Sonjia Shelly making her way to the Pod! With Mom (top left) with the Chicago Fury, with the Joliet Catholic Academy Hilltoppers (lower left) :📸: JCA, and with Saint Lawrence University (right) 📸:SLU Athletics

SONJIA SHELLY: Storyteller

"Will you pass it on for me?" I'll tell that tale for you. Somehow I'll get your message through. My friend told me the story and I'll pass it on to you. It was handed down this century, and I swear that it is true.”  Storyteller, by Ray Davies

Cetacean Nation recently had the chance to chat with rookie goaltender Sonjia Shelly, who has come to us after a stellar career between the pipes at Saint Lawrence University. Sonjia hails from Braceville, Illinois, a village of less than 800 people. It is located in former coal country, some sixty-five mile southwest of Chicago just off I-66, Somewhere along the line, Sonjia remarked she has been told she is a good story teller. Starting with her answer to our very first question, we think so too.

We began as we often do, by inquiring about how Sonjia got her start on the ice and this is what she revealed “It’s kind of a funny story, none of my family before me played hockey. I was a pretty energetic child so I was one of those kids that actually had a harness and leash when I was younger just to keep me in a confined area. So, my mom decided that the best place to have me was in an ice arena so that I was in a confined area. I could just get all my energy out in one area, so she started doing that. I was pretty good at skating to start with, so I kept doing it and got more and more into the sport. She tried putting me in figure skating after that, and actually that didn’t really take. So I started playing hockey and it has kind of stuck ever since. Most people don’t know that story, it’s probably considered child abuse today but that’s how it came about for me:)

Continuing to explore her early sports roots, we asked if Sonjia was a multi sport athlete growing up. Sonjia answered “Most definitely! And, I think that helped me later on with hockey in general. I kind of did a little bit of everything. My parents wholeheartedly believe in letting me try anything, not keeping it to one thing so growing up. I was on swim team, I played boys baseball, and I tried softball. Hockey was still my main sport, but I tried a little bit of everything all throughout the years.I did that all the way through high school, so college was the first time in my life I only played just one sport, It’s basically what I did growing up, I just tried a little bit of everything.”

We questioned Sonjia further about her swimming and she told us “ My swimming wasn’t with a swim team through my high school, it was a summer league. So during the summer months when I wasn’t playing hockey I would go and swim. And it went really well with hockey because hockey can be pretty tough on your body.Swimming was just a really good thing to have in addition to my main sport! It was good for my joints, helped kept me really active, and it helped my cardio. I just really liked it along with my hockey and I just stuck with it. I was a sprinter, I couldn’t do the long stuff is was just too hard for me. I did the 50m freestyle and butterfly. Those are definitely my better events”. Sonjia did not mention it, but she was pretty successful in the pool., and was named Most Valuable Swimmer for her Dolphin swim club. Cetology note here: dolphins and whales are both cetaceans, so perhaps this was a little foreshadowing of Sonjia’s future with the Pod.

As Sonjia’s career progressed, she found herself playing on boys team quite often, including the baseball and hockey squads for Joliet Catholic. Academy.  But, there is also a very interesting backstory here as well. Sonjia told us “I did not actually attend Joliet Catholic I just filled in as a goalie there because it was my local high school. I went to a very, very, small private school for my freshman through junior year and I homeschooled myself my senior year. I was actually homeschooled until eighth grade and then I finally went to school for three years and then I returned back to it. i I didn’t know about being able to compete as a homeschooled student athlete but my mom helped me look into it. I still liked to play boys hockey, and that was one of the ways I could do it. I actually played boys hockey until I was 12 or 13 with Chicago Fury. then I finally switched over. I also played two years at Chicago Mission with the girls when I was 14 and 15 from 2011 to 2013. I actually played there against Emma Vlasic, who I also competed against against throughout my college career as well.”

We also asked Sonjia to tell us about her experiences with the USA Hockey Development Camp’s. She said “I was thankful enough to be able to attend four USA development camps between 14-18 years old. I also made it to the Lake Placid training camp for the USA team that when I was 18, the year before I got to St. Lawrence? I had never been there before, and had never seen areas as beautiful as that place, it was amazing”. Sonjia continued “The USA Hockey experience really helped me. It was just good to leave home and go somewhere where you can just focus on your sport for a period of time. You compete against some of the best players in the country. Just interacting with those people is great, because even if they didn’t make the All-Star games it the team later on you still had that bond with those people throughout all your years. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into since those camps who say “Hey, I remember you from the national camp”. It’s really cool it and creates a network, and as much as anything It helps with your confidence. I would say in this sport it just gives you more experience and different aspects that you can look at”

Cetacean Nation is always interested in how players came to choose their particular number, and we suspected that Sonjia might have an interesting story about her #31, and we were right! Here’s what she told us “To give you a little backstory to it, I was number 21 my entire career because the first time I ever had a big moment in hockey was when I skated with Cammi Granato (Olympic Gold Medalist and Hockey Hall of Farmer) I also played with her niece and for her brother. Just one of my first cool cool experiences was when I was like three or four years old and she skated with me around the rink. I was just the tiniest thing ever, and I said I wanna be just like her so I wore her number (21). Even though I was a goalie later on, I still wore number 2. But then when I got to college I didn’t have the opportunity to wear 21 because it was already taken. So I went through all the NHL goalies, and I just wanted to choose who my favorite one was and I absolutely love Carey Price (of the Montreal Canadiens) so I chose number 31 because of him!”

