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Kelly Dyer: In Her Own Words

August 24, 2011 Players No Comments

Kelly Dyer: In her own words
By Stan Fischler
Oct 30, 2001, 07:58

 

Although Manon Rheaume has obtained considerable publicity for a relatively minimum amount of goaltending against men, the real goods among female netminders in male leagues is red-headed Kelly Dyer.

The Boston native completed a successful season with the West Palm Beach Blaze, and is now with the Orlando RollerGators of Roller Hockey International. Dyer, who received a special citation in 1994 from USA Hockey for her contributions to the sport, stands above Rheaume as the most significant of the female netminders.

Those who have seen her in action over the past decade marvel at her dedication, perseverance and ability. She has excelled at every level she’s played, including a stint on the US Women’s National team. This summer Kelly is making her first appearance as a pro roller hockey player. Here, in her own words, she describes her fascinating growth as a goaltender and as a trailblazer in a male dominated sport.

 

My love of hockey began when I was eleven years old and was a direct result of the hockey mania in the New England town where I grew up. There was a lot of girls hockey played there. In fact, there were three teams—older girls, college girls and us little kids. We were the coolest and had the most fun. Because we already had a goalie, I played up front. But I really wanted to be in the nets, and every day I’d bug the coach about it. And every day he’d say, “No, no, no!”

But one day our goalie didn’t show up, so I hopped right into the crease with my forward gear on. Every so often the regular goalie would miss other practices so, finally, the coach figured he couldn’t rely on her anymore, and got me a pair of pads. That’s how my career began.

I give my father a lot of credit. At first he didn’t think a girl could play hockey, but then he checked around and found out about the all-women’s league and helped get me started. My parents never put pressure on me to play—I just wanted to in the worst way.

One advantage I had was that I was always real big for my age group. I’m almost 5’ll” now, and I was fully grown by the time I was 13. By that time I was already playing with college kids, and once traveled with them to Brampton, Ontario, for a tournament. I went up there to be backup goalie and I wound up playing in the semi-finals and finals, which we won. It was the first time a team from the United States had ever won the tournament.

In high school, I tried out for the women’s basketball team and the men’s hockey team at the same time. I made both teams but picked hockey. In my sophomore year I began practicing with the varsity once in a while. Three guys who eventually made it to the NHL were there; Tom Barrasso and Bobby Sweeney were sophomores, and Jeff Norton was my age.

Tom wasn’t too friendly to me and we hardly communicated. Despite that, I still had a great deal of respect for Barrasso because his work ethic was amazing, and he was focused on what he wanted to do. He wasn’t the only classmate who thought a girl shouldn’t be (on the team). But, from what I gather, it was a direct reaction from their parents. There were parents who wouldn’t talk to my mother and father when they were standing there at the games. So I can’t really blame the guys for their attitudes if that’s the way they were brought up.

Nevertheless, I was proud of myself. I considered myself a pioneer in women’s hockey because I was the first goalie ever to play for Women’s Team USA. I was part of the team that won the first ECAC championships at Northeastern. I was the first girl to play school Boys Division I hockey. And, after Manon Rheaume and Erin Whitten, I’m the third women to ever play in a men’s professional hockey league.

I’m not naive. I expected the men to be crude to me, and my theory on that is that the men didn’t invite me to be on their team. Actually, I feel better if the guys act as they would if I wasn’t there, than if they put on those happy little faces and only spoke in complete sentences without any swears in them when I was around. But I do want them to put on a towel if they’re walking through my dressing room area. Other than that, I’d rather they be themselves and not make a big issue out of it.

When I first came down to West Palm Beach to play in the Sunshine League, the coach said, “Listen, there’s a girl coming, no swearing!” As a result, the guys were total geeks around me during my first week with them. Then, one day I broke the ice after taking a hard shot off the knee cap and shouted, involuntarily, “Oh, bleep!” Everyone turned and looked at me, whereupon I simply said, “Females do swear, too.”

From third to first

I made my way forward and finally landed at Northeastern because the coach wanted me badly and they offered me a full scholarship. The University of New Hampshire had the best women’s team at the time, which was good for me. I thought it would be fun to be on a team that wasn’t tops because if you’re always number one, then if you do anything less, you’ve failed. But to take a team that’s third and work hard and take that team to the top, that would be the ultimate, I figured. And that’s exactly what we did!

