Average to Savage
Average to Savage

Episode · 8 months ago

Anya Packer | Average to Savage EP161

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This is the one hundred and sixty-first episode of the Average to Savage podcast featuring the general manager of the Metropolitan Riveters Anya Packer. Paul Guarino talked with Anya Packer discussing her hockey journey, going from players association rep to a general manager, and the growth of the PHF (formerly the NWHL).  

Follow Anya Packer https://www.instagram.com/battaglinoa/  

This podcast interview with Anya Packer was originally recorded on December 16, 2021

...this is the average to Savage podcast with paul Guerrino, everyone and anyone athletes celebs and much more. What's up everybody. I'm back for another episode of the average Savage podcast. Our special guest today is Anya packer. Anya how's it going? It's good Paul. Thanks for having me. I appreciate you coming on. Finally we got this in. I know seriously. It only took us out like six years for sure. Um Now I know you're you're the GM um of the riveters and I know you're in the player's association, you're the president before. Um So what has that transition been like? Oh my gosh, that position has been insane. So I went from players ahead of the P ahead of the P. A. Now to um a general manager and on the P. A side I was like totally working for the athletes. It was all pro bono. It was all about, you know, trying to figure out what we could do with less and now I have a budget, I've got a team, I've managed travel, I managed all these different things and I hire people underneath me. And so the transition of having no team and working only for the players and then being able to invest in real people has been insane and watching what comes of it and how the athletes have more and better and like the graphics look in our new jersey's and like whatever it may be um it's been a it's been a really fun transition from the, I would call it like nonprofit players work side to now working for investors that believe in the athletes. So it's, it's a little bit of a different feel because I loved working for the players and I love fighting for them. But now being able to like pay for them and invest in them has been, it's been really fun. Yeah, it's kind of like a weird thing because you kind of switch sides, but you're still with him in the, in the like minded people. But like I'm, I'm fighting for the good guys. So it's been, it's been, it's been funny and um, you know, I'll task myself to recognize when I'm thinking about it from one perspective or the other, but I will...

...say 80-90% of my decisions are made from the athlete's perspective. So just what we have on by way of like what we invest our money in or what kind of resources we have is just dope because I'm a, I'm a player but not. So it's been a lot of fun. Now. I gotta ask you six years ago when all this started, did you think you would ever be a GM of a team? No, I actually was just watching old interviews of myself where I was talking about like the Connecticut whale and people should come to our games and what it was like and what a different life I lived. I mean we just just yesterday shot a video that was like, if I could talk to old me and no, could you imagine? I told myself 67 years ago that you're going to go from just playing in this league as like 1/4 line grinder to being a general manager. I have, I have no idea. Yeah, no, it's been, I mean it's been awesome just to see the whole league. I mean, I know we've known each other for now six years I guess. And uh, no, it's just been awesome to see your growth and things like that. And um, just going back, um, to your playing career. Like, let me, let me ask you, like, what was your first memory of like playing hockey ever in my life? I remember clear as day maybe because my dad told me this story about a million times. But the first day I learned to skate, my dad was on the ice with me and you got like two milk crates stacked together. You put your fingers in the milk crates and you'd like to try to skate. And I looked right at my dad and I said, do I need to hold onto the milk crates? And he goes, no, I guess not. And so I threw the milk crates on the side, I started running on the ice ripping as fast as I could. I did not know how to stop, slammed into the boards. I got up to the whole thing again and I was just insane. I don't, I had no chill. And so I feel like every day that I keep doing this, I have no chill. I'll get into a new role. I'll go absolutely insane and try to do everything as fast as I can or you know, ramp up as quickly as possible. So it's definitely indicative of who I am as a person. But yeah, that...

