In MiHockey’s new MiStory feature, we let hockey people tell their own stories with their own words. Brighton native Shiann Darkangelo shares her hockey journey from skating with boys’ teams in the Metro Detroit area to playing hockey professionally in the National Women’s Hockey League. Shiann is currently playing for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League expansion team Kunlun Red Star WIH, based in China. (Cover image photo courtesy of Troy Parla/NWHL)
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By Shiann Darkangelo –
“Girls don’t play hockey.”
That was a common phrase when I was growing up.
It’s funny, of course, because girls do play hockey. They play youth hockey. They play college hockey.
And now they play pro hockey.
When I was 7 years old I decided to start playing hockey because my younger brother played and, well, I wanted to try. At the time, I just wanted to be better than all the guys – I had no idea there was college hockey or Olympic hockey.
I played on boys’ teams until I was 11 years old – it was a little bit of a transition switching to girls’ hockey because the skill level was not the same at the time. I was lucky enough to have my dad, who supported me tremendously, start a girls’ team in my hometown of Brighton. The first year of girls’ hockey was interesting, to say the least – with not many other girls’ teams in the area we had to travel every weekend to tournaments in order to play games . Some may think of this as a negative; however, some of the best memories growing up were made at hockey tournaments away from home. Playing mini-sticks in the halls, swimming in hotel pools, and well, of course, playing close to six or eight games a weekend – what could be better?
After the first year of girls’ hockey, I was lucky enough to be scouted by other girls travel teams in Michigan (the Honeybaked and Little Caesars AAA hockey clubs ). At that time, I realized I was not the only girl who loved the game, and I wanted to make a career out of hockey. Some of the other dads and coaches who helped my dad were involved in these organizations and thought I should be playing there. The first year of travel hockey was different – the time commitment was so much more. However, in my mind, I loved the thought of being on the ice and training more. I’m sure my parents were hesitant at first – coming from a family of six involved in every sport possible, you could imagine how busy they were. I cannot thank them enough because I am not sure how they managed, but I never missed a game or practice.
They continue to put my siblings and I first in supporting our dreams.
During my sophomore and junior years of high school, playing AAA girls’ hockey, I began receiving letters from different universities regarding interest in me playing hockey for their program.
It was great, but there was one problem – none of the schools were in Michigan. At the time, the only school in Michigan with a Division 1 hockey program was Wayne State, and, unfortunately, that program folded shortly after I started my college career.
For me, to continue to pursue my hockey dreams I had to leave the state of Michigan. I was nervous and excited about the thought of leaving my family and friends who had always supported me. Moving out of the state meant my family wouldn’t be able to attend every single one of my games.
However, it was what I had to do. I couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity to play college hockey.
I chose to attend Syracuse University in New York, about seven hours from home. The school and facilities were awesome, and it seemed like the right fit for me at the time. However, I felt like something was missing with hockey and that I needed to push myself more outside of my comfort zone.
After my sophomore year, I decided to transfer to Quinnipiac University , located in Hamden, Conn. This move was one of the biggest decisions I ever made, and luckily, it worked out well for me, both on the ice and off. I had a great two years at Quinnipiac and grew tremendously as an athlete with the help of many great people.
Throughout my college career I realized that the journey toward my goals was not always cut out the way I may have thought. Sometimes taking a detour – and by detour, I mean going in a completely different direction – was the right move. I would not change the path I have taken so far because, at the end of the day, I can only control what I can control and the rest will fall into place.
Finishing my senior season at Quinnipiac, I knew I wanted to continue to play hockey and chase my dreams with the U.S. national team. Luckily, the start of the National Women’s Hockey League coincided with the conclusion of my career with Quinnipiac.
I’m not going to lie – I was skeptical about the NWHL.
I didn’t know if the league was real or if it was just being talked about in the hockey community. In the spring, a few of my teammates and I decided to attend one of the mini training camps hosted by the Connecticut Whale. It was only a short drive away and we wanted to see what was happening. It ended up being more than I expected – there were a few different coaches there on the ice, while others scouted in the stands. The coaches on the benches were mic’d up with a camera crew. I started getting excited about the possibility of having the title of ‘professional athlete.’
Throughout the summer months, while I was training back in Michigan, I was in touch with the general manager of the Connecticut Whale. I figured staying in Connecticut would be the best fit for me. In the beginning weeks of June, I decided I was going to play for the Whale, and I signed a one-year contract with one of the inaugural teams of the new women’s league.
It was an exciting time – not just in my life, but also for women’s hockey in general. The NWHL is the first women’s league that pays the players. To be able to make money playing the game that I love was never something I thought possible while growing up in Metro Detroit.
Still being skeptical about what the league had to offer, I moved back out to Connecticut in September to begin an amazing season. Everything started to fall into place and things began to seem much more legitimate than I originally thought.
My first game as a Whale was played in front of a sold-out crowd. It wasn’t 15,000-plus like a Red Wings game, but it was an amazing feeling knowing there was a start of a fan base and that people in the community were supporting us – supporting our childhood dreams .
Although we did not win the Isobel Cup this past year, I had an amazing season with the Whale. I am excited for the future of women’s hockey – something that seems far more concrete than it used to.
It’s an amazing feeling having little girls look up to you and aspire to be in your shoes one day. Growing up I didn’t have a female to look up to in the hockey world that lived in my hometown, so I try to give back as much as I can when I’m home by skating with the local girls teams to help grow the love of the game.
And as I round the corner for Year 2, I am excited to see what happens next, and hopeful that our fan base will continue to grow.
Most of all, however, I am glad that young girls will now have role models to look up to.
Girls can now say, “I want to be a professional hockey player just like her.”
To play even a small role in making that a reality is something I will cherish forever.