one. And obviously that first goal, I think it was Tori (Howran) from the point, kind of started us off. That was her first goal in the league, and that was a huge boost for us. And then from there Russ (Katelyn) and Wolfie (Alyssa Wohlfieler) were really great, and got in great spots. I don’t know if it was anything particular other than just staying with it. Wolfie found me in the slot with that really nice pass, and it felt really good to cap it off with that one. Like I said, nothing different, just keep working, and if you put your self in the right spots and work for it, it’s eventually going to go your way. “

Emma continued “That was our mentality, and obviously it worked. I don’t know when the last time four was for us, scoring four goals in the fourth period, and I don’t know when the next time is that will happen, but it was definitely cool to be a part of. If there was one team we wanted to beat going into that tournament, it was Boston. They’ve always had our number, at least in the time I’ve been here. Sometimes those blowout games are truly just not fun. You want to be competitive with the best teams in the leagu.e, so that win just kind of put things in perspective, of where our team is capable of being. We know now that when we play our game and we show up at work, we are just as good or better than anyone in the league. I think we proved that and I’m just looking forward to building on that over the course of a longer regular season.” 

Keeping the core together as much as possible, has become a key emphasis of the Whale. GM’s Bray Ketchum, Amy Scheer and Assistant GM Laura, Brennan have all spoken to this, and it is likely new GM Alexis Moed will continue that initiative. As of this interview, four of the six Whale signings for Season Seven are returning players, and in Season Six, ⅔ of the roster were veterans. We asked Emna to comment on that and she said

That’s great to see. When you start to develop a core group of players with people starting to return year after year, that’s a good sign. In terms of building that foundation. I think that’s so important. You see the other successful teams have been built like that. So I think it’s really great for us to be signing the people that make up the core of the team, character players, players that you can count on. We’re starting to build that. And obviously Amy and Bray and Laura have done a great job a great job with that, finding those pieces. And our identity is that we are a hard working team, and we come to work everyday, and we always have something to prove. And I think that’s a great identity to have and be a part of. And I think those three in the General Manager position have done a great job building that foundation. It’s fun to be a part of that and that grow.”

Another key element for the Whale heading into the future is the new ownership group of the Whale, headed by Tobin Kelly. Emma agreed, saying

 “That was really good news, and we’re excited to have Tobin be a part off the group. When I saw that news I was really excited, it’s huge. I think just continuing to build the Whale foundation, it’s great to have his support. And I look forward to working with him and the rest of my teammates. It’s really exciting continuing to move in the right direction, not just for the Whale but for women’s hockey. One of the other team’s was also just recently bought, the Riveters. And so now you have really good stepping stones here to just keep building on the growth of women’s hockey. That’s just such an essential piece, and I’m just really excited to see how Tobin will be be able to elevate this team and our league. I definitely think it’s going to be a huge boost for us for sure.”

In our last interview with Emma, we discussed the challenges of an offseason with no access to training facilities. Now most gyms and rinks are open, and we asked how offseason training is looking like for her now. She replied

“It’s been good, we’ve been going and working out with Ben Prentiss (Prentiss Hockey Performance) at the Stamford Twin Rinks, which has been great. Just a huge asset for us, and I love working out there, they are obviously the best at what they do. Very hockey specific training, and a lot of stuff that I’ve actually never done in my training, even in college. So it’s really special and we’re really lucky to have that right down the road from where a lot of us live in Stamford. It’s been good to be back there and kind of have more of a regular schedule in terms of that, not having to do the home workouts” she laughed  "It’s definitely good to be back in the gym. I haven’t really been skating a whole lot, my offseason is pretty much focused on the off ice training, and I try to skate here and there. We have a couple of skates this summer, we try to get on the ice a couple of times. But really I just focus on getting in shape and working on areas of my game that I want to work on, and thinking about how I can improve next year. But definitely good to be back in the gym and have a more regular schedule as far as that goes.” 

“If there was one team we wanted to beat going into that tournament, it was Boston” Photo by Michelle Jay

The epigraph at top of this interview wa from the most famous story about ice skates. But we got a great story about a pair of Emma’s skates from her DD. When we interviewed John Vlasic for our “All In The Family” series he told us this tale about Emma that warrants repeating

 “We won that tournament and she got the MVP. And the reason I remember it, was you got a free pair of skates from Bauer for that. And she was size 4.5 or 5, and me being the hockey Dad, I knew the break off was size six. At six it’s a men’s skate and twice as expensive. So I said: You don’t want to get some inferior kid’s skate now, you’re going to grow into it. So I ordered a size 6, beautiful, $550.00 skates. And as it turned out, she only makes it up to 5.5! She can never use them, and her younger brother a year later walks right into them.n And she was she was not happy! he laughed. "She’ll remember it, ask about it.”

