The Connecticut Whale have found a new head coach in Ryan Equale. Their third coach in as many seasons, the Whale are trying to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore season, and Equale may be just the right person to make it happen.
Connecticut is home
Equale has strong ties to the hockey community in the state where he was born and raised. A hockey standout at UConn, he’s coached girls’ teams in Connecticut and worked at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, the first home of the Whale. It was there he met NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan and got his first taste of the league.
“I was able to see firsthand what the league was about and see all the talented women doing their thing on the ice. Working at the facility every day, I was able to see how hard the girls were working and what they were achieving on the ice,” he said.
As for become the newest head coach, Equale admits to fortunate timing. After coaching the Mid-Fairfield Stars for the last eight years, he was ready to take a break until a phone call with Rylan.
“I knew that this was what I wanted to do. [I’ve had] the opportunity to work with U-16 to U-19 girls and help develop their skill sets and help them with their academic pursuits to get to college, but now, to have the opportunity to work on the backend of that process where the kids are coming out of college and helping to keep the passion alive in the sport...That was really appealing to me.”
Additionally, Equale and his wife want their three kids exposed to more women’s hockey. With two boys and a girl, the couple understands the importance, and implications, of having professional women’s hockey so close to home.
“The more [my daughter is] exposed to all these positive influences, the more she’s going to hopefully feel that that's the right path and the right things to do and the right way to be,” he said. “For our kids to have that opportunity to see what is on the back end of hard work and effort and determination, and see that across a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds and all kinds of diversity is for us an invaluable teaching tool.”
He’s already seen it pay off. Recently his sons were getting to choose their hockey numbers for travel hockey. Equale hoped that maybe one of them would choose his number, but instead, he watched his sons choose the numbers of two girls he coached last year.
“If [this story] helps reinforce the impact that these women can have on people - [the girls] beat out dad in number choice.”
Looking back and moving forward
To move forward with the Whale, Equale looks back to his four years in the minors.
“For me, anyways, I don’t miss the games or the moments. It was really the teammates and the friendships and the relationships,” he said about his playing career.
“Fortunately, I still have many of those people in my life, but the times when you're going through something with somebody and only they understand what it's taking to achieve something, that's the part I miss the most.”
With that in mind, Equale is focusing on building the team around its culture. He arrives midway through the off-season to a roster that is less than half full, but full of talent.
“The big thing I’m focused on, and the women on the team are focused on, is developing a culture together that is about accountability and high performance, and as a result, have those rewards and recognition on the backside. I’m excited about being a part of the building of a culture in the Whale that allows the women to have fun and keep their passion alive, but at the same time do it together and do it the right way.”
With only 11 out of 25 players signed, only four of which are forwards, Equale understands that he has plenty of work to ensure he has a full team. Still, he makes clear that he will only accept those dedicated to the team. He wants to see the commitment and work ethic from his players.
“We want people, talent aside, [who] have a burning passion to play hard, to be a great teammate, and to do all the things that are in their control.”
The only goal that matters
At the end of the day, Equale cares most about the experience that the women will have this season. He wants them to enjoy their time on the ice, to have fun playing the sport with people they love. He may or may not force them to watch Slap Shot on the bus together. He looks to the women to showcase what commitment and work ethic translates to on the ice.
“It’s easy when the girls score, but what do you do when they give up a goal? That’s the decision I want to see. ... At the end of the day, if Buffalo’s best beats our best, then we deal with it," Equale said. "But, I’m confident that when we play as a team and we work as hard as we can and we play the best hockey we're capable of, we're going to have a chance to win every game that we play in. That’s all I’m looking for.”