Scottsdale native Turner finding NWHL to be perfect fit after four-year NCAA D-I career
Carlee Turner started playing hockey to emulate her older brother.
Several years later, the Scottsdale native has four years of NCAA Division I hockey to her credit and a pro contract in the NWHL.
Not too shabby.
“I was not sure if I was going to play after college right away, but when I finally graduated and had started to get into contact with some NWHL teams, I became very excited about the idea of playing a year of professional hockey,” said Turner, a member of the Boston Pride this season. “I know there was no long-term goal in the opportunity because I was planning on going to medical school in 2021, but the idea of playing one last year, while growing the women’s game sounded so exciting.
“Growing up in Arizona, there were not many girls hockey players because there were not a lot of opportunities for girls to play. Since I was young, the women’s game has grown tremendously, but there is still so much room for improvement, and I hope someday my little girl or girls can have the chance to make a living playing professional women’s hockey if that is their dream.”
The NWHL season starts this weekend in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., something Turner said is “an excellent opportunity to grow the women’s game.”
“Although this year has been quite different because of the COVID pandemic, there have been many ups and downs,” Turner said. “I think the bubble is a great place to end my hockey career. I am so grateful that we do get to have a season this year with everything that is going on in the world, and I am glad we have all stayed safe and healthy to make this season work. As sad as it is that after 21 years of hockey, my time playing hockey will be done very soon, I am grateful that I have been so lucky to have played for so long and in such competitive leagues. I have met so many amazing lifelong friends and visited some amazing places in the world, all due to the great game of hockey.”
Boston is pumped to have Turner in the lineup this season.
“Carlee is an impressive skater with a great presence,” said Boston GM Karilyn Pilch. “She uses her size to command the play and will undoubtedly add to our offensive production. We are thrilled to have Carlee joining the Pack and look forward to all that she will bring to our team.”
Turner said she started playing hockey in Arizona because her brother, Keenan, played and she wanted to be just like him.
“He dressed me up in all his hockey gear, mouthguard and all, when I could barely walk and still had diapers on, so I guess I was destined to play,” Turner said. “My parents first put me into figure skating and I loved it, but when I could start talking, I told my parents, ‘I want to wear the black skates, not white, and I want to score goals and howl like a coyote.’ Reluctantly, they let me play hockey and we never looked back since. I played every sport you could imagine, hockey, soccer, basketball, swimming, golf, baseball, horseback riding, but hockey was my favorite.
“There was something about it that always had me coming back to it, and when I had to pick which sport I’d stick with for good, I picked hockey without any hesitation.”
Turner got her feet wet playing on boys teams as there were no all-girls teams in the Valley. That was never seen as a detriment to her, but there were certain challenges.
“When I was growing up in Arizona, there weren’t really any opportunities for girls hockey, so if I wanted to play hockey and continue playing, I had to play with the boys,” said Turner. “This just seemed normal to me, although it came with its struggles. At a young age, the boys did not mind, but once we started getting older, I was the odd guy out in many circumstances. If it was the parents saying I should be playing with girls, or teammates making fun of me, or opposing players trying to hit me harder than anyone else, there were many times when I wanted to give up, but I knew I wanted a future in hockey and if I gave up, then I would be giving up on my own dreams just because of those around me influencing me.
“There were also really great times, too, when my teammates would stick up for me while opposing players targeted me on the ice. Overall, the experience of playing with the boys for about 10 years was an incredible experience and made me into the tough and resilient player and the woman I am today.”
Turner played for CAHA under her dad, Kevin, Pat Mahan, and others. Later, she played for the DYHA Firebirds for her dad, Dan Francis, Joe Dusbabek, and others. She also skated with Sean Whyte and Boris Dorozhenko for skating and skills improvement during her summers.
“Every coach I played for made a significant impact on my hockey development and is part of the reason I have made it so far in my career,” Turner said. “I remember Pat Mahan always working to give me the confidence to be a girl in the boys game at such a young age. Joe Dusbabek coached me for a couple of years at DYHA and I also joined his high school NDP practices for the years I attended the North American Hockey Academy and I would need ice over the summer. He was a great coach, always pushed me to be my best, and helped me so much during my high school and college years to get on the ice.
