Chandler, DYHA product Johnson leaves mark on NCAA, NWHL up next
Much is made, and rightfully so, of players like Auston Matthews and Todd Burgess coming out of Arizona and moving on to the NHL and NCAA ranks.
Chandler native Kaliya Johnson is certainly doing her part as a high-end women’s player. In the spring, she graduated from Boston College after four seasons with the Hockey East powerhouse and recently became the first Arizonian signed so far to play in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) as she inked with the Connecticut Whale.
“My biggest thing is that I want to be a positive role model for younger players,” said Johnson. “Being the first person to sign from Arizona, I am put in a unique situation where I can show younger girls that you achieve your goals with hard work and dedication. I was looking to continue to my career in hockey and coaches at BC suggested that I reach out to some teams in the NWHL. It’s an incredible honor to play in this league and I happy everything worked out
“I am not really sure what to expect this year. I just want to enjoy the experience and have fun playing professional hockey.”
As a youth player that showed above-average talent, Johnson played with both the Anaheim Lady Ducks and boys hockey with the Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) out of Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe. She traveled back and forth on weekends and then once in high school, she went across the country and played at the North American Hockey Academy (NAHA) in Stowe, Vt.
“The Lady Ducks was the first girls program I ever played for,” remembered Johnson. “I started playing for them when I was seven years old. Being able to travel and play for that program really helped my development at a young age. Playing at DYHA with the boys was a great experience. I always enjoyed playing boys hockey – it’s a lot more physical and I loved that it was. It helped me see the game a different way, play it a different way, and become tougher.”
When all was said and done, the travel was a bit much, but worth it in the long run.
“It was a lot of travel for me, especially at a young age having to get on a plane every other weekend to go back to California,” Johnson said. “I became a lot more independent at a very young age and was doing things a lot of kids my age don’t experience ever. I think being such a young age and being a very independent kid helped me fit in very well with the older kids.”
Once she made the move to NAHA, it was opportunities galore.
“NAHA helped me get a lot of exposure to college coaches that typically wouldn’t have seen me play on the West Coast,” Johnson said. “I also played with a number of California girls at NAHA. My now-roommate and former Lady Duck teammate, Jessica Hon, went to NAHA the year before me. It was great having her there my first year and made adjusting moving to the other side of the country a lot easier. Annie Pankowski, who I played with on the Lady Ducks and now plays at Wisconsin, also decided to attend NAHA the year after I started.”
And to think that Johnson started playing hockey because of the “Mighty Ducks” movie franchise.
“I first saw the movie when I was two and I loved the idea of Julie being the only girl on the team,” Johnson said. “I have been skating ever since. I love playing hockey and I love being on the ice – it relaxes me. I think the fact that I can still have fun while playing at a very competitive level is what keeps me going. If you’re always having fun and enjoying what you’re doing, I think that should be enough motivation to continue playing every day.”
— Matt Mackinder