...was my first memory. So it was really hockey that was skating, but so you just, you just knew how to escape. I don't know my brother four years older and I think he started playing hockey when he was like seven or 8. So I was like walking, like I was for like three or 4 years old. So no, I had no, no reason why I got on the ice. And then like four years later when I finally started playing hockey, like you get a jersey number, you like start to do these things. They were like, oh, what number do you want? My brother was number eight and I was like, I want 16 because I'm two times better. Crazy child. That was absolutely insane. That's, that's hilarious. Now I know you went to boston University and just tell me about like your recruiting process. I got to high school. I was a complete walk on. I sent my email out to like 5000 coaches tried to like beg them to come watch me play because I was from waltham High, which is not where people recruit from 5 to 6 players on my team had never played hockey before in their life. Um and I was playing the entire game, which again is not typical of hockey. I played from the minute the puck dropped until the end of the game because we only had three defenders and two, we're just learning how to play. Um so finally I called boston University and like, please come to my game. Um you've got to watch me, whatever they come, they scout a waltham High school game. Meanwhile, my freshman roommate was in the olympics. Like this is how different our hockey careers were. Yeah, they were like, this wasn't hockey, we're not sure what we just watched. An hour of this was not a hockey game, we want to see you play in a different function. Okay, cool. So they came to like a triple a game. Um and I was working at the skate shop, so I'm like stacking the shelves like sharpening skates and I get a phone call from brian de rocher and he goes, number 16, number 26 number is like saying like...

...numbers and I'm like, is this the wrong number? Are you calling the wrong person? And he goes, what jersey number do you want? I'm crying. I I literally ground to skate down to like this, pushing it into the thing, I don't know how, but I did, I made the team and I was a recruited walk on my senior year. I got the call? It was a surreal moment where everybody else is coming from, like I said, the olympics or the best player in their state or what have you. And I was just a kid from waltham Mass. That would not stop emailing them. Yeah. So was that, were they your only choice? No, I, I there was another couple of the schools, I was definitely could have gone and played Division three hockey. I had a couple of Division one teams, lower, lower tier teams that were looking at me, we're having these conversations, but I was obsessed with me. That's all I wanted to do was go play at bu um, and so when, I mean in that year we went to the national championship, so we were, it was a really good team and so making that team was one of those things where I felt like that was what I wanted and I really like hyper focused on it. Um, and I mean I could have, like I said, I could have played at division three schools, like a regular shape and I was like, nope, all I want to do is beyond the terriers, like that's all I want. And so, um, that call was definitely like highlight one of the best calls in my entire life. Yeah, that's dope. I mean, and then for the listeners that don't know in hockey there's not really a Division two, so it's either one or three and um yeah, then just what was your experience overall just said at bu like on and off the ice. I love that school so much. And I had, I made lifelong friends. I mean, even to this point Kailey fracking, who was my roommate, day one, actually we joke day one, she definitely chirped me because I was number 26. And do you usually wear low numbers? And the first thing she said to me, I swear we were just talking about the other day, but first thing she said to me was like 26, that's a dusty number. I was like going to the school completely scared out of...

...my mind. I love her so much. But um, yeah, best experience, best four years I could have possibly had. It was, it was where I learned, really learned to play hockey, where I really felt like I could take charge of my life through this sport. And then as I leveled up from there playing in the Canadian pro league, then playing in the National Women's Hockey League now, the Premier Hockey Federation. Um, it was just what kicked my whole life, I met my wife here. It's like, he has definitely been the thing that's lived throughout my entire life and I'm so fortunate that you gave me that chance and um, yeah, so like in college or, or I guess yeah, during the end of your career, like, did you, did you like think you were gonna go pro or did you like think cocky was that was like the end or what? I think I it's the same thing. I just wanted it so badly that I wasn't prepared to let somebody say no to me. So I don't know if I just stop me now that I'm talking about, I just sound like a stubborn person, but I didn't want to stop. I think, I think it's dr like, I think you wanted something, you just kept on going for it and you achieved it, I couldn't stop. So I, you know, I emailed at the time it was digit Murphy actually who was running the boston blades, which was the Canadian boston based protein and it wasn't paid, it was more like a, you know, it was an amateur league for sure. But I called her 1000 times. Did I need to be a practice player on that team. And she was like, whatever, fine, fine, I'm gonna practice player, She's like, stop calling me. So I get there, I start playing and at that 0.9 of my teammates went on to be in the olympics. And so every day I was getting better at the sport and just chipping away at being better at hockey and continuing to grow and scale and so I played there and then the national women's Hockey league came out, it was like this big thing, it was finally going to happen and then we're gonna get played to pay to play again, Freddy called me and she...

