At the start of the season, it seemed as if the Connecticut Whale were finally on track. They had secured the same coaching staff and voted on their on-ice and locker room leadership. Veteran defenseman Molly Engstrom would wear the C and veteran forward Kelli Stack the A. Goalie Nicole Stock would be a part of the leadership group as well, but with no letter designation.
Fast forward a few months, and the Whale look to be in the same unstable boat as last season. Due to the NWHL salary cuts, they lost a rookie defenseman in Ivana Bilic before Engstrom called it quits on the NWHL and set her sights on Sweden. With Engstrom's absence, the other leadership must step up in their support.
The Ice Garden recently had the chance to speak with Stock on her unusual scenario of being both a goalie and team captain on a professional team.
No letter, no problem
While it may seem odd to fans for a goalie to be captain, Stock is no stranger to her current position.
"I was a captain in high school and then a two-year captain in college, both obviously as a goalie, but in those situations I was allowed to wear a C or an A,” she said. “It was kind of strange to be assigned but then not be able to wear the letter."
Still, she understands that in professional leagues, the captains have a huge role in talking to the referees - a role that a goalie cannot necessarily fill.
"I was thinking about it, and I was like 'Ok, what NHL goalie has actually been assigned a letter?' I couldn't come up with one. I'm sure there have been goalies that have been good leaders in the locker room, like Martin Brodeur, where you're like 'How did they not wear a letter?'"
Letter or not, Coach Heather Linstad praises Stock for her ability to take away from her own goalie pregame to give messaging to the players, but Stock remains humble.
“I am a little quieter when it’s game day, a little more reserved and to myself, and kind of getting mentally ready, and physically obviously. ... But I think the messaging stays the same in the locker room no matter who is giving it...it’s about how we can build off our momentum and using each game as a learning tool, so when we get to playoffs we’re prepared and we’re ready to make a run.”
Stock’s ability to look at the long-term big picture shows her maturity and gives a glimpse as to why her teammates voted her as a captain.
"It was a nice honor and nice kind of nod from my teammates that they thought of me in that way...Who cares if it's not honored on the ice? That's not big deal to me, it's more that we're a cohesive group and moving forward as a team."
Continuing forward, together
Team chemistry and togetherness have been themes for the Whale before the season even started. Stock does not hesitate to support these notions. As a two-year veteran in the League, she has seen the team grow and evolve.
"We have a great team dynamic this year, and we're a cohesive bunch that has a good message, and I think that's really fun. We have kids that are really dedicated to the game and excited to be there every day, every practice, and that's what makes us a little different this year."
The other difference between these two seasons is the glaring one that affected the whole league - salary cuts. Stock's added responsibility as a team captain is different. Not only does she need to reflect for herself, she needs to help keep her team focused. For her, however, she goes back to loving the game.
"We're trying to set a precedent, we're trying to be in the eye, and sometimes you're going to take fallbacks with that. Things like this take time...you're going to take your hits."
Referencing the struggles of WNBA and women's soccer, Stock remains optimistic for the League and her and her teammates.
"We obviously are not thrilled with the loss of salary, but we still want to make something happen,” she said. “We want this to be a game that goes on for a long time. When we look back in hopefully 15, 20 years, and can say 'Yeah, we started that.' And maybe it was rough to start, but maybe those players then are getting paid, and I think that's important."
She mentions the difficulty of figuring out how to keep living and pushing through the setbacks, but ultimately, it is clear that she believes in the League and its mission.
"We're all here because we love the game. We love to play, and we want to be part of something bigger."