Bright and articulate, kind and sincere, these are some of the qualities that best describe Anya Battaglino. Providing solid leadership for the Connecticut Whale’s defensive unit, her tenacious approach on the ice, complemented by maturity and a positive attitude in all aspects of the game has translated into an even more prominent role.
While the latter half of the NWHL’s second season has featured an exciting All-Star Game, along with Denna Laing Day and an emotional farewell for Buffalo Beauts backstop Brianne McLaughlin, a key aspect for the league’s promising future took place with the involvement of Battaglino. Becoming the head of the NWHL Player’s Association (NWHLPA), it represents more than just a high point in her sensational career; it is a demonstration of her love of the game and an appreciation of the others who sacrifice in order to play the game they equally care for.
Following the unfortunate announcement involving the league’s reductions in salary, it was players such as Battaglino that rose to the occasion, whose professionalism and demeanor helped to prevent a mutiny that would have led to the league’s collapse. Although it was not a happy time for all involved, tears understandably shed by many who felt dejected, Battaglino, among others, showed admirable dignity, refusing to indulge in anger and frustration.
Remaining focused on the bigger picture, it was Battaglino’s finest hour. Acknowledging that one of the key fundamentals for professional women’s ice hockey is providing young girls with role models, it stands as one of the hallmarks of her professional career, proudly conveying that message frequently.
As the NWHL looked to improve relationships by opening the door to allow for new leadership at the Players Association level, it proved to be a key turning point in working towards providing the beleaguered players with a sense of ownership, and a stake in helping to form its future.
Possessing a supernova of charisma, it became evident that Battaglino was the ideal candidate for the position as head of the Players Association. Embodying the great potential that women have to be tremendous leaders, and influential role models, Battaglino sees the greater goal built on the betterment for women in sport.
Highly motivated, Battaglino’s leadership qualities displayed were evident at previous levels of her hockey career. As a member of the National Honors Society when she starred in hockey and golf at the Waltham School, she would also serve as Keynote Speaker when she graduated from Boston University with a degree in Marine Sciences. Having donned the crimson jersey for the Terriers, Battaglino amazingly juggled the demands of athletics and studies with a gracious stint volunteering at the New England Aquarium.
Having played with the Terriers alongside current New York Riveters’ stars such as Kaleigh Fratkin and Rebecca Russo, Battaglino would be part of a Terriers squad that qualified for the NCAA Frozen Four title game in her freshman season. When the next chapter of her career brought her to the Connecticut Whale (where she called Fratkin a teammate once again in 2015-16), she would also take on a role as a player representative for the franchise, strong indicators of remarkable dedication.
“I was most strongly motivated by the potential for improvement. I was sitting on the NWHL PA board as a Representative of the Connecticut Whale, and when I noticed that we could potentially fix a broken system I wanted to get involved in a stronger way.”
Although the league faced criticism, there are already encouraging signs that there is an effort to make things right. Having weathered the storm, the fact that the NWHLPA is strengthened by the presence of new leadership ensures that a firm direction is in place, dedicated towards ensuring that any mistakes of the past shall not be repeated.
Ready to take on the exciting challenge in her new capacity as head of the NWHLPA, Battaglino leads a group of eight representatives, encompassing a group of 92 empowering athletes. Elements such as player morale, establishing trust and creating opportunities to generate revenue shall be keys towards both sustainability and success. Understanding that there will be a need to reevaluate the current state of affairs, allowing for efficient communication, while working in collaboration with the league towards establishing effective processes, these are challenging undertakings that mirror Battaglino’s assiduous playing style, where she works tirelessly to protect her crease, while allowing her team a chance to succeed.
“I believe in advocating for the betterment of the players in the league, and having representation at the league head office was crucial. I know it was a hard decision but I believe that to continue to drive Women’s hockey forward we need someone to do it. I was honored to have the approval of the rest of the Players Association, and I have already started to get the ball rolling on some new initiatives for the NWHLPA and I think the future is very bright.”
Equally important in this role is visibility, an element that Battaglino has approached with gusto. Showing a genuine interest in the league’s activities involving its players, she has been on-hand, bringing an encouraging presence to all involved. From the second NWHL All-Star Game to bringing the Isobel Cup to centre ice following the Buffalo Beauts victory, her cheerful smile helped set a reassuring yet confident tone, displaying a genuine want to make things better.
So far, the feedback has proven to be positive from her peers. The likes of New York Riveters captain, and player representative, Ashley Johnston and fellow Terriers alumnae (and 2017 All-Star) Russo, among others, have been quoted online sharing their support. Undoubtedly, this type of important endorsement helps to instill confidence on a reciprocal level, as both players and the representatives on the PA work towards the greater good.
With the mutual goal of a prosperous future, both the league and its Players Association must collaborate towards the objective of establishing a solid structure and strengthening relationships, necessary hallmarks for the third season to come.
