Devon Skeats adds to the growing (and historic) legacy that Canadians are having on the incipient National Women’s Hockey League. From Emerance Maschmeyer becoming the first Canadian selected in the NWHL Draft, to Clarkson Cup champion Kaleigh Fratkin earning the distinction of the first Canadian signed to a player contract, there will be proud Canadian content when the puck drops for the inaugural season this autumn.
As the first player from Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s ice hockey to sign with the league, it’s more than just a personal milestone in Skeats’ hockey career. Of note, it is a landmark moment for CIS hockey, whose impact in professional women’s hockey grows with every passing season.
Having attended the NWHL’s Canadian training camp event in Toronto, Skeats was signed to a contract in its immediate aftermath. Acquired by the Buffalo Beauts, Skeats’ signing is testament to the remarkable female hockey talent available in Southern Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe Region. As a side note, Erin Zach, who won a CHA championship in 2014 with the Rochester Institute of Technology was also signed by Buffalo at that same camp.
In five seasons with the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, Skeats was part of three OUA championship teams (2010, 2012, and 2014) while earning a major in psychology. As a freshman, she earned a bronze medal with Laurier at the 2010 CIS National Championships. Twice in her career, she was recognized as Laurier’s Athlete of the Week (Week of March 15, 2010 and Week of February 21, 2012).
In her final season (2013-14), Skeats registered 21 points on the strength of 12 goals. Leading off her season with a three point output against St. Francis Xavier on September 29, 2013, it was the first of seven multi-point efforts. As a side note, the Golden Hawks enjoyed an undefeated mark of 15-0-0 whenever Skeats logged a point during said season.
Contributing to a Golden Hawks program that stood second in the CIS National Rankings, she managed to leave her mark in two significant postseason games. As the program earned its 11th OUA title in a 2-0 victory against the Queen’s Golden Gaels, Player of the Game honors were bestowed upon her. Although her final CIS game (which was also the final game for teammate Candice Styles) resulted in a visceral loss to Saskatchewan in the bronze medal game of the 2014 CIS nationals, she managed to score a goal, leaving the program on a good note.
After a sterling career that saw Skeats blossom into a leader, while logging 87 points with the Golden Hawks, the next stage took her to Europe. Like so many other women in CIS and NCAA hockey, the opportunity to experience hockey in another part of the world, while embracing another culture provided Skeats with a chance for growth.
Suiting up for the EWHL’s Neuberg Highlanders, she contributed to a third place finish in the race for the Austrian Cup. Statistically, Skeats had a memorable season, pacing all EWHL players in goals scored, while ranking first in the scoring race. Fellow Canadians on the team included Shelby Ballendine and Paula Lagamba. As a side note, Regan Boulton, Alex Gowie, Abygail Laking and Jordanna Peroff were among other players proudly representing Canada in EWHL play.
While in the EWHL, Skeats also worked as a Player Development Coach, assisting coach Jozef Hosmaj in helping to cultivate and develop skills among younger players. Before season’s end, she would also play for an Austrian Division III men’s team known as the Bulls, establishing herself as a remarkable ambassador for the game.
As the NWHL represents the next exciting chapter in Skeats’ promising career, her historic signing may signify the beginning of a strong relationship between the Buffalo Beauts and the Greater Toronto Area. From the Beauts hoping to establish a fan base in the GTA, Skeats is helping to build a bridge between the two women’s hockey hotbeds. Taking into account that Skeats will likely be the first of many talented Canadians to call the NWHL home, it demonstrates the potential of women on both sides of the border working as partners in establishing the promising league as an encouraging step forward in building the game.
Photo credit: Adam Gagnon