Ellie Timby ~ 13-year old Buffalo Bisons goaltender

Author’s note: Buffalo Beauts goaltender Kelsey Neumann and I have teamed up to interview and spotlight young ladies (12-14 years old) who play hockey in the Buffalo-area. It is a chance for them to practice being interviewed and receive some additional recognition. This is the second in a series that we are doing together. This time we are spotlighting 13-year old goaltender Ellie Timby!

Her nickname is “Timbit”. Or at least that is one of her nicknames. She possesses a very witty, almost catches you off guard, sense of humor that is appealing just as much to adults as it would be to other 13-year olds. Her mom likens her to Tina Fey, and after sharing my evening with her and her goaltending coach (Buffalo Beauts’ goaltender Kesley Neumann) the comparison is right on the money. Speaking of money, compared to other 13-year olds, this young lady is also very pennywise; an attribute which will behoove her as she continues into adulthood. And in saying all that, I am highly impressed to be around her. Let me introduce you to Ellie Timby; a 13-year old goaltender for the Buffalo Bisons.

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13-year old Ellie Timby is a goaltender for the Buffalo Bisons (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby.

Timby will actually be 14-years old in April. We fist bump over the fact that my birthday is in April too. “I was seven years old when I started playing hockey”, Timby says, “but I wasn’t always a goalie. I played forward and defense as well. I started playing goalie only about 3 or 4-years ago”. What led to Timby becoming a netminder was that there were no other goaltenders available at the time, and a coach asked if she would take up the role; from there, she has blossomed ever since.

Timby is what you would call a hybrid goaltender. Meaning, since she does not play a pure standup style or butterfly style of goaltending, she is more or less a combination of the two. Compared with most goaltenders of today, Timby fits the norm and it has served her quite well. “I had to look up what hybrid meant, but once I looked it up it really made sense to me and how I play as a goalie”.

Timby recognizes the importance of practice and continually working towards bettering herself as a goaltender. Asked what the toughest save is for her to make, “high stick-side, for sure”, she says. “or when I am hugging one of the posts; I have had goals go in there too”. But Timby assures me that she will keep working on improving both, despite any difficulty in what those types of saves may pose.

Goaltending style is one thing, but how does Ellie Timby prepare herself for playing an actual hockey game? The weekend before our interview together, she had just come off of pitching a 0-0 shutout up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. “I am able to focus before a game by listening to my music. I just pick a few songs that I like to listen to”. Timby jokes that she will listen to her music, even if that involves not listening to her mother (uh oh). On the ride up to Hamilton, she kept her headphones on the entire ride, and was able to get herself “in the zone” so to speak, and any nerves were brought to an even keel.

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Tending net at Buffalo Riverworks, hanging at the HarborCenter, and just being herself, Ellie Timby is a cool, fun-loving kid (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).

Soon to be 14, Ellie Timby has many more years of hockey to play. But like a athlete of any age, she has her own sense of dreams and what she would like to accomplish. “I’d like to play in college. At this point, I do not have a particular school in mind, but I dream of playing at the college level”. An integral part of playing hockey collegiately is the current building of her playing and her foundation as a member of the Buffalo Bisons. Timby feels that playing with the Bisons organization is most assuredly better preparing her as she goes along the road towards becoming a college athlete. “The Bisons are a really good organization. Our practices really help. We’re together as a team twice a week. It’s not really hard to balance with school and it’s not really a chore, because of how much I enjoy hockey”. I failed to mention that I am conducting this interview with Timby on a school night, and a Monday night at that, no less. True to what she is telling me about the balance between hockey and school, she has already finished her homework for the night, despite having practice and then heading straight to our interview afterward. Needless to say, Ellie Timby is on top of things.

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Ellie Timby and the other young ladies of the Buffalo Bisons organization are part of the next generation that aspires to play in the NWHL someday. GrowtheGame# (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).

Timby has been a protégé of Kelsey Neumann’s for over three years now, and the two are very much like sisters. It is kismet. In fact, if you didn’t know any better beforehand, you would most certainly think that the two were sisters by blood when you met them. They have similar features, similar manners of speech, and incredibly similar personalities. It is no wonder that they fit together so well; a goalie’s hand fitting snuggly inside of her goaltending glove. “It makes me feel special that she is my coach. Coach Kelsey really cares about me, and she takes time out of her day to come watch me play and to coach me. She feels like my big sister…  I like her more than my actual sister!”. Like I said, Tina Fey, folks. Her delivery is as impeccable as her glove save. I am laughing hard now; “What?”, she says; “I’m not going to lie”; as if to throw her hands up and say “Who? Me?”. But in all seriousness, when she thinks of her coach Timby defines her with the word “Committed; she always tries and never gives up, and she always tries to help me reach my goals”.

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Timby and her goaltending coach, Buffalo Beauts’ goalie Kelsey Neumann, are inseparable (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).

Timby’s words for Neumann are very heartfelt and sincere and they ring true; both to the character of her coach and her own kind nature – Ellie Timby is a sweetheart. However, I have not learned my lesson and lead the conversation down a slippery slope once more. I ask Timby to imagine for a moment that roles were reversed and that she was Neumann’s coach. Were that the case, what words of advice would she have for the elder netminder. Without missing a beat – “Pull your head outta your a**!”. Raucous laughter ensues from everyone within earshot. Ellie Timby might become the first ever professional hockey goaltender-standup comedian. Timby is sure to tell me though that she herself has heard these same words from Neumann in both games and practice. Joking aside once more, there is some truth to these words… of… encouragement, I guess I will call them. Timbly tells me, “It actually can be applied to everything in life. When she says it to me, I know exactly what she means and it helps me get refocused. It helps; kind of knocks some sense in when you hear it”.

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Ellie Timby between the pipes outdoors; outdoor games are the best! (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).

When you look at Tweets or Facebook posts from the NWHL and its players, you constantly see a hashtag for #GrowTheGame. Grow the game for the next generation of players. Ellie Timby is part of that next generation, and she too aspires to be a professional hockey player like her coach someday. I pose a question to Timby that specifically discusses how to grow the game, and how to get the word out about women’s hockey. “We need to advertise more and we need to get some more teams in the league. It would be great if there were some expansion teams”. Just a couple days after my interview with Timby, it was “National Women and Girls in Sports Day”. Kind of neat that the two coincided with one another. And Timby is onto something. It is my sincere hope that the NWHL expands into other cities, but I think that Timby nails the bullseye when stating that more advertising needs to be done. We need to get the word out about women’s hockey. Maybe in a small way, this interview and this piece is making some sort of slight, positive difference.

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A little Ellie Timby with her father. The support provided by Ellie’s family has been immense (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).

No athlete’s career would be able to take off without the love and support of family. For Ellie Timby, that is no different. Her mother was kind enough to bring her to our interview together at Moe’s – Ellie’s favorite place to eat – and that is just one example of how her family supports her love for hockey. “They really push me to reach my goals”. The support is perhaps most pronounced when Timby has encountered challenges in her young career. “My proudest moment was when I tried out for high school varsity hockey when I knew that I wasn’t going to make it because there were six goalies at tryouts. I was nervous, but I did it”. Keep in mind too that Timby was trying out for the Williamsville women’s varsity hockey team – that is not just one high school, but a team comprised of the three Williamsville high schools – that is a lot of competition that she did not shy away from. No matter the outcome, that moment belongs to Ellie. That’s hers; she owns that. I give her a lot of credit, especially when considering that she is a 13-year old who attempted to make a varsity team. That sort of gumption may be innate, but I also think a major part of it stems from upbringing and being raised by a family who instills the attitude of always trying your best.

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When I met Ellie’s mom, she likened her daughter to comedic actress Tina Fey, and it was easy to see why. But obviously, Mrs. Timby provides the much needed support of a “hockey mom” for her daughter. (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).

One final statement from Ellie Timby for the evening. After all, it is a school night. “Hockey is not always about winning; it’s about having fun”. No truer words than that. This kiddo nailed it. And while we spend the rest of our time together looking at old photos of Ken Dryden (she modeled his famous pose during one of her games without previously knowing who the legendary Habs goalie was) and discussing what she should have painted on her goaltending mask (I suggested she get actual Timbit donuts painted on it), it makes me smile inside to meet a youngster who loves the game of hockey and has no hesitation in joking around with adults in a fun-loving conversation. Keep stonewalling the shooters, Ellie, and making others laugh!

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Never hesitant to ham it up, Ellie Timby is very much herself and it is wonderful! (Photo provided courtesy of Ellie Timby).
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Elisabeth Hill, “The Puckslayer”.

Ask a young goalie who their “hockey hero” might be, and the answer I receive most often these days is Carey Price. Not in every instance, but definitely more often than any other response. So I am floored when I ask Elisabeth Hill who her hockey hero is and she tells me matter of factly: “Ron Hextall”. Are you serious? What 18-year old girl has Ron Hextall as her favorite goaltender? Hextall, the first goaltender to ever score a goal by firing it into the opponent’s net, which he actually did twice. Hextall, the 1987 winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Vezina. And Hextall the goaltender who had over 100-minutes in penalties in each of his first three seasons in the NHL due to his tendency towards stickwork and getting his blocker up in opposing shooters faces; on top of the fact that he was very much an elite goalie in addition to his junkyard dog-ishness. Needless to say, I am highly impressed by this answer, and I love meeting individuals who break stereotypes and go totally against the norm. Elisabeth Hill possesses strong individuality, and she is also pretty darn good at stopping pieces of vulcanized rubber. Hence her nickname, “The Puckslayer”.

