Jenna Rheault just finished her third pro season, and along with her Boston Pride teammates, just completed the task of winning back-to-back Isobel Cups. If you’ve ever wondered how professional hockey players prepare for a game on the road - you opened the right article and, you’re in the right place! But first, let’s get to know the Deering, New Hampshire native.
Before turning pro, Rheault was an integral part of the blueline for the University of New Hampshire for 143 games. As a defensive-minded defender, she was constantly among the team leaders in blocked shots throughout her tenure with the Wildcats. That stellar play put her on the radar of the Pride, who subsequently selected Rheault 25th overall in the 2018 NWHL Draft.
Jenna Rheault— Random College Athletes (@RandomAthletess) February 22, 2022
University of New Hampshire, Defense 2015-2019 pic.twitter.com/40qmCTFTJX
Through three seasons (okay, two and a half thanks to covid), the 25-year-old has appeared in 45 games for Boston and has put up ten points (2g-8a). During last season’s truncated schedule in Lake Placid, Rheault broke her wrist but was able to return for the playoffs - thanks in part to a month between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.
Rheault has appeared in six postseason games, and has three points in those do-or-die games; none more memorable than the empty net goal she scored (a shot that traveled more than half of the rink) to clinch the 2022 Isobel Cup.
Though she may think defense first, nine times out of ten, don’t think she isn’t capable of carrying the puck end-to-end - we’ve seen it more and more as her game has developed, and she has gained confidence at this level.
When I spoke with Rheault it was just after her team had blanked the Metropolitan Riveters 2-0 in their own barn on March 5. She walked us through, step-by-step, her routine.
It’s Game Day
First things first, whether it be at home - or in this case on the road - game day always starts the same.
“So the first thing I do is…get coffee,” Rheault replied with a chuckle. “My roommate Meghara McManus and I always go and get coffee together when we’re on the road. We usually try to figure out where we should go first (before stepping outside), but today we got Starbucks delivered to us so we didn’t have to walk anywhere. So coffee first, then breakfast. We had an incredible breakfast today and then I’ll try to do a NormaTec or some type of rollout stretch.”
“Personally, I don’t get pent up or anxious (before games), I try to have fun and keep it loose. Someone like Bou (Amanda Boulier) is great to have on the road because she is a character, sooo funny. When I get dressed to come to the rink - I definitely take pride in that - today the team all wore denim, I don’t know if you saw. Everyone was head-to-toe in a Canadian tuxedo. I definitely plan out what I want to wear, make sure I’m happy with it and then listen to some music - especially on the bus.”
“Once we get to the rink I tape my stick first before I play soccer with the girls,” she explained. Does Rheault do everything in the same order before the game?
“There are little variations here and there. I’m not somebody who’s like, superstitious about how things go…”
So you’re a little stitious?
“Yeah, I’m a little stitious, I like routine,” she replies. “But I’m not super crazy about anything. After soccer, I’ll do another stretch here (outside the room) before heading into the locker room to gear up.”
So now they’re all dressed and ready to head out on the ice. If you watch enough pregame warmups they all look the same, almost carbon copies with a slight variation here or there. Not everyone is the same though. Some change it up, some don’t. So what about our friend no. 12?
“It’s always a little different. I pray before I go out on the ice, I know that might be a little different from some people,” explained Rheault. “When I go on the ice I try to keep the same flow. I’ll stickhandle the puck around the net and come into the slot towards everyone else at center ice and then we all get together up there.’
“(I) always try to do stops and starts, comebacks, get the feet going. All of the same things that I would typically do during a game. I do pick the same spot on the blue line, and I’m always behind Russy (Katelynn Russ) when we go through our first shooting drill. I’m always first when we do slap shots from the blue line.”
Okay, so warmups end and the team trudges back to their locker room to wait for puck drop. So what goes on in there?
“I’m usually talking with my teammates, I try to get everybody’s energy up. Tori (Sullivan) is usually our DJ in the locker room so she cranks the music and asks what’s the vibe? But nothing too serious in our locker room.”
In this particular game we talked after, the score was 0-0 after one period and 1-0 in Boston’s favor after two. So what’s the vibe in the Pride locker room in between periods during a tight game such as this one?
“Right as we come in the room, a lot of us will talk about things that we probably need to improve on in the next period,” Rheault tells me. “But then we’ll have side conversations and usually listen to music again. Nothing too serious. Then coach will come in, say his two cents, and then we’re back out on the ice again.”
Now, I obviously don’t know Boston’s Head Coach Paul Mara quite like his team does. But he kinda seems like he could be pretty grumpy or gruff (don’t kill me coach!) if his team isn’t playing as well as he believes they could (something I’ll assume he felt the majority of this past season, until the postseason of course).
“He’s one of the calmest coaches that I have ever had. We have a lot of respect for him and he has a lot of respect for us so if/when he does get to that point of yelling…it’s a huge wake-up call for us. We respect that out of him because he is able to keep us so calm. When he is calm we can replicate that and it’s great for the locker room energy.”
How valuable of an asset has Mara - an NHL defenseman with 12 seasons/734 games of experience - been for Rheault and the other defenders on Boston’s roster since he took over as their coach four seasons ago?
“I think everyone, myself included, on this team really, really respects his opinion and respects what he says because he knows best - he’s played the game at a high level. Johnny (MacInnis) as well. He’s a great Assistant Coach and coaches our D. Whatever he says I really take to heart and try to be better the next time.”
The Pride were able to hold off the Riveters in the third period, capped off the shutout for Katie Burt with an empty-net goal, and get ready to leave the rink after a 2-0 win.
So other than talking to doofuses like myself, what are some things you usually will do after the game is over.
“I’ll usually roll out and stretch first, grab a Gatorade or bottle of water. Then I’ll go shower. My parents are always at my games so I’ll talk with them for a bit; they love coming - even on the road,” Rheault tells me with mom and dad standing a few feet away. Sorry for interrupting Mr. and Mrs. Rheault!
“I think they’ve missed maybe one weekend, but they enjoy it and love being a part of it all. Once we get ready to leave the rink it’s all about eating some food - either back at the hotel, or wherever we’re getting it.”
So with another game, tomorrow, does that mean an early bedtime?
“Definitely try to get a good night's sleep,” she says. “I might see if we can get the PHF game that’ll be played tonight streamed somewhere. Some of the girls will be watching the college games that are going on, so there will definitely be some hockey being consumed after or during dinner.”
The Pride would lose the next day’s game in overtime, and each of the following four games - all losses in overtime. Just setting the stage for three straight wins in the playoffs and another championship for Rheault and her squad.