With a highly exciting off-season that has seen the Toronto Furies welcome iconic goaltender Sami Jo Small into the General Manager position, while Courtney Birchard-Kessel takes on head coaching reins, such revered acquisitions were proudly on-hand at this year’s CWHL Draft. Certainly, the outcome of the event is one which may serve as the turning point in the Furies bold plans for the future.
As the Furies held two first round picks, there was an embarrassment of riches for Small to select from in her first-ever draft as GM. With the second overall pick, Small selected Canadian national team forward Sarah Nurse. Four spots later, Small selected goaltender Shea Tiley, poised to anchor the team’s picture between the pipes for many exciting years to come. Undeniably, Small approached her first draft as a General Manager with a strategic brilliance
Raised in Southwestern Ontario, Tiley quickly raised her profile with a spot on Canada’s contingent which competed at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds. Backstopping Canada to a gold medal during her first international experience, posting an undefeated mark, it was part of a brilliant junior career that included starring with the PWHL’s Kitchener-Waterloo Rangers.
Bringing her talents to Potsdam, New York, home of the ECAC’s Clarkson Golden Knights, Tiley’s brilliance on the ice during four fruitful seasons in the green and gold was aesthetically pleasing. Establishing herself as an All-America goaltender, she was the catalyst that transformed the program into a dynasty. Capturing consecutive Frozen Four titles (2017, 2018) to close out her compelling collegiate career, Tiley’s legacy in Golden Knights lore is assured.
Coincidentally, one of her coaches with the Golden Knights was former Furies blueliner Britni Smith. Undoubtedly, Smith scored the greatest goal in Furies history, finding the back of the net in a highly dramatic overtime frame at the 2014 Clarkson Cup Finals. Among Smith’s teammates on the Cup championship team included Small, who gained entry into the Triple Gold Club for Women (which also includes IIHF World Championship Gold and Winter Games Gold) with the coveted Cup.
Although Tiley shares the proud Team Canada connection with Small, Birchard-Kessel and fellow Furies first-rounder Nurse, there was another member of the 2018 first round class that held a unique linkage. Having guarded the crease for the Princeton Tigers (a school that also recruited Tiley), one of Clarkson’s ECAC rivals, Kimberly Newell is also an alum of Canada’s National Under-18 team.
Having opposed each other numerous times in collegiate play, both have now graduated to the professional ranks, destined to call each other rivals once again. Emerging as the first two goaltenders taken in this year’s draft, Newell, who was picked one spot ahead of Tiley at fifth overall, shall play for the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, formerly known by the sobriquet Kunlun Red Star.
“Being selected in the first round was an honour. I find it really amazing that we as women have a draft like the men because we grow up seeing them drafted so to think that we can have that opportunity is amazing, but to be drafted in the first round is an extra special honour.”
Appearing in 40 games during her senior season at Clarkson, emerging victorious in 35 of them, complemented by 12 shutouts, the most notable statistic for the tow-time ECAC Goaltender of the Year may be her 2405:32 minutes of play. While all three statistical metrics topped the NCAA’s backstops, the remarkable number of minutes played is destined to evoke memories of a fabled goaltender in Furies lore. Tiley’s durability in Potsdam is reminiscent of Christina Kessler, a workhorse goaltender, and CWHL All-Star, who consumed minutes. Also the longest serving goaltending partner of Small during her career wearing Furies’ the blue and white, they were also teammates on the Furies’ 2014 Clarkson Cup.
Discouraging opposing offenses in the ECAC, decimating their confidence, Tiley’s arrival represents a significant upgrade in the Furies goaltending picture. One of the five winningest goaltenders in the history of NCAA women’s ice hockey, Tiley amassed an astounding 114 wins, compared to just 24 losses. Perhaps more impressive are her 36 shutouts, complemented by a sparkling career goals against average of merely 1.38.
Facing off against the conference rival Colgate Raiders in the 2018 NCAA Frozen Four championship game, the first to feature a pair of ECAC programs face off for the title, Tiley recorded 27 saves in a thrilling 2-1 victory. Bestowed the honor of the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player, it was a fitting tribute that capped off one of the greatest goaltending careers in NCAA history. Reflecting on the prestige of the award, it is one that sees Tiley display an admirable humility, quick to acknowledge that a team effort was crucial towards her own individual success,
“I think that honestly represents the way the team played in that final game. We all bought into what our coaches were saying and were willing to do anything to win. That accomplishment could have gone to a handful of girls; I am just happy with the result of the game.”
