Photos by Michael Hetzel (L) and Pat McCarthy (R)

KALIYA JOHNSON: Turn the Page

On January 7th 2017, our former #10, the amazing Kaliya Johnson, scored her first Whale and NWHL point. She picked up the primary assist on a goal by our #17 Dana Trivigno. After the season, Kaliya and several other players turned the page, and signed with the Boston Pride. And on November 18th 2017, both Kaliya and Dana picked up their first points with the Pride, registering assists against their former mates on the Pod. Cetacean Nation wondered how much geography factored in to that decision to sign with the Pride, and Kaliya explained “Yes, that decision was solely because I wanted to play closer to home and the drive was getting to be a bit much. Doing to my 9-5 and then having to drive to CT three times a week started to be a lot. That was a fun group (with the Whale), and the best memories are being in the car driving with my friends.” And this week Kaliya turned the page once more, and told us she was hanging up her skates. She said “You know, I think it's time for me to retire. Your the first person i'm telling so you can break the news, haha! No, but in all seriousness, I think it's time to step away. I love hockey and I will be forever grateful for all the opportunities it has brought to me but it's time to take a different role in hockey. To be just a coach and not the player. I know I will always be involved with hockey but with everything going on this seems like a great time to exit and focus on my work career.”

The narrative that Kaliya’s life has written in the preceding pages has always been interesting, and we were were able to catch up with her recently to discuss a variety of topics. So let’s turn the page back as well, and see what Kaliya had to say. And speaking about “catching up”, that is not an easy thing to do with Kaliya who has long been noted for her speed and quickness on the ice. She was in fact, the fastest skater at the 2009 USA Hockey national skills competition One of the first things we asked Kaliya was how that came about, and she replied “I wish I had an answer but I don't. I have always been very agile and quick. I would say if your looking to gain more speed, try doing footwork drills and Olympic lifting. Cleans, when done correctly, are great way to build fast twitch muscles while also building your strength. I always loved Olympic training, and got very good at it.” Speed in hockey is often associated with forward’s, and we asked Kaliya if she had played any forward earlier in her career. She replied in the negative, saying “I have always been a defenseman. I loved skating and have always been very good at skating backwards so it was an easy choice for me. Plus, forward is too much pressure.:)”

Kaliya first got her start in organized hockey as a child in Los Angeles, with the Anaheim Jr. Lady Ducks. She told us her biggest lesson learned there was “That you can be and go anywhere you want. Being from a certain place doesn't define you.” She added “I did play roller hockey when I lived in LA. I played in a few tournaments, but it's always been ice hockey for me. I started on ice skate from day one! I played a lot of sports growing up. My mom played college and professional basketball so that was my 2nd sport. But I did everything from Track, Tennis, Golf (for a hot second), and Soccer. My mom always says if I didn't play hockey I could have done soccer, but I disagree.” Kaliya’s Mom relocated the family to Arizona, and she had to fly back on weekends to continue playing hockey with the Ducks. We asked a Kaliya if the the hockey culture has changed on the youth level for girls in Arizona.  She replied “Hockey has definitely changed in Arizona. Young hockey girls have the most amazing role models like Lyndsey Fry and Makenna Newkirk. Not to mention Matt Shott with the Arizona Coyotes, who is beyond dedicated to growing the game for your girls. It's been great to see women's hockey grow in Arizona, I know they are in great hands with Lyndsey and Matt.”

We also asked Kaliya to comment on her decision to come east to the North American Hockey Academy to continue her career. And to comment on coming from the warm climes of Los Angeles and Chandler, AZ that average about ZERO inches of snow, to Stowe, Vermont which averages 250 inches of snow a year. Kaliya answered “It definitely took me a little bit to get used to the snow. Even after all this time I am still not sure if I ever truly adapted to the snow. Definitely don't ask me to help dig out your car after a snow storm. I have no idea what im doing lol” She continued, commenting “How did I end up in VT, a lot of people ask me that. NAHA recruited me at the Pacific District Tryout Camp when I was in 8th grade. They wanted me to come for my freshman year but my mom wasn't having it. She wasn't quite ready for me to move to VT so we compromised. I moved to California and lived with the Pankowski's. I attended Laguna Hills High School and continued to play with Annie and Ali for the Lady Ducks. The Pankowski's took great care of me and treated me as one of their own. After my freshman year my mom and I sat down at a Mexican restaurant, and we made a list of pro's and con's of me attending NAHA and we made a decision. I am pretty sure my mom still has that list somewhere. But after that dinner we decided that I was ready to go, and that this was the best decision for my career. The rest is history.”

That history includes a league championship for her and her NAHA teammates, and being selected a JWHL first team All-Star, and a finalist for the prestigious Sullivan Award. Also while at NAHA she was a member of the 2011 U.S. U18 Select Team and was part of the silver-medal winning U.S. squad at the 2012 IIHF U18 World Championship. Kaliya added “Playing for Team USA was a huge accomplishment for me. It was great to travel with them and play with and against the best of the best. Skating and playing for Team USA was a challenge for me every time I stepped on the ice and I loved it. I learned to play the game different and see the ice differently. It helped me a lot not only on a confidence level but also to elevate my game.”

Kaliya continued “NAHA is very different than a traditional prep or high school. The first half of the day was spent at class. Honestly our class schedule was set up very much like a college schedule in that you didn't have every class every day. It was kind of nice. After school hours were over we all had lunch together then on the buses to the rink. One team had lift first while the other had on ice practice. The atmosphere on and off the ice definitely prepared me for college because I knew what I was getting myself into with my everyday schedule. My favorite memories where the times at the house. When we were back from practice and hanging out. We made the most of our time and we all became very close. That's the great thing about NAHA, I gained some of the best friends. That no matter where life took us we would always have that special bond and those memories.”

With the successes she had both on and off the ice at NAHA, Cetacean Nation wondered, what led her to Boston College? Kaliya explained “I was very fortunate to be able to have my pick of schools. Something always drew me to Boston College from a young age. My best friend growing up in California as originally from Boston and we made this promise that we would go together. She ended up going to UConn haha. But as I got older and became more drawn to the city of Boston, I always loved playing in tournaments there. Once the time came to visit schools I knew that BC was home. I fell in love with the campus, what the academics had to offer, and hockey program was just the icing on top. Being able to attend Boston College and play for that school is something I will always cherish”

On the ice while at Boston College, Kaliya was part of an incredible four years, that saw the Eagles win 129 games during that span, including a mark of 40-1 her senior year. She amassed seven goals and thirty six assists as a collegiate, playing regular shifts and special teams, was a shot blocking machine, and finished with a plus 118 +/- rating. Cetacean Nation asked if she had a favorite memory of those remarkable years. Kaliya’s interesting reply was “My favorite memory is also probably the most heartbreaking one. Playing in the National Championship game was amazing. The fans, the support, and the atmosphere of the rink was like none other. That was a huge accomplishment for our program. Sad we couldn't bring it home but I am so proud of that team and all that we accomplished that year.” The Frozen Four final loss to Minnesota was the only blemish on that otherwise perfect season. Off the ice and in the classroom at BC, Applied Psychology and Human Development was Kaliya’s field of study. She revealed “I have always been interested in Society and people as a whole s that is why I decided to pursue that path. I learned a lot about how people think, why they act a certain way, and the role society plays on peoples personal decisions. Learning about that lead me to Community Service and I became very involved while at BC. My first job was with a nonprofit and now I work for Boston Scientific doing their employee engagement/volunteer work and corporate giving”.  Continuing, Kaliya added “I knew I wasn't ready t leave Boston yet so I decided to continue playing with the NWHL. I would have loved to play in Boston but the Whale had an open spot for me and I had a great year with them.I didn't consider going overseas due to my personal career and wanting to also start my path in Corporate Social Responsibility”

Kaliya Is also the Girl’s Hockey Director for Team New England Hockey Club,, and  we asked her about that too. She told us “I have been coaching the 12u girls New England Pride the last two years. I loved being their head coach and the girls are great. But this season I will be stepping back and taking a break, but don't worry I will be back coaching! My message for them (the Little Future Draft Picks) is to enjoy it. Enjoy the on ice fun as much as the off ice fun. Take it all in and live in the moment. Focus on the now, listen to your coaches, and do your best to grow as a player and a person every day. I always tell my girls that I have just three rules: Communicate (to me and each other), Work hard, and have fun.” Words of wisdom that those players can carry forward as well.

We knew that Kaliya had a serious medical procedure, and returned to play afterwards, and we asked how she was feeling now. Happily, she replied “I am great! I really appreciate you asking. I had the best of the best at Boston Children's and thankfully I haven't had to go back and see them. All is well with the brain now :)” We are also big baseball fans at Cetacean Nation, and are fans of Kaliya’s friend, pitcher Justin Dunn, a local (Freeport, NY) prospect who impressed in spring training, and is lighting up the minor leagues with some electric stuff. We asked her for any insight into how things are going for him. She replied “Thank you I appreciate it and I will pass that along. But he is having a great year in the Seattle Organization and I am so proud of him. Hopefully he will have an opportunity to live out his dream of playing the Major Leagues this year. But for now we wait :) We appreciate the support!”

Kaliya concluded with these great observations and remarks “I believe the NWHL has grown, and to be able to see the fan base and the amount of young girls it has impacted, has been great. To the fans, thank you for your support and dedication to this game, to women's sports, and to the players. The fans no matter where I went were always great and I loved seeing them in the stands. I know I can speak for everyone when I say we are beyond grateful for your support. Without you there would be no league for us to play in. Thank you, thank you, forever grateful for your support. I hope we made you proud.” There is no question about that. Wherever our #10 Kaliya Johnson has gone, she has made her fans, teammates, coaches, family and friends, proud of her. And as she has turned the page to a new set of chapters in her life, we are sure she will continue to impact people in that way. Fins Up Forever Kaliya, once a Whale, always a Whale! .