Haley Irwin details a life of professional and Olympic-level hockey on her way to the Rams coaching staff
For Haley Irwin, the love of the game started very early on, skating as young as two years old and playing the game at just four.
Now, after a lengthy and decorated career, the love for the game still runs strong for the lead assistant coach for the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team.
Hailing from Thunder Bay, Ont., Irwin said playing hockey was what everyone did, including her two older siblings. At the age of 16, Irwin was the first girl on a AAA boys’ hockey team. She said that she didn’t understand the importance of her accomplishment at the time. “I was just trying to make a hockey team and trying to play hockey,” Irwin said in an interview with the Ryersonian.
Looking back on it, Irwin said if her accomplishment has created more opportunities for females to play hockey or even try out for hockey teams, “then that’s something I’m very proud of, for sure.”
After high school, Irwin took an extra year before she decided where she was going to play at the next level. Given the full scholarship she was offered and that the school was only three hours from her hometown, she decided to play collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2007.
That led to her being selected for the Canadian Olympic team.
Irwin said that the scouting and evaluation process for the Olympics starts “probably much sooner than you realize.” And she said that a player never knows which game makes the difference in the selection process. So she says she placed importance on consistently playing strong, working hard and showing up for her teammates, as that was the only part of the process she could control.
“I’ll never forget where I was when I got that phone call,” Irwin said. While still a student, wandering around a mall one day, Irwin’s phone rang. “Got a phone call from Mel Davidson, and when that name pops up on your phone, it’s kind of nerve-racking, because it’s not often that the general manager of the national team is giving out phone calls. It’s funny. She asked if I wanted to be part of the world’s roster. I thought that was interesting that she asked. Who says no to that?”
Irwin’s career with Team Canada has been well documented. Irwin and Team Canada women’s hockey won the Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games and again in 2014 at Sochi, and the silver in Pyeongchang in 2018. Team Canada also captured gold at the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s championships, defeating their historic rival the United States in the process. Team Canada won silver at the IIHF in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2017.
Irwin was selected third overall by the Brampton Thunder in the first round of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) draft in 2012. In her six-year career with the now ceased league, she played for two other teams, but only played four full seasons between battling injuries and playing on the Olympic team.
Irwin said that the folding of the league resulted in no direct changes to her life and career, and though there is “a lot of darkness” surrounding the folding of the league, she sees a bright future for women’s hockey. According to Irwin, she has “absolutely no regrets” from her time in the CWHL. She says that even if the league hadn’t folded, she would still be coaching at Ryerson.
Irwin met current Ryerson Rams women’s hockey head coach Lisa Haley during her development period in 2007 and would often see her around the women’s hockey scene. Haley worked as an assistant coach for the 2014 Olympic team that Irwin played on. Irwin said that after some time away from the game, when an opportunity arose to work with Haley in a coaching capacity, she couldn’t let it go by.
For short-term goals with Ryerson, Irwin said that she wants to come in and have an impact this season. “We want to have a successful season, we want to make playoffs and make it past the playoffs. We want to win.” Long term, Irwin said that focus is on building sustainability in the program and “being a part of a program that, year after year, is going to fight to compete.
“I love the game. I don’t think the game will ever leave me,” Irwin said. She said that her athletic career has left her with a lot to reflect on. More than just the achievements, she often thinks about the journey she took and the teammates she had throughout the process.
Irwin said that picking her favourite achievement is comparable to picking a favourite child, “but, I don’t know if anything will beat winning a gold medal on Canadian soil. I won the medal and our team won the medal, but at the end of the day we wore a Canadian jersey, and Canada won the medal.”
As far as playing on the 2022 Olympic hockey team, Irwin would say only: “I can tell you what today brings, not tomorrow.”