...was like, I'm gonna go try out for Connecticut, I'm done with living in boston, I want something new, I want to change, I'm from the boston area, so I'm like, let's go, let's try it, we jump in the car, we drive down, we try out for this team. And I was like, but you have to be my D partner because I want to make this team now I'm dying. I it's on my mind, I need to make this team and she's sick. So I'm like you gotta do my D partner, we play like two or three scrimmages to try out for this team. I finally get the call that I'm on the team as a practice player. I'm like alright, done bet I'm there. So I get a job, I moved to Connecticut, go down to be a practice player for this team and I finally start to slot into some games. Next season comes, I get resigned, go on and on and on and then you know, now I fast forward and I'm the general manager of the team and I think to myself why, oh my God, but I swear it's just stubborn or drive or you know, not ever wanting to have my life, not have hockey in it by some capacity. Yeah, definitely and um similar questions before, but like obviously the league just changed names and stuff, but like, what, what have you seen just from being a player now, the gm just like the growth of the league and like, like what else? Like what have you seen and like what do you, what do you see in the future? Watching the way we operate under the hood has been really interesting to me because I see how many people all the way up the infrastructure, from our chairperson to the board of governors, to the new commissioner, I see how much people care and what they're willing to do and how hard of a grind it is to have it be successful, women's sports is a grind and I am so fortunate that I can work with those people, but just knowing how much drive they have to not be told no and to have zero quit and to just keep going when it's costly, when it's, you know, hard, when it feels impossible is what gives me the inspiration that knows that we're going to be successful. So it's been really eye opening to see it from the other side, What may have been frustrating as an athlete, I can now empathize with why it was that way, or see now the...

...increased investment that we have from our private ownership group that we can now subjugate those frustrations. So it's been really cool because I can look back at things and see clear errors and then I can see pathways to making it right and changing it, making it better and I think that all those alignments are starting to happen um you know we saw with ESPN plus like we're starting to get the recognition and respect that we deserve and it just comes from people at the top or people behind the scenes with the money that are are are unwilling to hear. No. And so I know that there's going to be a long history here for women's hockey and I'm really excited, I'm really fortunate that they exist and they love us. Yeah. Yeah no definitely. I've been watching them on ESPN plus it's just easy to you know, just turn on now instead of going on. I mean twitch is cool too, but you know, you got to go on your computer and stuff like that. Yeah it's different, it's really cool. Yeah. No and the league went from 464 to 6 teams, yep. And that scale is awesome. I mean the same thing in women's basketball, we talked about it every day, women's basketball, the W. N. B. A. Could absorb six teams I'm sure and be totally fine. It's a cost ratio right? But women's hockey could keep growing the amount of teams that we could field um you know there's there's the the trajectory is is infinite. Yeah. Yeah definitely. I mean obviously the two teams that came as Minnesota and in uh in Toronto so those are obviously too big hockey markets, so I'm sure there's, I know there's other hockey markets out there, so 100%. And it comes from like, like here's the other thing that we think about right is to add a team that's a flight or to add a team that's across the border takes a level of maturity. So every time we're able to achieve one of those things, that's where I'm like, oh, what a level of maturity that we've now gotten to, that we can have that team in Minnesota. That's going to be a flight. Like that's a, that's a really substantial cost for owners. So that always gives me a level of confidence to, we're able...

...to do something like that, that's such a step. Um, I think that's really speaks volumes to how and how we're scaling. You know, it's not like we're adding a team that's a quick bus and it's a really light investment. It's really like meaningful investments and I think that's really cool too. Yeah, definitely. And I don't know, Madison told you, but I asked her this question too, and I said, I was gonna ask you the question. So how did you two meet? Oh my gosh, well she would say probably we've had like whatever years ago I new of Madison Packer my entire life because we're the same birth year. So in all of our recruiting or all of our like USA camps, whatever it may be, she was like golden child. I was like, not even in the conversation, so I do Madison for years, not that, like, you know, this meant that we were destined to be married, but I knew she was for a long time, my freshman year of college was her freshman year of college and we played each other in the national championship actually, this is the ring for it and she displays it in my office, don't worried. But so I knew her who she was for a really long time and when I headed up the Players Association, she had retired, she had a hip injury, then got surgery and I felt like a million bucks, so reach out to me to say, hey, I would love some support from the P. A. To come back in the league, you know, whatever. And so at that point we had started talking, I was kind of helping her navigate the situation once she got back onto the river and I was like, oh, you want to grab a drink? And she's like, no, I'm all set again, the stubbornness. I was like, why don't you want to hang out with me? So then we, I, I kept going down this like asking around going, going different like links to be in the same space as her or going to, like, I drove to massachusetts to a hockey tournament that I wasn't coaching, said I was coaching it, we ended up grabbing a beer and that was like The start of our now five year relationship, you...

