While being a hockey goalie necessarily puts one in high pressure situations, Kimberly Newell faced additional strain as she learned the position.
Growing up in British Columbia, Newell had to play in boys’ leagues in order to become skilled between the pipes.
Needless to say in the rough and tumble world of Canadian youth hockey, the boys didn’t roll out the welcome mat for Newell.
“Since I am usually the only girl, it is always a challenge,” said Newell, a Vancouver native who starred for the Kootenay Ice Midget AAA boys’ team in 2011-12.
“They are looking to replace you with a boy goalie. It helps you become mentally tough, you always have to be better. You need to compete and play well everyday; being consistent is important. Every game matters.”
Developing toughness and skill, Newell emerged as one of the top female goalies in Canada, playing for the British Columbia teams in the 2010 and 2011 National Women’s 18-and-Under Championship before making the Canada Under-18 National Team last summer.
Newell’s exploits caught the eye of Ivy League programs and she joined the Princeton University women’s team this winter.
Now halfway through her freshman season with the Tigers, Newell will be playing for Canada at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, which is taking place from December 29 to January 5 in Heinola and Vierumäki, Finland.
For Newell, playing in the the world competition represents the latest challenge for her in the game.
“I am excited,” said Newell, reflecting on heading to Finland. “I don’t get nervous, I am let’s go, I can’t wait to get started. I have never been to Europe. I think everything is going to be a new experience for me.”
Newell started playing goalie at age 10 and it didn’t take her long to take to the demands of the position. “I liked it immediately,” recalled Newell. “I think part of it was that it is high pressure. I like having everyone depend on me.”
Embracing the pressure, Newell moved up the ranks of female Canadian goaltenders, getting invited to the Hockey Canada Under-18 women’s selection camp in 2011. Although Newell eventually got cut from the team that year, she took a lot from training on the national level.
“I feel like everyone there loves hockey and really wants to play the game,” said Newell, reflecting on her 2011 experience.
“There is a different compete level; everyone wants to play and get better. There are all kinds of coaches there, strength and conditioning, skating. They encourage you to compete and to get better. There is a different atmosphere.
As Newell completed high school, she decided that she would benefit from the atmosphere of U.S. college hockey.
“I am not going to be playing hockey the rest of my life so I need to think about my future,” said Newell.
“I was looking to get the best education possible while still playing hockey and I thought the Ivy League schools would be the best way for me to do that. I liked Princeton. I liked the fact that they had a goalie coach. I went to one of the goalie sessions and I was impressed. I went on an official visit last November. I hung out with the teams, stayed at a dorm and went to class. Everything factored into the situation.”
Once Newell started at Princeton this past September, she encountered a different situation than anything she had previously experienced.
“I felt the biggest thing was that I had more work than I was used to and I was still playing hockey,” said Newell.
“When I had less work, I would get myself excited to play. Playing sports is 90 percent mental and you want to get into that zone where you are focused. I used to pump myself up to get into that mindset. Now I have to calm myself down because I am doing so much. I need to have a clear mind.”
As Newell makes the transition to college competition, she is bringing a new clarity to the ice.
“I feel the danger in college hockey is not in the first shot but in the second with rebounds and backdoor plays,” explained Newell.
“The college players aren’t much better shooters but they are better at making good plays. They are not always shooting to score, sometimes they are shooting to get the rebound. You have to really concentrate on that. I feel like I am adjusting well.”
Having started every game for Princeton, which took a 5-9-2 overall record into the holiday break, has helped speed up the adjustment process.
“It was a bit of a change to be playing full-time, I had split time before,” added Newell, who has posted a 3.26 goals against average in her 16 starts with a .906 save percentage. “It is just the way it is, I am used to it. It is an opportunity and something I enjoy.”
Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledges that Newell has hit some bumps in the road over the first half of the season.
“She has had a lot on her shoulders; she has been a little up and down,” said Kampersal.
“She has been fairly consistent the last month; there are times when we haven’t given her much help. She is learning to fight and compete.”
In Kampersal’s view, the 5’9 Newell possesses the attributes to compete well at the world competition.
“Her quickness stands out, she covers a lot of ground,” asserted Kampersal, who will also be in Finland as the head coach of the U.S. U-18 squad.
“She is good on the butterfly, it is hard to get anything past her low. She gets out well and is a tall goalie. She can handle the puck. If she goes out there and has a big tournament, it should give her experience and presence.”
Newell, for her part, is looking to build on the experience she got from playing in a U.S.-Canada three-game exhibition last August.
“I played in the three-game series last summer; I played games one and three,” recalled Newell.
“It was good to see what that level of hockey was like and to play with the team in front of me.”
Ultimately, Newell would like to play at the highest level of international competition.
“My dream is to play in the Olympics,” said Newell. “But the best thing I can do for myself is to take it one step at a time. If you focus on the big goal, you forget about what you need to do to get there. I am going to the tournament to do my best and see what happens after that.”