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STEM, hockey and … ketchup? Kim Sass on her interwoven life

If you need an athlete, an artist, an architect or a coach, Kim Sass is your person.

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The Ice Garden caught up with PHWHPA board member and goaltender Kim Sass after she was named an AAAS IF/Then Ambassador for her work in the STEM field — specifically, architecture. In addition to being a goaltender with the PWHPA, Sass is an Architectural Job Captain in Jersey City, NJ with HLW.

“IF we support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world”

“[It’s] awesome to be recognized for something like this … both careers, women’s professional sports and STEM careers — specifically architecture — are struggling with accessibility and visibility with youths, especially younger girls,” Sass told The Ice Garden. “Through the PA, and also this ambassadorship, it’s an awesome opportunity to take this on.”

Sass was nominated to be an ambassador by Team SheIs. This lead to her taking part in a video series for Lyda Hill Philanthropies called ‘STEM meets sports.’ From there, she appeared on Mission Unstoppable, a CBS show, for which she flew to California. Next up for Sass is a flight to Dallas for a summit where she’ll help spread awareness of women in STEM.

“Architecture is definitely demanding and challenging, you are not going to know everything about every single building type or have all the details,” said Sass. “It takes time and hard work and practice. So I think having that mentality which I have had since a young age has helped me in my STEM career as well.”

Although it might not be immediately apparent, Sass points out that there is some overlap between her two professions.

“I would say attention to detail,” she said. “So many series of lines go together to create the construction. Coordinating your drawings with other consultants and engineers while making sure everything goes together and fits in this one box of space takes a lot of attention.

“I would say the same thing for goaltending,” Sass continued. “You have to master all of the foundational movements before you learn more advanced skills. For goaltending, you need to have great spatial awareness and a natural understanding of geometry so that you’re aware of where your net is and you can challenge the shooter. [In your head] you have to draw a line from the middle of the net to the puck and you want to take a couple more steps toward the shooter along that axis to cut down their shooting angle. So I would say understanding geometry and space are necessary for both careers.”

Origins

Sass first stepped on the ice around age three and started figure skating after that. Soon, the coach of the local girls team asked her father if her and her sister wanted to pick up a stick and play hockey. It was with hockey that Sass learned the valuable lesson to always ‘try, try again.’

Initially, Sass started at forward with her sister before moving into the goal crease — a position that her father used to play. “They asked me to play goalie, so I said yes,” Sass recalls. “I think I embraced being unique and having that identity. I liked all the gear, and from that day forward I was the permanent goalie.”

At Colgate University, Sass established herself as the team’s starting goaltender in her junior season in 2010-11. She finished her collegiate career ranked second in program history in minutes played, saves, and wins. In her senior year, Sass was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team after playing in all 33 of Colgate’s games and setting a program record for minutes played in a season.

After taking time off from playing, Sass joined the NWHL in 2015-16 with her hometown team the Buffalo Beauts. In her first season as a professional, she played behind Team USA goaltender Brianne McLaughlin, which limited her ice time and opportunities.

There was even more competition for ice time in the Beauts’ goal crease next year and Sass didn’t feel like she could take time away from her full-time job to be a third-string goalie. She decided to step off the ice again and focus on her work at an architectural firm in Buffalo.

Then, in 2017, a call came from the Metropolitan Riveters about a backup role. Having previously interned in New York City, she decided to return to the city she fell in love with and moved to Brooklyn and the NWHL.

Connor Murphy

The PWHPA

Upon the formation of the PWHPA, Sass was approached by members of its board to become a member representing both the working players and the older players still involved in hockey.

“I think everyone noticed that I was standing up for the players working two demanding careers, while playing,” Sass explained. “Our travel issues the last year with the Rivs — the round-trip to NC instead of Minnesota — and myself having to miss a game due to work. I just had enough and was vocal about it. People really looked up to me on my team to speak my mind, so I embraced that role and wanted to make a difference. I am also one of the older players in the region.”

When asked what a win for the PWHPA would look like for her, Sass responded with a vision of a league that does more to support players balancing more than one career. Another vision is to have more teams, which will give more players opportunities. For now, she views the Dream Gap Tour as the PWHPA’s best path towards both of those goals.

“I think [working two jobs] should definitely not be the case,” said Sass. “It doesn’t allow you time to train, recover, and have access to the resources that you need. That is definitely something I am personally invested in.”

The idea of her eventual retirement will be predicated on the results of this Dream Gap Tour. Sass, 28, wants to be sure she’s ready to retire after putting in countless hours of work to get to the elite level she’s at today. In preparation for that eventuality, she created a LLC for coaching alongside friends and former Riveters teammates Katie Fitzgerald and Sarah Bryant, 1335 Goaltending.

In her time at Colgate, Sass was a studio art and geography major. After taking an architecture class she decided to pursue work in that field for a more stable career option. However, she still has a strong interest in pursuing a pure artistic career.

The goaltender is currently flexing her creative muscles by putting together a gallery show based on the current state of women’s hockey. It would be a collection of some of her large scale paintings and installations. It is not complete yet, but should be coming in the near future. Currently, she has a Etsy page, along with her boyfriend, which was started in 2016 during her second retirement.

She also gets to express her creativity through social media. While Sass was with the Riveters she gained notoriety on social media for her top-shelf emoji skills. She describes it as an attempt to interact with New Jersey Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid who had endeared himself to fans and the media with his emoji-filled tweets. While it never created a bridge between the teams it became a fun bonding experience for her team and a fun way to interact with fans.

“I feel like I’m definitely bold and wild and a risk-taker, but also calculating at the same time,” Sass shared. “I feel like I’m not as crazy and weird as some other goalies I’ve met, but I definitely have the personality to play the position.”

Last month, Sass was inspired by a Twitter thread which discussing which pro athletes should be sponsored by specific brands. Inspired, she tweeted at Heinz ketchup, who responded and commented on her status as a Colgate alumna. Following this interaction, she put together a video describing her obsession with ketchup, complete with a hashtag: #NothingGetsBeHeinzMe. As of press time, Heinz has not stepped up to sponsor her, nor have any of their competitors.

As one can imagine, Sass has a black belt in time management — a necessity for anyone juggling multiple careers whilst pursuing creative passions. Her phone is filled with apps that offer reminders and notes, as well as a dry erase board. She responds to emails quickly, lest they are forgotten after a quick glance. There’s no time for procrastinating when you’re as driven as Sass.

When asked if she would walk away from architecture, art, and her other passions if she had the opportunity to be a full-time hockey player, Sass described a scenario which would allow her to keep doing the things that she loves most.

“I feel like I would pursue things in a different order, so that I would not have to give them up,” Sass shared. “If I were playing professionally, I would probably have the chance to focus on my art career a bit more on the side first. And then in retirement, switch to architecture if I wanted to.”

Images courtesy of Kim Sass.
Portions of this interview were edited for clarity and brevity.