This year embarks the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League, the first professional women’s league in North America. Want to know more about the women’s pro league? Click here: A First Look At The NWHL
Today, we dive into the life of Madison Packer, a Michigan native who recently signed her first professional hockey contract. Entering Wisonsin to play college hockey, Madison never thought that a professional career was possible for her because no league existed at the time. The introduction of the NWHL created new opportunities for athletes and coaches like Madison.
After a league combine, Madison was quickly asked to sign with the New York charter. Check out our Q&A below to learn more about Madison’s life, hockey development and growth into being a professional athlete.
I grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, which is a suburb of Metro Detroit, about 15 miles from downtown.
I started playing hockey when I was 3, I am one of four kids, and I grew up always wanting to be just like my older brother, so when he started playing I wanted to start skating too. I grew up playing basketball, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, football, and all sorts of water sports as a young kid. I was super active and my parents really encouraged us to give everything a try. When I was about 10 I was competing in gymnastics very competitively and also playing hockey and the time commitments for both got to be too overwhelming, so I had to choose. I chose hockey, and from that time on that was really the sport I had a love and a passion for. I played lacrosse in high school too, but my number one was always hockey, everything else kind of fit in where I could make time and space.
I have always been a forward I prefer to play wing, I gave goalie a try when I was really little but I like making plays in the offensive zone. I am definitely an offensive forward.
Hockey definitely played a big role in my decision process, but for me I knew where I wanted to go early on. Wisconsin was a great opportunity to go to a Big Ten school, play for a remarkable coach, and also get a good education. When I went on visits and was considering the process, for me there just wasn’t anywhere else that matched up. We get treated so well as athletes, especially at a BigTen school. There were opportunities for me to play along side some of the greatest players in the game at that time, and also play against great players across the league. I also considered the distance from home, and it was close enough that I could get in a car and drive home overnight if I needed to, but still far away enough that felt like I was able to move off and grow on my own a little bit. Wisconsin was the best opportunity for me from a hockey standpoint, and academically it is well respected as a university, so it made my decision pretty easy.
It is a much more demanding schedule when you get to college. You go from being the best player on your team to having to compete with everyone who is the best player from where they come from on a daily basis, so it is a much more competitive and intense environment, but in a good way, as athletes we thrive on that competitive edge. I had to learn to take care of my body in a different way. You have to respect injuries and listen to your body when it is telling you to ease up or go harder. College seasons are long, from the time you hit training camp until end of playoffs, we would go six days a week from August until March sometimes, and that’s a lot on the body. You have a lot of people who help you through the process, whether it is veteran players who have learned along the way, training staff or coaches who know how to help different people in all sorts of situations. It is definitely a huge commitment and change from high school to college, but I think it’s a positive change. I remember I had to go to school early, the summer before my freshman year because I blew my knee out in my last game of high school. I went from rehabbing with a team of therapists and doctors at home to being out at school by myself with the training staff there, and after the first day I remember going home, plopping down on my bed and just crying. The trainer, ‘Denny’, who I grew to have a great relationship and bond with over my four years and still have today, was just relentless. He made me do squats and every one legged exercise under the sun, and I remember thinking I am never going to be able to make it through this summer. I wanted to quit every day for the first two weeks, and by the end of the summer, he was telling me to take it easy and slow down a bit. So it is a quick adjustment that we make in how much our body can take and adapt to, but it was for sure an eye opener.
My proudest achievement was probably winning the National Championship my freshman year. We had an awesome group of girls that year, and it was just a fun team to be a part of in a lot of ways, and to put that ring on was pretty special. Aside from that, a proud achievement was I think when we won the league my sophomore year, I think in a lot of ways, winning the regular season trophy is the hardest because the team has to be consistent and good for a longer period of time. We didn’t win the league playoff, but we won the WCHA league title, and the team has to be good all season long in order to win that trophy, so that was also a pretty cool achievement as a team. As far as personal, I think maybe serving as a captain my senior year. I don’t really like to dwell on individual accomplishments like points and awards just because really in hockey everything comes down to the team. Who put the puck in when I passed it or who passed me the puck to put it in the net, your line mates and teammates all work together over the course of the season to help individuals have different successes so I think it’s kind of hard to say that an individual accomplishment was due only to my efforts.