Sonjia had a remarkable career at Saint Lawrence University, and ranks in the top ten there in every goaltending category. We asked how she came to choose Saint Lawrence and she explained “I was looking at quite a few different schools in the midwest, because I wanted to stay closer to home so that my family could come watch me. But I started venturing out a bit more in my search. I remembered being in Lake Placid and areas like that, so I started looking on the East Coast. Saint Lawrence actually reached out to me. I had honestly never even heard of them before that, because they’re pretty small school in comparison to the Big Ten schools or any of big hockey schools on the East Coast, They reached out to me and I saw what area they were in and they seemed like they really wanted me. I’m a full believer in that you eventually go where you are wanted the most. So I went out and I visited, and I really just loved the coaching staff and the school was awesome. I’d liked the small school vibe. It was a beautiful area, and I don’t know, I could just see myself being there even if they took the hockey aspect away. That was a big part for me. It just seemed so right, and so perfect. And I was actually a later commit.” Thinking back on her four years at SLU, Sonjia added “My favorite hockey memory at SLU would probably be when we defeated Boston College in my junior year. It was when they were going undefeated for the longest time, and it was even better because we beat them at our home ice arena. It was really cool because for years before that they had always been a really strong team, just a powerhouse with a lot of skill players. So for us at SLU to be able to beat them at that time was a really big moment.” Sonjia not only stopped twenty seven pucks in that game to earn the win against Katie Burt, but picked up an assist on the game’s first goal as well.

Sonjia did excellent work in  the classroom as well as on the ice, twice winning ECAC All Academic Honors. We asked her about her field of study and she related  “I majored in Environmental Studies. I’m a very outdoorsy person and that’s part of the reason I decided on SLU because it’s such an environmentally appealing place. They have the Adirondack Mountains, tthat are probably only an hour away from the school. If you’ve gone there (the Adirondacks) it’s definitely impacted you.It’s such a gorgeous place. Sonjia continued talking about what her future might be in her field. “I’m still trying to figure it out a bit, but there are a lot of areas I could go into. i’m pretty interested in conservation and natural resources, and I’m a big recreational person but I really don’t know what sector I want to go into yet. So I’m really just trying to dip my toes into everything a little bit, and see what I like best I think it is very underrated field in comparison to other things”

Sonjia is part of the first group of graduating hockey players who had the NWHL in existence during their entire collegiate careers. We asked her about that, and when she first began thinking about post-collegiate, pro hockey. She responded “I knew about the league because, I knew a few girls growing up that were actually older than who committed, like Katie Fitzgerald.Other players that I played with throughout the years were going to play in the NWHL. I didn’t realize how much momentum it would gain in such a short amount of time, but when I heard that they were going that’s when I really became interested. Obviously, no one really wants to just hang up their skates when they’re done with college, and I know I definitely didn’t. So I had a desire to keep playing. I wasn’t pursuing any thoughts to play in the NWHL this past summer, I was just thinking tha I’ve I got to get my career going, I’ve got to start doing some real life stuff. And that’s when the Whale contacted me. It was the end of the summer and it just got my mind going and I said I don’t really want to stop playing so why not just go for this and try to make the most of it it? It wasn’t one of my priorities to do it, but now that I’m committed, I’m so so excited to get to play in the NWHL” Being a self described “outdoorsy person, Sonjia recognizes her choice of the Whale was a good one in that regard too. She revealed “I am a total thrill seeker, so I definitely love like all the extreme stuff outside. I’ve done skydiving, whitewater rafting is one of my favorites, and I love canoeing. I just want to be on the water. That’s also what was appealing about being in Connecticut because Danbury is not far from the ocean, so I thought “Oh yeah I’m definitely going to go there, seems like a great place.” Overall, I guess canoeing and hiking or two of my best things to do “ Sounds a little like another goaliewe know, Laura Brennan!

And speaking of Laura, when Cetacean Nation asked if Sonjia would be coaching, she told us “Definitely yes! Laura Brennan told me about some opportunities to help out with different camps and things and I’m totally into that, working with younger age kids that are interested in hockey. Every summer when I came home from college,I would actually help out at a goalie camp which was strictly just for girl goalies. It is called the Midwest Goalie School, and I always loved doing that, it was always such a great experience. I think it’s good too, because I think girls hockey is at a point where they need people to look up to and say yeah, I can go that far, I can keep pursuing this and follow a dream. Or something along the lines of they just have something or somebody to look up to and I think that’s really important.” We reminded Sonjia that she will have a whole new set of fans including Little Future Draft picks, some of whom will be wearing her jersey. She laughed and said “That’s going to be kind of surreal. It’s kind of weird to think about it now to be honest. I love interacting with fans, especially the little kids because they’re so excited that you can to be playing a sport, and to be excited about somebody, so I can’t wait to be part of that .it’s funny that my first number was chosen from another girl too.”

In closing, Sonjia offered “I’ve heard nothing but good things about this league since a certain point in its development, and I really hope that it has a bright future. It just makes me excited knowing that there’s such an enthusiastic fanbase! I haven’t even stepped on the ice yet for the Whale, but that just makes me very excited When there is so much excitement It feels more homey there, and the people seem so inviting. I’m really looking forward to that.” Cetacean Nation thanks our new Amazing, Goalie Sonjia Shelly, for her most excellent storytelling skills, and letting the fans of Cetacean a Nation get to know her a little better through them.  Fins Up Sonjia and welcome to the Pod!