Madison Packer enjoying first-ever season in National Women’s Hockey League
New York — The rookie season for any athlete is a transition period.
Getting in sync with a new set of teammates, learning about the team’s overall strategy, adapting to the travel schedule that’s common in the professional ranks — all of it is expected in a pro’s first year.
But for 2010 Marian High School graduate Madison Packer, everything’s new as a rookie in a brand-new professional women’s ice hockey league.
“It’s a lot of fun to play in a new league, but it’s a lot different than my prior experiences on an established college team,” Packer said.
Packer is a forward for the New York Riveters, one of four teams in the start-up National Women’s Hockey League, the first professional women’s hockey league in the United States.
Packer has been playing high-level travel hockey in Detroit since the eighth grade, meaning most of her time at Marian was spent balancing between the classroom and rinks across the nation and world; playing for Little Caesar’s AAA team in Detroit and representing her country on the United States U19 National Team.
“I remember that we had to travel a lot, playing games all over the place,” said Packer, who also attended Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in Beverly Hills. “I seemed to miss two or three Fridays a month, so I missed out a lot of things; I only got to one school dance.”
Packer’s play earned her a spot on the University of Wisconsin’s team, where she played four years for the Badgers, one of the country’s premier women’s college hockey programs.
Although the new start-up league isn’t as well recognized as Wisconsin’s elite program, Packer loves charting new territory and being an ambassador for women’s hockey.
“For four years at Wisconsin, we got what we wanted, whenever we wanted,” Packer said. “Our league isn’t at the NHL level yet, but it’s been awesome. We have a big support staff, a big fan base. We just played a game in Japan, and we have fans in Japan. People don’t recognize that women’s hockey is growing, but the league is expanding and it’s been cool to be a part of it.”
Packer has three goals and one assist through 10 games for the Riveters. She has a good following on Twitter — @madison_packer_ — and enjoys interacting with fans.
“It’s kind of cool to see the number of fans out there you didn’t know about,” Packer said. “Especially being in Brooklyn; they don’t have a Division 1 college team or a junior team. So we get those fans who have a professional hockey team to support for the first time.”
In December, Packer was named to the 2016 NWHL All-Star game, set to be played Jan. 24, a distinction reflecting her accomplishments and contributions to the league.
“It’s really cool to be named to the all-star team,” Packer said. “They let the fans vote, and I had double the next person. I immediately called the people who voted for me. My family did a lot on social media to get the vote out; I’m really thankful to everyone who voted for me.”
Packer said she’s always had the support of the Marian community, especially athletic director David Feldman, who worked with Packer’s teachers while she was away, representing Marian on
the national team.
“It wasn’t a big issue when she was playing club,” Feldman said. “The big issue was when she was representing her country, and had to go to Finland and Sweden. She had to be gone during the week of mid-terms, so we had to work with her councilors and teachers.”
Feldman said Packer’s education always came first, but it was a huge honor for the school to have Packer play around the world, so they were willing to accommodate her needs.
Last year, Packer was inducted into the Marian and Catholic League Hall of Fame, and she still communicates with Feldman and other Marian teachers whenever she’s back in the Detroit area.
Marian yet didn’t have a hockey team while Packer was a student, but Feldman is sure she would have been too good to play in high school anyway. This season, Marian started a co-op girl’s team with Detroit Country Day, and Packer returned home during the Christmas break to skate with the team.
“She came back to skate with the team, talk to them about hard work and dedication,” Feldman said. “When she was at Marian, she was so dedicated to the academics; she was able to maintain a high-A average. She was also an all-state lacrosse player for Marian; she’s that type of athlete where I wouldn’t put anything past her.”
Notwithstanding all the individual accolades — back home and in New York — Packer loves being a pioneer for her sport while representing Metro Detroit.
“I take pride in representing the Detroit area,” Packer said. “As far as the connection to Marian, I think it was really nice for my parents. It was more important for me to go to a private school, so it’s important to reflect in a good manner all Marian has done for me back to my parents. I think it means a lot to them to a have a Marian connection.”
Packer isn’t sure what the future holds for her — the league didn’t even exist when she graduated from Wisconsin. She’s considering a career in law, but for now she’s keeping her options open.
“When I was younger, the possibility of playing professional woman’s hockey wasn’t there,” Packer said. “When I graduated, I thought my career was over. But when this opportunity came up in July, it was a dream come true.”