For the second consecutive season, the Connecticut Whale have revamped a large part of their roster and one of the newcomers who made her pro debut last month is Kayla Meneghin from Clifton, New Jersey. The 23-year-old had a stellar career at SUNY-Plattsburgh where she won three National Championships, and Meneghin wasn’t just a passenger — she finished her collegiate career second in school history in points (188) and assists (102) and fourth in goals (86).
Meneghin joined one of her best friends from college, Melissa Sheeran, making the jump from a D-III school to the pro game. The Whale have struggled to score goals this season, with only four in four games, but they have a bunch of hard-working players who are starting to play really cohesive as a team. If Meneghin finds her groove and the game starts to slow down for her, she could be a nice boost for Connecticut as their season heads towards the midway point.
Following her first game as a pro in her home state, The Hockey Writers spoke with Kayla Meneghin to find out how she made her way from Plattsburgh to the NWHL and why she has been doing so much driving during the weekdays among other topics.
The Hockey Writers: So how does it feel to get your first win as a professional hockey player?
Kayla Meneghin: It feels good, and a lot more exciting because I’m in New Jersey, my home state. It was a fun game. A lot of friends and family came out today, a lot of my teammates from when I played youth hockey came out to support me. They actually found out like two hours before the game and were able to make it here, so it was pretty cool to see them because I grew up playing with them.
THW: I saw someone wearing your jersey here today in the crowd, what do you think about that?
KM: Really? That’s pretty cool. I never thought that I would be able to play pro hockey so it’s cool that people are supporting me.
— NEWHL (@NEWHLHockey) January 23, 2018
THW: At this time a year ago you were playing college hockey, so was this on your radar at all?
KM: Not at all. I kind of wanted to coach right out of college, but I got the opportunity and a lot of my friends are on the team that I played with in high school and college too (Melissa Sheeran, Sarah Hughson, Hanna Beattie, Sam Walther). I thought it’d be a good experience and I’m happy that I did it.
THW: Can you explain to us how you joining the NWHL came about?
KM: Towards the end of my college career I applied through the NWHL’s free agent registration page; I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to play, so I just thought I would do it because my mom wants me to play. I ended up going to the Beauts Free Agent Camp, it was fun but it was tough because I wanted to coach too. I needed to find somewhere that was going to work for me. Saint Anselm offered me an opportunity to coach (as an assistant) and I really love it. I think it was about two weeks later that (NWHL Deputy Commissioner) Hayley Moore emailed me and said Coach Ryan (Equale) wanted to get in touch with me. So I called him and he said that we’d love to have you (on the Whale), I thought it’d be a great opportunity. Especially because he brought up Melissa Sheeran (was signing), who is one of my best friends and I thought it’d be great to be (teammates) with her again.
THW: So you’re not living in Connecticut, you’re living in New Hampshire?
KM: Yup. I live in Manchester, New Hampshire. So I commute every Tuesday to go to practice, I drive three and a half hours; I like driving so I don’t mind it! We have games (at Saint Anselm) on Fridays, but when I am off I plan on being at our Friday practices.
WICE: Women's ice hockey announces hiring of former @PSUWHockey @PburghCardinals standout Kayla Meneghin as assistant coach #HawksSoarHigher
— Saint Anselm Hawks (@STAHawks) June 22, 2018
THW: Growing up in New Jersey how did you get started playing hockey?
KM: My uncle played Dek Hockey and he skated a bit too, so my dad and mom took us ice skating when we were little and I saw a youth team, the Quarry Cats, playing and I said I wanted to go play with them. The next year they signed us up and I just started playing from there. I played with Riveters forward Alexa Aramburu on that team.
THW: Growing up did you have a favorite team or player?
KM: I always go back to the New York Rangers because that’s who my pop pop and grandmother loved and they had season tickets, and then we had season tickets as well. I always liked Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, even though they were at the end of their careers when I was born. I still think they were great players and I love to watch video on them.
THW: Any particular reason why you wear number 3?
KM: I wore no. 9 in college but my brother Shawn wears number 3; three times three equals nine (smiles).
THW: You had an amazing college career at Plattsburgh, where you were truly ridiculously dominant. What are some memories that stand out for you?
KM: I just knew I had to show up and work hard every day. The year before I went there they had won the National Championship and I wanted to keep winning as well, keep up the tradition I guess. It was a winning atmosphere so I wanted to continue that, keep it going. I came in every day prepared, and worked hard; that made me better. That’s what I’ve been doing here as well.
THW: How closely did you follow the NWHL when you were in college?
KM: When it started I followed it. I love women’s hockey and I want it to keep growing because I love coaching it. I love being around girls who are in youth hockey, I love doing clinics like that. I want girls to be able to have the opportunity that I’m having right now.
THW: A few games into it, what are your impressions of the league? Speed a little different than you are used to?
KM: Yeah (laughs) it’s a lot different. I just show up and work hard. I know that I played at a different level than most of these girls, but I just have to keep working and keep getting faster. That’s what Coach Ryan emphasizes every day – that we need speed and that’s what is going to help us win games. In D-III when I played I had a lot more time to make decisions. Here it’s: you have to get it off your stick and make quick decisions. Think ahead mainly.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.