So we did, by simply asking her: What size skates do you wear? Emma laughed and said “ I already know where this is going.! “In school I was like size five, but I actually went down to 4 ½. They recommended that I get a more snug fit, so I think I’m a 4 ½ now. We commented that those size six skates isn’t even work today,.  “No” she laughed again, “I don’t think it’ll ever work, hopefully. I remember that story, it’s tough, you never know how big people’s feet are going to get. But that was a fun tournament, and definitely a turning point in terms of my confidence and my playing career, even though it was it was a young age. I didn’t let him live that down, even years later. But it’s a funny story” she chuckled. We thought it was a great too, and Emma put the perfect twist on it . So as Paul Harvey (of ABC News, not the NHL) used to say "And now you know the rest of the story"

Her Dad had also told us this about Emma  “The hockey is really important to her. It would have to be somewhere in her life." Following up on that, we asked Emma if coaching might be in her future? And she revealed

“I definitely want to get into some coaching, and I’ve just been talking to a couple of my teammates about finding some coaching opportunities around the area. I think for me playing is a whole other dynamic, and I still very much like the intensity of that and competing at a high level. That’s what I love about the game. And right now I feel like I want to still be a part of that. I think the playing is really important to me, and however I choose to incorporate hockey later, it’s definitely going to be there. Whether it’s coaching, or overseeing certain things in hockey, it’s definitely something I’ll always be a part of. But nothing really right now, other than the playing.”

As a prelude to eliciting Five Fun Facts about her, we asked about Emma’s less than robust social media presence. She admitted  “I’ve never been big on social media. I just got a Facebook account a couple of years ago and I still don’t really go on it. I still don’t have an Instagram, so I’ll check Twitter throughout the day occasionally, and Snapchat" she laughed  "I mostly use Twiiter to keep up to date with what’s going on, and interesting things here and there that people post. It’s never really been a huge part of my life and what I do. But I certainly appreciate it for what it is, but I think I’m pretty quiet on the social media front in terms of posting and things like that. Kind of always been like that.” 
So to the questions :

Which is your favorite rink that you've played in?

"I’d have to say the Whale, the Yale Whale (Ingalls Rink) , just because of how unique it is and the history there. I remember the first time skating there, the first practice, and it was such a cool moment, bringing it all full circle, and realizing I was playing at Yale. And I think it goes perfectly well with the fact that I’m on the Whale now.”she laughed "It’s a cool spot for sure.”

Do you have any specific game day meal or routines?

"Mine would be pretty basic. I would say I just like to have chicken, pasta and salad. I know that’s probably what a lot of people would say. I had that in college most, before like almost every game. And so I just try to continue that, depending on what time the game is. I’ve only had one full season so far, because obviously last year was a little different. We kind of had games at different times my first season But when we played later in the day I would try to do some sort of the chicken, pasta and salad sort of thing. Other than that:, I try not to do a whole lot different. I go to the pregame skate if there is one, and then take a nap, fit in the pregame meal, and then ready to go! “
 
Do you have any pets?

“So my family has a cat named Leonard. He’s got kind of blondish fur. He goes by Leo for short, but I like to extend it out to Leonard to make it a little more official sounding. He just kind of looks like a Leo, maybe Leo the Lion is whee it came from because he’s got that blondish fur. He spends almost the whole day outside., he’s very active outdoors. He doesn’t have his own social media page unfortunately”she chuckled.

With Covid seemingly winding down, and travel restrictions being lifted is there any place you’d like to travel to?

"I would say Nova Scotia. We have a family cottage there at Melmerby Beach, about an hour from Halifax, and because Canada has been closed down we haven’t been ab,e to go the past two years now. So I think that would be a cool spot.”

And what is something most people wouldn’t know about Emma? “That’s a tough one. I usually talk about my baseball, and how I was the only girl on the team. I feel we may have talked about that in the past but I feel that’s something that I’ll mention. And I have an aunt that lives in Scotland which is pretty cool. We’ve been up there and visited a couple of times, and we have family in England as well. Definitely a cool place to visit, and I wantto go back again some time soon.”  We were aware that Emma was a big Cubs fan, and they are right at the top of the NL Central this season. She  commented "I follow on Twitter, and I’ve watched a couple of games. But it’s been great. They started kind of slow I think, but they’ve been really good. I’m excited to see what they can do this year. Definitely a lot of excitement around the Cubs, for sure.”

And a lot of excitement around pod the Whale heading into Season Seven as well. And a lot of that centers around our Amazing center, Emma “Pickles” Vlasic. We thank Emma for sharing her thoughts and insights once again with Cetacean Nation, and look forward to what we think will be a great upcoming season for #15 and the Pod. Fins Up to that!