Among the numerous accolades showered upon Tiley in the aftermath of a highly eventful senior season with the Golden Knights, she gained a very unexpected, yet highly sensational honor. For over two decades, the popular periodical Sports Illustrated has published a companion edition for younger fans known as SI Kids.
One of the elements that has made SI Kids highly prevalent with numerous generations of sports fans is the fact that each issue comes with a sheet of nine trading cards. Just as collectible as the magazine itself, one of the hallmarks of said cards is that each issue features both male and female athletes. While popular card brands such as Allen and Ginter, Goodwin Champions and Upper Deck’s Team Canada Juniors feature female athletes in their annual releases, SI Kids tends to be the first sports magazine for many youngsters, providing them with the chance to find inspiration in the empowering women whose images grace the cards—continuing to enlighten and educate, providing them a well-deserved place in the sporting zeitgeist.
During the summer of 2018, Tiley enjoyed cardboard immortality, as a photo from her glorious time at Clarkson was featured on one of the trading cards. In years past, other female hockey players that have enjoyed the card treatment in SI Kids have included Hannah Brandt, Cammi Granato, Amanda Kessel and Hilary Knight, among others.
Reflecting on the privilege of being in such distinguished company, enjoying the thrill of her own card, it also brings with it feelings of rejuvenation. Having enjoyed the magazine in her younger years, Tiley is elated at the feeling of full circle, finding a well-deserved sense of achievement,
“I honestly just found that out, but it is incredible. I remember always reading those magazines as a kid, so to be included with some of the greats that have been featured is amazing.”
Before Tiley makes her debut for the Furies, she is already part of a significant Clarkson connection. Part of the Furies’ 2016 Draft Class, former teammates Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast quickly emerged as the foundation of a new-look blueline for the club.
While Fast also holds a unique connection to Nurse, as both were teammates on Canada’s entry in women’s ice hockey at the 2018 Winter Games, Tiley has also become professionally intertwined with Ambrose, although there is a tremendous tinge of coincidence.
Following Team Canada’s Centralization in the autumn of 2017, Ambrose made her return to professional hockey. Instead of suiting up for the Furies, Ambrose became part of one of the biggest trades in CWHL history. Shipped off to Les Canadiennes de Montreal, the Furies (under a previous General Manager) were the recipients of a generous package of draft picks, including Montreal’s first round pick in 2018.
Understandably, the thought of being selected with the pick that was traded for Ambrose, a fellow Golden Knights alum, brought with it mixed emotions for Tiley. Although it would have made for unique circumstances to call both Ambrose and Fast teammates in Furies blue, allowing for a highly enjoyable transition into the professional ranks, Tiley observes how such a transaction, and its eventual outcome, are indicative of how the confines of hockey are populated within minute dimensions,
“I think it is kind of funny the way things work out in hockey. The hockey world is small and Ambrose is such an incredible player I am just happy with the way things worked out with myself and for Ambrose!”
Undeniably, the hockey heroes from Clarkson are part of a new legacy in program lore—making significant inroads into the professional ranks. Worth noting, Genevieve Bannon was another member of Clarkson’s program claimed in the 2018 CWHL Draft. Selected by Les Canadiennes de Montreal, she shall reunite with Ambrose in le bleu, blanc et rouge. For Tiley, the opportunity to play against Bannon and other Clarkson teammates in the pros holds tremendous intrigue. From a goaltending perspective, there shall be no shortage of quality goaltenders from the Green and Gold to oppose Tiley.
Shattering numerous program goaltending records set by Erica Howe, her predecessor at Clarkson, there will be a unique opportunity for Tiley and Howe to line up on opposing ends of the ice in CWHL play. Having backstopped the Markham Thunder to the 2018 Clarkson Cup championship, Howe became the first goaltender to have won the Frozen Four and the coveted Clarkson in a career. As a side note, Jamie Lee Rattray, one of Clarkson’s all-time leading scorers also skates for the Thunder.
As Tiley graduates to the CWHL, the goaltending linkages extend beyond the highly talented Howe. Having stood between the pipes for Clarkson at the beginning of this decade, Lauren Dahm also shared in the prestige of international play that Howe and Tiley enjoyed, competing with the US Under-22 team. During her first two years with the Boston (now Worcester) Blades, Dahm has established herself as one of the hardest working goaltenders in the CWHL, inspiring teammates with her valiant play and assiduous approach. Definitely, she will provide Tiley with an added sense of motivation, bringing a sense of keenness to the chance to share CWHL ice with the accomplished women of the Green and Gold,
“Yes, I definitely am. It will be fun playing against girls I played with for a few years. I will just have to make sure I am on my A-game so I have bragging rights!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Shelley M. Szwast
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