Many of the turning points in other sports leagues that resulted in eras of unprecedented growth and significant revenue streams were attributed to strong working relationships between its executive and the players association. Perhaps joint partnerships with local teams, or co-promoting an event with a men’s professional team or a women’s ice sledge hockey team are concepts that may find a place on the table.
Both baseball and basketball in the 1980’s were remarkable examples of how merchandising and licensing made both players and owners flush with cash. Although some in baseball viewed the players association with an antagonistic approach, more out of frustration because times had changed, making old management styles obsolete, the balance sheet told the true story.
Therefore, the effort to establish a substantial business model for the future must be approached as a partnership, becoming a paradigm towards reaching mutual goals.
“I think the biggest pain throughout the league is Communication. It is one of the most crucial things in running a business as well as unifying a group to pioneer together. The league head office is spread so thin with bandwidth that I look forward to enhancing that level of communication for the players. I also hope to create more avenues to monetize the players time.
This allows them to make money whilst they play but also to monetize their down time so that they have more opportunities for success. Allowing local youth teams to book players for speaking sessions or skills camps as well as local companies looking to utilize NWHL players as Brand Reps.
I hope that my new role can unify the players into a cohesive group that feels supported and respected, but further more helps them have pride in their roles within the league and have a level of gravitas.”
Taking into account that the third NWHL season shall be a season with the loss of its superstars, ambitiously looking towards gaining roster spots for the United States national team that will aspire for gold at the 2018 Winter Games, it may be prove to be a blessing in disguise. Not only does the upcoming season allow other players the chance to attain superstar status, it allows for a season with potentially less pressure.
In a season where its superstars are absent, it allows for the league and its PA to discuss opportunities to experiment with different concepts and ideas, in the name of finding important revenue streams. Should success be reached in this regard, it allows for the superstars to return in the autumn of 2018 to a more encouraging situation.
Having already made preparations for the third season, it is a positive sign that the NWHL is headed in the right direction. With the potential to expand its fan base and increase brand awareness, one brilliant initiative involves neutral site games, one that Battaglino is looking forward to.
“I think neutral game sites are such a huge opportunity to spread the already expansive reach of the National Women’s Hockey League. Our success at the All Star Game proved that out of market games will bring fans that are craving women’s hockey.
It allows us to market our players and league as well as grow grassroots fan bases. It allows us to test markets for expansion but most importantly it allows us to connect to our fans far and wide. Our fans are the lifeblood for the league, and getting people to our games and our games to them is crucial.”
As the only aspect that eclipses Battaglino’s love of the game is her appreciation of the fans, where she always chats with young fans at home games, providing them with encouragement, they will always have a strong focus in everything she does to make the game better. While a significant aspect to her hockey legacy is inspiration, encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams and break barriers, there is no question that her solid work ethic and dedication to her fellow players shall help to form a new legacy.
While Battaglino is destined to become a role model, there are others whose consideration positively played a part in establishing her admirable qualities and earnestness. From her earliest roots in the game, to a serendipitous encounter in her youth at Boston University with a two-time Winter Games medalist, these are all landmark moments that hold a cherished place.
It is the same kind of moments that Battaglino tries to create as a member of the Whale. Seeing the jubilation in a child’s face when she signs an autograph, or hearing them inform her that they also wear the same number 4 that adorns the back of her Whale jersey, it brings an enormous feeling of fulfillment,
“When I think back on some of the reasons I work so hard to inspire the youth to follow their dreams, there are so many people that come into my mind. From watching Courtney Kennedy play for USA in an exhibition game at BU and have her get eye level to me and tell me ‘This all could be yours’ to my brother spending hours in the garage teaching me how to take a slapshot.”
Such family ties involved another important figure whose tireless efforts resulted in a lasting impression on Battaglino. Finding inspiration in her mother, an exceptionally strong woman whose resilient character never wavered despite adversity, Battaglino’s leadership is an everlasting tribute to her superb influence.
“However, the most prevalent role model I had was my mother, Lori Kelly. She opened a small business, she built it from one store to three, she had two young children running around stealing candy bars and making a mess but she grew her business to great success. When the stock market crashed, slowly three booming stores turned back to one and eventually was closed and the building was sold.
My mother did not stop, she did not accept defeat. My mother’s store closed after almost 19 years of successful business. She now is the National Sales Manager for a major company. She is the definition of power and inspiration and growth. My mother is the strongest woman I know, and I was so fortunate to be raised by the definition of grace.
She is the reason I will never stop fighting for young girls to follow their dreams. I have never heard my mother tell me that something was impossible; she always told me that I could reach any height. I want to share that message with as many girls as I can, whether they want to be professional athletes or just professionals in the workplace. She inspires me, and in turn I try to inspire the next generation.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook