by Tom Pedulla –
Keira Goin was 10 years old or so when she reached a breaking point.
The Sleepy Hollow native was doing everything possible to show that she possessed the skills and grit necessary to belong as the only girl on an all-boys hockey team. When a boy who had previously mistreated her told her at the end of a post-game handshake line that “a girl could never play boys hockey,” she responded in a most unladylike manner.
Goin reached back and slugged him.
She is not particularly proud of that moment, even if it speaks to determination that ultimately led her to become a standout at Utica College and now to play professionally as a 23-year-old goaltender for the Connecticut Whale of the National Women’s Hockey League.
“In hindsight, it wasn’t the best course of action,” Goin said of the incident. “But it was a testament to how badly I wanted to prove to everyone that said I couldn’t play hockey that I not only could, but that I could be the best.”
Goin’s mother, Elizabeth Merrill, was not sure how to respond after an intended handshake turned hostile.
“Part of me wanted to say, ‘Keira, that’s an awful thing,’” Merrill recalled. “And part of me wanted to say, ‘You go, girl!’”
Goin’s drive to overcome all obstacles led her to earn a full scholarship to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. She went on to set Utica career records for save percentage (.932), goals-against average (1.75), victories (41) and shutouts (12), while excelling academically as a Dean’s List student. In a phenomenal performance in February 2016, she made 55 saves to lead Utica to a 4-2 upset of top-ranked SUNY Plattsburgh.
Her love of hockey – and her determination to lift all women’s sports – also helped her to withstand personal tragedy. Her father, Daniel, who had driven her to early-morning practices and to distant games, who had encouraged her at every difficult turn, died of a heart attack when she was a teenager.
“She really lost her hockey mentor,” her mother said.
Still, Goin persevered, exactly as her father would have wanted. In a strange way, she may have benefitted from the need to cope with sometimes being a target for especially hard checks on the ice while facing endless skepticism off it.
“It was not uncommon to grow up aware of the fact that people would sort of look for a ponytail,” Goin said. “That’s how my dad used to put it. Being in a situation like that, in an environment like that, allowed me to grow up sooner than most girls my age.”
Despite requiring hip and knee surgery, Goin continues her involvement with hockey for the noblest of reasons. She works as an assistant coach at Wesleyan University when she is not suiting up for games and practices for the Whale.
Neither opportunity pays well. Goin is one of three goaltenders on the Whale roster; only two suit up for games. She is not paid for practices preceding games in which she does not dress, meaning it sometimes costs her to be part of the National Women’s Hockey League because she must drive an hour-and-a-half from Wesleyan. When she is in uniform, she receives $25 per practice, $300 per game.
For Goin, it is all worth it.
“I do everything I can to further this team and women’s hockey in general,” she said. “More young girls are starting to play hockey than ever. It’s important for them to have someone to look up to and connect with that is a professional athlete.”
Her father would be proud.