On the surface Jayden Lawson’s story appears straightforward. Enroll at a respected hockey academy, post eye-popping stats playing against top competition, earn a scholarship to play U Sports hockey, end of story.
That storyline would sell Lawson short by a country mile.
In reality, the Beechy native never became a goaltender until reaching Bantam hockey. Two years ago she was playing Midget A for the Diefenbaker Thunder. There likely weren’t too many university or college scouts dropping into the Dinsmore Memorial Arena to find a netminder.
Despite long odds, Lawson recently accepted a scholarship offer to play hockey for the University of Ryerson Rams in Toronto.
“It’s definitely surreal, especially with this COVID year, everything was uncertain. So it was a big relief once I actually knew where I was able to go. I was definitely super excited once I was able to put pen to paper,” she said.
Lawson’s journey from a defenseman in small town Saskatchewan to the crease of a university women’s hockey team is no coincidence, it’s the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and commitment to her craft.
She has spent the last year and a half at the Edge School in Calgary, immersed in the game of hockey, coached by an Olympic champion, with daily access to workout facilities, elite goalie training, and the aid of a mental trainer and counselor.
“Jayden’s off-ice and on-ice presence are actually very similar and I think that’s what makes her great. We all know with Jayden, including coaches and teammates, what we are getting on a daily basis. She’s dependable, she’s fun, she’s competitive, she cares, she’s driven and she’s consistent. These attributes are invaluable in the classroom, in the dressing room and on the ice,” said her coach Carla MacLeod, a women’s hockey gold medalist in 2006 in Turino, Italy and 2010 in Vancouver.
Lawson only became a goalie in her first year of Bantam with the Diefenbaker Thunder. “It was honestly that we didn’t have any goalies in girls hockey in my hometown and I’ve always wanted to be a goalie since I was younger. So I just said that I would try it out and ever since then it’s been what I love.”
Lawson made U16 Team Saskatchewan one season later when she shared the crease with Swift Current Wildcats netminder Amaya Giraudier.
In 2018 Lawson tried out for the Saskatoon Midget AAA Stars but was cut in her first season of Midget eligibility. She earned a spot on the Swift Current Female Midget AA Broncos, but decided to stay home and play for the Diefenbaker Thunder instead.
The next season she made the massive jump to the Canadian Sport School Hockey League with the Edge Mountaineers.
“The jump from Midget A to the CSSHL definitely was a big adjustment from the start. I think as soon as I got cut from the Stars I just kind of put my head down and I just thought to myself that I need to prove them wrong. So even though it was Midget A, I had a lot of shots there, I just focused on getting better every day even though I didn’t play a high level at all. I just kept pushing towards the goal.”
If there was an adjustment period, you’d never know it from her season statistics in 2019-20 when she finished 9-3-0-0 with a 1.24 goals against average and a .929 save percentage with the Edge U18 Female Prep.
“Actually what helped me be successful in the first year was my teammates. At the start I was super nervous jumping up to that big caliber. My other goalie was also a first-year in this league, so talking through it with each other. Also, we have a mental guidance counselor at Edge, Dr. Brown, so talking to him also helped me realize that this might be my first year at a high caliber hockey pace, but that I got there for a reason. It was definitely a lot of mental strength that got me through the first year to produce those numbers,” Lawson explained.
The 5’7’’ Lawson posted some ridiculous numbers during her time in the Edge goal with a 20-5 record, a 1.15 goals against average and a .931 save percentage overall. She has only been able to play in two games this season, but she has stopped 57 of 59 shots in a pair of wins with a 1.00 GAA and a .966 save percentage.
Despite her late start in a mentally demanding position, Lawson has quickly figured out a way to deal with the pressure of being the last line of defense.
“Obviously all eyes are on you. You make big saves and that’s good, but when you let in a weak goal everyone looks at you and thinks you should have had that. You have to have that I’ll get the next one mentality. It’s the next shot that matters. It doesn’t matter what happens,” she explained.
Written on Lawson’s catching glove is ‘One save at a time.’ “After every water break I look down and it’s on my glove, just a reminder not to dwell on some goal that you let in… but just focus on what you can do to stop the next shot.”
Lawson said she does not pattern her game after any particular goaltender, but that she has been strongly influenced by Outlook’s Samantha Ridgewell, who is currently a member of the Toronto Six in the National Women’s Hockey League. Ridgewell provided some goalie coaching to Lawson this past summer back home.
While many hockey players have been unable to be on the ice much over the past year, Lawson has been able to get plenty of ice time at Edge.
“I’m super fortunate that Edge School, since we’re kind of a private academy, we’ve been able to practice pretty much throughout this whole COVID situation. We have only got shut down once. We’ve been super fortunate to be able to keep playing during these times. But that one week we were shut down I depended on my friends and teammates and we kept each other motivated, talking about our futures and trying to just keep pushing forward, even though there’s no games this year to push towards. We just kept motivating each other to keep going for our future.”
She credits the program for helping her make major improvements in the crease.
“Edge has an unreal coaching staff. Carla MacLeod is obviously an Olympian. Our goalie coach has worked with Team Canada a bunch too. We are super fortunate that she’s out on the ice with us every day. So every single day we have kind of a one-on-one goalie session. That’s definitely something that I think sets apart Edge from most AAA teams because I don’t know if every team has a goalie coach at every practice that you are able to talk to,” said Lawson, who added that the goalies split the playing time throughout the season.”
“She has put in the work and does so with a humility that drives her to be better,” added MacLeod. “She has had the chance to work with our assistant/goalie coach, Amanda Tapp, daily over the past couple of years and we have seen huge growth in all areas of her game. Her coachability and willingness to try new things has allowed her to maximize her time with Amanda and our program. I have no doubt she’ll continue to improve throughout her time at Ryerson University based on who she is and how hard she is willing to work.”
Ryerson has never won a championship in the 13-team Ontario University Athletics Conference, but they finished fifth in 2019-20 with a 14-10 record and then advanced to the semi-final before losing in three games to Toronto, who won the league title.
Securing a goaltending spot on a U Sports team during a pandemic was no easy task.
“It was pretty difficult honestly because at Ryerson right now they do have two goalies coming back, that are able to with the extra year of eligibility. A bunch of other teams I was talking to, it was going good and then their goalies decided to come back for another year, which then closed that spot. It definitely was pretty tough finding a goalie spot, especially in this year when the fifth-years are able to come back,” said Lawson.
Lawson has not declared a major yet but plans to study in the sciences area while at Ryerson. She has plenty of time and resources available to improve on the ice before she joins the Rams.
“I definitely want to keep working on my quickness. I would like to keep working out and pushing myself, but I think my quickness is the area that I want to work on the most as well as my puck play.”
“I know now that Jayden embraces opportunities, she did with our program and she will at Ryerson. She doesn’t expect anything, she instead earns everything. Jayden will certainly embrace the opportunity that playing U Sports hockey offers and I am confident she will be a valuable member of Ryerson’s team over the next five years,” added MacLeod.