...have a baby were married? Um, no, yes, stubborn, purely stubborn, she would not go out with me, which I thought was so rude. This is gonna, this is gonna be awesome clip. I don't even know how I'm going to do it yet, but I'm gonna put them like side by side and somehow play one's gonna, I'm sure she was like, oh yeah, just like matt harvey. And I asked her on maybe six days, I was like, oh, I'm gonna be here, will you be there? She was like, yeah, but I'm good. No, so it was pretty, it was pretty much the same story that it's fun. Oh man, 2020 you were named, um, top 25 most powerful women in hockey. So what did that mean to you every time those lists came out and I could, I could just get a verification from other people that the work I was doing was important. Um, what a cool thing. I look at the list now, even to this day and I try to, I try to humble myself and recognize that a kid from waltham massachusetts that may or may not have ever made a division one that nobody counted on that nobody bet on is just continuing to shatter these borderlines and, and actually my mom and I, like when something happens, I'll call her and we'll be like, remember your high school coach that said you were never going anywhere on this board of hockey. You know, we just like have these moments where it's like a very much like to prove people wrong style feeling about it. But I'm so thankful. I mean it's really because of the people around me. I try really hard to do more and better, but I swear I'm only as good as the people that, that support me that my wife, the players in the league that believe in me, the ownership or the commissioners that have wanted to sit down at the table and negotiate with me. Um, I really am just fortunate at, you know, I think I'm in the right place at the right time and some of it is me and I think a lot of it is um, is really just being fortunate. Uh, and and having the...

...right insulated group around me to protect me and to help me and to um support me so that I'm able to then speak for a lot of other people make a lot more change. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And then you were also named last year or 2,021 the Forbes 30 UNDER 30 and I believe you were one of like the feature stories to write. I was that was, that was the moment that I can't really describe. I again, I was hockey was something that I loved and something that I didn't really no, that was going to have such a large impact on my life and so when I found that out, I remember looking at Madison and just bawling my eyes out because it felt it still does, feels really um it feels really good to know that hours, days, months, years of hard work and being The 4th line being the last to be picked, being all these things. It felt so surreal in the moment that I was sitting on a list with people that I never believed I ever could be a part of and so it was really cool to be the female feature in sports that year. Um and to be on that list because you know, a couple of people that I met on social like Ari Chambers and and all these different people are part of this list and I'm like how the heck is my name here? And it was just a culmination of all the hard work and all the tears and all the sweat and all the times that people didn't care about what we were doing and fighting for it to be something that that got a little bit of market here. So um yeah, that moment was one that I can't really describe. Yeah, yeah, for sure. No, I was excited too because obviously I worked with you and then Brandon Copeland who's on the falcons got it last year with you too, so that was, that was awesome to see 100% and it's people like you don't even think about it right? But it's people that believed in you when no one else did and that's, that's another piece of it. Like, like you, for...

...example, being able to sit down and say, oh women's hockey is dope, I am from the Connecticut area, can pick two athletes up from Connecticut, give them merge, give them things like support their career that matters. And so a lot of people don't recognize it really does take a village to make success, especially in women sports more than ever before. I mean, you know, you've seen Renee absolutely scale up to being like one of the most incredible women in the sports world, let alone women's sports and so, you know, it just takes small meaningful investments from people like you and I always feel like, you know, in those moments I can kind of shine back on them and say, wow, thank you so much for caring more investing time or telling my story. Yeah, no, no, for sure. I mean, I feel like all the people that I work with are like underdogs and um like it's awesome to always work with. Like I feel like I always work with people that are at the beginning of their career, but I see something and you know, and most of the time, something like dope happens or like their careers take off and stuff. So it's always rewarding just to see uh that always to come in fruition yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I don't know, maybe I should be a scout. Um and then yeah, just, I know you're a big mental health advocate and the Riveters just released those jerseys that um we're dope, I think I forgot exactly what they said, I think they said let's talk on it, is it? Yeah, let's talk about it. And on the other side it says you're not alone and so um you know, another thing that kind of motivates me is that my brother and I both had some really challenging times when we were growing up and when I was in high school, I, I tried to take my own life, I was hospitalized for a period of time trying to figure out what that was and You know, early 2000's, nobody was talking about it, nobody was making themselves uncomfortable, nobody was saying, Hey, I have this problem or I need some space or I regularly go to therapy or any of these things, it was this very taboo conversation and now that I'm able to lead a charge and have...

