On June 18, 2016, Cayley Mercer was at lunch with friends when Instagram and Twitter began sending her notifications. Mercer, a forward for Clarkson University, had been chosen sixth overall by the Buffalo Beauts in the second NWHL draft and was just finding out through social media. For Mercer, who has been playing hockey since she was five years old, being selected by Buffalo to play professional hockey was an incredible feeling almost too difficult to put into words. “It’s like this moment when you are able to realize how all your hard work has paid off, and the dream you have been chasing since you were a kid is finally a reality,” said Mercer. “It’s just such an honor.”
Mercer finished her junior year as Clarkson’s leading scorer with 50 points on 25 goals and 25 assists. She was voted Clarkson’s Most Valuable Player and named First-Team ECAC Hockey All-Star, among other accolades. Mercer says that she considers herself a “pass-first player.” “I’m the type of player who feeds off of playing with a lot of energy and speed and working hard to create my offensive opportunities,” stated Mercer.
Mercer anticipates that her transition from college to professional hockey will be smooth with the help of the Buffalo organization. I had the pleasure of talking with Mercer about what this transition from college to pro might be like and how she is preparing for her final season as a Golden Knight:
SP: What excites you the most about making the switch from college to professional hockey?
CM: The opportunity to compete with the best in my sport, and know that my dedication over the course of my career is what has allowed me that possibility. It doesn’t get any better than having the chance to call yourself a professional hockey player, and I’m excited to be able to take everything I have learned from college hockey and apply it to my professional career.
SP: What makes you nervous about jumping from college to professional hockey?
CM: After being with a team for 5 years you have that feeling of familiarity, and you know your role and what is expected of you as a player. Transitioning from an environment that I have become so comfortable in these past 5 years to one that is completely new to me is definitely something that makes me nervous. I have heard great things about Buffalo’s organization, and I know they will make the jump as smooth as possible for me, but I can’t help but be a little anxious about what the next chapter in my hockey career will look like.
SP: How do you feel that Clarkson has helped you grow as a player?
CM: I have been so fortunate to play out my collegiate career with a team like Clarkson. Through the constant guidance from my coaches, I’ve really been able to develop into a smarter, two-way player. This has helped my confidence grow, as there is really no better feeling than knowing as an offensive player, you’re also trusted to perform well in defensive situations. My teammates have also been so influential in my growth as a player. Each day they push me harder and raise the bar for excellence, which keeps me on my toes and makes me want to be better today than I was yesterday.
SP: Is there a moment from your college career that stands out as being particularly helpful in developing your skills and helping you reach the professional level?
CM: I actually tore my ACL and had to have reconstructive surgery about a month and a half before reporting to school for my freshman season. Because of this injury I was forced to redshirt and sat out the entire year. I think this experience has been so influential in developing myself as a player and a person. It really taught me to be resilient and push through adversity. It taught me the importance of setting goals and dedicating myself to reaching them. I think that when I was finally able to play again, I was so ready to let all my hard work do the talking. That’s something that I have carried through my entire collegiate career so far, and something that I know will help make me successful at the professional level.
With her final season at Clarkson fast approaching, Mercer says that she is excited about her future in Buffalo, but she is currently focused on her senior year and contributing to the team while soaking up her final moments as a college athlete. On the future of women’s hockey, Mercer says that she is extremely excited to watch the sport grow with a dedicated and expanding fan base that appreciates the talent that women are bringing to the ice. When asked if she has any advice for girls and women interested in playing hockey, Mercer said, “There is so much to look forward to! When you fall in love with the game of hockey, it gives you so much in return. Friendships, memories, confidence. So play, and play hard!”