The last time that I spoke with Anya Battaglino was before Christmas. At that point, she was a steadying blue-liner for the Connecticut Whale, who was also doing a terrific job with color commentary for NWHL games from time to time. With arguably the biggest, most ferocious heart you could ever hope to find, Anya is Anya. Upbeat, highly engaging with a smile as big as the room, her entire heart and soul is invested in women’s hockey and the NWHL.
Two months later Battaglino was named the director of the NWHL’s Players Association. A person and a position that goes together like hand in glove. During the 2016-17 NWHL season, there were turbulent times for the players and the league, especially with the salary issue. Long hours on the phone with leaders of the other three NWHL teams and a commitment like no other, led Battaglino and the league to finish out the year on the highest of notes and excitement for what is yet to come.
Season three for the National Women’s Hockey League will be a pivotal one. Think of a seven-game playoff series for a moment. By Game 3 the players and their teams have become quite familiar with one another, having tested the waters in the first and second go-rounds. Games 1 and 2 have set the stage and laid the foundation. The third game, or in this case, the third season for the NWHL is when the fire truly ignites and the fun begins.
“I cannot wait to see all of the rookies start their seasons off. That is always my favorite part of a new year,” Battaglino told me.
She is an original member of the Whale; Battaglino has played in a career total of 13 regular season games across the NWHL’s two seasons. She would know firsthand from the 2016-17 season alone what spark rookies are able to bring to their clubs. The Whale’s high-flying Haley Skarupa exploded in her first NWHL season, leading Connecticut in scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists in 16 regular season games.
And Skarupa was not the only one. Nicole Connery, Cydney Roesler, Nicole Kosta, and Dana Trivigno each came out guns blazing in their first seasons for the Whale. Not to mention the stellar first years that rookies Alex Carpenter (Boston), Emily Janiga (Buffalo) and Amanda Kessel (New York) had around the league.
Unfortunately, players like Carpenter, Kessel, Hilary Knight, Emily Pfalzer, Megan Bozek and others will be lost to the U.S. national team for the 2017-18 campaign. While their excitement and production will be greatly missed for the third season, Battaglino knows well that this will bring about that wonderful word other players love to hear: opportunity.
— Anya Packer (@battaglinoa) March 24, 2017
“I think there will be a lot of breakout players in the third year. I think you will see players that were grinders start to shine as goal scorers, and you will see leadership dynamics shift. I think without our U.S. players there will be a lot more space for a stand-out college player to shine. The teams are all going to have to work that much harder to keep the pace and level of intensity. But with the group of players I have been watching the last two years, I think the last thing we are missing is heart, determination and the drive to be our best.”
Still, there must be a current NWHL player whom Battaglino envisions could lead the charge for season three:
“If I had to point to one player in the league from the last year to watch I would pick Jill Dempsey. She is one of the hardest working and most underrated players in this league. She will do some outstanding things. I know it, and I am excited to watch her in year three.”
Dempsey, a forward for the Boston Pride and a Harvard graduate has won over 200 faceoffs in her two seasons with the club and 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 35 games. Last season she was also tied for third in plus-minus for Boston with a superb plus-19. Dempsey’s numbers indicate that Battaglino’s prediction is on its way to coming true.
Helm of the NWHLPA
Then there is Battaglino’s new position. This will be her first full year at the helm of the NWHLPA. Because it is such a pivotal season for the league and many new faces will be entering the mix for each club, there will be challenges she will need to face head on. If there is any hockey player who could rise to the occasion and take the proverbial bull by the horns, it is hands down Battaglino.
“I have begun starting to structure the communication plan for the third year and I think it will be a challenging endeavor. Working with everyone effectively and efficiently is going to be a hard job, but I am not discouraged by this. Also, with some of the current events, the league has had to take a strong stance. I am proud to represent the league, but at times there will be challenges in engaging the entire league to ensure that I am unifying the players to have one marching order. I think that those will be the challenges ahead of me, but I know that with the support of the Players Association and the rest of the league we will navigate just fine!”
Newfound duties are time-consuming, to say the least, and likely they will demand the bulk of Battaglino’s time. Still, Battaglino is a hockey player. From her days in the CWHL with the Boston Blades, she is a Clarkson Cup champion and her name will be forever enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. She protects her goaltender and her net as if there was no tomorrow. Yes, Battaglino is a hockey player and she will need to find the balance for ’17-’18.
“This is still to be decided!” she says. “I haven’t figured out what will make the league the most successful. Selfishly, I want to play. But if the players and the league need me in another capacity, I am going to take the best step for success.”
— Anya Packer (@battaglinoa) February 2, 2017
Fans First And Foremost
One of the key ingredients for the NWHL’s third season to be successful will have to be the fans; many of whom have supported the players and the league since day one. If you ask any player in the NWHL what the most fundamental and most appreciated aspect of being a professional hockey player is, they will tell you wholeheartedly the fans, especially the young ones. They mean it too; it is far from lip service. The devoted fans are deeply esteemed by the players.
So what should the fans expect for the third season? Battaglino tells me with the passion and conviction that is what people love about her.
— Anya Packer (@battaglinoa) February 12, 2017
It’s All About More
“The fans should be excited for more engagement, more access, more satellite games, more hockey! Basically, the fans should just be hungry for more. The fans are our lifeblood, so the fans should be excited that we are excited that we have them.”
Sounds like the best woman for the job is right where she needs to be. You can put stock in Battaglino’s words, and you can feel good that she has the backs of the players, the league and the fans. Be excited, folks! The NWHL’s season three will be the best one yet, and there will be plenty more in which to partake.