...investable dollars and and be able to run a brand um and have my wife, you know in the same place and and really want to tell that story, it was, it was so important to me to get it done and so important to her, this was actually a charge that she led all the way across the finish line from designing the jerseys with our jersey designer Justin to getting to the point where she's releasing collections with power forward that talk about mental health or that that inspired the conversation around mental health. You know, we see it in sports now more than we have in the past. We watched it with simone biles at the olympics, we watched it with Naomi Osaka, we watch it with different female athletes that are willing to talk and say this is a problem with Robin Letter for example, in the NHL I mean he says all the time, like I'm not in a good headspace or I need this or that and my organs supportive of me, How impactful would that have been for 15, 16 year old me that was looking down um, on myself in a place that I just wasn't, I didn't have that willingness to live anymore. And and if we can change one experience for one kid or one adult or one person that's looking at themselves and saying I'm alone and remind them that you're not, how important is that. And so I'm really, I'm really thankful for our ownership group and our players and and everybody around us that's willing to, to get really down into a tough topic and celebrate it and to say I go to therapy and that's okay and we, we inked an entire team and again, this is probably what I was trying to say, like as a former athlete, I bring on a lot of resources that are athletes specific. Um, so we brought on an entire team of mental health staff and that was something that I felt really passionate about because not every team does not every team has therapists or um, psych teams or coaching or um, you know, grief counseling and that's something...

...that, that everybody needs athletes, people, parents, anybody. And so, um, you know, I'm really, I'm really thankful of everybody kind of stepping in and believing in the initiative and the cause and we have some really cool specialty games. And this one is so personal to me and so personal to my wife and so personal to everybody that, that it's important to talk about mental health or drug addiction or these terrible things that we've demonized and considered weak or um, you know, cast these people out and so it's time to, it's time to talk about it and it's time to make it okay to not be okay for for any period of time? Yeah. Yeah, no, definitely. And I believe your son is one now. Right, correct. Yes. 16 months. I can't believe it. So, so how has, how has motherhood changed you in more ways than I could possibly have imagined that, you know, you think I'm a great aunt or I'm a great cousin or all these little baby, he'll be my sidekick and and we'll just run around, but as I start to look at my life as a parent, it's just it's different and it's different being a parent of a boy and it's different being a parent of a boy with a wife. And so we think so critically about consent and about how do we teach him to be a good man. And so it's been an interesting life lesson for me in one responsibility, not being able to do what I want to go or I want and have a different, you know, have a different human being that now only relies on Madison and I, but also then I was thinking, what do we want him to be? What ideals do we want him to have? How do we teach him to be somebody that believes in all of these different things. And so it's been a, it's been a challenge and it's been something that we're learning every day. But um what a lovely experience to have him around women's hockey and around these female athletes. Like we introduced him to every single player, we bring him to Connecticut whale games when Madison is...

...not playing. Um we actually brought him to a whitecaps whale game and yeah, and all the gear. I'm like scared everybody. Um naturally I wanted to root for the ribs, right? But but I love it. Yeah, yeah, yeah throwback that on the new Jersey and fun though, it's fun to um show him sports and not necessarily say men's sports women sports but sports in general. And you know I'm excited about the torch that he'll carry on for us when we're when we're too tired. Yeah. Yeah for sure. Are you ready for some fun questions? Alright so who who would you want to do a jersey exchange with right now in the league and then who would you want to do a jersey exchange within like the NHL? Okay my jersey exchange in the current league would probably be. No they're all ready. I think okay while I'm her friend I think she's one of the most under appreciated players in the entire league as a defender that puts up equal to some of the best offensive players in the entire league. I really respect her from the D. Quality. I also like Haley mack from the white caps and I don't know her from a hole in the wall. So like probably like what the heck that's so weird. But I love d I think that there's a lot to be said about um some really good defensive games. And so I think those two are my my big phs players and then uh in the NHL I love on a computer why nothing to do with anything I just said about the P. H. F. Only because my nickname growing up was on like Freddie gave me that nickname. People called me all throughout college throughout the pros. Um, I have nothing to do with his game. His game has nothing to do with me personally, I am not from the same nation of origin. Nothing to do except my name is Tanya and his name is on say so everyone called me that, which I think is hilarious. So I would love to Kopitar...

