After four years at the University of New Hampshire, Jenna Rheault joined the NWHL’s Boston Pride this past season and helped to restore the roar of the franchise as part of the group that set numerous league records before the championship game was canceled because of our current global pandemic.
As a rookie, the stay-at-home defender was fourth on the team in blocked shots (17), played in every game (24) while chipping in with six points (1g-5a), and one very memorable game-winning goal (more on that in a bit).
While at UNH, Rheault played steady enough that the Pride ended up drafting her 25th overall in the 2018 NWHL Draft and now they hope she is one of the foundations their team is built upon for the next several years.
We spoke with the 24-year-old recently via phone to get her thoughts on her rookie season, supporting her teammates and the league, the future of the Pride, and more.
Rheault Boosts Boston’s Blueline
The Hockey Writers: Looking back at your rookie season, how would you assess it?
Jenna Rheault: I definitely couldn’t have asked for a better experience; coming into it I was extremely nervous and didn’t really know what to expect. Especially with a lot of players opting to not play in the NWHL and joining the PWHPA instead. But I’m so happy I decided to play, I think I grew as a player and as a leader as well. Obviously, I’m not a defender who is going to put up a lot of points, but I still really enjoy being a stay-at-home defender. Seeing my team spend a lot of time in the offensive zone – it definitely challenged me to become a little bit more offensive (minded) and try to contribute to the offense a little bit more. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better rookie season in the NWHL. It’s awesome playing for the Boston Pride.
THW: You said you are a stay-at-home defender, but you gave us one of the great overtime goals in the history of the league (fantastic celly, too). What do you remember about the goal you scored against Buffalo to clinch a win for the Pride?
JR: (laughs) That goal was amazing. I think you could see it in my reaction…that I was like, ‘wait, that just went in…oh my goodness.’ It was one of those games where things really weren’t bouncing our way and Buffalo came to play that day, they really challenged us. Having Paul Mara and Heath Gordon as our coaches give us a little safety net. They kept telling us we were going to win that game and that we have to have confidence.
When we went out in overtime, I dunno, I just felt really good that game and I had this weird feeling that I was going to score. Or contribute to the offense in someway! Tori (Sullivan) and Lexi Bender – they made some pretty good drop-passes and then I was just in the perfect spot to receive the puck from Tori in the slot. Just a great feeling! And being able to have that as my first goal in the NWHL was something else as well.
It just gave me some confidence that if I put my mind to it, I can contribute offensively, and I do still have that puck. My senses kicked in, I took the shot and it went in.
Mara’s Coaching Magic
THW: How much did it help you to have a former NHL defenseman in Coach Mara working with you this past season?
JR: He’s just such a great coach who is super knowledgable and is able to help us on and off the ice. I think he’s such a respected player/coach and he’s just calm, cool, and collected. He’s able to have this confidence on the bench that gives us confidence. There is no anxiety on our team if we are down a goal. I think one of the games against Buffalo we were down two goals and he never panicked, he stayed super calm. I think he called a timeout at some point and told us that we are going to win this game, so don’t worry about this right now. Having that type of leadership from not only our coach but also from Jillian Dempsey, Kaleigh Fratkin, and Lexi Bender – they’re all from the same mold as leaders. Having someone like Paul who had such a successful NHL career as our leader is huge, and his efforts to contribute to women’s hockey is just really honorable.
THW: We touched on this a bit but how did you see your game evolve from training camp until the end of the season?
JR: I was definitely nervous stepping onto this team, we had so much talent and being able to find what my role was as a defender definitely took a bit of time. So I feel like I had a bit of a rocky start as far as getting my bearings and finding my confidence. I developed, became more confident in myself – I was able to skate the puck up the ice a lot more, which was a huge part of my game in college. The weekend leading up to the playoffs and the semifinal weekend was some of my best hockey I think. It took me a while to get there, but it showed me that I do have that ability and I hope to carry that into the start of next season.
Gotta Support the Team
THW: Back in February, I saw you at both days of the NWHL All-Star Weekend in Boston, even though you weren’t selected to play. You were there up against the glass watching your teammates (and rivals) all weekend, but you didn’t have to be there. I thought that was really cool to see, but can you explain to our audience a little bit why you chose to attend?
JR: I went with (Boston teammates) Carlee Toews and Marisa Raspa, and Brooke Avery from the Metropolitan Riveters, and we just went to support our teammates. I think it just shows how close you can get as teammates, even just within one season. Just wanting to show your support in any way possible and show support for our league. There were a ton of fans there and it was great to be a part of that. Obviously, I love being on the ice, but seeing how excited the fans were to be there and seeing how excited our teammates were to be there that weekend – it just made us really proud of them. I’ve grown and created some great relationships over the past year with the Boston Pride. So yeah, I just wanted to go there to show my support, it definitely was a no brainer.
UNH to NWHL
THW: The University of New Hampshire has become a sort of pipeline for the NWHL. That has to make you feel really proud as an alumna from there, right?
JR: I am so extremely proud of (new Pride signings) Carlee Turner, Meghara (McManus), and Taylor (Wenczkowski), and Carlee Toews as well. It’s so great that we can have something to look forward to after playing at UNH.
THW: Was the NWHL something that was on your radar as you as you went through your collegiate career?
JR: During my sophomore year two of my teammates were drafted into the NWHL – Amy Schlagel and Julia Fedeski – and at the time I didn’t know much about the league or what it offered after college. Amy and Jonna Curtis eventually played and seeing how successful they were: winning the Isobel Cup with Minnesota, and how successful the league was in Minnesota really opened my eyes. This could be something and can be something that every girl that plays college hockey can strive to play in. Over the year that I played, I think the strides that we have taken to grow professional women’s hockey are amazing and I just can’t wait to see what it becomes in the next couple of years.
THW: On paper, it looks like the Pride will be strong again, what’s your outlook on the upcoming season?
JR: I’m super excited to be able to play for Boston again. Yeah, we do look great on paper like you said, and we did during the last off-season as well. I hope that our new players can find their stride and find who they are as players on our team. Everyone has their own individual role and I think that’s why we were so successful last year. We grew together as a team, we found our roles, and we came to play every single game. I hope the same thing happens next year – having that same friendship, positive group of supportive girls and I’m hoping we can carry that through next season.
Obviously the other teams around us got better as well. Toronto, Buffalo, Minnesota – every single team gained a lot, but I think that we are ready for it.
THW: It was very disappointing to not be able to play the Isobel Cup Final for you I’m sure, but now your team has a new slogan (on t-shirts and merchandise) – The Revenge Tour. Can that be motivation for the whole season, after not being able to cap off what was a great season with a Cup?
JR: I love it! And absolutely. I think that will light a fire under us because I think we had our names all over that Cup. It would have been a battle against Minnesota, but we were really driven to win. So having it end abruptly the way it did that will light a fire under us for sure.