Anya Battaglino Making a Difference Off the Ice During Recovery

Injured in a late November game against the Buffalo Beauts, Anya Battaglino hasn’t let being hurt get in the way of her making a difference, just like her groundbreaking sisters are in the inaugural NWHL season. In fact, the Connecticut Whale blueliner is doing so many good things, having a little fun and taking us all along for the ride on social media while she continues to rehab her injury — in hopes of returning in time for the NWHL playoffs.

Before she took over the Whale Twitter account while she was at the Winter Classic on January 1 (and had boatloads of fun doing so) Battaglino announced on her own account just before Christmas that she would donate hockey sticks to less fortunate kids for every 50 followers she gained; her teammate/roommate Kaleigh Fratkin also joined up and the two ended up donating a total of 15 sticks.

“For me it just kind of came down to — I love doing something that kind of goes a little bit further than we can with our scope of things. So for me I was thinking, ‘what can I do? What can I feasibly do?’ I can definitely donate sticks. I can definitely go out and spend a day here, work with some of those companies that do provide gear for children that are underprivileged,” Battaglino explained to The Hockey Writers. “That’s something I really believe in because the sport of hockey is so great — everyone should be able to experience it. Whether your financial situation allows or not, that’s where we see a big kind of hardship with hockey.”

As she went on to explain to us about the mini campaign that she started in the holiday spirit, you could see how much it meant to her. The passion in her eyes. The excitement of not only making a difference by donating sticks, or being an NWHL player, but also the ability to impact the future generations by simple gestures on social media; responding to fans and interacting with possible future professional players. Battaglino gets it, and the league in it’s infancy stages is filled with amazing trailblazers and pioneers.

Connecticut Whale players are doing good on and off the ice. (Credit : NWHL)
Connecticut Whale players are doing good on and off the ice. (Credit: NWHL)

“What I ended up starting, and then Kaleigh joined on, which was great, for every 50 followers (gained) we would donate a stick. Some will be her sticks, some my sticks, we went out and bought sticks. I took my whole December salary and I bought some sticks,” she said before adding with a grin, “We don’t have thirty sticks lying around in the back room. So all in total we ended up donating fifteen because that’s what number we fell onto.”

The experience was a reminder of how fortunate Battaglino and her NWHL counterparts are, now that they can say they are the first women to earn a paycheck while playing professional hockey, and this is just the beginning of more great things to come as they inspire children all over the world that they one day too can live out their dreams. While they aren’t getting paid like NHL players, it’s a start, and it’s something that a lot of people likely never thought of a year ago at this time. Now, it’s a reality.

“I thought, what a lucky day. What a lucky month. What a lucky year…it is for me that I get paid. So why not take some of what I make and kind of spread that wealth,” she told THW with a smile from ear to ear like the one pictured in her tweet above. “It all just started with me just thinking, I’ll do something for my own social network as well as do something great for Christmas. When Kaleigh got involved it became a little of a competition of who can get more. But it’s also about giving others the idea of, hey if you have old gear ship it off. There’s a lot of great companies that do a lot of hockey (equipment) refurbishing and that’s something that I want to start getting involved with; but it was so much fun (to make a difference for kids).”

As mentioned earlier, Battaglino and the NWHL are all learning about how they can grow their game and names with the ability to truly interact with their fans in the social media era that the world is in. They’re almost truly learning on the fly as some of the women that maybe weren’t well-known Olympic or high-profile college athletes are now becoming well known in the four-team league that is almost about to hold its first All-Star weekend (January 23-24) in Buffalo, NY.

“Social media 101 would be so valuable in college right now,” she half-jokingly said. “The way that I look at it is – what can I do with my account that is going to impact the greater good. For me, I can take myself back to high school when I said really all I am trying to do is pave the way for the next generation. It’s never going to be the same for them. They’re never going to have to play boys hockey and fight to be on a varsity team like I did in high school; or they’re never going to have to feel the stress of starting a new league or having to work three jobs to make it work.”

