The Connecticut Whale’s new general manager, Lisa Giovanelli, stressed to Today’s Slapshot that her focus was on creating a team that worked together as well off the ice as it did on the ice when asked about her plans for the Whale.
“Off-ice character is going to be a huge quality that we’re looking for this year to re-build the program,” Giovanelli said, at that time speaking specifically about Kelly Babstock, a playmaking forward and nose-t0-the-grindstone kind of worker. It was that type of mentality Giovanelli hoped would prevail throughout the team in its second season.
She has continued to sign players that will bring that mentality and hard work to the now-Northford-based team, last month adding Kaliya Johnson, a speedy defender out of Boston College.
“I thought it would be a great fit for me in terms of signing-wise and the team,” said Johnson. “I was talking to the GM and she said I would fit great into the team atmosphere and what they’re building there, what they built there in the past year.”
Johnson will continue to live in Boston and commute south to Connecticut twice a week for practice, and joining the team for games.
“I know it’s not in Boston but I’m still going to be living in Boston,” she said. “I’ll still be around my friends. I’m sure some people haven’t signed yet but I’m sure it’ll be great to get to know new people. Maybe I’ll see some familiar faces down the line.
“I actually haven’t seen any of the Whale games but I knew quite a few of the players from when I played last year.”
One of those familiar faces could be former practice player, Anya Battaglino. Johnson played against Battaglino in college and remembered her very well. In fact, Battaglino’s social media presence was took part in convincing Johnson to join Connecticut’s roster.
“She’s someone that you remember because she’s a very exciting person to be around,” Johnson said. “She’s a very lively person and so it’s great. She’s a great character. She was always posting on social media and all that stuff. I kept up with them through there.
“I didn’t get to speak with her personally but I could just tell by her posts that she had a great time and I would have a great time. I knew that undoubtedly it would be a good fit for me.”
The Whale’s GM was specifically looking to shore up on defense; Johnson’s speed and agility will help Connecticut as a transitional team, a style it aimed for last year, but periodic difficulty clearing the puck out of its own defensive zone left the Whale regularly stymied. Johnson’s signing is one step in fixing that first misstep.
“I’m a very fast player and I can react to things differently and very quickly,” Johnson said. “I’m still working on my offensive game, but I’m definitely I love the defensive zone and I’m very good at what I do.”
She paused, then huffed out a laugh, saying, “At least, I like to think I am. But I would say definitely my speed and the fact that I can quickly react to different situations is my biggest asset.”
While she’s not an offensive powerhouse on the back end (Johnson earned a career-high of 17 points with four goals and 13 assists her senior year at BC) her ardor for defensive play makes her a terrific get for Connecticut.
Beyond Johnson’s on-ice skills lie her off-ice intangibles. How she is in the room, on the bench and what she brings to the team. When pressed, Johnson keeps it light but internally, she remains highly focused.
“I’m very passionate,” she said. “I’m more of a looser player. I like to have fun, I like to joke around on the bench and with my teammates. You won’t see me sitting there. I like to focus on the game but I also like to have a little fun. I’m definitely more of the relaxed person and just there to have a good time. It’s always important to enjoy what you’re doing.
“I think everything starts with how hard you work off the ice, in the weight room and getting stronger,” Johnson continued. “I’m not the biggest person and a lot of people kind of question me when I say I play ice hockey. So I think that’s definitely something I’m focusing on. [I’m also] making sure my speed is as quick as possible, making sure I haven’t lost any of my speed over the offseason. Just getting stronger so I can be the best player I can for my teammates and my team.”