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Elisabeth Hill at age 12 with her hockey hero, Philadelphia Flyers goaltending great Ron Hextall (Photo provided courtesy of Elisabeth Hill).

Hill is a originally from Midlothian, Texas but is attending a preparatory school in Middletown, New Jersey called Mater Dei Prep. “I am 18-years old now, but I was about 8 or 9 when I started playing. Both of my parents were Dallas Stars fans, and as I got a little older I started to watch the games with them. I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm. That looks fun and aggressive; I kinda think I would like to try that out. My parents put my in a “Learn to Skate” program and then a “Learn to Play” through USA Hockey. In “Learn to Play” I found myself always gravitating towards the net. You don’t really expect someone to be a goaltender right off the bat, but a few weeks later this guy came up to my mom and said, ‘You do know she’s going to be a goalie, right?’. At first my mom was like, ‘oh please! God no!’, but here I am”, Hill tells me with a chuckle.

Though the state of Texas has the Stars and a large number of minor league teams, I was not sure how much youth hockey was available to Hill in order to grow in the game and foster her goaltending skills. “I mostly played boys hockey in Texas because that was the level of play where I felt that I would do better in. I did play girls, but there is only one girls hockey organization in the entire state, but at the time it was very much a different organization than what it is now. I ended up only playing girls hockey for 2-years before I went back to playing boys. The competition was a lot better in boys hockey and everybody actually wanted to play”.

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A superb backstopper for the Mater Dei Seraphs, Elisabeth Hill possesses not only elite goaltender prowess but is intellectual, creative and kind. (Photo provided courtesy of Elisabeth Hill).

There is a brief, completely kidding of course, moment of contention between Hill and I considering that her 1999 Dallas Stars beat my Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Finals. “Yeah… sorry ’bout that”, she says. All kidding aside, Hill looks fondly upon that ’99 Stars team that won it all, particularly their Hall of Fame netminder. “My favorite player from that team is Eddie Belfour. He was very aggressive, but was one of the best of all time”.

Speaking of goaltender aggressiveness though, Hill tells me more about how she idolizes Ron Hextall. “When I tell people that it always gets a few headshakes with people saying, ‘wait, what?’. Even my teammates who I play with have no idea who that even is; my coach does, but they don’t. Hextall is the reason why I wear number-27. I actually met him when I was about 12, and my first words to him were ‘Can I hug you?’. He was kind of like, ‘What?… Oh, yeah. Okay, sure’. My mom was friends with someone who worked for the (Manchester) Monarchs of the AHL”. Hextall was at one time the General Manager of the Manchester Monarchs, the former top minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. “He had actually signed some stuff for me when I was younger, and I had a nationals tournament in California and that was where the opportunity to meet him presented itself”.

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A senior at Mater Dei Prep, Elisabeth Hill is one of the fledgling members of their women’s ice hockey program (Photo provided courtesy of Elisabeth Hill).

Now living in New Jersey, Hill is a goaltender for her prep school’s women’s ice hockey program, the Mater Dei Seraphs, as well as for the Jersey Shore Wildcats of the New Jersey Youth Hockey League (NJYHL). We talk first about the Seraphs and their fairly new women’s hockey program which is only in its third year. As a senior now, Hill is one of the program’s original startup players for the school. “Originally I was recruited by a local girls youth team and they had an agreement with Mater Dei for a number of girls to attend there and help start the program which was my sophomore year of high school. Education wise, Mater Dei made everything possible for me, and hockey wise it was the best fit. We started my sophomore year, but we actually did not get into league play until just this year. We had a thing to prove our first two years, and I think we proved it very well”.

A new experience for sure for the teenage Hill who prior to attending Mater Dei had never lived outside of Texas before. “Usually I go home for Christmas. Sometimes my mom will make plans to come up to New Jersey to see me and sometime she has plans through work too that bring her up this way, which is really nice”. The Serhaps’ playoff season will begin the second full week of February, and Hill’s mother has already scheduled the trip to be there in attendance. “It is kind of funny; the older I get the more I actually miss my family and being at home. At 16 I was like, “Yes! I’m on my own! I’m independent!”, but now I’m 18 and it’s more like, ‘Oh man, I miss my mom!’. In her three years with Mater Dei, Hill has compiled a total of 151-career saves to go along with a 0.873-save percentage while allowing just 22-goals.

