It’s your first day of high school. You sit down and in walks your teacher. You recognize her immediately because not only is she your biology teacher, but she’s also a professional hockey player. That is, and will be, the life for Marissa Gedman’s students. Not only does she teach honors biology at her alma mater, but she also defends the blueline for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).
Being a professional at both teaching and the sport she loves could be stressful for some, but it’s something that Gedman embraces.
“It’s been awesome,” said Gedman about the opportunity. “I can’t say anything bad about my schedule. I’d rather it be busy than just sitting around. I’ve told both my students and my teammates that it’s such a good perspective to wake up and work with kids in the morning, and then at night be able to feel like a young kid on the ice playing with my teammates. It’s just an awesome balance of serious workday and doing what I love still. I feel so grateful to have that opportunity. How many people can say that?”
As a professional athlete, it’s natural that you become a role model to so many. People, especially children, look up to you and are watching your actions. From high school to college and finally the pros, it’s about setting an example for those that look up to you.
“I feel like I truly am practicing what I preach, and I think the kids do realize that,” said Gedman on being a role model. “I am such a big advocate of youth in sports. The fact that I’m still young, they don’t believe it, but I am, and that I’m still trying to practice what I preach that playing sports is so important for kids. I really think they can value that and see that I am actually believing in what I’m telling them.”
Much of how she’s handled the transition can be credited to the experience she had at Harvard University. In 134 games for the Crimson, Gedman notched 75 points (19G-56A) as a defender. Her more aggressive style of play also earned her 212 penalty minutes. That being said, if you’re one of her students, don’t push her (kidding, maybe). Balancing being a college athlete at an Ivy League school isn’t easy for anyone, but everything she learned there can be directly applied to how she is living now.
“It totally prepared me for what is now my professional life,” said Gedman. “Being at Harvard was the most incredible four years of my life. Everyone around you is absolutely excellent at what they decided to do and that’s just a really cool thing to be a part of. The aspect of academics and balancing it with athletics; the resources there are endless. I feel like I really did learn how to balance. One of the biggest lessons I took away from my years at Harvard is that if you’re going to do something, do it wholeheartedly. Don’t half do one thing, half do the other. I feel strongly about what I learned there and that I continue to do it in my professional life. I think this year has been a huge example of that. I’m not going to show up to practice tired and think that I’ll just dog it today. I definitely owe that to Harvard and the teachers I had there.”
Following college, Gedman continued coursework in hopes to enter medical school in the near future. In a few years, the public address announcer will have to announce her as Doctor Marissa Gedman.
The NWHL is in its first year as a league. Since its inception last spring, the league has taken tremendous steps in the sport. For one, they pay their players. Along with that, players get royalties from their jersey sales. That definitely pushes personal branding. The league has attracted players from all over the world and its continuing to change the landscape of hockey.
Back in August, Gedman received a call from Boston Pride General Manager Hayley Moore. From then on, Gedman’s life would be different.
“It was incredible,” said Gedman on the contract offer. “I can’t even describe it because as a girl growing up playing hockey, my friends will tell you that I always wanted to play in the NHL, and it’s like reality check, you’re not going to do that. Now, it’s crazy that a girl can say, ‘Mom and dad, I want to play in the NWHL,’ and that’s a real thing. I felt like a kid again. When Hayley Moore said they were offering me a contract, I asked myself if it was real life. It’s incredible. Really incredible.”
This changes everything. How many hockey fans have a young daughter that idolizes the sport and wants to be a professional at it? How many times in the past have you thought to yourself that it cannot be done? The culture of the sport is changing. Shannon Szabados broke a major barrier by becoming the starting goaltender for the Columbus Cottonmouths and being the only woman in the league. She even earned her first shutout recently. Now, there’s a fully professional league for women as well. The NWHL is giving young women a chance to fulfill their dream and has made becoming a professional hockey player a reality.
As a professional athlete, how often can one say that they get to play professionally in their hometown? Not many can say that. Gedman is from Framingham, Massachusetts. She played high school hockey at Noble and Greenough, then played her college hockey at Harvard. Gedman is Boston through and through. Now, she gets to represent Boston professionally.