All in all I had made a good move, although the coach and I banged heads quite a bit. The problem was that I had gotten a lot of publicity after Barrasso had graduated and I was the one who filled his shoes. There were all the headlines like, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” I was on radio and TV and the coach automatically figured that he had inherited an ego case. But by my junior year the team had come together beautifully and we went undefeated through the whole season and the playoffs. It was the first time Northeastern had ever won the ECAC title. Going undefeated was incredibly exciting. The undefeated streak continued into my senior year and came to 48 straight wins, before finally losing to Providence, 7-2, at home.

In retrospect, I can see that the loss was a good thing because I (couldn’t) imagine going into another playoff undefeated—the pressure was building and building. Fortunately, we beat Providence in the finals that year and I kept moving up, finally going for tryouts for Team USA in 1989.

That was my first exposure to international hockey and competing against European women. I was named MVP on Team USA in 1990 and was also named Best Goaltender in the World for ‘90. It was (also) in 1990 when I met Erin Whitten. I liked her style. She’s a real feisty little goalie; total butterfly, total quick mechanical-style reaction which is totally different from my style. She’s a strong girl and I respected her the first time I saw her play. Likewise, I consider Manon Rheaume a good goalie. She’s quick and has great reflexes.

What she’s done for women’s hockey is tremendous. She has opened the eyes of parents whose little girls want to play goal. And it opened the eyes of men as well. Guys didn’t even know that women played ice hockey. She helped educate an entire population. The fact that she’s very pretty helped the image of women hockey players as well. It used to be that we had been viewed as big, masculine, ugly-looking things with missing teeth and scars all over our faces. People react positively to the idea that such a good-looking woman could play such a rough-and-tumble game as ice hockey.

Some of the (off-ice) things she’s done I view less positively, however, like her appearing sleeveless in an ad. It’s not what I would have chosen to do for myself. If people want me to tell my story, then that’s talking about hockey and I love it. But when Manon leans forward in the white, sleeveless shirt or when she’s on those hockey cards with the guy in his leather jeans, leaning against the Harley, that’s selling sex, too. She has switched hockey brands I don’t know how many times. It’s sort of disrespectful, but I guess it’s also money in the bank, so it depends on your perspective.

I just watch the puck

By 1993/94, I was playing pro against men in the (Florida) Sunshine League. In my first game against Lakeland, the opposition thought they could intimidate me by shooting the puck at my face. Sure enough, right off the bat I took a blast off the face mask, but it didn’t faze me a bit. They thought that they’d scare the heck out of me with the high shot and then shoot the next one low into the net, but it doesn’t work that way with me. I just watch the puck.

As for my male teammates, they were a bit stand-offish at first—so polite. When I’m playing hockey, I don’t need them to be polite; I need to know who’s doing what and who’s going to react in what way. But after a while, we began to jell. Finally, one of the guys said, “Hey, Kelly, do you mind if I talk disgusting around you?” I said, “Not as long as you’re being yourself and you’re happy with that talk.” So, he turns around and says, “See, guys, I told ya!”

It didn’t take me very long to comprehend that there’s a big difference between playing women’s and men’s hockey. Because men shoot the puck harder, I have to step out another foot from the crease on my angles. In women’s hockey, I had progressed to a point where I felt that I could almost control the shooter at times. But against the men, I was getting smoked on breakaways. Finally, I stopped three breakaways by the guys and that was the highlight of my career up until that point. Against the men, you can’t make the first move or they’ll smoke you.

A big concern for me when I entered the Sunshine League was how the other goalies on my team would cooperate with me—or not cooperate, as the case may be. Let me tell you, it was amazingly positive. One of them, Todd Boycine, would stay with me for an hour after practice and if I was having a problem with a certain kind of shot, he’d shoot 50 pucks at me until I got it right.

I have many memories about my debut with the men. In my first start, which was a win against Daytona, one of the opposition broke in clean on a breakaway in the second period. I decided to give him the glove in an old give-and-take, and I read him the whole way in and I just picked it off with my glove. As one of the old-time NHL goalies once said, “It’s as easy as pickin’ cherries off a tree!”

Actually, it was a lot tougher than that, and I never did become a number one goalie in the 1993/94 season. I had a lot of self-doubts because I didn’t play all the time. But I sincerely believed that I could play in the pros against the men—at least in the Sunshine League.

I guess my mother and father did, too, considering what I had already accomplished. I helped the image of the female hockey player, got myself some good experience and I won some hockey games. The proof is sitting on the mantelpiece back home at my parents house.

It’s the puck I sent them after winning my first game against the men as a pro.

This first appeared in the 08/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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