Photo Credit: Ari Yanover

The More You Inferknow: Jacquie Pierri

The Inferno keep on rolling. It’s pretty crazy really, just how consistently awesome they are.

This past weekend, the Inferno earned three out of a possible four points during a road trip to Toronto. Currently, having yet to lose in regulation this season, the Inferno sit atop of the CWHL, four points up on the Montreal Canadiennes (though Montreal has two games at hand).

The next installment of Inferno profiles is Jacquie Pierri, the Inferno’s defensive stalwart, graduate of Brown University, and native of Montclair, New Jersey. Through eight games this season, Pierri has matched her CWHL career-high in points, including scoring a goal against Toronto. Certainly known for her defensive prowess, Pierri has exploded offensively and is a big part of the leadership group of this team.

I asked her to summarize how the season has been going so far and describe the feel of the season starting in the summer.

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In the interest of full disclosure, this interview took place before the weekend’s games against Toronto.

We are happy with our performance through our first six games, but are also aware that the standings don’t mean much at this point in the season (or at any point). There are still three teams that we haven’t faced yet and we are focusing on each weekend as it comes. Toronto will be our next test. That said, I am very proud of the work ethic and commitment the team has shown thus far. It’s a great start for us to build on going forward.

The vibe this season has been consistent since day one of training camp. Over the offseason, the veterans talked a lot about building a strong culture for the new players.  I think we have been successful in creating a constructive environment where players know the commitment expectations and one where players can feel confident to be their best. I love our returning players like they are family and really have been so impressed with all of the newbies. It’s hard to believe that we only met the new girls a month ago.

These sentiments expressed by Pierri are quite similar to captain Erica Kromm’s. I suppose, given the content of the response, it shouldn’t be surprising; consistency seems to be the name of the game for the Inferno. Given their winning pedigree, it is easy to understand why.

Like Kromm, Pierri wears a letter for the Inferno, something that she has experience with dating all the way back to her high school hockey days. I asked her to describe the leadership group on the Inferno:

To borrow a Cuddy-term [Hayleigh Cudmore], I’d say it’s “phenomenal.” I have an immense amount of respect for the leadership each returning player brings to the table this season – not just our leadership group.

For our leadership group, Kromm has always been someone that injects enthusiasm into every room she enters and her passion is infectious. She’s the kind of player that makes you want to give all that you’ve got. Goose [Katelyn Gosling] is a bit more quiet, but she constantly leads by example. She is genuine and always doing the little things right, even when no one is looking.

Cuddy impresses me everyday with her ability to balance her law career and hockey commitments. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and say the things  that need to be said, even when it’s difficult. Iya [Gavrilova] is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. She makes me want to push myself everyday.

I love the group we have. It’s neat how our different personalities are able to compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses so well.

One of the most striking characteristics of Pierri, both on and off the ice, is her work ethic and rigorous self-discipline. When she’s not training, practicing, or playing pro hockey, Pierri is a mechanical engineer for Atco. I asked her how she developed this work ethic:

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My family is filled with hard workers that have always inspired me to be better. My parents both immigrated to America as kids and made a life for themselves from modest beginnings – my mom leaving home on her own to pursue her law degree and my dad building his own business. I have learned a lot from them and they have supported and encouraged me through life’s challenges.

My brother puts my work ethic to shame, though. He is a Captain in the US Army, a Ranger, an engineer, and has a magic knack for putting his head down to push through any physical challenge (and for making it look effortless). All three of them, and the rest of my family, have always pushed me to have a never-quit determination. It’s always a work in progress.

Folks, do you ever feel like you, and in this case your entire family as well, just isn’t that cool? Well, her answer there sure did for me (sorry for any of my family reading this).

Jacquie Pierri of Montclair, NJ, scores her first as the Calgary Inferno host the Markham Thunder in a CWHL game at the Markin McPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alberta on November 5, 2017.

Unlike the majority of Inferno players, Pierri was not born in Canada and only began playing north of the border as a professional. I asked about where she feels at home after a career that brought her from New Jersey, Rhode Island, and now to Calgary:

Calgary definitely is starting to feel like home. It’s a great city and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people out here. I have not yet adjusted to the winters.
Comparing the different locations and different teams of my hockey career is difficult because they have all been at very different points in my life. I love seeing my Brown classmates when we travel out to Boston and I miss my hockey family back in New Jersey. I’m proud to say my NJ beer league team, the Ugly Mugs, is still crushing it in my absence.

Amen on the winter front Jacquie, it sucks every year and I won’t hear arguments to the contrary.

Also, that beer league team sounds amazing. I asked her about the unique challenges that face professional women’s hockey players and how the introduction of player salaries has impacted her life:

It’s tough. The travel is the real kicker. It’s hard to play your best, or to be fully present at work, through fatigue. Is it worth it, though? Absolutely. That’s why I’m still here. It’s my fifth year and I’ve started to get a handle on the balancing act. In one sense, I get the best of both worlds since I haven’t had to put my career on-hold to continue to play.
The player salaries are a huge help. In previous years, we were still dealing with covering the full cost of playing. Certain equipment, meals, etc. It all would add up by the end of the season. This year’s salaries are a great starting point and I hope in a few years it will reach a level where people would consider reducing their work hours to commit more fully to hockey.

Finally, I asked Pierri what has changed the most during her hockey career and what aspects of women’s hockey need to change most:

What hasn’t changed dramatically? I’m going to sound old here, but we couldn’t watch women’s hockey anywhere when I was a kid. I don’t remember the Olympic hockey ever being on TV and we didn’t have YouTube. I had a poster of Cammy Granato in my room as a kid, but I had never seen her play. Now we’ve got options to watch games and highlights online.

We’ve got the US team earning some long overdue respect from USA Hockey. Beyond watching the game, we didn’t have great options to play either. There were a few elite girls teams that would have required a lot of traveling (aka a major burden on my parents). Staying in the boy’s hockey stream isn’t for everyone and I’m sure a lot of girls dropped out for lack of options. Now the Jr. Inferno have a full suite of teams at every level in Calgary and we have this partnership to mentor them. There is immense momentum but we shouldn’t be satisfied with where we are yet either.

I’d like to see a lot more coverage of women’s sports in general. It’s still relatively hard to be a women’s sports fan. Highlights don’t usually make TSN or Sportsnet, the scores aren’t on the ticker, and we aren’t often reported on. Not even finals of popular sports like Tennis and Soccer get into a highlight countdown. Was anyone besides the player’s families going to pay $20-something bucks to watch that terrible stream of the Four Nations Cup this week?

Things like that leave a huge amount of room for us to grow. The online streaming of CWHL games is a big positive step, but we still need broader coverage to get North American traffic to the website. Without that, it’s going to be very hard to develop a regular fan base and fill our stands.

Pierri’s eloquent and thoughtful answers shed light on what life is like for her as a player and as an ambassador for her sport. The Inferno may have lost some players heading into this season but in terms of leadership, new players are spoiled for choice in terms of potential role models.

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Pierri’s Inferno are back home Nov. 25-26 to face off against the Boston Blades.