SJHL says northern Sask. teen first girl to break league's gender barrier

League officials believe Air Ronge, Sask. goalie Taylor Keast became the first female player to suit up for a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game Friday night when she served as the La Ronge Ice Wolves' emergency backup. The midget goalie was pressed into duty when a new acquisition didn't arrive in time for the game.

17-year-old Taylor Keast dressed as an emergency backup goalie in La Ronge Friday night

Local product Taylor Keast likely made SJHL history when she dressed as her hometown La Ronge Ice Wolves' emergency backup goalie Friday night. (Kris Kinequon)

League officials believe a La Ronge-area teen has made Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League history.

Seventeen-year-old Air Ronge resident Taylor Keast served as the backup goaltender for her hometown La Ronge Ice Wolves in Friday's home game versus the Kindersley Klippers.

The Ice Wolves had just traded away a goaltender and acquired another one from out of province. Head coach and general manager Evan Vossen said the hope was their new acquisition would be in town in time for the game.

"But as the day went on, we realized that he wasn't going to be in time for puck drop," he said. "So then a little bit of a scramble to see if we could find somebody in the area that would be able to back up for us on short notice."

Vossen asked local midget coach Tom Carlson if he had a goalie that could be used as an emergency backup, and Carlson gave him Keast's name.

I was shocked. I didn't know what my coach was talking about.- Taylor Keast

Keast said Carlson told her about it that morning.

"I was shocked," Keast said. "I didn't know what my coach was talking about (laughing). We had a tournament this weekend, so I thought maybe it was related to that. But then he clarified that it was the junior hockey team and . . . . yeah."

Warm welcome

Keast had classes all afternoon, so it was late Friday afternoon before Vossen reached her to ask her himself.

She said she made an early supper and then headed to the rink. After getting dressed in her own room across from the main dressing room, she joined the team.

"They were very welcoming," she said. "One of the guys said, 'Thanks for coming out and welcome to our team.' So it was good. They were really nice."

Even though the official call came just hours before game time, it was still enough time to notify family and friends.

"They were really excited for me when I came onto the ice," she said. "They all cheered. Taking pictures throughout the game. So it was pretty cool."

Keast didn't see any game action, but she took part in the pre-game warm-up.

"She didn't shy away from that," Vossen said. "And didn't look out of place out there."

Keast said the shots were quite a bit harder than she was used to seeing, and the players moved a lot faster. When asked how many shots she stopped:

"Uhhhhh . . . half of them, maybe?" she said with a laugh.

"It was good. I was really nervous. So my movements were off a bit. But it was still a pretty cool experience."

17-year-old emergency backup goalie Taylor Keast didn't see any game action when she dressed in a recent SJHL game for the La Ronge Ice Wolves, but she is believed to have broken the league's gender barrier in the process. (Kris Kinequon)

Keast said she was prepared to play, but she knew in advance she would likely only see action if the starter was injured or the score became lopsided.

"Unfortunately, we were in a tight game," Vossen said. "They had their goaltender out in the last minute trying to score. So that opportunity didn't arise. It would have been nice if it did arise, to get her in. Especially at home here."

League of her own

SJHL communications consultant Mike Stackhouse said it was likely the first time a female player dressed for a league game.

"I've been involved in the league since 2001, and it certainly was never mentioned at that time," he said. "And with the increased awareness that we've had in the last 10 years, if it had happened in the last 10 years, we would have heard about it."

Stackhouse said he was the league's statistician in the years between and never came across a female player's name in the game sheets.

"And before 2001, girls hockey wasn't even a thing," he said. "So I'm pretty comfortable saying that it's never happened until Friday night."

Stackhouse noted the SJHL has seen some female on-ice officials in recent years, but never a player.

He said that surprises him given that two-time Olympic gold medalist Shannon Szabados broke the Alberta Junior Hockey League's gender barrier in 2002 and was named that league's best goaltender in 2007.

Vossen didn't realize it hadn't happened before and was more concerned with filling out his roster.

"It wasn't something that was on my mind that we were going to be the first team," he said. "I had no idea. It's not like I did any research or anything like that beforehand."

As for Keast's plans next season . . . . 

"I'm not sure," she said. "I'd like to play rec hockey next year. But other than that, I think this is it."

But she told the team she would be happy to help them if the same situation came up again.

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