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At 5’9.5″ and 145-pounds, Elisabeth Hill uses both her size and her quick tracking to be a top-notch goaltender. (Photo provided courtesy of Elisabeth Hill).

Coinciding with her play with the Seraphs, Hill also tends net for the Jersey Shore Wildcats, a team in the fairly expansive youth hockey program throughout the state of New Jersey; a whole bunch of teams comprise the competition in this league. Hill tells me, “This is the first year for the Wildcats to have a girls program. My two coaches from the Seraphs and the Wildcats actually know each other, so they try to work around each other’s schedules. The Wildcats have another goalie but she attends prep school in another state, so there are times when I am the only goalie for both teams”. Personally, I think it is quite commendable how Hill’s two coaches are able to share her goaltending capabilities for their respective teams while not putting any undue pressure or unfair circumstances onto their young netminder. “Sometimes even if there is a scheduling conflict, the U16 goalie for the Wildcats will come up and play, and she is a very nice girl; she and I get along really well”, Hill says.

Elisabeth Hill has really good size for a women’s goalie standing at 5’9.5″ and 145-pounds. “In girls hockey I am considered a big goalie, but I also think that my tracking and my speed are some of my best attributes in addition to my size. Some people think that as a goalie you are just kind of standing there by yourself, but you actually set the mood and the pace of the game. You set an attitude for the game as well. If you have a good attitude and work ethic that sets the mood for your entire team”. When Hill explained it to me as such, I realized that she is a very cerebral goaltender even at her young age, and that she is an astute player that “feels” the game as much as she thinks it. Off the ice Hill greatly enjoys free-writing, developing short stories, and photography, so she is very much in tune with herself as both a person and as an athlete; something that carries over onto the ice and has been a quintessential part of who she is as a goalie. “Especially when you have so many different thoughts and ideas going through your head, and you are able to put it all down on paper, it is a really nice feeling”. Playing goaltender out on the ice affords a similar sort of release and oneness.

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Elisabeth Hill, her Seraph teammates, and her coach Oktay Armagan have taken Mater Dei’s women’s ice hockey program to the next level; they are a team to be taken seriously (Photo provided courtesy of Elisabeth Hill).

Now that she is well into her senior year of high school, Hill already has her sights set on playing hockey collegiately. “The goal is to go NCAA and I have two schools in mind, and I love both equally; Plymouth State University and Norwich University. Both have really good hockey programs and both are very good educational schools too. I am a big fan of the small school atmosphere and you get a better learning environment. You get to know everybody and nobody is really a stranger; it is definitely a nice feeling. You get a lot of one-on-one with teachers”. Hailing from a small private college myself, I agree with Hill completely on the benefits that schools of this nature tend to offer.

While she still has some time to ponder it, Hill has aspirations of playing hockey professionally someday too. A supporter of the NWHL’s New York Riveters, Hill has even attended some of the Rivs’ home games. “I would love to play in the NWHL or even the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). I would be fine with playing in either of those leagues for sure. I would love it if they merged. Just absolutely love it. In the CWHL there is only one American team and the rest are Canadian. If they could merge, it would just expand women’s hockey in general. With the NWHL All-Star Game going to be in Pittsburgh very soon, I am just thinking to myself, ‘Please put a team there too!’. That would be so nice! And I really wish that the NHL would get a little more involved with supporting both leagues”. Wise words from a very bright young woman. National Hockey League, are you listening?

Intellectual. I think that is the word that I like best for describing Elisabeth Hill. Her words ring true to me, and I think that they apply greatly to the current status of women’s hockey, perhaps especially the NWHL. “Hockey has taught me that working hard in general does not have a guaranteed success. You need to keep working harder, so that when you do have success it is much, much sweeter”. Hill has some words of advice to me even. “I think that you should keep interviewing female athletes and other female hockey players just to get the word out. The more people that you tell, they’re going to keep telling other people. You will get more interest, and those people will start looking at women’s hockey too”. The more buzz there is about it, the more support there will be. “People should know that when things get hard, especially in sports, you should just keep going. The harder you work, the more success you’ll have. You learn something from someone new everyday”.

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One of Elisabeth Hill’s best attributes is her ability to track the puck so well. (Photo provided courtesy of Elisabeth Hill).

Elisabeth would like to add a special note of thanks to her coach at Mater Dei, Coach Oktay: “For his belief in us as a team, for never giving up on us when things got tough, and for teaching us lessons on and off the ice. Coach Oktay makes us well-rounded players all the way through. Some girls have for sure changed in 3-years, but in all the best ways. He may be a tough coach, but he is tough in all the right ways. I would also like to thank him for pushing me beyond limits I never thought I had, and always expecting nothing less than the best from me. Coach Oktay helped shape me into the person and the player that I am today”. Thank you, Coach Oktay.