I majored in English with a minor in creative writing. It was pretty easy to balance athletics and academics just because we had so many resources. We were on a pretty strict schedule athletically, and then academically you just had the sense of accountability to know you had to get your work done. We had a whole group of advisors and tutors, access to study rooms and everything you could imagine so they really made it easy for us to be successful and not get overwhelmed, we just had to be accountable to stay on top of our own work.
The NHWL is a great opportunity, it has provided me the opportunity to continue playing hockey at a competitive level, and has provided me the opportunity to have a salary doing it. Five years ago that wasn’t even a thought in my head because it didn’t seem like a reality or possibility. I think it is a great opportunity and is certainly a testament to the growth of women’s hockey as a whole these past few years as well as the commitment the sport has from women who have come up through the ranks and no longer play but are very passionate about giving younger players an opportunity that they weren’t able to have because it was not available to them.
I attended a tryout camp in Windsor, Ontario. It was an on ice session for about two hours and it was just drills, skills, and some game like situation games. There were not a ton of players at the skate, but there were enough to have the ability for us to showcase ourselves. I think I excelled and did well because I am a gritty, small area player and so having all the drills offensively focused, as well as in a small area enabled me to really just play my game and have some fun with it.
I was offered a contract to play in New York immediately after the skate in Windsor. I was sort of surprised, I kind of expected it to be a long process and wasn’t really sure if I was going to make a team or how the whole thing was going to work out, so to end up getting a contract offer right on the spot, and have the opportunity to go to New York of all places it was pretty cool. I am just excited to go to New York and experience the city, experience the culture and take in the whole process. I have never lived in a big city so it will be a huge change of pace for me, and something I am really looking forward to. I think I bring a gritty style of play and I see the ice well. I hope to contribute on the score sheet to help my team be successful and also bring some leadership to the locker room from my experiences with Wisconsin.
I would typically skate 3 times a week and lift everyday. A day when I was skating, I would go to the rink and skate from about 7:30-9:15, then I would go to work, and go to the gym for about two hours after work. I have been skating with guys all summer to try and accelerate the speed and also physicality of the game to get back to my best playing level. I have mixed in the workouts provided by our team trainer in New York and also utilized the program used for the women’s hockey team at Wisconsin.
It will be pretty similar in the hours, but just different focuses. When the season starts there is less of an emphasis on heavy lifts and things of that nature, it becomes more strategic and focused on hockey specifics, whereas in the summer, it is a good time to focus on getting stronger, faster, things of that nature, so you are ready when the season starts.
The only ‘superstition’ I have if you could call it that, more of just something I have always done, I always go somewhere Italian with my parents and get a plate of pasta and chicken before the game pretty early in the day and then head back for a nap. We always have a dynamic warm up. At Wisconsin it was the same for four years. I don’t know what it will look like in New York, but I imagine it will be pretty similar.
It is a good day to stretch, use the cold or hot tubs, maybe a sauna, just a big emphasis on refueling and getting your body back to feeling good. I like the cold tubs just because it is a good treat for the legs and a good way to get your legs back under you before having to get back on the ice or back in the gym.
What is your goal for the upcoming season?
I think my goal would be to be a leader on my team and help us win some games. I don’t really know what to expect and have told myself I am not going to set any expectations until I get out there and get with the team, but for now my goal is to be the best leader I can for my team and put in my best efforts on and off the ice in order for us to be successful.
Where can fans follow you:
Facebook: Madison Packer
Also, my little puppy has an instagram account if people are interested, she’s a little four pound teddy yorkie.
Zoey Instagram: zoeytheyork
Be sure to check out my interview with another NY Riveter, Celeste Brown