‘Sometimes things click,’ the legendary Ricky Bobby once said.
Looking back to the last NWHL off-season, that’s exactly what happened when the Buffalo Beauts selected goaltender Carly Jackson with the third overall pick at the 2020 NWHL Draft. The Beauts, long-known for having spectacular goaltending (see: McLaughlin, Brianne, Leveille, Amanda, Szabados, Shannon) have found another one in Jackson – and we feel completely secure in saying that even though she has only suited up for six games (over ten days).
Jackson will one day be legendary herself, but there’s no rush for the netminder who turns 24-years-old on June 23. “Uhh yeah,” she replied with a laugh when we asked if we could pencil Jackson in for the NWHL’s upcoming seventh season.
“I intend to come back to Buffalo, I really like it there and it feels like home, so I don’t see any reason why I would leave. I love (GM) Nate (Oliver), I love the program, I love my teammates and all the staff; I look forward to building something pretty amazing here. Hopefully not just this coming year, but the coming years. I plan to stick around for a little while and see what I can do.”
If ‘what she can do’ is anything like what we all saw on display in Lake Placid, then the Beauts may be able to pencil themselves in for a few more Isobel Cup Final appearances – adding to their league-leading total of four.
In a normal NWHL season, I likely would have already met and talked with Jackson a bunch of times. But as we all know these are very different times we live in now. So aside from a few postgame zoom press conferences and some social media interactions I didn’t really have a chance to get to know the person behind the mask.
That was remedied about a week ago when I had the pleasure of chatting over the phone with the Amherst, Nova Scotia native for over 30 minutes. Going into the call I had heard nothing but rave reviews from Oliver about what a great person she is, and Jackson was as advertised. She’s passionate, humble, goofy (all goalies are!), thoughtful, and her enthusiasm is infectious.
At press time, Jackson has not yet re-signed with the Beauts, but as she alluded to earlier it will in all likelihood happen sooner rather than later. Oliver and Buffalo are building from the goal out and they have a solid foundation with no. 70 between the pipes. Below are the highlights from our conversation where we discussed goalie gear, how the Beauts weren’t the only team she had talks with before the NWHL Draft, how big of a difference a half-pound of hair ended up being, and more.
The Hockey Writers: So how do you evaluate the crazy season you played in Lake Placid, starting six games in 10 days?
Carly Jackson: It’s tough in a short season, especially one where it was all in one site. I definitely feel really grateful that I got to play hockey this year, that we all got to play hockey this year, at such a competitive event. I feel very lucky, especially within a pandemic. Looking back at my season, if you look at wins and losses we weren’t first place in the standings. Nonetheless, I really think that we did a lot of amazing things this year. The Beauts have really developed what our culture is going to be and what it will be moving forward.
It was really fun being a rookie and getting to shape some of that (culture) in some ways, especially with a new team that had a lot of new faces. We kind of got to define who we want to be and what direction we were going to go in. So even though we didn’t have the wins and losses it just felt good to be a part of a culture that was so driven towards becoming the best versions of ourselves – it’s really fun to be a part of. I have nothing but excitement looking forward to next season and I’m excited to show everybody what we’re building in Buffalo.
THW: As a rookie goaltender what did it mean to have the support of your coaching staff to have you as the starter for each of the six games?
CJ: Honestly, it was awesome. I think as a goaltender, specifically with my mindset, I just want to play all the time and I want to make as big of a difference as I possibly can. I was really blessed that at the University of Maine where I got a lot of playing time. So back-to-back games weren’t too foreign to me I guess (laughs) and when Lake Placid rolled around it (the schedule) wasn’t something that I wasn’t used to. I just love being able to be relied upon, being trusted, and my teammates and the staff were so supportive of me; they believed in me from the get-go.
THW: How did the NWHL Draft process play out from your perspective? Were you interested, did multiple teams reach out to you?
CJ: When I started college, I wanted to get a degree so when I was done with college and didn’t want to play hockey anymore I would be okay. So I feel very blessed that I got an education, but my senior year rolls around and I thought to myself I’m not done yet (with hockey) – laughs – I’m not even close to being done yet. As soon as I could I talked to my head coach at Maine and told him if anyone inquires I am interested and would like to play pro.
I was contacted by both the Beauts and the Rivs, and it was nothing but a positive experience. Once I heard about the draft I was pretty excited and I got to experience that with my family, it was really special. I felt like a professional being a part of this league, it’s really a dream come true and it’s exciting to be a part of it. To have it grow every single year is so much fun.
THW: Yourself and your GM both got your first career wins in the same game, so who has the puck?
CJ: He has it. We had a bit of a moment there, after the game because it was both of our first wins. After that win over Boston, we were still at the rink in Lake Placid, I went up to him and said something about sharing that moment. It’s really cool to be able to share that first NWHL win with someone like him. Nate is a very, very special person and I think it’s something that will connect him and I forever. I feel very lucky to work with him every day. They gave me a plaque with a puck on it from that game to signify the moment.
THW: Recently you won two NWHL awards, how significant is that to you as a first-year player?
CJ: It truly is such an honor, and the first thing I think of is all of the other candidates who are eligible for these awards. The fact that I was chosen, I feel very grateful. I didn’t know I was getting either of those awards until I was watching the show (laughs) and I was shocked. Again, I’m just so grateful to be a part of this league. Winning the foundation award, and being recognized for helping the community – means a lot to me. More so for the message that it sends to the younger generation – that you can be highlighted when you do good things for other people, and it was never about that for me. But it’s nice to see that that message is being spread. The Fans’ 3-Stars Award, that’s just really cool and I can’t say enough good things about the fans of the league – they really make us feel like pros. So it’s something I value a lot.
