Leading up to the Women’s Winter Classic, the first-ever professional women’s hockey game contested outdoors, one of the feel-good stories about the event involved Rachel Llanes. Raised in San Jose, California, her hockey journey would take her to Boston, one of America’s most beloved sports cities. While Boston has become a second home to such an accomplished competitor like Llanes, she has contributed to a remarkable era in the city’s growing legacy of elite women’s hockey as the Classic represented the second outdoor game in her illustrious career.
“I’m very lucky to have been able to experience playing at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. That on top of making history twice is incredible. I was just happy and extremely feel blessed to have been a part of the two opportunities to showcase women’s hockey in amazing venues. I love that Pickett and I are able to share these memories together. I definitely lighten up a lot more when I have Pickett on the ice with me; it’s amazing to say that we are both a part of women’s hockey history.”
Starting with the Northeastern Huskies at the NCAA level, Llanes contributed to several magical moments in program history, including a pair of Beanpot titles and a Hockey East regular season title. Throughout such a time, she had the privilege to call talented individuals such as Kendall Coyne, Brittany Esposito, Casey Pickett, Lucia Povova, Florence Schelling and even future NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan as teammates.
While at Northeastern, the first exciting chapter in Llanes’ Beantown hockey career involved competing in an outdoor game at Fenway Park, one of the oldest and most revered baseball stadiums, a true landmark. On January 8, 2010, Llanes (who was in her freshman season at Northeastern) and the Huskies competed against the New Hampshire Wildcats during the Sun Life Frozen Fenway series.
One week prior, the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers had competed at Fenway in the second annual NHL Winter Classic. The chance for Llanes and her Huskies teammates to follow in their path and grace the same frozen surface was a tremendous source of historic pride as it represented the first outdoor game in NCAA women’s hockey history.
Although Llanes did not register a point at Frozen Fenway, such an event not only thrust the female game into the larger sporting conversation, it also set the foundation for a remarkable friendship. Scoring the Huskies second goal of the contest (the first historic goal was logged by Esposito); Casey Pickett would blossom into a leader for the Huskies program, playing alongside Llanes throughout her entire time there. The two became synonymous with consistent productivity, both an integral component to the Huskies unprecedented success over the next sensational seasons.
With careers practically running parallel to each other, Llanes and Pickett would remain teammates following their NCAA careers. Continuing their proud Boston hockey legacies with the Blades, resulting in a Clarkson Cup victory in 2015, this distinguished hockey duo joined the Boston Pride for their inaugural season. Gaining the opportunity to participate in the Women’s Winter Classic, they would become the only players to earn the distinction of having played in both outdoor games.
From the moment that Llanes and her Pride teammates entered their locker room at Gillette Stadium, the energizing feelings of historic anticipation signified a sense of achievement, arriving to a larger stage where their talents could shine under a blanket of ice and snow, as a record number of fans would witness their world class skills. Adding to such jubilation was a remarkable feeling of acceptance that emanated from a bag allocated to all players. Such paraphernalia were gratifying gifts, a sign of acceptance and graciousness,
“Everyone was obviously excited as we were greeted by a bag full of apparel from the NHL, then were given the run down on the process leading up to the game. We all couldn’t wait to get out there. We were excited for the opportunity to skate at Gillette, but more importantly we were pumped to showcase a great game against Montreal. Once we stepped on the ice we all enjoyed the moment, but got down to business pretty quick.”
Although Gillette Stadium may be known colloquially as the House that Tom Brady Built, his impact elevating pro football in Boston to a national importance never known before, the stadium’s impact took on much greater meaning in terms of sporting and social history with the Women’s Winter Classic. Llanes was among an impressive group of women that are changing the game, providing it with a whole new image.
While these wondrous women were on an equal footing with the stars of the NHL for one magical day, the most admirable quality is their humility and work ethic (most players work offseason jobs), which has a profound meaning in their relationship with fans. For all the friends, family and fans of the players in attendance, the chance to be part of such a significant event was a shared victory.
As Llanes and her teammates, adorned in their gold-colored Pride jerseys tried to absorb such career defining scenery, there was a feeling of belonging, an encouraging sign of what may lay ahead, signaling the arrival of the game on a grander stage. While Llanes and Pickett experienced the proud personal milestone of competing in an outdoor game twice, they were part of an event that forever changed women’s hockey.
“When I first stepped on the ice for warm ups, we didn’t have to wear our helmets just our winter beanies, I thought that was so cool and I remember looking up and around the stadium and just enjoying every second of it.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Getty Images