“For me with social media, it’s what can I do right now to make it better for ten years from now. That kid that I’m watching at my game, that’s going to be making hundreds of thousands of dollars doing this — I’m envious of her — because she has people in her corner. Like myself, like my teammates, like our staff, our organization. What I do is — I like to be fun and engaging. I follow social media accounts of celebrities and I try to figure out what do they do that’s working, how do they get people involved, how do they not be confrontational. I was tweeting like crazy during the Winter Classic and for me that was so much fun because I’m injured, I couldn’t be involved (on the ice), but I’m involved.”

She paused, smiled and went on to say, “There’s nothing better than getting a tweet from a fan saying – ‘hey your reply to my tweet made my day’, or I have someone who follows my Instagram that says – ‘your pictures always make me laugh! I never know where you are going to be’. I’m all over the place and I think that is so much fun that they know how crazy my life is. Everyday I find something new out; you can see your tweet activity and I like to watch how it grows or who I am impacting, who is clicking on things. I really have so much fun being involved with them.”

Even during some of her toughest days following what was truly a scary and serious injury, the outpouring of support on social media for the 24-year-old meant a lot to her. “When I got injured, maybe not the greatest day of my life,” Battaglino said with a smirk in the understatement of the century, “social media was such a great way to put my fans at ease. I’m okay, I’m still tweeting, my thumbs are working; things like that. We’re starting to build these lasting relationships with people who care and that’s so much fun to watch.”

“The idea that this league is so centralized in this area, which is great and helps us all so much, but at the same time we have fans in California that we are sending shirts to, and we are sending tweets to and I want them to be involved,” she explained with her trademark smile surfacing again. “Whenever I can take my selfie stick out and send them a photo, I try; that’s fun because the bigger we can extend our network – the more we have the opportunity to make people aware of what we are doing here. We’re banging down this door and social media is letting us prove to everyone else that we are doing it. That’s the fun part for me. Now kids are getting iPhones at 11-years-old and they’re tweeting at me and I’m impacting their life in some kind of way and that’s fun.”

“When I was younger I barely saw my idol, who is Courtney Kennedy, she ended up coaching at BC and I ended up playing at BU; so we were like rivals. I mean, she was my idol and I only saw her play twice; I didn’t get any connection with her. I went to one of her games and got my shirt signed and she knelt down on my level and looked me right in the eyes — and I was like: ‘that’s it! I want to be a hockey player! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ Now I can do that without making them come to me. I can goto them (via social media) and I can get them involved; be it SnapChat or whatever. There are so many apps that are so much fun to have connections with.”

“It gives us the capability to reach more. Show more. Tell more. Educate more. Empower more girls, and boys even. We have little boys come get things signed everyday. Someone said this is for little girls,” said Battaglino, “I said this is for every little person; little boys, little girls, anyone that thinks – one day I want to do that. Watching the little boys come through the lineup (for autographs) melts my heart, because they are looking up to us. They just say: ‘that’s a pro hockey player.’ The kids are my favorite part (of this).”

Battaglino grew up in Boston, went to college in Boston, played in the CWHL in Boston and now as she starts a new chapter in her life she wanted to face that challenge outside of Boston. It didn’t have to be that way as she could have possibly played for the Boston Pride in the NWHL, but she told THW why it was important and exciting for her to play hockey outside of Boston.

“The type of life I was living in Boston and the type of life I am living in Connecticut is similar because I’m still in that suburban area, I didn’t move to downtown Stamford, but it’s different; it’s a whole different world. I joke around because I haven’t changed my license plate yet, because I can’t give Boston up, but for me I’ve done everything in Boston and this was such a new experience — this league, this life — I just want something to be different. I kind of put my feelers out there to every team but Boston, for me I wanted a new situation.”

“Connecticut is great because I can still drive home if I miss my mom,” Battaglino explained, “and I can say ‘mom I’m out!’ when I’m not in the mood. It’s fun, but it’s also a pretty big adjustment. A lot of us are feeling that. Everyone in my house is from a different area. Kaleigh is from Vancouver, Shiann Darkangelo is from Michigan, Chelsea Laden is from Minnesota and I’m from Massachusetts. So we all have no idea. But it’s been so much fun.”

There certainly will be more fun as the inaugural NWHL season continues and even more fun year after year. You can bet your you-know-what that Anya Battaglino will be documenting it along the way, having fun and making a difference in many young boys and girls’ lives day after day.

Fans can connect with Anya on Twitter: @battaglinoa

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: