On Aug. 20, Anya Battaglino announced her retirement from playing in the NWHL. Her playing resume includes two seasons with Boston University, two seasons with the CWHL’s Boston Blades, and three seasons with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. Off the ice, she was named the Director of the NWHLPA in February 2017.
Anya was gracious enough to talk with The Ice Garden about her time in hockey thus far and her goals for the future!
You’ve had quite a unique journey through hockey. You played at BU for two seasons before jumping to the CWHL while still in college. What was that experience like, playing in the pros in college?
It was honestly the best of both worlds. I stayed extremely close with my BU teammates, living with Kaleigh Fratkin, Louise Warren, Marie-Philip Poulin and then, when she [Poulin] went to Sochi, having Braly Hiller take her place in our quad. I trained with my former BU teammates, and played with USA hockey greats on the Boston Blades. I was able to jump with both feet into my major and able to run my own marine biology lab at BU and [was] still able to incorporate my first love, hockey.
I was able to have a college hockey experience, and get my teeth cut as a professional hockey player. I learned more and more each practice from the greatest players ... like Caitlin Cahow, Kacey Bellamy, Kelli Stack, Meghan Duggan ... the list goes on and on. It was honestly the best way for me to fall back in love with hockey, and train with players that I then watched go on to win a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
After winning a Clarkson Cup with the Blades, you joined the NWHL for their inaugural season. How did you make that decision to keep playing?
I wanted to continue playing the sport I loved at the highest level I could reach. Playing in the NWHL allowed me to build a career in sales as well as continuing to chase my dream. It was my college roommate Kaleigh Fratkin that brought me to my first CTW tryout and vowed to me that together we would start this journey. I wanted to make a difference in the hockey community and continue to let my passions push the sport forward. Unfortunately traveling each weekend to Canada for me was really challenging to really start in the working world. The NWHL gave me the opportunity to do both.
On to this season, how did you decide now was the right time to hang up the skates? When did you know last season was going to be your last?
A lot of my decision was directly impacted on where I thought I could make the most change. Women’s hockey needs more powerful voices standing behind it and continuing to further our sport. The reason I stepped away from my on-ice role was because I think I provide more power to the players as their advocate as opposed to their peer. I found that most of my successes came from connectivity and being vocal about the things I am passionate about, and less because of my shifts on the ice. This realization came when I looked at what I was able to accomplish alongside the NWHLPA Council and current NWHLPA Board now. I took a step back and thought, “Wow! I can really make a lasting impact on our sport, and even more, the sports world.”
What’s been your favorite memory from playing hockey?
My favorite memory of all time with the sport of hockey could be a million things, from stupid nights trying to invent games with my college roommates to winning the Clarkson Cup. When I really delve into my favorite memory, I do get stuck on one.
The first game in the NWHL, when I was lacing my skates to be a PAID professional hockey player. I was standing on the blue line during the national anthem and locked eyes with my mom. As anyone who follows me closely knows, my mom is a total badass (am I allowed to say that? ... either way, she is). On that day we locked eyes and she was crying with pride, and I started to cry too. It was an amazing moment where I began to realize the gravity of what I was doing; what we all were doing. We were changing the world.
I know you’ll be continuing in with NWHLPA, and we’ll get to that next. But what do you hope your legacy from the “first half” of your hockey career is?
I hope that my legacy was one of being a great teammate, and an honest and inclusive person. I tried to always push the people around me. I was never the leading scorer or on the first line power play. I hope that I have left a legacy of always wanting the best for the people around me and working tirelessly to elevate everyone — whether that was getting ice time or just pushing people in practice. I don’t care if I’m remembered as a grinder or a skilled defenseman (or defenseman turned forward). I care that I am remembered as a team player and someone that could be trusted.
In the second season, you were named the head of the NWHL Players’ Association. You’ve made a lot of progress in that role as well. What has that been like, stepping into a leadership and “union” role?
It has been really challenging. I have had to be a dynamic support to rival players, I have had to look at problems and come up with actionable solutions, and I have had to make tough decisions that impact the lives of 100 other athletes around me. There is a certain pressure that comes with that level of responsibility. Thankfully I have always surrounded myself with people that have more fine-tuned skills than me that I have been able to lean on to further drive the goals and objectives my team has strategically set.
I have had to balance being a full-time professional, a full-time professional athlete, and the head of our association, and I have been doing each of those three in a distracted state. I can be better, and I am extremely excited to have a full year of complete attention to the players, the people who deserve it most.
What else do you hope to achieve in this role?
I hope we can continue to move towards a livable wage. I have extremely lofty goals for the PA and for the improvement of the lives of our professional hockey players. I want to continue to deepen relationships with different members of the Sporting Agent community to push NWHL players — not just Olympians — to the forefront. I want players to be passionate about their position in the league and close the pay equity gap. Mostly, I am hoping to drive our players to achieving pay and benefits that they deserve.
Stepping off the ice, you and Madison Packer are stupid cute together — legit couple goals — and a hockey power couple. How was it being with “the enemy”?
Madison is the consummate enemy girlfriend (now fiancée). It was so hard to play against her. I can remember the twisted emotion I had in our overtime loss to the Riveters this year. We ALMOST beat the mighty Metropolitan, except my girlfriend just had to be the person to score, that second goal coming in overtime on a power play tip from a Burke point shot. I wasn’t on the roster for that game, and I jumped out of my seat in celebration for her goal ... it was then I realized that it must be true love because my competitive nature was gone, and I was just so happy that she got the game winner after major hip surgery.
She also was a great support system to me; watching clips and working on things in one-on-one skills sessions as my coach. When it fit with her playing schedule she would watch my practices and tell me where to improve. I have never felt support like I do with my fiancé. Even when I made the heartbreaking decision to retire, Madison surprised me with a white cake with blue and green candles. I love her, and I’m lucky to start the next chapter with her.