Madison Packer is hard to miss. Whether she's forechecking aggressively, blocking shots on the PK, or signing autographs for an endless stream of fans, you know she's there. Packer grew up in Michigan and played Big Ten hockey at the University of Wisconsin with fellow Riveter Brooke Ammerman. Over her four years there, the Badgers won a national championship and a Western Collegiate Hockey Association league title; Packer was named captain her senior year. Today, she's an alternate captain for the Riveters, and was chosen by the fans for the NWHL's first All-Star Game. With her distinctive swoop of white-blond hair, Packer is also one of the best-known players in the league.
Packer, who has three goals and three assists in twelve games, represented both the Riveters (with Gabie Figueroa, commissioner/GM Dani Rylan, and coach Chad Wiseman) and the league at a panel discussion hosted by the Brooklyn Historical Society last week. We asked her a few questions about her own history, and whether her team, now in last place, still has a chance in the playoffs.
There's been so many firsts for both the league and the players this year. What moment or activity do you think you'll remember most?
I think the most special moment for me was getting to play in the league's first ever game in Connecticut. The setting of that first game was a surreal experience. There were so many people there that were not necessarily hockey fans, but they were just there to support women's sports and the historical moment we were a part of that day. It was cool to see the amount of support the league had, and the number of fans from all across North America that wanted to be there to witness us as players achieve a dream that for so long was unobtainable.
When you played hockey at Wisconsin, were you basically prepared to give it up afterwards?
For a while I had Olympic aspirations and goals to play with the National Team, but after my junior year of college I had been cut by USA Hockey before the Olympic tryout, and so for me it became clear that that Olympic dream wasn't going to happen. I was prepared to graduate, and retire following my senior year, and I did. When I finished my senior year, I trained for an Ironman, walked away from hockey as a player, and began coaching while I finished my final semester of college. The mentality then was that if you weren't in your respective national program, it was basically graduate and play in a pick up league, or move to Canada or Boston if you could make a team in the CWHL and play for free. That mentality is different now.
How is it different?
Girls have the opportunity to continue playing in a competitive environment and get a paycheck if they are in that top crop of college players that want to continue their careers. I think it is good for us, because for me it was a hard transition. I wasn't ready to be done, but after my last game my senior year I really had no choice. I wanted that competitive atmosphere but you just don't find that in morning pick up. The NWHL has enabled players to continue their careers and in a sense decide for themselves when they are ready to retire and walk away from the ice.
Speaking of walking away from the ice, what was the last TV show you binge-watched?
I dual binge watched "Making of a Murderer" and "Shameless." I watched the entire series "Making of a Murderer" in like two days, and then I watched all five seasons of "Shameless" in about a week to try and get caught up to watch the current season airing now. Both are awesome!
Hockey may be the only sport in which talented girls play on teams with boys, sometimes until college, either because there are fewer girls teams, or they want the more intense competition. Do you think that has had an effect on the women's game?
I am a huge fan of girls playing with boys as long as possible. I think the longer the girls can play with the boys, the better because it helps with their development in the long run. At a certain point, the boys get bigger, stronger, and faster, and the girls benefit from that because they have to think the game faster than the boys and they have to learn to play and keep up with a faster paced game. I don't think the skill gap is huge between boys and girls, and so if girls can adapt and learn to think the game at a faster pace, when they do switch over to girls, they separate themselves from the pack by being able to see the ice better and make decisions quicker.
If the show wasn't ending this season, which Riveter would have the best chance of winning "American Idol"?
I would have to say Amber Moore.
How has your own play developed this year? What have you achieved personally, and what are your goals going forward?
I have learned to be more of a two-way player, and have more of a role defensively which wasn't really something I needed to do in college. As far as goals moving forward, I think for now just have a good finish to the season, and help get my team prepared to find success in the playoffs.
What athlete -- hockey or otherwise -- has been a role model for you?
Mine is a little cliché, but my mom is definitely my ‘athlete' role model. She has always been an athlete, and someone who I trained along side growing up in high school. She always pushed me, believed in me, and was there with me a lot of times to encourage me through the hard days in the gym. She is always up early to train, particular about her nutrition, and has helped me grow tremendously as an athlete, not only by constantly supporting me, but she has always been a positive influence that I could lean on throughout my athletic career.
What's your pregame ritual?
My dad is amazingly supportive. He traveled with me all throughout high school, was at all but maybe a handful of my games in college, and has made it out to most of my games with the Riveters. And so back in high school we started a ritual where we would go to Olive Garden before games, if there isn't an Olive Garden we will try to find an Italian place, but in high school and college home games it was always Olive Garden. We both always get the same thing. I have pasta shells with grilled chicken, and he gets spaghetti with tomato sauce and mushrooms. It's a ritual that started a long while back, and something that has been fun for us to share together over the years.
To you, what element of the Riveters' game has gelled the best over the course of the season?
I think we have found our niche as a hard working, grind it out team. Players have established their roles and we know that we have to come to the rink every night, ready to battle and work hard. I think that the beginning of the season we knew we had to work hard, but weren't really sure what that looked like. Now, I think players have bought in to the systems and the mentality that we are a team that needs to grind and do the little things consistently every night if we want to win games.
What is the biggest challenge the team faces, looking toward the playoffs?
I think the biggest challenge is putting the season behind us and focusing on the new opportunity the playoffs hold. We are in a fortunate situation that all teams make the playoffs, and so our lack of success throughout the season doesn't really impact our ability to compete for a championship. I think the mentality of the team is most important going into playoffs. If we can control that, and approach the first series with the mind set that it is a fresh season and a new opportunity, we will be in good shape.