Kimberly Sass among compelling role models in current landscape of PWHPA

A multi-talented individual whose proficiency between the pipes is only part of a much more profound narrative, the remarkable career of Kimberly Sass involves a cerebral component that is equally fascinating. Distinguished by her trademark round glasses, balancing hockey with an occupation as an Architectural Designer, capable of excelling at both, incorporating the values of practice and preparation in fields that are both highly detail-oriented, Sass embodies the facets of achievement and empowerment, qualities that have established her as an admired competitor in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).

Having also added the title of entrepreneur, establishing a coaching-based enterprise dubbed 1335 Goaltending, featured current PWHPA goaltenders, and former Metropolitan Riveters teammates, Katie Fitzgerald and Sarah Bryant. Enhancing her status as a true renaissance woman, Sass, who majored in studio art and geography at Colgate University, continues to display her visual proficiencies.

With a creative vision that has involved fascinating social media posts for her ETSY shop, Rusted Tower Design, she was also renowned for her ability to create emojis during her time with the Riveters. Emulating Keith Kinkaid, a backstop with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, whose tweets, consisting of numerous emojis, gained him a degree of acclaim, Sass’ efforts held the potential to create a strong connection between the two franchises. Undeniably, the result was a tremendous bonding experience with the Riveters fan base, adding an exciting new dimension to the franchise’s footprint on social media.

Additionally, Sass added a new dimension to her own impact on social media, participating in a highly stimulating thread, discussing the concept of professional athletes and brand sponsorship. The result was a pleasant surprise, as Sass issued a tweet geared toward Heinz ketchup, who actually provided a response, mentioning how the name of the university she competed at held the unique connection to another highly revered brand name, Colgate. With ketchup representing a favorite condiment with her staple foods, her creativity resulted in a video, including a very creative hashtag: #NothingGetsBeHeinzMe.

Raised in Western New York, the product of East Amherst, Sass, who also tried figure skating as a youth, followed in her father’s footsteps and stood between the pipes. Starring with the Buffalo Bisons as a teenager, she would remain in her home state to pursue her NCAA career. Making the journey approximately 200 miles east of Buffalo, past Syracuse, aligned with the Colgate Raiders, she quickly impressed. As a freshman, Sass set the program record, (since broken), for most wins in a season with 14, while pacing the ECAC Conference with a .941 save percentage.

Following such a fantastic campaign, Sass enjoyed a tremendous haul of hockey hardware, amassing the ECAC Goaltender of the Year, ECAC First Team, becoming the first Raiders goaltender to earn the honor, and ECAC All-Rookie Team honors. Additionally, she garnered the program’s Rookie of the Year Award.

With 93 games to her credit after four seasons in Raiders paraphernalia, Sass garnered three ECAC All-Academic honors, demonstrating the perseverance and character required to succeed as a student-athlete. Fittingly, Sass’ career with the Raiders involved a pair of highly prestigious honors. Including the Don Palmateer Award, given in recognition by the Center Ice Club to a Raiders player who combined values such as leadership and inspiration resulted in a profound and positive impact on the women’s hockey program. Complemented by the Marian LeFevre Coach’s Award, a prize that truly commemorates a career which demonstrated a remarkable attitude and dedication to the program, such honors cemented the status of the celebrated Sass as an icon in Raiders lore.

Becoming the seventh player in program history to compete in the professional ranks, joining the likes of Tara French, Mallory Johnston, Kate Wolgemuth, Kiira Dosdall, Samantha Hunt and Evan Minnick, Sass earned a master’s degree in architecture at the University at Buffalo.

Photo credit: Jeff Rider

Fittingly, the Queen City would mark Sass’ return to hockey, enjoying three seasons of professional hockey. Returning to her Western New York roots by signing with the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, where she served in a back-up capacity to Brianne McLaughlin, she followed it up by a pair of seasons with the Metropolitan Riveters franchise. Highlighted by the prestige of winning the Isobel Cup in 2018, an historic first for the Riveters, Sass also called fellow Raiders alum Kiira Dosdall as her teammate.

