"Everyone loves to score goals and get assists, but there are little aspects of the game that make me feel like a great player, when I am doing them successfully."
Connecticut Whale forward Nicole Connery knows the importance of being a 200-foot player, giving her best effort in every zone of the ice. So far, it seems to be working pretty well in her rookie season in the NWHL.
In just eight games, Connery has registered nine points, including three goals and six assists. She started off the season with a three-game point streak and has recently picked up her game, with points in each of her last two games.
Connery entered the NWHL this season coming off four seasons with the Quinnipiac Bobcats, where she earned a number of accolades, including ECAC Hockey All-Tournament Team, Quinnipiac Scholar-Athlete, and an ECAC title championship.
Through four seasons, the Newmarket, Ontario native registered 102 points (42-60) in 145 games. She averaged 0.7 points-per-game and was the fourth player in Quinnipiac program history to record 100 points.
Aside from her passion on the ice, Connery also has a passion for sports -- and video -- off the ice. She majored in film, video, and interactive media at Quinnipiac, and continues to use these skills daily.
Connery is part of the production crew at the TD Bank Sports Center (at Quinnipiac) for basketball and hockey games. Sometimes that means operating a camera for the live stream, while other times it means working the graphics for the Jumbotron. She also recently helped make a college recruiting video for a softball player, and back in March, she made this promotional video for the Bobcats' men's ice hockey team:
"A lot of students in my major had the big dream to go to Hollywood or New York City to make movies and TV shows, but I’ve geared more towards sports and promoting. It’s something that I love to do, because I'm helping promote people, players, and sports," Connery said.
On the ice, it's been a transition for Connery to move from college hockey to the professional league -- but it's one that she hasn't had to go through alone, with many fellow former Bobcats in the NWHL right alongside her.
"I knew these players were going to come out like lightning. The speed is remarkable, and the game is more physical. I think the biggest difference is the creativity of the players and how the game seems less structured," Connery said of the NWHL.
Connery now plays alongside five former Bobcats on the Connecticut Whale, four of whom she played with for at least two seasons at Quinnipiac.
"When we tally points together and succeed in games, it's kind of like Quinnipiac succeeds as well. When you think of it, your family is proud when you do well, because they're your roots. Then, your long development to college is your tree trunk of hard work and all your elementary and high school coaches are proud of you...then there is Quinnipiac, who is our branches. They were a part of our growth and will always be a piece of our success," Connery said.
"It's definitely an advantage to know the way my teammates play, because I’ve seen their habits for years, and I can sort of guess what they are going to do and where they are going to be on the ice," she added.
Those players include Nicole Kosta, Elena Orlando, and Cydney Roesler. Another player Connery knows really well is Kelly Babstock. The two played together at Quinnipiac from 2012-2014 (Babstock's last two years, Connery's first two), and Connery did a video documentary on Babstock for a college project in 2015. Now, they're professionals together.
"I think Babs is such a good character to have on a team. Her positivity and energy is incredibly contagious. She has never shied away from helping me and giving advice," Connery said. "She always encourages me to shoot more and boosts my confidence. It’s good to have someone who pays attention and notices your strengths and can help you be better."
Even now, as a professional, Connery is able to see the after-effects of her time at Quinnipiac.
"[Strength and conditioning] coach Brijesh Patel helped me grow mentally and physically. He showed me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may sound confusing, but it’s about never being satisfied, and always pushing beyond what your mind thinks it can do," she said.
"My coaches, Cassie [Cassandra Turner], Eddie [Ardito], and Mazz [Amanda Mazzotta] cared about all the details in a game, and it made me value the little efforts all over the ice," she said. "The staff made me very appreciative of all different roles they have to make our experience remarkable and comfortable."
Though Connery is still relatively new to the NWHL, she's quickly finding her place on the Whale roster and has already seen her personal game develop.
"It’s pushed me to increase my speed in all aspects. For one, my decisions on the ice needed to be made a lot quicker. The amount of empty space and time where an opponent wasn’t right there with me was very minimal," she said, noting that she's implemented more agility, plyometrics, and conditioning into her training.
Game days mean getting game notes from her parents and visually going through her play prior to the start of a game. Connery said she's not a superstitious player, and that there's nothing specific she has to do before every game -- save putting Palmolive dish soap on her helmet bubble to make it "clear as day."
As the season continues, and with it, Connery's professional career, she's bound to make more great memories. But one of her favorites so far?
"One of my favorite moments was when Juana Baribeau and I were signing in for workout, and a group of young female athletes saw us and their eyes widened and they smiled super big. They asked the trainer if he would wave to us and when we walked over they were so giddy and excited to work out with us," she said. "Moments like that make me realize how important the NWHL is for young girls, and how special it is to be a player in a league that they desire to be in."
Her advice for those young girls:
"Find a pond or some open ice and start exploring what it’s like to skate with a stick and a puck. Becoming a good hockey player is about repetition. You get better and better the more you keep trying. Don’t ever be afraid of failure, because you’ll learn that failure is just a form of feedback. I still fall in practices and games, and I miss the net when I shoot, but if I let that bother me and gave up, I would have never gotten to prove that I can hit the net and get back on my feet after I fell."
"I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of this league. Until last year I didn't know that I would get the chance to be an NWHL player. It never crossed my mind because it just didn’t exist," she said.
"It's a privilege to be on the ice with professional athletes that dedicate their lives to this sport, and are building themselves into greater athletes and people everyday. Just thinking of that is a motivation in itself. Only a select group gets to step on the ice with some of the most skilled and talented players in the world," Connery said.
Connery and her Whale teammates continue their quest for the Isobel Cup with one more game in the 2016 calendar year: a rematch against the NY Riveters on December 18. They'll then host the Buffalo Beauts on January 7 and the Boston Pride on January 15.