A small goalie's big impact: Jordan Nash-Boulden stands tall for ASU women's hockey

She brings a resilient attitude onto the ice for the Sun Devils

Sometimes when you fall, the hardest thing to do is get back up. That has never been the case for ASU freshman Jordan Nash-Boulden.

“I was always the girl with the shin pads and helmet,” Nash-Boulden said. “All the other girls wanted to be figure skaters, while I wanted to do pre-hockey. So it was a little different for me, but I loved it from the very first moment I put on skates."

“You fall a lot skating as a little kid, but I think that’s what was exciting for me. You could fall and get right back up and keep going.” 

Getting Back Up

Nash Boulden wasn’t always the confident, skilled goalie that she is now. For one year, early in her hockey career, Nash-Boulden played right wing. 

“I wanted to be like Shane Doan,” Nash-Boulden said. “But none of the boys would pass the puck to me. That was hard, but it’s what helped me transition into playing goalie. I figured if they weren’t going to pass to me then I was going to stop them instead of help them. I never looked back.” 

That has been her attitude toward every hindrance that she has faced in her life. Nash-Boulden does not view hindrances in life as true obstacles — she views them as motivation to fuel the fire that resides inside her. 

Perhaps one of the biggest hindrances she faces in her playing career is her height. At five feet four inches, Nash-Boulden is pretty candid about her small stature, both on and off the ice.

“I always have to get to class early,” Nash-Boulden said. “If I don’t get there early and sit in the front there’s going to be a chance I can’t see over the taller kids.”

When breaking into the boys' hockey scene at Cactus Shadows her junior year of high school, her height kept her on the bench for most of the season. 

“I was a back-up in the extreme sense of the word,” Nash-Boulden said. “I think I started maybe four games out of the roughly 20 that we had in the regular season.

“So that wasn't my favorite year, I was sitting on the bench and watching everyone else play. I wasn’t really getting the chance to be a part of it.”

That would change her senior year. After her coach got the chance to see her play at the boys' level, and see how, even at her height, she had tremendous talent, it gave him confidence to put her in the tight situations and give her a chance to start the hard games.  

Though she had a rough first year, Nash-Boulden looks back on her days playing boys high school hockey with nothing but fondness. 

“I never felt uncomfortable with the boys, and we still talk all the time. We’re like a family,” Nash-Boulden said. “I think the boys always really accepted me. Whenever they would talk about the team it was always ‘the boys and it was never anything different It never had to be ‘the boys and Jordan,' I was always just included.”

But the ultimate moment of her time spent with the Cactus Shadows High School boys team, and very likely the highlight of her career so far, was being the goalie on the ice to lead them to the state championship

She remembers every second vividly, including the moments on the bench leading up to the game after she found out she was the starting goalie. 

“You sit back for a moment and it hits you how far you’ve come to make it there. I thought to myself: ‘I’m the only girl on this team,'" she said. "I’m one of the few girls in the state of Arizona playing boys high school hockey. And they have enough trust in me to say that this is who we want in net and this is who we want to win a championship with."

Nash-Boulden didn’t even know her team had won when the clock struck zero because she was at the opposite end of the ice, but it was the most humbling moment of her life. Her team put their trust in her, and she didn’t let them down.  

Keep Going

Nash-Boulden never shies away from being “one of the guys," but now she has the opportunity to be one of the girls that will lay the foundation for the ASU women’s hockey program in its first year of existence. 

But if you ask her, even as a freshman at the forefront of a new program, she’ll say that she’s moving into the later part of her hockey career. The daunting thought of not playing again is one she had to face before finding a spot at ASU.

“I had been looking at every option available to me,” Nash-Boulden said. “I come from Arizona and there’s something to be said for that. The hockey development that we have here in the state is certainly getting better, but it’s not on par with other states in the country.”

Nash-Boulden was sending emails to any college program and coach that she could. She simply wasn’t getting responses. 

When she went to America’s Showcase for girls high school players, she had to hear all of her friends talk about the schools and coaches that were interested in them. Meanwhile, no team approached her. 

“It was honestly a bit deflating. It was sad to really see that my time was running out,” Nash-Boulden said. “It’s scary to have that moment and realize that your playing career might be coming to an end and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.” 

But Nash-Boulden would soon find out about the inaugural women’s team at ASU, and get in contact with head coach Lindsey Ellis. She became the first goalie to be added to the 2016-17 recruiting class. 

“I think that Jordan is going to be a strong component of our team,” ASU goalie coach Kayley Marino said. “I don’t see her height being an issue for her. I don’t think she’s as short as she thinks she is — that’s a confidence thing that she’ll grow into.”

Teammate Megan Mroczek never even thought about Nash-Boulden’s height. Having played with her on a girls travel team previous to Nash-Boulden’s jump to boys high school hockey, she was happy to be playing in front of her once again. 

“I feel super confident with Jordan behind us," Mroczek said. "Just seeing her improve from when I first played with her at 14 to now is insane — she’s been working so hard to hold up her end of the ice. 

"It only makes us want to work harder as players because we know our goalie has our back, and we have to have hers.”

Nash-Boulden feels honored to have the opportunity to be a part of ASU women’s hockey team as they begin their inaugural season

“I’m really excited and it’s amazing to be a part of the program and to be able to help put us on the map this season,” she said. “I want to build a good foundation for the future and be successful. Three or four years down the road no one knows what this program could look like.” 

But she also knows that the girls journey as a fledgling club team this season will be great for youth hockey in Arizona. 

“When I was younger I wanted to play in the NHL, I wanted to be like the Coyotes that I saw on the TV,” Nash-Boulden said. “But now you have leagues like the NWHL and the CWHL. If I had seen those when when I was younger that’s what I’d have wanted to be.”

The women in the National Women's Hockey League and Canadian Women's Hockey League have come to be role models for all levels of girls playing hockey in the world. But Nash-Boulden knows that she’s about to become a role model in her own right to small girls playing hockey in the valley.

“When I was playing girls hockey there wasn’t this opportunity in Arizona,” Nash-Boulden said. “Now younger girls playing can see us and see they can play at this level and have a future in the sport. See that there’s an opportunity for success within Arizona.”

Whenever Nash-Boudlen faced opposition in her life, or it looked like the odds were against her, she stood tall and rose to the challenge. Hockey is worth it to her. Hockey is in her blood, and it’s a part of who she is. 

“You learn a lot of different lessons playing sports as a girl than you do being a boy and playing,” Nash-Boulden said. “It’s taught me that you don’t always have to be just like everyone else. You can be different and still fit in, still make a difference. That’s what hockey has given me.”

Reach the reporter at tsclark5@asu.edu or follow @taylorsedona on Twitter.

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