Adorned in a Riveters’ championship ball cap, Sass with the Isobel Cup (Image obtained from facebook)

Sass’ final season with the Riveters (2018-19) proved to be her finest. Appearing in 12 games, part of a crowded goaltending picture which included Katie Fitzgerald, who led the team with 15 appearances between the pipes, along with second year backstop Sarah Bryant and Russian-born rookie Maria Sokorina, Sass would also partake in the postseason, marking her final appearance with the franchise.

Before Sass’ career in the NWHL reached its conclusion, there was one more milestone accentuating her time there. Named a co-recipient of the NWHL Foundation Award, recognizing one player from each franchise as role models in the game, demonstrating a dedication to betterment in the community, it was an honor shared alongside the likes of Connecticut’s Sarah Hughson, Buffalo’s Kelly Babstock, Minnesota’s Hannah Brandt and Boston’s Mallory Souliotis.

Embarking on a new chapter for the 2019-20 season, Sass was among a compelling gathering of gregarious group of superlative goaltending talent involved with the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA). Including the likes of fellow backstops Katie Burt, Lauren Dahm, Kassidy Sauve, Emerance Maschmeyer and Alex Rigsby, among others, Sass, classified as a Tri-State Player, established herself as part of a remarkable movement in sporting equality dedicated towards positively transforming the game’s status, while heralding an emboldened new era involving a living wage.

Also a significant part of Sass’ focus involves her place on the PWHPA’s Board. With standing as a representative for non-national team (NNT) players, Sass holds a highly significant role, as the vast majority of competitors in the professional game hold such status. Taking into account how NNT players are the true backbone of the game, possessing a significant talent and enthusiasm for the game, a difficult reality is the fact that said players also work second jobs, the game sometimes a secondary priority due to financial obligations.

While the goal has long been allowing players an opportunity to transition from the collegiate to the professional ranks without the concern of a second job, a plight that plagued many men’s professional sports leagues for more than half of the 20th Century, wages not reaching lucrative amounts until the 1970s and 80s. Sass certainly ponders the future with optimism, hoping that she can be part of overcoming this next major challenge for the game.

”I am honored to have been selected for the PWHPA Board! As a player with multiple careers myself, I take pride in being able to advocate for those who have found themselves in this position of having multiple jobs to support hockey. I enjoy the opportunity to make Professional Women’s Hockey a better place for NNT players and those players currently with second jobs, but with the end goal of having players earn a livable wage so that they can progress straight from college into professional hockey. I think we will all be ecstatic the day that a college graduate player secures a livable wage in her next season in a truly professional league.”

Having first appeared at the Dunkin’ Showcase in Hudson, New Hampshire, the first American stop on the PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour, Sass played with Team Stecklein, its nomenclature recognizing team captain Lee Stecklein. With an offseason filled with worry for many players, the opportunity to return to the ice brought with it a feeling of euphoria, providing an aspect of relief that helped evaporate any tensions or concerns, replaced by a jovial innocence within the parameters of the frozen surface.

With Team Stecklein enjoying a 6-3 victory over Team Flanagan in their opening game, Sauvé, like Sass, also competed in the ECAC, leading the Clarkson Golden Knights to the 2019 NCAA Frozen Four, gained the start in the championship game. Backstopping Team Stecklein to a highly thrilling 5-4 decision over Team Knight, Sass enjoyed the milestone of the first PWHPA Showcase championship on American soil.

”It was great to be back on the ice after an off season of A LOT of planning, and thrilling to take part in the first Showcase event. I played in the first game, and our team, Team Stecklein, ended up the champions of the weekend! It was amazing to play with/against players that were not in my college/professional league. The energy was great as we all were excited to kick of the season of spreading the PWHPA mission.”

Before the complexion of the sporting realm was drastically altered due to a devastating pandemic, the essence of competing in the PWHPA was poised to take on a global impact. Earlier in the season, the Korean national women’s team faced off against a group of PWHPA players in Montreal.

