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Life of an Import #13 📍

How fitting that we end the series on lucky #13 considering luck’s influence on my career thus far. I hope this final story demonstrates the vital role both hard work and luck/coincidence can play in what doors will (or will not) open. As the women’s game continues to grow and more elite teams exist after college, hopefully more players who have a late start will still be encouraged pursue their dreams if that’s what they really want.

Youth Hockey

Private AAA programs were not so prevalent when I was growing up in Vermont. There were maybe one or two organizations but mostly for teenage boys, so I went through the town program. Then in 2008, my Dad and his friend created the , a non-profit Tier II split-season program that did not compete with the town team, but provided a few more opportunities in tournaments and USA nationals. Playing for the Rocks would eventually connect me to the prep school circuit.

Portsmouth Abbey

One year we hiked down to Rhode Island to play in a tournament hosted by Portsmouth Abbey Prep School (PAS). After one of my games, the head coach of the PAS team was giving tours but the only thing on my mind was a foot-long from Subway and a nap at the hotel. Yet, I shrugged and agreed to go when my Dad suggested we take a look. The campus was beautiful but what sold me was hearing they offered marine biology as an elective. Ironically, I never did take that class. My decision wasn’t actually centered around hockey, more for social reasons, but I learned it helped me receive a generous financial aid package because they were just starting to build up their hockey program. I wouldn’t learn about this until many, many years later but an underlying example of “right place, right time” right from the get-go.

Senior Day at PAS / by Chris Sullivan

Grand Valley State University

During my junior year at PAS, as the hunt for college admission dragged on, the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) happened to host a showcase at University of Rhode Island with several teams from the east coast. I had never heard of the ACHA, but since the tournament was so close, I watched some games and sat in for their informational session. At that point, I had accepted (totally denied) that I was not good enough for DI NCAA, and decided it was important to me to play somewhere that had my degree interest of film. Many ACHA and DI/DIII programs had “film,” but usually as a course in the Communications major, which I was not interests in. Fortunately, one school at the showcase, Grand Valley State University (GVSH) had a rather robust film program and floated within the Top 8 of the league, so I was headed to the Midwest.

The first three years at GVSU was everything I wanted out of college hockey and education. Classes directly related to my career interest, high paced practices and games, national tournaments and active participation in running the team. I wanted to play all of five years of my eligibility, but things started changing my senior year that didn’t align with my values and it culminated in our team missing Nationals for the first time. That summer, I went through one of the hardest internal battles of my life: can I struggle through one more year for the sake of the sport I love or should I walk away and end my career prematurely? I decided to quit.

Side tangent: I’m chuckling writing this because even five years later, I tried about 10 different words there instead of ‘quit’ because there is still so much shame and embarrassment associated with the word. I’m forcing myself to keep it there because I truly believe there is so much more nuance to quitting and perseverance than simply: ‘quitting’ is weak and ‘persevering’ is strong. As you’ll see, the decision to quit would become the catalyst for perseverance in the future because it was deeply important to me that I maximized that second chance.

GVSU in-game photo / by GVSU Club Sports

Moving on! Since I had spaced out my classes to align with a five-year plan, I still had classes until December. I essentially took a gap year and was only playing pick-up hockey where I could. I e-mailed three teams that fall – one told me no, one told me I could come to try-outs (which was one of the pricier programs so I wasn’t willing to risk it) and one coach, the last one to get back to me, told me they’d give me a guaranteed spot. The team was Liberty University.

When I think about it, this was the pivotal moment where I decided to give everything I could to hockey which ended up projecting me further than I ever could have imagined. If they were willing to take a chance on a player taking a year off from hockey with only one year of eligibility left, I couldn’t let them down – it was time to get to work. Who could have predicted COVID shutdowns would start just five months later.

