Cam Currie can only watch in fear as Matthew Wang flies in from the blue line and loads up his powerful slap shot with just his daughter, Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs goalie Taya Currie, standing between the London Jr. Knights forward and his intended target — the back of the net.
“He’s going to take her head off,” Cam Currie recalls thinking at the minor bantam game two years ago between the rival triple-A teams.
Wang fires the puck. Save!
His shot may be fast, but Taya Currie’s glove hand is too.
“There’s been a few moments like that with some boys that have some extreme talent, but she’s hung right in there and done really well,” reflected Cam Currie.
That’s what Taya Currie has done for the past seven years: play with the Chiefs’ triple-A boys team and excel every step of the way. Now, the 16-year-old from Parkhill, Ont., will get a chance to continue to do that at the next level after getting selected in the 14th round by the Sarnia Sting on Saturday and making history by becoming the first female taken in the OHL draft.
Congrats to goaltender Taya Currie of @ALLIANCE_Hockey's @EMCChiefs, the first female ever chosen in the Priority Selection, joining @StingHockey at 267th overall: https://t.co/Vn9S9i8MdT pic.twitter.com/fDsmT13vYt
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) June 5, 2021
“It’d be pretty crazy,” Taya Currie said Thursday of the potential accomplishment.
“(It) would be more than a dream come true. Honestly, if any team (drafts me) doesn’t matter, I don’t care how high up I go or low, it’d be amazing just to get drafted.”
(Photo courtesy: Krista Schnittker/Elgin Middlesex Chiefs)
The Grade 10 student and multi-sport athlete — who plays elite rugby, soccer and competitive barrel racing, “I like the speed” (for the uninitiated) — has always done her own thing, undaunted by the expectations or pressure around her, much like her goaltending idols Shannon Szabados and Manon Rhéaume, who broke similar gender barriers by becoming the first females to play in WHL and NHL exhibition games, respectively.
It’s an approach Rhéaume, now the female hockey co-ordinator with Detroit’s Little Caesars AAA team, emphasized to Taya Currie when they met at a tournament two years ago.
“‘Follow your own path'” Taya Currie recalled Rhéaume telling her in a 30-minute conversation.
“That’s what I really took out of it.”
And that’s what she’s done with the backing of her peers and the hockey community at large — even if her presence is often a surprise at first.
“I’ve never had any bad experiences,” said Taya Currie.
“I get so much support at tournaments from parents, even opponents, they give me a pat on the back when I make a good save — it’s always positive.”
“What’s kind of funny, though, is to sit in the stands and if you’re … close to the opposing parents sometimes, maybe late in the first or second period, you’ll hear, ‘Is that a girl? Is that a girl in net? That’s a girl in net,'” said Cam Currie.
“That’s kind of fun, but I honestly can’t think of anything that’s been negative.”
And she’s earned that support not through her trailblazing efforts alone, but through her play on the ice.
“Last year, we played Chicago Mission, probably one of the best teams in North America, in the home opener of (their) tournament and I played really well. I stood on my head and (their head coach and former NHLer Yanic Perreault) said to me, ‘I don’t want to play you again,'” Taya Currie recalled fondly of the compliment.
With leagues shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, scouts were hard-pressed to catch a glimpse of Taya Currie ahead of the draft. But Darrell Woodley, director of OHL Central Scouting, saw her take part in scrimmages three times over the course of the year and came away impressed by the way she “battles” in net and her athleticism.
“She’s not the biggest goalie in the world at 5-7, 145 pounds, but I’ll tell ya she moves laterally across the net real well (and) she really does a good job with her legs taking away the bottom of the net. She’s real good that way. She’s just an athletic player,” said Woodley of the teen, who recorded a shutout and a 3.19 goals-against average in 16 games last season.
“She’s been playing triple-A now for seven years, so this isn’t a one-off. She’s been playing with the best boys all the way up through the system — she’s definitely earned her spot there.”
(Photo courtesy: Krista Schnittker/Elgin Middlesex Chiefs)
In Woodley’s 20 years of scouting the OHL, he’s only come across two female players who had legitimate shots at getting drafted: Taya Currie and fellow goalie Kassidy Sauvé, who most recently played with Team Scotiabank in the PWHPA.
After also playing triple-A boys hockey, Sauvé ended up transitioning back to the women’s game and eventually went to college in the U.S.
Taya Currie will be in a similar spot and needs to decide if she wants to try to play junior. If that’s the route she pursues, Woodley said she’ll get every chance she wants to crack the OHL.
“If she keeps developing along the same lines that she is, (you could) see her in our league as a 17-, maybe 18-year old,” he said, noting 16-year-old goalies in the OHL are a rarity.
“But just watching her and her determination, the way she plays the game, I think if that’s the goal she sets for herself, then I think she could achieve it.”
While Taya Currie calls the prospect of breaking more barriers by getting in the crease for an OHL game “awesome,” she has also talked to some NCAA schools and has yet to decide her future.
Right now, her biggest goal is to one day don red and white for Canada at the Olympics. And beyond that, to realize her potential to its fullest, regardless of the league she plays in or the gender of her opponents.
“(I want to play) the best hockey I can play as possible and just keep improving, keep working on my game,” she said.