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Reggie Dunlop? Jackie Moon? Meet the NWHL’s history-making player-coach

Cydney Roesler's on-ice leadership has landed her double-duty as the first official player-coach in NWHL history
Courtesy Matthew Raney/NWHL

Courtesy Matthew Raney/NWHL

The call came entirely out of the blue. Cydney Roesler was enjoying her off-season, preparing for another campaign patrolling the blueline for the Connecticut Whale, when coach Ryan Equale rang her up to propose something unorthodox: that Roesler, two years into her career in the NWHL, pull double duty as a player-coach for the Whale.

“It’s not something I thought was possible,” Roesler said. “Then it was just one day, Ryan called me and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ And he put it out there. I was like, ‘Wow. That actually sounds pretty cool, and it’s something that I’m definitely interested in.’ So, I took a couple days to think about it, talked about it with my parents, and I thought what better opportunity to continue playing, which I really wanted to do, and then also pursue my coaching career, as well, and build on it? There’s no better opportunity. It was perfect.”

In accepting the position, Roesler will make history when she steps on the ice for the Whale’s season opener against the Buffalo Beauts on Oct. 7. In the three-year existence of the burgeoning women’s pro circuit, no player has officially held the designation of player-coach. Coincidentally, Lisa Giovanelli suited up for one NWHL contest during the 2016-17 season while an assistant with the Whale. Roesler, however, will hold both titles from start to finish.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Roesler to draw some silver screen comparisons. The obvious parallel was drawn between Roesler and on-screen puck legend Reggie Dunlop, the infamous player-coach of the fictitious Charlestown Chiefs, played by Paul Newman. Roesler’s also had a few people compare her to Will Ferrell’s character Jackie Moon, the owner, player and coach of the Flint Tropics, a made-up ABA squad from Semi-Pro. “It is such a unique experience that you have to laugh about it,” Roesler said. “It’s pretty cool, but it’s pretty funny when you compare it to the classic movies and stuff. It is what it is, and I think it’s pretty funny.”

Unlike those Hollywood-made bench bosses, though, Roesler’s responsibilities are serious business. For her, as she enters her third season with the Whale, this is a chance to take on two incredibly important duties with a Connecticut club looking to claw out of the NWHL basement. And to understand why Roesler, 24, is qualified for the role, it’s important to understand her background.

The daughter of a former collegiate player — Ky Roesler manned the Colgate University blueline in the late-1970s and early-80s — she grew up idolizing her father, wanting to be like him and listening to the stories from his own playing days. He instilled in certain values the come with being a teammate, such as offering support for newcomers, respecting your fellow teammates, treating them as you would want to be treated and leading by example.

As Roesler’s career took off, from the PWHL’s Ottawa Lady Senators all the way to her four years at the NCAA’s Quinnipiac University, the qualities passed down by her father stood out and were recognized by those at the helm of each team with which Roesler skated. In Ottawa, she was an alternate captain before taking the captaincy in her final season. At Quinnipiac, the same. And in between, she wore an ‘A’ while representing Team Canada at the U18s, where she won silver in Sweden and Bronze in the Czech Republic.

“(Being a leader) is something that I’ve grown up with and people have put emphasis for me and I’ve put emphasis on it myself just to be a good teammate and support the people I’m with,” Roesler said. “And I think that’s translated from team to team every year.”

It’s also translated off the ice, too. In the two seasons since completing her four-year tenure at Quinnipiac, she has stepped behind the bench and helped behind the scenes as a volunteer assistant coach, an opportunity for which she thanks current Quinnipiac coach Cassandra Turner.

“It’s something that I’m going to take forward with me now as a player-coach,” Roesler said. “It’s a different game when you’re playing it versus when you’re watching it from up in the press box or standing on the bench. It’s totally different. So I think it’s given me that other perspective to see what’s going on, what’s happening and I think it can give me good insight to just talk to the players, coach them and also help with my game, as well.”

As a coach, Roesler wants to borrow from Turner, incorporating the way the she taught her players to not just be better on-ice, but off it, too. Likewise, Roesler will lean on Equale’s energy, passion and democratic coaching style that has helped bring this Connecticut club so close. That means, however, that the goonery of Slap Shot and buffoonery of Semi-Pro will have to fall by the wayside. And in no uncertain terms, Roesler wants to avoid borrowing Dunlop’s nickname, ‘Coach,’ at all costs.

“I will be weirded out by that,” Roesler laughed. “It hasn’t happened yet, and I’m kind of thankful for that. I don’t know how I’m going to handle it if someone starts calling me that.”


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