The Whale’s Jersey Girls
The Fans of the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale hockey team (who refer to themselves as Cetacean Nation), love their Jersey Girls! The Whale currently have two of them, winger Kayla Meneghin from Clifton, and center/defender Hanna Beattie from Whitehouse Station. The NWHL is a loaded league this season, especially with the return if so many of the Pyongyang Olympic stars to the expanded league, and the increasing number of collegiate and world class players being attracted to The pro game. While it is not always reflected in the score, the Whale are the most exciting team in the league, and arguably in all of hockey. And two of the cogs of this formidable hockey machine are from right here in the Garden State.
Hanna Beattie attended prep school at Pingry in New Jersey and then Williams College in Massachusetts. Kayla Meneghin went to both New Jersey’s Clifton High School and the Gunnery in Connecticut for her prep career, and then Plattsburgh State University in New York. Although only a grade apart, neither their high schools or colleges ever faced off against each other. However, they probably did so with their club team. Prior to being teammates on the Whale,Hanna and Kayla were both teammates in the famed New Jersey Colonials hockey program, eventually representing the Colonials’ Tier 1 U19 club st the National Championships in 2013. We had a chance to catch up with both Hanna and Kayla recently, and talk about their Jersey roots.
Hanna responded our questions about her younger days and her start in hockey here in Jersey, with the following comments. “I got started in hockey primarily through my dad and older brother.(Brother Matt played at Yale and recently for the Melbourne Mustangs in the Australian Hockey League) I started skating at age three when my parents could find skates small enough, and then started playing hockey about a year later. I grew up playing at an awesome outdoor hockey club called the Essex Hunt Club, which is still probably my favorite rink today.” There is definitely a lot of interest in hockey (in NJ) and more high schools are starting to offer it to their students. However, when I was playing club hockey for the New Jersey Colonials, there was still a lot of travel involved, since there were not too many Tier 1 teams in the area. We would go to New England practically every other weekend and some girls would travel an hour and a half just for practices.”
Hanna continued, adding “ It would be awesome to see more teams and organizations start to pop up in the tristate area at the younger levels to help foster and develop youth girls’ hockey. This will only be beneficial for the overall growth of the game since the teams will have stronger players, the level of play will be elevated, and the games will be more competitive. Growing up, I played on both a boys and a girls team and I played defense with the boys and center with the girls. I always liked playing forward and being an offensive player, but I felt that I was stronger on defense, so stuck with that as I got older.” That early versatility has paid off for Hanna, who transitions seamlessly and as needed from a defense pairing to centering one of the Whale lines.
We posed the same questions to Kayla about her Jersey hockey roots. She told us “When I was around 6 or 7 my mom and dad took my sister, brother and I skating and we loved it. At my home rink after one of our sessions, the girls youth league their had a skate, and I remember telling my parents that I wanted to play with them. Next thing you know, I was out there giving it a try, and have loved playing ever since”. I played two positions growing up. Goalie and Forward. I loved both. I loved stopping people from scoring but I also loved scoring the goals. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to play so until I was 11 or 12, I played both positions. But then I stopped because I felt I could pursue a career being a forward more than I could as a goalie.”
We also asked Kayla about her transition from Clifton High to the Gunnery. She said . “ I actually heard of, and was being recruited by The Gunnery by my 8th grade year of middle school. But I did not want to go away to school, being so young I guess. I kept in contact with some of the girls on the team after playing with them the summer before my freshman year. One of my good friends, Erin Sullivan who I played with on our travel team (NJ Colonials) ended up going. She invited me to Beantown (summer hockey tournament in Boston) with her to play with Gunnery, going into my senior year of HS. After that I just loved being around that team and really wanted to try to play with them and attend Gunnery because of the stories and memories they had told me. So I applied again and decided I was ready to go away to school.” Kayla fondly offered some insight into her time at the Gunnery, revealing the following. “There is a lot I can tell you about The Gunnery. I am overall grateful that my parents have sent me there and that I was able to make the relationships I did while I was there. I met some amazing people who have helped me become a better and well rounded person today. Gunnery is a small community, we were always around our friends, the teachers and advisors were extremely helpful, and they all helped me grow as a person. If I did not go to the Gunnery, I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
At Pingy, Hanna Beattie was an award winning star in both ice hockey and lacrosse, and captain of both squads. But the experience was different from her time with the Colonials. She recalled “I had a ton of fun playing for Pingry. The level of play was nowhere near my club level, but it provided new and interesting challenges that I had to face every day. Many of my teammates were just playing or even skating for the first time, so I was able to help coach them while improving aspects of my game.”
Hanna played hockey several years and at different levels for the Colonials club she mentioned, and made a lasting impact. This was acknowledged at the time when Hanna first joined the NWHL with the Whale. On the Colonials’ website , some of her accolades were that “She embodied what it meant to be a Colonial because of her natural leadership, character, commitment and team first attitude. Hanna possesses the gift of compassion for others not often seen, which as a young Colonial she often demonstrated toward teammates and new players”.
Hanna carried these types of qualities during her career at Pingryband beyond. A good example is seen in this story she told us, when asked about her memories of prep school. “ One of my favorite memories playing for Pingry was my last hockey game my senior year. Our goalie, having never played hockey before our freshman year, bravely stepped up and offered to play that position because no one else wanted to. She went on to play field hockey in college, so was a natural athlete, but did not necessarily love playing goalie. I remember her saying that all she wanted to do was score a goal and that opportunity presented itself in our very last game. I ended up dressing as goalie so she could skate out and sure enough, she was able to score our second goal of the game. I let up two goals and we tied, which I am still not quite over, but having her score after 4 years of wanting a goal, debatably meant even more to me than to her.”
Fittingly, these two Jersey Girls have had big career moments in their professional career’s with the Whale back in the Garden State. On 12/3/17, #16 Hanna Beattie skated onto the ice in her first game as a Whale, against her home state Metropolitan Riveters in Newark, NJ. And just about a year later, our #3 Kayla Meneghin scored her first Whale goal against those same Riveters on 11/25/18. Both games were played at the Barnabas Hockey House, the Riveters home ice, and the NJ Devils practice facility. The regular season series between the Riveters and Whale is finished for this year, but depending on how the next four games play out the Whale could be headed back to Newark for a playoff game. Obviously the Whale would like to finish the season in a position that mandates the game be played up in Stamford. But if that scenario doesn’t play out and they may have to go on the road to Newark to start the playoffs. But even in that, there should be some satisfaction knowing that after all, at least for their two Jersey Girls, it will be a “home game.”
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