Sunday sit-down with…Casey Traill
We catch up with the South Shields-born ice hockey player who, at just 22, has become the first British player in history to be drafted into the NWHL.
This Summer has been a sensational one for sporting achievements.
Team GB securing their second-best overseas Olympics performance; England’s male footballers making the Euros 2020 Final; Emma Raducanu becoming the youngest British woman to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon; Lewis Hamilton winning the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. And now we’ve got one more to add to the list – Casey Traill has become the first British ice hockey player in history to be drafted into the NWHL.
The 22-year-old from South Shields – who started her career playing for Newcastle, Whitley Bay, Billingham and Kingston – is now set to play in one of the two top women’s professional leagues in North America, after being drafted by New York’s Buffalo Beauts last month.
And while the news that she’ll soon be competing on the biggest stage in the world for women in the sport has come with its fair share of surprise and excitement, the move across the pond won’t be such unchartered territory for Casey – who has already spent the last four years icing for Castleton University’s women’s team in Vermont, while studying Kinesiology and Sports Therapy.
We’re not worried she won’t handle the pressure of professional ice hockey, either. After all, she’s already earned 18 senior caps for Great Britain Women and has her sights firmly set on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. So she’s used to the scrutiny that comes under bright lights.
We caught up with Casey after her nifty NWHL news to chat about everything from her pretty unusual entry route into playing ice hockey and how tough it was to find female role models in the sport, to why we could all do with getting on the ice from time to time and how she’s hoping she may inspire more British women into the top leagues…
Congratulations on becoming the first British player to be drafted to the National Women’s Hockey League! How does it feel to make history?
Thank you very much! It’s definitely special. I’m feeling very proud and honoured. It’s strange and weird and I still don’t fully believe it – I probably won’t until I get there, to be honest – but it’s lovely!
So what happen next?
Usually, I would have signed by now and I’d have been over there for the season starting in October, but I’ve taken a year off for injury. So I’m going to stay here in the North East for now and either sign next year or the year after, depending on how long my treatment takes.
We’re sorry to hear you’re injured! What happened?
It’s a chronic injury from growing and playing too much, probably! I need surgery on my hips. But having the NWHL to look forward to will help me get through it, I’m sure!
We’ve seen you’ve been back in a Whitley Bay jersey recently – what was it like to play for your old club again after getting news like this?!
It’s been so lovely. I love all of the girls there – I’ve played with them since I was a kid. And it was nice to play for fun for once! Without any pressure or needing to win! So I’m going to be playing for them for the next year while I can. It’s nice to be back in a home shirt for a while.
You’ve been drafted by the Buffalo Beauts in New York. What are you most looking forward to about living and working in the Big Apple?
Just the whole experience of playing pro. Obviously, it’s something that’s new to me, so it’s all just a bit of an unknown at the moment. But it’s every kid’s dream, to play their sport professionally.
What position do you play?
I play defence and forward! I mostly play defence, but the Beauts are looking at potentially playing me forward. So I don’t really know at the moment! But I’ll play a bit of everywhere… apart from goalie!
How did you first get into hockey?
I used to go on holiday to America quite a bit with my family when I was little. My parents took me ice skating in the winter when I was about 8 and I was quite good at it, so the next holiday after that they took me to a Boston Bruins game. And I loved it!
When we came home, they took me to a Newcastle Vipers game at the Metro Radio Arena. Between periods we were just wandering around and a guy involved with the team came up to me and told me that I looked like a hockey player! He asked me if I wanted to sign up and I did. The rest is history.
What’s the ice hockey scene like here in the North East?
It’s definitely growing. It’s smaller than a lot of other cities in the UK and we’re looking to bring in a lot more women in the area. But we’ve gone from having barely one team at Whitley Bay Women’s to having potentially two full teams now, so we’re growing quickly. It’s just amazing how fast it’s coming on. Even when I was away, I was still getting updates from the girls back home, talking about the new players we’d signed and the younger players coming through the ranks. I think there’s a bright future for us now.
When did you first know this could be a potential career path for you?
When my name got called at the draft! I’ve always wanted to play professionally, so I’ve always just gone where hockey could take me – and it’s taken me to the NWHL! But I’d never really considered it as a career before going over to Castleton University, where I’ve been playing for the last four years while I’ve been studying.
Was your decision to go over there to study helped by the fact that the American ice hockey scene is so much more developed than it is here in the UK?
Yeah, it was the highest standard of ice hockey that I could play at that time, so that’s where I went. And I enjoyed every second of it! It’s definitely helped me get where I am today. So, yeah, good decision!
Have there been many female role models in the sport that you’ve looked up to?
When I was younger, there wasn’t. The NWHL hadn’t started back then, so you didn’t get to see women play matches on TV or anything – you didn’t really know they existed! But as I got older, I started seeing Team Canada and Team USA players at the Olympics and things and they were all outstanding. Then the professional league started, so that’s where I’d watch to make sure I was doing the right things as a female hockey player. But I’ve mostly been influenced by men in the sport – they were the only ones I was able to watch when I was younger.
Are you hoping that being drafted into the NWHL will help you become a role model and inspire other British players into the league, then?
Definitely! I’m sure I won’t be the last player going over there. I can say with confidence that I’m not the best player in the country – so now that the NWHL have seen one of us, I’m sure they’ll find loads more!
Do you have any favourite hockey players or teams?
I’m a big Boston Bruins fan!
As well as playing at club level, you’ve also got 18 senior caps for Great Britain Women so far. Have you got your sights set on Beijing 2022?
Yeah, we have Olympic qualifiers in Korea in October, so hopefully I’ll be in the team for that and we’ll move forward. It’s tough to get through those rounds, especially being such a small hockey country, but we’ve got new coaches this year and they seem to know what they’re doing! So I’m hopeful for the best. My goal is to be fit enough to play in those qualifiers, but I’m just taking it day by day. I’ve been at the trials and I’ve been competing at the minute, so if I can hold out until after the Olympics for my surgery then that would be great. And if not, hey, at least I tried!
What do you love most about the sport?
It’s just infectious. It’s so fast-paced and everyone’s on the same page. Your team very quickly begins to feel like a family, because everyone just loves the same thing. And you’ve got to put so many hours into it, so you know how committed everybody is to it. Ice hockey is just a great environment to be in.
What would you say to encourage other women in the North East to give the sport a go?
Get out of your comfort zone! Obviously, there’s a lot to think about when you’re playing ice hockey and that can put people off – they might be thinking: “oh, I can’t skate” or “I can’t play and skate”. But just go out there and have fun! It’s not all about actually being able to do it straight away, that will come eventually. Put yourself out there and give it a go.
And what advice would you give to women in the region about simply pursuing their dreams?
Just go and do it! It’s hard to see it as a reality until it happens – I didn’t think the NWHL was an option for me until my name got called in the draft. But it can happen. So just keep working towards what you’re passionate about and something will come of it.
What’s your ultimate career ambition?
To play as long as I physically can at the top level. I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait to do that and, honestly, I’m not really that bothered, because I know I’m going to get there eventually!