The hockey career of Emily Curlett


Emily Curlett carries the puck against Lindenwood. Photo Credit: Nathan Breisinger

By Owen Krepps, Copy Editor / Podcast GM

RMU women’s hockey has been blessed with oodles of talented players that have come through the organization. Jaycee Gebhard, Rebecca Vint, and Brittany Howard are the flashy scorers that everyone remembers. However, Robert Morris has had plenty of talented defenders such as Maggie LaGue and Kirsten Welsh as well.

Currently, in her senior year, Emily Curlett has re-defined what it means to be an offensive defenseman in NCAA women’s hockey. Entering this current season she had 37 career goals which already in three seasons, broke the record for goals by a defender in RMU women’s hockey history. She currently sits 10th in points, 9th in goals, 5th in power-play goals, and 3rd in shots-per-game in RMU women’s hockey all-time stat leaders.

“Curly” grew up in Lapeer, Michigan about two hours north of Detroit in the “thumb of the mitten” of Michigan. Her father, two older brothers, and the cold climate allowed for her hockey upbringing to sprout. Curlett states that her motivation to play hockey came from her family and the exposure she had to the sport growing up.

“I was in skates as early as I could be, I want to say like four, five, or six,” Curlett said. “It was really cool having my dad and my brothers [play hockey] and I think that is the reason why I wanted to play hockey because I saw my older brothers doing it and I wanted to do everything that they did.”

The Curlett family took advantage of the cold Michigan winters and built rinks during the time period when both Emily, her two older brothers, and her father, all were playing hockey. Emily not only played hockey but volleyball, soccer, and softball as well but hockey became her main focus after her junior year of high school.

The Detroit Red Wings were Curlett’s favorite NHL team growing up, and legendary NHL defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is her inspiration for her sweater number of five. She also states that she is a huge fan of Martin St. Louis and Niklas Kronwall.

“I think [the number choice] is because I try to be as calm and poised as Lidstrom but I [still have] a ways to go.”

In states like Michigan, hockey is almost as popular as it is in Canada. Despite this, there was still a lack of women’s hockey in the United States during Curlett’s childhood. This caused her to play alongside the boys in youth hockey, which is something that she states she would never change as it had a positive impact on her development.

“I think it was an extremely important part of me growing up playing hockey and I don’t think I would have changed it at all. If I had a girl right now, I would definitely put her through boys hockey first,” Curlett said. “I think that it really teaches you to be gritty, teaches you to be strong on your feet, and really to just be determined. If anything maybe I might have stayed in boys’ [hockey] longer.”

Currently, the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League) has the majority of professional women’s hockey players. Former RMU women’s hockey players Jaycee Gebhard, Natalie Marcuzzi, and Maggie LaGue have all been drafted into the NWHL however not all are playing in the league. Thanks to more exposure and press with players such as Kendall Coyne, Hilary Knight, and Amanda Kessel, women’s hockey has started to gain momentum towards a sustainable professional league for women’s hockey.

“In my hometown, there was me and one other girl. I had to drive an hour and a half just to get to a girl’s team that was AAA. Definitely, since then, I have seen growth,” she said. “When I went back about three years ago, they actually started a girls team in my hometown and that was very unique. I did not have that experience when I was their age. I can remember getting dressed in bathrooms on an all-boys team because they didn’t have a locker room for me at tournaments.”

Curlett has noticed the uptick in the number of girl’s hockey programs since coming to Robert Morris and cites that as important for the development of girl’s hockey as a whole.

“Coming to Pittsburgh, girl’s hockey is huge. You have girls playing boys all over the place, girls in learn-to-skate, you have women in the adult learn-to-skate classes,” Curlett said. “I think it has grown, I think a lot of that has to do with the exposure we have gotten, and also just the elevated level of play.”

During Curlett’s junior career with Honeybaked and Little Ceasars of the EBHL and HPHL respectively, she was selected to USA Hockey’s Select 66 National Camp in 2016. This camp reaches out to some of the most talented American-born hockey players for both boys and girls hockey. Curlett was a part of the U18 Select Player Development Camp and was coached by some of the most accomplished women’s hockey players in the country such as Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, and Jocelyne Lamoureux. This was the point in Curlett’s career that she realized that she could potentially make a career out of hockey.

“I didn’t realize that Division-I hockey was an option until I was 14 or 15. At that time I had decided to go for it and when I did, I just dedicated myself to it. I didn’t even understand that pro hockey was an option until I got to college when Maggie LaGue got drafted.”

Division-I hockey was an option for Curlett after all, as she committed to Robert Morris University for her 2017 freshman season. On October 20th of that year, she scored her first collegiate goal shorthanded, had an assist, and also added another goal for her first-ever multi-goal game. She became a stalwart on defense joining the likes of Maggie LaGue, Kirsten Welsh, and Sarah Lecavalier to become one of the best defensive corps in NCAA hockey.

One thing that blew everyone away in Curlett’s freshman year was her ability to shoot the puck. Not only does Curlett have one of the most lethal and accurate shots in all of NCAA hockey, but she is not afraid to use it. In her sophomore year, Curlett led the team with 149 shots on net. She claims to have never tested her shot on a speedometer, but it has likely hit the 80 to 90 mile-per-hour range at some point if we are estimating. She also claims that she thinks her shot accuracy is slightly better than her chuck-a-puck accuracy.

“I think I always loved shooting,” she said. “When I was younger, that was the majority of what I spent my time on because I didn’t have anywhere to skate in the summer. I remember shooting 200 pucks a day.”

Every year Curlett has taken a step up role-wise and has become more and more important season after season to the Colonials. She led the NCAA in blocked shots her sophomore year, led the defense of RMU on the powerplay as a quarterback, and her junior year became the all-time leader in franchise goals from a defender with 35.

So far this season, Curlett, now as an alternate captain, has two goals and two assists for four points on the young season. Her overall bubbly personality and leadership skills have helped RMU women’s hockey navigate through this pandemic. Despite everything going on, the end goal for RMU women’s hockey remains the same. A CHA Title.

Curlett, and by extension the rest of this year’s senior class, won the CHA regular-season title in 2017 and 2018. However, this is the first class that was not on RMU women’s hockey’s 2017 CHA Championship. Jaycee Gebhard and Natalie Marcuzzi were the last players on that 2017 CHA Championship team to play for RMU. Curlett states that the motivation behind this season stems from the fact that no one on the current roster has won the CHA title despite getting to the dance a few times.

“Not having won it is a huge motivator,” Curlett said. “You can say you have done it once and that you want to do it again, but I think that not having done it at all and having been so close is the major motivator for us.”

Curlett hopes that in her senior year she can get that CHA Championship after all this time. She also wishes that when she graduates this spring and moves on from Robert Morris, that her overall work ethic is what is remembered the most.

“I really hope that the work ethic that I try to bring to the table is my legacy,” she said. “My attitude has always been to come early and stay late and just do everything as best as I can and do it as much as I can.”

Robert Morris women’s hockey is currently 5-2-1 in this shortened season where only CHA play makes up the regular season. This upcoming weekend the team will travel to Syracuse with matchups on Friday at 7:00 pm and Saturday at 3:00 pm. For more RMU hockey coverage, stay tuned on Colonial Sports Network.

You can listen to the full interview with Emily Curlett here.