Peyton Parker seems focused more on overcoming being a short goalie rather than being the "girl goalie," which is how it should be.
It will be a long time before it is not news when a junior hockey team has a woman in net. In Parker's case, it's a safe bet the female goalies who preceded her at the junior level — the roll call includes Canadian Olympic team star Shannon Szabados, current Harvard freshman Emerance Maschmayer and pioneer Manon Rhéaume — did not do so after playing organized hockey for only five years.
Last month, the 18-year-old made the Junior B Almonte Thunder after reaching the main camp with the Hawkesbury Hawks of the Junior A Central Canada Hockey League, where she turned in a shutout period in preseason. As a latecomer to the goaltenders' union who's also 5-foot-6, Parker is hopeful that holding her own among harder-shooting male players could lead to her earning a NCAA scholarship. Playing female hockey can be fun, but junior hockey is her best bet to earn that coveted chance to move away from home to study and play.
"Everything guys can do is 10 times better and faster," says Parker, who has one win in her first three games with the Thunder, who signed her after watching her play only one period of one exhibition game. "If you think about it, the [Canadian] Olympic teams play against major midget Triple-A teams ... They're really good, but you can't beat guys. I want to admire someone who is the best of the best, who wins the Stanley Cup.
"I played my first year [of female hockey] last year and overall it was a fun year. I liked being with the team all the time, because when I played with guys, I had my dressing room and wasn't really included. Being with them at all times was a different team dynamic. Hockey-wise, I did not like it. It wasn't where I know I can play. Like during the year, I practised with [the Junior A] Kanata Stallions and Nepean Raiders just to get more ice and maintain my competitive drive, my groove."
That could speak to disparities in opportunity, not just differences in abilities between female and male players. For instance, playing intermediate women's hockey in her hometown of Nepean, Ont., last season meant "practising at ungodly hours — the guys get the ice first and the girls get whatever's left." That does not sound ideal for people who are also in their senior year of high school.
"I adapted to that, but playing girls' hockey isn't as exciting and thrilling as playing with the guys," says Parker, who studies commerce at Carleton University. "Even the girls agree with that. Unless it's a NCAA scholarship, I won't go back to women's hockey."
A slight social adjustment
Prior to joining Almonte, Parker was well-known among Ottawa-area junior players from having played in summer leagues, handling shots from Ontario Hockey League-calibre players. She was also described as having "the striking features of a fashion model" in an Ottawa Citizen front-page story last week.
The notoriety riled a few opponents in the Eastern Ontario Junior B Hockey League. Thunder captain Ryan Eady relates that his phone blew up with text messages when word spread the Thunder had signed Parker.
"We have her back," Eady says. "As an older guy, I know a lot of guys in the league. Some of the veterans are good in that sense [of showing respect on the ice]. Some of the rookies, I know we had a kid from Arnprior run her in the first period of that game. So he's got a target on the back of his head now."
Eady adds the Thunder have adapted to having a female teammate. The personality Parker exhibits when she joins them in the dressing room has been an ice-breaker.
"She's a laid-back girl, the humour's really good in the room, I don't think anyone hides anything," says the 21-year-old winger, who's also an apprentice electrician. "You do kind of have to watch when you're getting undressed and stuff."
Parker is the backup behind a 19-year-old goalie, Dominic Plaschy, whom the Thunder traded for earlier this week. She needs all the practice and game time she can get to better compensate for her relatively small stature. That's really what her journey is about.
"I have to come out a foot past the crease just to stop the shot," she says. "Down low, they don't really raise the puck. Being stronger and being able to push out faster is my challenge because they come down so fast."
Inspired by Hasek
Coincidentally, her new netminding partner shares a first name with her inspiration for going in goal. Parker did not take up hockey until she was 13, instead participating in martial arts and soccer as a child. In 2005-06, though, her family had Ottawa Senators season tickets that afforded a perfect vantage point to watch all-time great Dominik Hasek.
"I just admired all his equipment, how unorthodox he was keeping the puck out," she recalls.
That led to switching to hockey and making a girls' rep team in her first year of playing, even after she ended up with blistered feet after donning goalie skates purchased on the day of the first tryout. Now she wants to see how far she can take it.
Although she has started university, Parker says her ideal concept of post-secondary education involves moving away from home. She is ready to be patient for her shot, but the chance to climb the junior ladder could keep her in the nation's capital for a while longer.
"I've always wanted to play Junior A, so if I do get the opportunity to wait an extra year for a scholarship, I would take that because it's the highest level I can reach. I've already practised and played in exhibition with Junior A. It's kind of like my NHL."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.