Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to a special TXHT interview as we chat with goaltender Brooke Wolejko of the Connecticut Whale.
TXHT – How did you get into hockey and what inspired you to become a goaltender?
Brooke Wolejko – My older sisters both played, so I was always in a rink growing up. I saw that they were having fun playing and wanted to try it out. I’m not sure what really inspired me to become a goalie, I just was attracted to the position from the start. As soon as I finished learn-to-skate and became a part of a team..the coach asked for volunteers to play goalie and I eagerly raised my hand! I loved it. I didn’t want to go back to being a player actually, but at such a young age, they rotate kids through who want to try it out, so I had to wait my turn to play again. I think I only skated out for a year and then became goalie permanently as soon as I was allowed to.
TXHT – Every player goes through a transition period when they go from the NCAA to the NWHL. What was your transition like?
BW – I didn’t go directly from the NCAA to the NWHL like a lot of players do. When I graduated, I thought that was the end of my hockey career. I landed a job in Maine and moved there in the summer of 2018 after graduating college. I stayed involved in hockey through men’s league, but it didn’t have the same speed and intensity level that I was used to. Fast forward to summer going into the 2019-20 season, Laura saw a picture of Sarah Hughson, Kayla Meneghin, and I from a ball hockey tournament and asked Hughie who I was. At the tournament, I remember both of them telling me I should try out for the Whale. I didn’t really think about it too much because I had already established a life in Maine and it had been a year since I had played competitively. Of course playing in the NWHL would be an amazing opportunity but my mind was stuck on the fact that going pro now after a year off would be out of reach for me. Then, Bray and Laura reached out to me and everything changed. In a matter of 2 weeks I quit my job, moved back to CT, and tried out for the Whale. It was way too good of an opportunity to pass up, despite my fear of change and self-doubt that I would be capable of making a comeback. I really missed playing. Those who say athletes go through an identity crisis once they retire from sports are not joking. It’s a real thing. I felt like I was missing a part of me.
The transition into the league was challenging. It took me time to get used to the fast pace of the game again and to be comfortable moving around in the crease. I had to work really hard to shake the rust off and feel like myself again.
TXHT – You were fortunate to work with veteran NWHL goalie Laura Brennan as your goalie coach this past season. What type of advice did she give you as the season played out?
BW – It was awesome getting to work with Laura. The advice she gave me during the season was to continue working hard and staying confident. She always was looking out for the 3 of us and making sure we remained confident in ourselves despite the adversity we faced during the season. Another piece of advice she gave me was to take care of my body and make sure that I am doing proper things to recover after playing, like stretching, and getting enough sleep.
TXHT – As a goalie group, you seemed to push yourselves as the season went on. In terms of player development and chemistry, Sonjia Shelly would play well, you would play better. Cassandra Goyette would play well in her relief appearances. You and Shelly would play better the following games, can you talk about the dynamic y’all shared as the season played out?
BW – We had a really positive, and supportive dynamic throughout the season. When Sonjia would play, Cassie and I’s focus was on her and making sure that she felt supported. Sonjia and I would do the same for Cassie’s appearances and then Cassie and Sonjia would do the same for me. We all respect each other and knew that no matter who was in net, that person was going to give it their all.
We pushed each other in practices, but it was always healthy competition that motivated us to work harder, which only helped us all develop further throughout the season. My favorite part about the dynamic that we shared was we reminded each other to have fun. It’s easy to get caught up in the competition of things and become too hard on yourself. I know I’m guilty of it. Keeping things light and fun helped us all perform better.
TXHT – What are looking forward to building upon as you prepare for the next season?
BW – I am looking forward to building more stamina both mentally and physically. Going into my rookie season, I could have definitely been in better shape. I signed really late and the season almost had started at that point, and on top of that, I hadn’t played competitive hockey in a year, so I felt really behind compared to others. It took time, hard work, and a lot of patience until I started to feel like myself again out there. Going into next season, I want to feel ready to go. As a team, I hope that we can build chemistry right off the bat and really connect with each other on the ice. It took us a long time this past season to learn each other’s playing styles and figure out how to be a more cohesive unit. We really didn’t come together as a team until the second half of the season. I’m looking forward to building off of how we finished the season.
TXHT – What is your favorite movie?
BW – The Breakfast Club or The Joker
*Feature Photo by Bryan Johnson Photography — twitter.com/bjphockeyphoto
*All Questions by Christopher “Shaggy” Vasilas
TXHT will continue to provide NWHL coverage as more signings and news are announced.