Scheduled to reciprocate, as the PWHPA was to cross the Pacific and grace the ice in Japan, intending to ice a team to challenge their national team, one that qualified for the 2018 Winter Games, Sass was named to the contingent of PWHPA players. Although the event would have raised the international profile of the Association, growing concerns over the pandemic resulted in a visceral cancellation.

In spite of the devastating decision, the fact that Sass was part of the group named to play in Japan represented a proud highlight of her inaugural season of PWHPA hockey. Just as revelant was the treasured chance to play at Madison Square Garden, one of the world’s most famous sporting venues. Taking into account that the venue never hosted professional women’s hockey, the brush with history represented a fascinating hallmark in Sass’ athletic journey.

“Being selected to represent the PWHPA overseas, as well as at such a historic and professional facility like MSG are opportunities of a lifetime. I believe in our goal of creating a sustainable professional league with a livable wage and am happy to spread the word through my play and presence!”

Before participating in the Dunkin’ Showcase, Sass enjoyed another thrilling milestone, setting the tone for the season to come. Named as an AAAS IF/Then Ambassador for her work in the STEM field, which reflects an educational approach encompassing both, academic ideas with real-world scenarios. Utilizing academic disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics as learning tools, such fields paint a picture filled with breadth, blending classroom and business situations in a melange poised to reach professional growth.

Featured in a video series for Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Sass enjoyed a degree of celebrity status appearing on the CBS television show, Mission Unstoppable. Targeted for an audience of young girls, the episode profiled Sass’ double occupations, from empowering employment as an Architectural Designer, to breaking barriers in hockey.

Balancing a Career in Architecture & Hockey | Mission Unstoppable

Kimberly Sass is a fierce professional women’s hockey goalie… but she’s also a skilled architectural designer. Learn more about her exciting double life. M…

Gaining the opportunity to share the red carpet with the likes of actresses Geena Davis and Miranda Cosgrove as part of a screening of Mission Unstoppable in Los Angeles, which also saw Sass participate in a panel afterwards. Worth noting, Davis holds her own unique connection to sport as her acting resume includes a starring role in the 1992 film “A League of their Own.” Directed by Penny Marshall, the film paid homage to the All-America Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), whose formation filled a sporting gap in World War II. Founded in 1943, an All-Star Game was not only held at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the league, which eventually featured 15 different teams, persevered until 1954.

With the PWHPA representing a new chapter for women in sport, building on the legacies of the AAGPBL, Women’s National Basketball Association and other leagues, the opportunity for Sass to be featured in Mission Unstoppable represented more than a crossover into popular culture. Allowing a landmark moment for women’s hockey during the 2019-20 season, the red carpet treatment served as a defining moment, spurring the feeling of accomplishment, simultaneously generating the encouragement that the game continues to be on a winning path.

“The opportunity to meet Geena Davis and Miranda Cosgrove came about when I was selected as an IF/THEN Ambassador and simultaneously casted for the CBS TV show called Mission Unstoppable. The IF/THEN Ambassadorship is a STEM initiative through Lyda Hill Philanthropies which aims to increase visibility of women in STEM careers.

Mission Unstoppable is produced by Litton Entertainment in collaboration with Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN initiative. The Executive Producers are Geena Davis along with the host of the show, Miranda Cosgrove. The show features real life female STEM role models with the targeted audience of middle school girls. I am featured in an episode about my job as an Architectural Designer and a Professional Goaltender, where I discuss ice rink design and take to the ice!

I was selected to fly out to L.A. to the premiere screening of the show, where I was able to meet Geena Davis and Miranda Cosgrove, watch my episode on the big screen, and speak on a panel afterwards. It was both surreal and empowering to be included in photos with both of those stars. I think women are fighting a similar visibility/inclusion battle in both STEM and sports, and it was satisfying to see celebrities recognize this and advocate for us!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”