THW: In addition to those two awards, you were also nominated for two other awards. When you hear that what does it mean to you?
CJ: Honestly it felt really good. I never really won anything like that in Hockey East, so it’s been a while! And then when I heard about those nominations, again, I just felt really blessed. I had so much fun playing in Lake Placid, it was a lot of fun playing against such good players, and with such good teammates. I had a blast and every once in a while I put on games from Lake Placid, and always have a huge smile on my face. I’m so excited to be able to compete next season and hopefully live up to the hype!
THW: Are you always smiling and in this good of a mood? We could almost hear your smile through your mask in Lake Placid during postgame press conferences!
CJ: I just love hockey. I love playing, being a part of it. When people ask me what I do and I get to tell them that I’m a pro hockey player, I feel like I’m a little kid stepping on the ice for the first time again. It really is special to me and I feel so lucky to have been put in the position that I’m in.
THW: How come you decided to keep your mask from Maine? Not that the colors don’t match the Beauts’ colors!
CJ: Well I do love baby blue (laughs), but it was pretty sweet to be able to use most of my gear from Maine. I was really lucky there and got outfitted my senior year with everything, so I’m lucky I was in good shape with my gear. Especially the mask. I wouldn’t call myself superstitious, but I really like taking care of my brain and my face. When I was in school I got a Pro’s Choice mask, went into the factory, and got it molded to my face to fit as close as I could get it.
I’m very particular about that mask, it’s the best I’ve ever had and I’ve had zero issues with it ever. I also think the mask looks pretty good with our team colors in Buffalo. It’s the one thing I’m the most protective over. Definitely looking forward to getting a Buffalo paint job – I have some ideas and I think I can make something look pretty good with new gear. I’m excited. I love talking goalie gear (laughs) and I’m such a nerd with it.
THW: So we can expect a Beauts themed mask? Cool!
CJ: I hope so! No guarantees but that’s on my agenda.
THW: Recently you were a guest on a podcast where you talked about how the perception of you from some people changed after you cut your hair short. I found it very fascinating and was wondering if you could tell our readers about those experiences?
CJ: The background of it – growing up I always had long hair, to the middle of my back. Whenever I played baseball or hockey I always had a long ponytail, it was never in a bun or anything like that. So it was always pretty obvious that I was a female. After my first year in college I had officially come out as gay and I wanted to cut all my hair off. So I did (laughs). I was still playing baseball at the time and obviously hockey. I didn’t really expect anything to change but at that time I was still playing on boys’ baseball teams. So I come home from college with a fresh haircut and started playing some in some games that were largely male-dominated and I honestly didn’t think anything would change.
But once I cut my hair off – no one called me sweetie, no one called me honey – I was just an athlete and that was it. It was really interesting to me and I still think about it quite frequently, why that is the way it is and why that change happened so quickly with just an esthetic change. It’s been really neat and cool to expand upon that and maybe bring to light some of the prejudices that we do have towards women in sports. My skills did not change between the day that I cut my hair off and the next day. I didn’t become a better goalie, I didn’t become a better pitcher. I just lost maybe a half-pound of hair (laughs).
I just think it brings to light some of the things that girls go through. We shouldn’t have to hide our ponytails or hide our sexual identity, or anything about who we are. I think who we are is what makes us our best selves as athletes, and as people. I feel very proud to be able to have the platform that I have, and that I’m able to speak upon LGBTQ+ rights and a community that I’m a part of. I think there are a lot of steps to go to creating a welcoming and inclusive space – across all platforms, not just in women’s hockey but in youth sports, and in male sports. There’s a lot of work to do but I think that we’re making a lot of progress if good people continue to do the right things and bring more people along with them.”
THW: Have you ever wished sometimes that you could just play hockey?
CJ: Maybe sometimes in some moments of frustration I might think to myself I just want to play, I just want to get on the ice. But I truly do love being able to make a difference. I love playing sports, I love being an athlete, but I also believe that I’m here, not just to be an athlete – but to make it better for those who come after me. I really believe in that a lot and that motivates me a lot. I love being able to speak out and even just connect with one single person – that can make a world of a difference.
I’m now an ambassador for Gong Show Gear and I posted a photo with my gay pride flag in the background. Someone messaged me just to say: thanks, it’s so nice to be represented as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and it means a lot that I can see you play and you seem so comfortable. It was just one interaction, one DM, but those kinda things make it so meaningful to me, I love doing those things, I love meeting and connecting with people – that’s the best part. Sometimes yeah, I just want to play but I love all of the experiences – positive and negative – through the sport.
THW: As you said, leave it in a better place…
CJ: I think about what my daughter, my son might be going through…whenever that happens (laughs) probably far off in the future. But I do, I think about that a lot. There are a lot of young kids, even in the community that I grew up in, where things are different now. I just want to be a part of making it better. Hopefully, kids don’t have to go through as much discrimination, sexism, and things like that which are a part of sports now.
THW: What would it mean to you if I told you that you could be the face of the Beauts or one of the faces of the NWHL for the next five years?
CJ: I’d say that’s definitely goal of mine for sure. Especially with the Beauts, I really love our program, I love our league. People will ask me why do I think it will be successful what I always say, and the answer’s pretty simple – we’re full of people that care a lot. From top to bottom. We have players, we have staff, reporters, fans, coaches – they care a lot about this league and to be a part of that, I feel at home. I just love hockey and it’s fun to be here and fun to represent this league. To be a face of the league or a face of the Buffalo Beauts, I feel really grateful for the opportunity. I hope that I get to do that, I’m here because I want to make a positive difference and I love playing hockey. Those two things go hand-in-hand. I’m just going to enjoy every step along the way and I feel very lucky that I get to do what I do every day. I live a very blessed life.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.