As the National Women’s Hockey League’s clubs began acquiring players to fill out their rosters, it became evident that many of the players were not just athletes, but ambassadors for the game. In addition to their agile talents on the ice and dedication in the classroom as student-athletes, many were equally dedicated to bringing betterment to their community.
One such person who represented these values was blueliner Anya Battaglino, a member of the Connecticut Whale. With a strong hockey resume that includes four consecutive state tournaments in high school, to a run with the Boston University Terriers, complemented by a Clarkson Cup in 2013, there was no question that the Whale also landed a fundamentally sound player.
An additional factor would shine through, most notable during the recent holiday season. Battaglino showed compassionate spirit, embodying the values of being a Hockey Humanitarian. With fellow Whale teammate Kaleigh Fratkin (both were also teammates with the Boston University Terriers); the two launched a very moving campaign on social media.
Such graciousness resulted in a very moving initiative to assist the less fortunate, while incorporating a love of hockey. The result was a heartwarming stick donation campaign, an admirable and heartwarming effort. With the criteria that a stick would be donated for every 50 “follows”, the compassionate result was 15 sticks, as reported by Dan Rice.
“The idea was born from just thinking about what I can do to entice people to get involved with a cause that’s bigger than myself. I know getting active on Twitter is an easy task and getting people to retweet or follow or like a post is fairly easy. I love to get people involved with causes I care deeply about.
In so many ways hockey has identified me for years, and to think that some children cannot afford the same experience is so sad to me. So I thought how can I not only provide awareness to this, but also how can I contribute in a way that changes someone’s holiday.”
Reflecting on the concept sees Battaglino’s maturity shining through. For the less fortunate children whose holiday she and Fratkin helped brighten, they are destined to become a beloved part of their hockey communities, subsequently making them the kind of players that young players would like to emulate.
Taking into account that this charitable endeavor occurred during rehabilitation from injury, Battaglino certainly put a strong emphasis on teamwork. The result was not only one of proud achievement but it was one of shared victory,
“To see so many people get involved and to see the numbers climbing melted my heart. I even had people telling me they were donating money to similar causes, or recycling old gear. That is what I wanted to happen, I wanted to have people change their inverted outlook and think critically about what the hockey community can do to help.
There are so many of us with old sticks in the basement or old helmets and skates and to us it is just old stuff or last year’s model but to someone else it is the opportunity to experience the sport. It is someone else’s key to success, it is the "Welcome" mat on the front door.
Every single one of us in the NWHL is blessed to have the opportunity to play and to get customized sticks from Base Hockey and to get gear and everything, and on top of that we get paid. So for me, taking my December salary to buy sticks for children that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to play was a no brainier. I want everyone to be able to love hockey and play hockey as much as I do.”
Although Battaglino is classified as a practice player for the Whale, her respect for teammates and devotion to the club are without dispute. She is a benignly and upbeat player, whose optimism charisma is geared towards a collective effort where success is the end goal.
There is no question about her intention to show up for work, her appreciation for the team is only enhanced by a smile that envelops her love of hockey. Such a profound approach and philosophical wisdom translates into motivation, setting a positive example for her contemporaries.
“When I look at my teammates, I do not even see that I am a practice player. There are 22 people on our roster and being a member of this amazing group of trailblazers is what gets me out of bed in the morning. When we do anything in life, we have to fill specific roles, whether it’s a leadership role at work or a supportive role in a friendship, life constantly gives you roles to adhere to perform at the best of your ability.
My role within the CT Whale is to be a good teammate and a challenger in practice and when I get called up into a game, I need to be prepared and ready for game day. Whether I am sitting in dress pants or hockey pants, I know that when the puck drops I have done everything to prepare my teammates and myself for victory. That is what motivates me. It blurs the line between "practice player" and "rostered" player.”
Getting the opportunity to compete with the Whale in the first-ever game in NWHL history, it set the stage for a remarkable and highly memorable milestone in her hockey career. It also added an empowering chapter to a sparkling body of work that once included the opportunity to grace NHL ice in 2013 at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome, back when she donned the black and gold jersey of the Boston Blades.
Adding to the historic jubilation of playing in the NWHL’s inaugural game was the presence of her family, stirring triumphant emotions. Along with good friend Fratkin becoming the first Canadian to register a point in NWHL history, Battaglino would win a pair of faceoffs, all contributions towards a 4-1 victory against the New York Riveters. In reflecting on such a euphoric moment, she acknowledges the bigger victory for the game itself, testament to her team-first approach,
“For my NWHL debut, I had my parents in the stands and the second I stepped on the ice I locked eyes with my mom and I had to choke back a tear or two. I was flying around the ice for warm-ups, and I was getting paid for it. It was absolutely surreal to think to myself that there was a guy in my place doing the same thing, and now the NHL exists.
I have not let it all soak in that when I have a baby girl she will look wide eyed at something I was able to help start. That was the thought in my mind, it constantly is. We have such a huge responsibility to ensure success, and that started and continues with that game and each game afterward.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/battaglinoa