21 October, 2012

Carly Haggard

I can’t remember a time when hockey was not a part of my life. All my childhood memories are either of me chasing my brother around the rink or him and his friends sticking me in net playing road hockey. I must say I have to thank him for starting me on my hockey career. Like a lot of girls my age, I started playing hockey because my brother was playing hockey. I was tired of always going to the rink and watching him play. I thought “This is boring”, I want to be out there playing! So needless to say my mom and dad agreed to put me in hockey. At the time I doubt they knew what they were getting into!

I started out in figure skating (but of course wore hockey skates), and I think it was a great way for me to learn to skate, before I actually had a stick in my hands. This was short lived though. After just over a year of this it was time to put the gear on and get into some real hockey. I started out playing with boys, because there were no girls playing at that time. I was very fortunate to be from a small town and had a great group of guys to play with. They were very supportive of me and their parents encouraged me from day one. Another thing that helped was that I had the same core group of guys who were on the same team year after year. Over time they become very protective of me, almost too protective at times! I had a great minor hockey experience, one that I will never forget and wish that every kid could be as fortunate as me.

I continued to play with the guys until I was I was 16 when one game a guy hit me so hard I literally saw stars! After the game I thought I can’t do this anymore, as much as I love playing with the guys, they are just getting to big and strong and I’m going to get seriously hurt if I continue. At the time there were very few girls playing on Vancouver Island and so playing on an all female team was not an option. I was not ready to give up playing hockey though. At the age of 16 my only option was to go play in Vancouver in a Women’s Senior AAA League. This was not an easy task though. I ended up on a New Westminster Team and they had games every Wednesday and on the weekend. I still can’t believe how we managed to do this, but my dad would pick me up after school on Wednesday and we would catch the 5:00 pm ferry, which involves a one hour drive to the ferry then a two hour ferry ride, to make sure I was at the rink on time for a 9:00 pm game. The last ferry was at 11:00 pm, so we would always miss the last ferry home. My dad decided that in order for him to be back at work Thursday morning and me back at school, we would catch the first ferry at 5:15am. He built beds in the back of his truck and we would sleep at the ferry terminal, in order to catch that first ferry home. I still can’t believe what a big sacrifice he made. Then we would go back over to Vancouver almost every weekend. But at least this time we would stay with family and not have to sleep at the ferry terminal! So this was my routine for two years. I knew I was giving up a lot, missing almost every weekend with my friends in grade 11 and 12, but I didn’t care I just wanted to play hockey. At the time I didn’t even realize how many opportunities there were available for girls. I was just playing to play because I loved the game that much.

I talked a bit about having very supportive teammates and their parents, but hands down I would not have gotten anywhere in hockey without my own parents. Their own sacrifices during these years are something that I will never forget.

I received my first letter from Cornell University at the end of my grade 11 year. In the letter they had mentioned they had seen me play when I was 13 at the Canada Winter Games and had been following me ever since. I of course was ecstatic!  The thought of playing university hockey had never even really occurred to me. I had a few more letters of interest from colleges, so this was starting to become a reality for me. That summer I was playing in a softball tournament over in Vancouver and Mark Hudak, at the time the Assistant Coach of Dartmouth College, had called me and told me he was going to be at a Selects Tournament in Vancouver recruiting and was hoping I would be playing in it. Since I was at a softball tournament I was not planning on playing hockey, but my dad said to me you have to be at least one of the games so he can see you. I didn’t even have my gear, so I quickly called a friend to borrow her gear and played a game in someone else’s gear. I’m not sure what he saw in me because I must have been terrible, but I guess he saw something there!  And thank goodness he did because I’m not sure where my career would have taken me if he had not been willing to take a chance on me. Dartmouth persisted and I felt so comfortable talking to Mark and the other coaching staff that my parents and I knew that was the place for me. Dartmouth was an Ivy League school so I knew it could to be very hard for me to get in. I’ll never forget the morning the head coach called me at 7:00 am and woke me, but she sounded happy, so I knew it was good news. I had got in!! My mom and I were both crying!! So the journey began.

Going to university was both a scary and exciting thought. For any parents or kids that are reading this and are going through this process, everyone is in the same boat. You aren’t the only parent or child that is feeling anxious or intimidated. I couldn’t have asked for a better university experience. I had great coaches and great teammates. We really were a family. I went there being this little kid from a small town that most other coaches weren’t willing to take a chance on and ended up having a very successful college career. I’m glad that I went into Dartmouth with no one having any expectations of me. It always felt like a challenge throughout my whole college career feeling like I had something to prove to people. In my first year I ended up being ECAC Rookie of the Year, and even after some of the other awards I have won, this is probably still the one I’m most proud of. Proving to myself and everyone else that I deserved to be there was a great feeling.

Another great moment for me was getting the phone call after my first year at Dartmouth to try out for the Under 22 National Team. Talk about another nerve-wracking experience. But once again, I went in there with no expectations and I knew that I had to prove I deserved to be there. I made the team in my first year and the first time I put the Team Canada jersey on is one that I will never forget. All the hard work had finally paid off. My dream had finally come true. Playing for the U-22 Team for 3 years was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I did not achieve my ultimate dream of playing for the women’s senior team, but I know I am fortunate to have been on the U-22 Team, as there are many girls who don’t get the chance to ever play for the national team.

The last two years of my career (2007-2009), I had the opportunity to play hockey in Switzerland for HC Lugano. If anyone gets the chance to go play in Europe for a season, take that opportunity. It’s one you will be happy you did. Getting paid to play hockey and travel around Europe is pretty amazing.

I have now retired from playing, but hockey has always been such a huge part of my life that I can’t imagine my life without it. When I was in college I started a female hockey school and I knew then what my long-term dream was in hockey, to become a hockey coach. I am currently the Assistant Coach at the University of Guelph. Coaching has been everything I imagined it would be.  Having 24 girls on a team can be challenging at times, but it is a very rewarding job and one that I love.

When I look back at my hockey career I wouldn’t change a single thing. There have been good times and bad times, but through it all it has made me the person I am today. Hockey has taught me dedication, perseverance, hard work, and above all, it has showed me that if you want something bad enough only you can make it happen. I have had tremendous support from family and friends, and would not have been able to get where I am today without them. But in the end only you can do the hard work and make your dream a reality.

Carly Haggard


Melissa Lowe says:
03 March, 2011 at 19:27 PM
Awesome Carly!! You are such and inspirational person!
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