At 33, Kiira Dosdall-Arena has seen and played a lot of hockey. But after 11 years and three different leagues, she’s confident there’s nowhere she would rather be than on the ice in the NWHL and with the Metropolitan Riveters.
It wasn’t always that easy though.
The 2008-09 season saw the end of Dosdall-Arena’s eligibility at Colgate University, but the 5’8” blue liner wasn’t ready to hang up her skates just yet. At the time, the CWHL had yet to establish its first and only American franchise (the Boston Blades would come to fruition — and into contention — the next season in 2010), and the obstacle of having to find a day job in a brand new country where she wouldn’t be paid to play was too much of a risk. Determined to find a way to continue her career, though, Dosdall-Arena took a leap of faith and traveled more than 4,000 miles to Austria, where she would become an integral part of a two-time European Women’s Hockey League championship squad with the EHV Sabres.
“It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Dosdall-Arena says of her time in Vienna, where she finished all four of her seasons as the Sabres’ highest-scoring defender. “To be able to play hockey, to come overseas and experience the culture...was just the best of both worlds.”
Playing overseas in a country not known for hockey, however, was far from a perfect experience.
“The immediate difference that stands out to me is just the level of play. The United States and Canada are really like, the center of women’s hockey and growth just in terms of people buying in,” says Dosdall-Arena, and adds that, as an “import,” she was one of the few players on the Sabres roster who actually received a stipend, along with coverage of her housing and flights. The rest of her teammates, many of whom were Austrian natives, weren’t so lucky.
The marketing and fan engagement aspects, which have come to be seen as so pivotal to the growth of women’s hockey in North America, were also lacking in the Austrian market.
“The fans were minimal,” Dosdall-Arena admits, “but there were some super bands, you know, with drums and jerseys.”
Women’s sports teams in the United States are no stranger to drums and least of all to jerseys, but instances of dedicated fandom beyond the friends and families of players were pretty few and far between over in Austria.
After four years with the EHV Sabres, Dosdall-Arena returned to the United States to join the CWHL’s Boston Blades. Though she only played 11 regular season games as a member of the team, it’s a season she remembers fondly, highlighted by the lasting friendships she would form with then-teammates and future NWHL competitors in Jillian Dempsey and Anya Packer (then Battaglino).
“She was an amazing teammate,” Dosdall-Arena says of Dempsey. “Even though she was one of the youngest on the team, she came with 110% to every single practice. ... It’s amazing to have her on your team. So now to be on the other side of the ice after...six years? I’m not at all surprised by that work ethic.”
While Anya Packer suited up for 13 games with the Blades, Dosdall-Arena remembers her and her impact just as fondly. “When I was teammates with [Anya Packer], she was always the one kind of organizing events and bringing the team together and going the extra mile to get the Blades visible to the area ... so I’m not surprised to see her leading the NWHLPA and just being a total trailblazer in the whole movement.”
After one season with the Blades, which ended in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Toronto Furies in the Clarkson Cup Final, Dosdall-Arena retired from professional hockey — or so she thought.
“I lived in New Hampshire, so driving two hours down to Boston was my only option at the time. It was too much — I was head coach of a hockey team at the time and with teaching...it was just too much of a commitment, so I hung up the skates for a year.”
For Dosdall-Arena, that year off from hockey was one of her hardest. Trying to find a purpose for herself outside of hockey was something she had never experienced, and that time off left her feeling lost.
“I felt like there was still such a fire in me to be an athlete and to get stronger and better,” she says. “And when word came out around the NWHL, I was just like, so fired up to be apart of it. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t think about it for more than a second.
“I thought I was hanging up my skates for good,” she admits, speaking to her brief retirement. “And then to have this better opportunity pop up, like it changed my whole direction.”
It truly seemed like the stars had aligned.
For starters, Dosdall-Arena already had plans to move to New York — growing up in Connecticut, the city had always been her home base. When Janine Weber, her best friend and former teammate on the Sabres, signed the first contract in NWHL history to play with the Riveters, Dosdall-Arena knew that she was setting her skates on the right path.
“This was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s a sign,’ you know? Like, I am meant to go to New York. My whole life feels so fulfilled...having this as part of my life, it’s hard to even describe.”
Since then, Dosdall-Arena has become a cornerstone of the Riveters franchise, playing in the red, white, and blue for the entirety of her NWHL career. In July, she became one of the most recent players to commit to the Riveters ahead of season six, and she brings, as we all know, a wealth of experience — and records — to the roster.
As of the end of the 2019-20 season, Dosdall-Arena ranked second all-time in Riveters franchise history in games played (80), penalty minutes (60), and points among blue liners (25). She was apart of the championship Riveters squad in 2018, and was named to the 2020 All-Star Weekend as a member of Team Dempsey.
Looking forward, Dosdall-Arena could not be more excited to get back on the ice with the team she loves.
“Last year I was playing part-time, but I’m excited this season to be full-time. On the ice, twice a week, at all our games, you know, I’m excited. My goal is just to bring 110% on the ice at all times and just ... be a steady, reliable teammate.”
When Dosdall-Arena reflects back on her career — and all the transatlantic red-eye flights and winding turns that have gotten her here — there’s nothing but appreciation for where she’s ended up.
“I’m so grateful every year that I have this opportunity and I don’t want to take one second for granted. ... I just love playing, and I love the Riveters.”