...jersey for no reason at all. Alright, that's dope. Um what do you like to do in your free time? I don't have any because I bought a fixer upper. But yeah, that was exactly what I like to do. I like to like do like tinker, like do things build things. I took them on a wall in our old condo and put a sauna and so I would say like I'm really obsessed with like real estate and like home improvements and all these different things. So Madison follows me down a couple of different weird pathways with our current home and that's probably the thing that I like to do the most. I did the same in my parents house. Like I used to help my dad don't like stairs or redo the deck or whatever It was. So that was always, I like to build things all right. I was going to say my last one is usually what people don't know about you, but I think that's one thing right there. You like to build things. That's one of those things. I think also people don't know a lot about me. It's like I'm a heart, I'm a heart, right? Like I go 100 miles an hour. I am so sensitive and I love to be by myself, Which seems completely opposite of my hair because I seem like a hard nose like in your face, love to be around people love to talk. But I say it's my Jekyll and Hyde, like I could go to bed at eight pm, watch a show on my laptop by myself, not talk to a soul and be perfectly content in the world. And so I think that's like I get exhausted by like game weekends, but I'm talking to a million people um and actually kate can freeze my photographer and I, we have this like code where I'll be like, oh we need to grab something from the car and we'll walk like 20 minutes to my car and back and we won't say a single word, but like look ahead and multi. I'm like, this is exactly what I needed. Alright, I'll ask you a bonus question. Do you have any questions for me? What do you have any questions for me? I do. Actually, I think what I don't...

...know is why, why pG sports, why, why this, what, what got you here? Yeah. Ah so I was going to be a sports agent and then I just created a twitter page and then That was 2011 and then I just made t shirts just to promote it and then from there just started reaching out to athletes and annoying them kind of just what you were saying, just like, just keep on like, this is funny too. I always talk about it now and it's just like um there wasn't even instagram messaging then, like, I was literally deeming people on twitter and like, even on facebook too, which is like weird to think about. Um so things like that and then just say, yeah, building relationships with athletes like you and and everybody and then working with them on branding and marketing now, so it's stoked everything kind of, I mean I'm not technically an agent or whatever, but I work with athletes to build their brands and marketing and things like that. So I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to. It's so dope. I mean, I think so many times we don't take that that moment to have a victory lap for ourselves, but you're one of those people that I look at and I'm like, you should like, you should because that's the thing is like, I don't know if I, so I always think about it and I'm like, I don't know if I'll ever be satisfied me either, I'll be the commissioner of something like multimillion dollar leaves adding all these like values back to athletes, paying women like an insane amount of money and I'll be like, what's next because I'm crazy like that. I think you have that same drive. That's why, yeah, I got I got my Madison Packers shirt on, sir. Alright, well, I appreciate you coming on. And then you have the listeners know where they can follow you at. Um, oh, listeners can follow me at all of my social standards are still my, my maiden name. So Battellino Anya or Battellino a um, you can search on your packer, you'll find me everywhere...

...lamenting about women's sports, posting about women's sports, um, on twitter, on instagram, on Tiktok. You can find me just making 1000 videos about my wife because she's the best. Um, yeah, yeah, Follow me, Follow me there. But also follow the Riveters. Follow the riveters at riveters on all social platforms. Um They deserve to follow the more you invest in and support women's sports. Whether that just be retweeting or liking or postings on the near story like women's sports needs that bump, they need that love eventually we'll get there. But um, but yeah, follow us. Follow the Riveters, follow the P. H. F. And, and don't forget to turn us on on ESPN plus, thank you.

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