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Pro Hockey Player Kaliya Johnson: Put Your Kids On The Ice. You Never Know If They’ll Fall In Love With It

National Women’s Hockey League player on why hockey needs more women.

Boston Pride defender Kaliya Johnson during a game between the Boston Pride and Team Russia in Boston. Photo by Michelle Jay, used with permission.

Kaliya Johnson is committed to growing the game of hockey — and helping to ensure young women are a big part of its future.

She just started her second season as a professional in the National Women’s Hockey League, playing as a defender with the Boston Pride. This follows a standout career with Boston College as a scholar-athlete and a year playing for the Connecticut Whale. She was also part of the 2012 U.S. team that won silver at the U-18 World Championships. Off the ice, 22-year-old Johnson works full-time as a coordinator for Boston-based nonprofit Building Impact and manages to find time to coach a youth girls’ hockey team too. Growing up in Arizona, Johnson played in the Desert Youth Hockey organization, including two years in the boys’ program.

GOOD talked with Johnson about how she fell in love with the sport and why she hopes other girls will fall in love with it too.

What was it about hockey that spoke to you as a young girl?

I played every sport as a kid — I was very active — but hockey was always my favorite. I started playing hockey because of the “Mighty Ducks” movie. I was obsessed with Julie and the fact that she was the only girl on the team. I thought, I could do that. Once I got on the ice, I felt free. I am really fast, and when I was younger, I loved to just skate and skate. Feeling the cold air on my face as I skated was the best feeling. I chose to stick with hockey because it was so different from all the other sports I played when I was younger.

What drives you to keep playing today?

The biggest drive is my love for the game. I just love being out there on the ice and being around my teammates. I'm also still playing because I can. A few years ago, there was no professional league for women, so why not take advantage of this amazing opportunity to play the game I love and be a role model for others? I want to show younger girls that they can play professional sports, and they can achieve anything they want in life.

Photo by Kaliya Johnson, used with permission.

Were there ever moments along the way when you felt like giving up?

I think everyone has that moment in sports when they are younger and they get discouraged and just want to give up. I got through by taking a break. It was during a time in my life when I was younger and I was doing a lot. I was burned out. My mom came to me and said, “You’re not having fun anymore. It’s time for a break.” So that summer there was no hockey. I wasn't on the ice every day. I only went on the ice when I wanted to, not because I had to. Taking a break was the best thing that could have happened for me. I learned to appreciate the game again and have fun. I learned a valuable lesson as well: Sometimes we just need to slow down. Ever since that year, I always take the summer off from hockey. I take up other sports to stay in shape, and I only get on the ice for fun tournaments. When the season comes around, I am eager to get back on the ice.

Johnson and her mother. Photo by John Quackenbos, used with permission.

What has your mother’s influence been on you as an athlete and as a woman?

My mother was a huge influence in my life, especially when it came to hockey. She played college and professional basketball, and although I wasn’t as passionate about basketball as she was, she taught me so many sports and life lessons. She taught me what it meant to be dedicated and committed to something. I get my drive and passion from her. She is a strong woman, and she taught me to be strong in hockey and in life. Growing up, she understood how important hockey was to me and that I loved it as much as I did. She made a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to follow my dream, and she was determined to support me in any way that she could to help me achieve that dream. I am forever grateful to have her as a role model. She’s my biggest fan, and without her love and support, I truly wouldn’t be where I am today.

Why is it important for more girls to get involved with ice hockey?

I think it’s more important to get girls on the ice because we want to grow the game. Hockey is been seen as a boys sport, and it's time to change that. I think any sport shouldn't just be viewed as a boys or a girls sport. I think the best thing we can do as parents, fans, and coaches is to encourage our younger kids to try everything. Put your kids on the ice because you never know if they will fall in love with it.

What do you love most about being a youth coach?

I love watching the kids grow: watching them grow as people and watching them grow as hockey players. Kids are just so eager to learn and I love teaching about hockey and sharing my passion for hockey with them. Being a good role model to these kids is a very important job, and I am very proud to be their coach.

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