Shea Tiley has seen life on the professional hockey circuit. Matter of fact, she lived it long before she ever dreamt of playing in the pro ranks herself. It was back before her 10th birthday, ahead of the 1996-97 season, that Tiley packed her bags and went along for the ride on her father Brad’s pro hockey journey, heading across the pond with her family when the 750-game AHL veteran inked deals in Germany and Austria as he wound down his career. Those two experiences, Tiley said, have paid dividends at this stage of her own playing days.
“It’s been super beneficial to me, being immersed in a new culture, learning a new language, learning how to work with people you don’t understand,” Tiley said. “You’re so much more independent as a kid over there that it’s pretty crazy. Independence and the trust your parents have in you helps you grow up a little faster, in a good way. I think that was really beneficial for me for when we moved back to Canada. I think I was pretty mature for my age.”
That’s an attribute that has stuck with her, too. Tiley speaks with a confidence that belies her age. You can hear it not just in the way the 21-year-old netminder, who was made a top CWHL draft selection when drafted sixth overall by the Toronto Furies in August, speaks about her four years at Clarkson University, but the way with which she explains her approach to the two national championship games she competed in during her time with the Golden Knights.
“Every time I prepared for those games, I didn’t think of it as a national championship game,” Tiley said. “It was just a regular game. That’s the way you have to think about it as a goalie, personally, or you’ll get way too wired and won’t be able to stop the puck. I think that was really big. And the way the team came together both years was incredible. They played really well in front of me, they really helped make my job a lot easier.”
There’s no doubt that's a two-way street, though, because for as easy as her blueliners or forwards made life at times, Tiley was about as reliable a keeper as the collegiate game had during her time in the NCAA. Across her four seasons, she didn’t have a single season with a save percentage below .930, and in that campaign where she did post a .930 SP — which she called a “weaker year,” without so much as a hint of sarcasm — she still ranked eighth in the nation among goaltenders to play at least 30 games.
Maybe that tells us a bit about what Tiley expects of herself, though. With a career .937 SP (14th-best the history of the NCAA women’s game), 1.38 goals-against average (seventh), 114 wins (T-second) and 36 shutouts (fourth), she’s expects nothing less than to give her team the best opportunity to win every single time she takes the blue paint. And that’s what she wants to bring to Toronto, where goaltending was most certainly an issue last season.
“I want to be very consistent,” Tiley said. “I don’t want to have any ups and downs throughout the season. I want to be reliable for my teammates. If we’re having a bad game or whatever the case may be, I want to be that rock for them and keep us in games and be consistent. That’s the biggest thing.”
Of course, the Furies weren’t the only team interested in Tiley’s services. Which team wouldn’t at least check in with one of the top NCAA netminders as she exits college? So, while the Furies made a play to land Tiley, the Calgary Inferno were also in the mix. Tiley considered her options, too, but decided she wanted to stay in her home province and play somewhere she felt she could really compete for ice time.
She’ll have to compete, too. Nothing will be given. And while Amanda Makela may be the only incumbent, having played 10 games with the Furies last season, Tiley has competition in Elaine Chuli, who spent last season with the Vanke Rays. (Vanke has since amalgamated with Kunlun Red Star to form the Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays.) Tiley would have it no other way, though, taking the iron-sharpens-iron approach to improving her game.
“I think the competition will be great. We already get along really, really well,” Tiley said. “They’re both great goalies, so being able to pick up tips from each of them will help me add to my toolbox. It’ll make all of us better goalies all around, having to compete that little bit harder in practices and games.”
It also won’t hurt having Sami Jo Small, who tended goal for the Furies last season before moving into the GM chair this past off-season, watching over the team. Opportunities for Small to get on the ice with the Toronto goaltending contingent have been few and far between at this point in the campaign with her duties behind the scenes, but Tiley is welcoming the opportunity to be taken under the wing of a goaltender “with the pedigree that Sami Jo has.” And given Tiley’s performance throughout her time in the NCAA, a bit of fine tuning could mean she’s set to turn heads when the Furies’ season begins this weekend with Shenzen in town to open the campaign against Toronto.
“There’s a lot of great girls playing in this league, so it will be a great opportunity to keep improving my game,” Tiley said. “If you had success at a different level and you’re moving to another one, I think it’s important to show you can have success at that level, as well.”