Covid & Liberty

The COVID lockdowns cancelled nearly all hockey seasons and national tournaments, which prompted the hockey governing bodies to grant an additional year of eligibility. The craziest part for me was that the eligibility rule specifically stated player could be in only five national tournaments, to make up for the one that was cancelled. So, as luck would have it, the only reason I was able to play in nationals twice after transferring was because of the one year I missed the tournament earlier. But it wasn’t about the trophies, what I really wanted at the time was to be able to walk away from the sport knowing I had done everything I could to: a) be the best athlete I could be and b) keep tapping on the ceiling until I couldn’t break it anymore. So I squeezed everything I could out of the resources available to me in those two years and transformed into a complete athlete.

Montréal Force, PHF

Soon, it was time to decide what I wanted to do after Liberty. I was satisfied with what I has accomplished, but thought, “why not?” If I went to the free agency camps and got blown out of the water, then at least I’d know I hit my limit. I attended two camps and although I did not make either team, I matched up much more closely to other players than I had anticipated. I diagnosed my weakest areas and decided I would train on my own and try one more time the following summer. My timeline shrunk at warp speed more when the PHF officially expanded to Montréal. I thought my chances were slim if I couldn’t physically try-out, but I didn’t want any regrets, so I sent a DM to the President and within two weeks I was warming up for my first practice as a professional athlete.

Experiencing that level of hockey was incredible. Even without much game time, I got to play with and against premiere talent for an entire season.

Europe – Austria

As the season came to a close, I had a feeling that getting resigned in Montréal was not going to happen, so I started looking elsewhere. I had heard Europe teams filled up early and I didn’t want to wait on the PHF and then not have any options, so I pulled the trigger and signed early.

Well, a few weeks later I open my phone after a Thursday night skate to learn all the news about the PHF folding and a new league forming. While it didn’t change my plans, I went to Austria now knowing either one more crazy event might happen or I’d have fun playing and then happily retire. If you had to guess what one happened, which would you chose? You bet – another crazy event.

Europe – Sweden

I’ve told this part of the story on a , so I’ll keep it brief. Linköping Hockey Club also reached out to me that summer, but I since had just signed, I told them I’d love to keep in touch as I wanted to have a shot at the SDHL the following season. When I ran into visa complications that sent me back to the States in December, I reached out to Linköping to see where they were in the recruitment process. Turns out, they needed a player right before the transfer deadline so once again, I was moving and suiting up with a new team in under two weeks.

I went home in December and continued my workouts and playing pick-up so I would be ready for any team that picked me up for the 2024-2025 season. In doing that, I was already prepared for when Linköping needed me and my previous experiences on different teams made me adaptable to new systems quickly. I learned their structure fast and was rewarded with generous ice time. It was not the way I expected this season to go, but I know better than to start asking questions now!

The Future?

I’ve begrudgingly accepted that I have no control over the doors when it comes to hockey. The door belongs to someone else and they have to open it for me, but what I can do is always be ready prepared and work hard enough to stay inside the building. I’ve been on borrowed time as a player ever since I transferred in college so I am grateful for each additional day I get to prepare for my next competitive game. Sports have became a major vehicle of lessons learned in my life, but I would not have made tangible connections if I did not love the game.

The little kid in the photo didn’t realize how connected her identity was to hockey until it was almost too late. I’m thankful that I was surrounded by the right people and in the right places to nurture my passion so that I could not only become the best version of myself, but learn to separate myself from that identity. I will continue to play for as long as I can, but I am now equally excited to for the day I can pay that support forward.

Sally Hoerr’s first media day / by Burlington Amateur Hockey Association

Thank you to anyone who read this or any of my other posts – or any of the other posts on The Ice Garden. They produce tons of content out of passion for the game on top of their full-time work, so please consider subscribing to them if to keep seeing the latest and greatest from world of women’s hockey.

Lastly, if you are a player who reads this one, five, ten years down the line and you have questions about playing overseas, professionally, club hockey, injury struggles, retiring from hockey or anything else, PLEASE reach out to me. I will be active on and you can also email me [email protected].