“Boston is obviously really close to me and my family,” Gedman said. “The sports aspect of Boston is just unparalleled anywhere. I keep saying that; it’s the fans in Boston, the culture of Boston sports, I grew up eating, sleeping and breathing Boston sports. The Boston Pride are a professional hockey team and it’s so cool to be a part of that side of things because I grew up as a fan [of Boston sports] for 23 years.”
It’s difficult to be a fan of Boston hockey and not know of the rivalry with anything that comes out of Montreal, Quebec. The rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens is known throughout the sport. It’ll be represented during the Winter Classic and during the Outdoor Women’s Classic featuring the Boston Pride and Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). It’s just another big step for professional women’s sports to get featured.
“It’s due to the organization and the people we have that are leading this charge of women’s hockey in the professional sports world,” said Gedman on the event. “They’re doing such a good job with huge contracts. Dunkin Donuts was huge news for the NWHL. Now this Winter Classic game, we owe so much to the management and what they’re doing for us, especially for this game. Having these two leagues go head-to-head, it’s going to be an incredible game and it’s just opening people’s eyes that ‘holy crap, there are two professional women’s leagues’ and it’s just going to keep growing from there. Once people catch sight of it, it’s really going to catch fire and it’ll be awesome for both leagues I hope.”
So much of the hard work has been done by NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan, who joined Penalty Box Radio last spring. Getting the league put together in such a short time and helping to get them feature on a big stage is a major accomplishment.
In a recent NWHL press release, Rylan expressed her excitement for the event:
“We are humbled and honored to be part of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic festivities at Gillette Stadium. This wonderful stage for women’s hockey wouldn’t be possible without the tireless dedication of Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and many others behind the scenes at the National Hockey League.
I’d also like to personally thank Brenda Andress and her team at the Canadian’s Women’s Hockey League. They have been part of this collaborative process since the beginning and their efforts are appreciated.”
The Outdoor Women’s Classic presented by Scotiabank will take place on New Year’s Eve during the day prior to the Winter Classic Alumni Game. While they may be playing the exhibition game in a large football stadium, it’s going to bring back memories for every player that hits to outdoor ice.
“I can’t stop saying this, but it’s truly a dream come true,” said Gedman. “I grew up playing in my back yard with my two older brothers. Any hockey player you ask, the memories you have growing up are when you were playing outside, just shooting around and having fun, the essence of hockey. For it to be coming full circle and skating around out there, I read something that Julie Chu said, ‘We’re all going to be like little kids out there.’ That is the essence of the game. Being outside, being these kids having fun just playing a game, it’s going to be so awesome to have this full circle moment of back to where we all started. I guess we’ll just ignore the fact that it’s in a huge football stadium.”
Gedman chuckled following the remark on playing the huge stadium. It was easy to hear the excitement in her breath. 10 games into the NWHL season, the Pride sit in second place, just two behind first place Connecticut. This past weekend, Boston handed the Whale their first loss of the season, a good sign as there are only eight games left in the regular season. The team is rolling and Gedman is confident in her team and feels that they are clicking at just the right time.
As there is with anything new, there will be naysayers about the league. The league is still new and excitement is building. The hockey world is seeing that first hand with the outdoor game. There is a lot to be said at how quickly things are moving for the NWHL.
“If you go once, you’re going to come back, because the passion is so obvious,” Gedman proclaimed. “Every game matters. We only have a few games in the season, so you show up ready to go. It means a lot. We’re counting our games wishing we could play more. I’ve talked to kids where it’s been their first hockey game and they’re definitely coming back. Once you see it, you’re definitely going to come back, and you’re going to be interested and invested in the women’s game. If I could tell anyone, it would be to just give it a shot, you won’t regret it.”
This league is giving a whole new generation a reason to dream. It’s providing a slew of new role models that are desperately needed in society today. Women with every day jobs, like high school teachers, that come with its own stress are playing professional hockey. Many never thought the day would come, but it’s here and it deserves your attention.
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Header photo courtesy of the NWHL