“Lastly, I think my greatest and most influential coach was my dad. He never took it easy on me and pushed me to be the best player I could be, but he never forced me to play the game. He always wanted to make sure I was playing because I loved it because that is all that mattered. He was the one who taught me how to be deadly in the faceoff circle. To this day when I am on the ice, in my head I can hear my dad saying things like, ‘Keep moving your feet, pick your head up, play fast, shoot to score.’ Most importantly, he taught me how to find something I love and work to be absolutely great at it.”
Turner’s high school years were spent in Stowe, Vt., at the North American Hockey Academy.
“Choosing to go to NAHA was one of the best decisions I have made thus far,” said Turner. “It was a big decision to leave my family and friends at the age of 14, but I knew it would help me reach my goals. I attended NAHA during my freshman through senior year of high school and I was in Vermont from about September-March every year. We would practice and train every day, go to school, and on weekends, we would travel to play the best teams all around the country and Canada.
“It was hard being away from my home, family, and friends, but it was also exciting being so independent and working every day to reach my dreams of playing college hockey. Living on my own from the age of 14 helped me grow up and mature so quickly, but we also had many times to be normal kids on off-weekend trips to the city to go shopping or snow-day sledding. These years at NAHA greatly prepared me for college, both academically and athletically. I think the jump to college hockey was mainly a step higher in strength and speed, but everyone catches on fairly quickly. Academics can be difficult for some student-athletes, but I felt that my years balancing hockey and school at NAHA over-prepared me for college. I had developed great time-management skills, self-drive, organizational skills, and much more by being in charge of my own education for high school.”
It was while Turner was at NAHA that high-end colleges started to take notice. She ultimately decided on the University of New Hampshire.
“The process of college recruitment was overwhelming at times, but very exciting, too,” Turner said. “It was overwhelming because I was doing college tours in the Midwest and East Coast at 15 years old, and I was not exactly sure what I wanted out of a university, but over my time visiting many amazing schools and hockey programs, I realized I wanted to go to a program where we could compete in a great conference and compete for a title, but somewhere that I could make an impact during all four of my years.
“UNH seemed to fit those criteria perfectly, and it was also a school that allowed me to pursue my academic dreams of taking a Pre-Med major. I had a wonderful time at UNH, probably my favorite memories come from the relationships that I made with my teammates and friends. During my last year, we improved as a team and made it to the quarterfinals of the Hockey East championships which was exciting, but that is far as we got. I was also named captain my last year which was quite the honor.
“During my senior year, I balanced a lot, I was captain, I was in a Pre-Med track and applying to medical school, and I was working as an EMT in Durham, N.H. It was a lot to handle at times, but I loved every minute of it, too.”
Over the past 10 months, Turner has been applying to medical school and is currently still deciding where to go to school.
“I have been very blessed to have been accepted to about six medical schools and I am currently still deciding where is best for me, but I am so excited to start my professional career,” she said.
Last season, Turner finished with seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points over 34 games as she tied for third in goals, fourth in assists and tied for fourth in points. Turner led the Wildcats with five power-play goals. She also led the team in faceoff winning percentage (60.8%) and faceoffs won (436).
For her UNH career, she played in 140 games with 27 goals and 46 assists for 73 points.
As for what’s next after Lake Placid, Turner said hockey may be over, but she has a lifetime of memories to reflect on and even more to make in the future.
“After my hockey career ends, I am going to be attending medical school for four years, and I am very excited to start this next step in my life,” Turner said. “Hockey will always be a part of my life. The game of hockey has made me into the resilient and confident woman I am today, so the game will always be a part of me as it helps me persevere through the next steps of my life in medicine and beyond.”
Top photo/Joey Walker; faceoff photo/Jack Bouchard
— Matt Mackinder
(Jan. 22, 2021)