California “Gilmour Girls” Bring Unique Background to Nittany Lions

Story posted December 9, 2012 in CommRadio, Sports by Ross Insana

August 9, 1988: A day that will forever go down as one of the most monumental moments in sports and hockey history.  It was the day when arguably the greatest player in hockey history, Wayne Gretzky, was dealt from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky’s effect on hockey on the West Coast spread like a tremor around the hockey landscape from the pros to children. He was credited with popularizing hockey in California by not only increasing the fan interest in hockey in a predominantly non-hockey market in California, but most importantly the “Gretzky Effect” led to a rise in youth hockey participation in California. It led to more rinks, more opportunities to play youth hockey and hockey appeal not only in California but in non-traditional hockey markets like Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.

California is supposed to be for beaches, fun in the sun and movie stars. Not hockey, right?

Fast forward about 23 years later to November 9, 2011. It’s national signing day where student-athletes from high schools around the country officially sign their national letters of intent to continue their athletic careers to the college of their choice. At a small prep school called Gilmour Academy in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, another leap forward was taken for California hockey.

The wave of California hockey came into effect that day as Penn State Women’s Hockey Head Coach Josh Brandwene and company landed two of their own Californians in the 17-player 2012 recruiting class.  That now tight-knit group of freshman is a legendary and historical bunch, being the first ever official recruiting class in Penn State Women’s hockey history. Nevertheless, those two that stood out were forward Micayla Catanzariti and goalie Celine Whitlinger.

The “Gilmour Girls”, a catchy nickname created by Assistant Coach Gina Kearns, are Catanzariti and Whitlinger along with fellow Penn State teammate Katie Zinn. All three were teammates at Gilmour during the 2011-2012 season prior to arriving to play at Penn State.

“We basically saw a great opportunity here at Penn State and us coming together was just a plus”, said Catanzariti.

Prior to attending Gilmour, Catanzariti and Whitlinger spent time playing together on the elite Anaheim Lady Ducks Women’s hockey program. In their situation, they said they chose to leave California and play at Gilmour Academy because they felt it was would best prepare them for the transition to college from both a hockey and living standpoint.

According to Brandwene, there was no coincidence or fun story behind snagging the teammates who share the Californian bond.

“I’d love to say that there was, but both are incredible individuals and here on their own individual merits,” said Brandwene on the recruiting process.

Catanzariti hails from Rancho Santa Margarita and Whitlinger of Huntington Beach, both in the glitz and glamour of the Orange County area.  Both begun their hockey careers at an early age and took different paths until arriving at Gilmour as teammates and now at Penn State. However, this is not the hockey everyone would instantly think. Roller hockey is usually where most kids on the West Coast get their interest in hockey jump-started.  Just look no further than the scene in the movie “D2: The Mighty Ducks” where Team USA plays the kids from the city in California in an intense roller hockey game.

Whitlinger said she began playing roller hockey in second grade as a forward and then made the switch to her current position between the pipes in fifth grade. Her transition to the ice did not come until she was 12 years old when she played for Cal Selects, a girl’s hockey travel squad. Not only did seeing her friends playing roller hockey while growing up spark her interest in hockey, but her dad is originally from the hockey hotbed of Minnesota. So it was only fitting she made it to this high of a level in her hockey career and never had second thoughts of not continuing her hockey career.

“Both of my parents are very supportive of what I do, but my dad was like my coach for the longest time up until I started playing ice hockey,” said Whitlinger.

Later on in her hockey career, Whitlinger’s high level of play earned her an invitation to the prestigious US National Player Development Camps from age 15 to 17 as the top Pacific District netminder. Her strong hockey résumé put her as one of the more highly regarded recruits by Brandwene.

As for Catanzariti, her route to “Hockey Valley” as a player was quite different than most women’s hockey players. She began playing roller hockey at eight years old with a neighborhood friend and instantly fell in love with it. Then she decided to focus on ice hockey around age 13, close to the same time as Whitlinger. Like her fellow California “Gilmour Girl”, Catanzariti was invited to the USA National Player Development Camps at age 16 and 17.

There did come a time where she said her hockey career almost ended, but luckily that never ended up happening. “I remember I had a really tough tryout in my first ever ice hockey tryout. After that I didn’t want to keep going with it but my mom pushed me and said you’ll run into situations like this.”

However, what makes Catanzariti so unique is that she spent a good chunk of her ice hockey career playing on an all guys team like fellow Penn State teammates Jill Holdcroft and Brooke Meyer.

“I’ve been this height most of my life, so when I was ten I was huge compared to them so it wasn’t really a problem. I started getting older and all the guys got stronger and bigger and there was nothing I could do about that.”

One could say that the experience she gained playing with guys for a while helped mold her into the player she is now, being a presence all over the ice with her high energy, gritty style of play. Her team leading 34 blocked shots this season probably puts her amongst the best in the category in the CHA conference.

“I’m like the opposite of what normal California kids’ style of play is like. You get a lot of the roller hockey kids that are all hands and finesse, but I would definitely say I’m a grinder,” said Catanzariti.

Growing up in sunny California, surprisingly neither experienced problems with places to play in their area or a lack of opportunities. In addition to other youth hockey programs and the Lady Ducks Women’s hockey program both played for, there were a couple places in the area to get ice time. Whitlinger also said that she created such a strong bond with the tight-knit hockey community in her area over the years that it made everything seamless.

As for the ultimate question of the popularity of the game they love over in California, both of their opinions were exactly the same.

“With the Ducks and the Kings winning the Cup it’s exploded, especially the youth hockey. My little sister plays and it’s really cool to see a lot of team’s pop up there now, especially girls,” said Catanzariti

With the intangibles both have brought to their overall game on and off the ice so far this season, Head Coach Josh Brandwene could not stress their character enough. Their qualities have not only helped build a strong foundation and precedent during this historical 2012-2013 season, but for future Penn State Women’s hockey teams in the future.

“Celine and Micayla are committed to the team environment and very committed individuals and those are the type of people we love to work with here,” said Brandwene.

Ross Insana is junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail