Eva Erickson is a first-year PHYS. She hails from Eagan, Minnesota. Over the next four years, she plans to study the motion of animals to help the military build advanced technology. She is also the first ever woman to make Tech’s hockey team.
That often comes as a surprise to her classmates. “Whenever I’m meeting people, everyone’s always like, ‘oh, what sorority are you in?’ I’m like, ‘actually, I’m on the men’s hockey team.’” The shock, she says, is twofold; people are not only surprised that Tech has a hockey team but also that a girl would want to play hockey, a sport whose most well-known stars worldwide are generally men.
But the sport was a significant part of Erickson’s life since she was a kid. She played her first match at age six, and in hockey-crazed Minnesota, there were plenty of teams around. She says “most people [in Minnesota] have played” some form of the sport at some point in their lives. Erickson credits her father, himself a former hockey player, as a guiding influence. “He’s always giving me pointers, talking to me off the ice about what I need to get better on and definitely acting like a coach even though he’s never actually been an official coach,” she says.
Erickson soon made a name for herself as a star defenseman. While the nature of her position meant she rarely scored goals — her first varsity score in high school came in her senior year — she took pride in a gritty style of play. “I really pride myself on being a shutdown defenseman, just being able to stay in position in front of the net and body people out,” she says. And that style of play helped her team reach the state championships, which were played at the Xcel Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.
While some athletes from Erickson’s community became Division I hockey players, her sights were turned to Georgia Tech. Tech’s academics appealed to her, and the research conducted on its campus aligned perfectly with her interests. Knowing that Tech did not have an NCAA-sanctioned women’s hockey team, though, she knew that she might need to press the pause button on her career in organized hockey.
That changed when Erickson posted a biography of herself in a Facebook group while looking for a roommate for her freshman dorm. “I said that hockey was a huge part of my life and I wanted to continue playing, but I know there’s not really a way for me to do that. Multiple players who were on the team reached out to me and said, ‘No, you should actually try out for the men’s team.’”
So Erickson did, although things did not go according to plan. Because of a mix-up at the ice rink, no tryout participant got practice time, so Erickson took the ice having not laced up her skates in a month — an intimidating experience. “I felt like the boys were all going to be bigger and faster than me, because in Minnesota, the quality of boy’s hockey versus girl’s hockey is very different.”
To her surprise, she was able to keep up. Over the course of practice, she found her groove. In one-on-one defending drills, she stopped four of five attacks. By the end, she was on the team.
Things do not get easier for Eva Erickson now. At 5-foot-4, she will almost always be the smallest player on the rink. The physical style of play that worked so well before will need to change. She sees victories in progress. “I know that I’m not going to get the stats. I probably won’t get very much ice time … but just, knowing, getting off the ice from a shift, that I played well: that’s the feeling I want from this season.”
For Erickson, the first of her kind with Tech hockey, there’s little standing in her way to make that feeling a reality.