Joely Connell is a left wing forward for the Junior Thunderbirds. Courtesy Photo, Jacqueline Connell

Joely Connell is a left wing forward for the Junior Thunderbirds. Courtesy Photo, Jacqueline Connell

Renton player part of national championship girls hockey team

Joely Connell helps lead Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds 16-and-under girls team to title

  • By Bailey Jo Josie bailey.jo.josie@rentonreporter.com
  • Wednesday, April 19, 2023 1:11pm
  • Sports

Only three years after its debut, the Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds 16-and-under (16U) girls hockey team became the first of its division in Washington state to attend the national championship — where the team also became the first girls’ hockey team from Washington state to win the entire competition.

And for the team’s lone Renton player and left-wing forward Joely Connell, who switched from playing coed to the all-girls team when it was created, these achievements are nothing short of an honor.

“I have been playing for 8 years and I connect with the girls’ team,” said Connell, who is a sophomore at Renton High School.

Connell, whose parents met playing hockey in the early 2000s, started learning how to play hockey at the Sno-King Ice Arena in Renton with her two older sisters.

“When I was 7 I said, ‘I want to play hockey’,” Connell recalls, and she hasn’t looked back since.

After learning how to play ice hockey with rented gear from the Renton arena, Connell began playing coed recreational hockey in 2015. She played coed for five years and joined the Sno-King’s 14U AA girls’ team in 2020.

“Sno-King’s first girls’ team only had 11 skaters and one goalie,” Connell said. “I was definitely the worst on the team, but after practicing almost every day with the team, and extra with our awesome coach David Min, I started to get better. Our team that year won districts and got to go to nationals.”

Connell kept improving. Along with being on the No. 1 16U girls’ hockey team in the nation, Connell was made team captain at the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II National Championships and was presented with a gold plate commemorating the history-making victory.

The 16U girls Junior Thunderbirds played a total of six games from March 30 to April 3, with only one loss. Before that, the team was undefeated at Pacific Districts, winning all four games.

In the wake of their major wins, the Junior Thunderbirds were invited to a Seattle Kraken’s hockey game at Climate Pledge Arena as well as a Seattle Thunderbirds game a week later at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent.

“We got to sit in a suite to watch the game, it was pretty cool,” said Connell.

When her team isn’t winning districts or nationals, Connell focuses on high school track and training for the next hockey season, saying she wants to play collegiate hockey at a university in the Midwest.

“I practice with my awesome team and coaches three times a week. In addition, I train with my outside coach and mentor, Molly Vandermoon, three times a week on ice and in the gym,” says Connell, who also plays three-on-three hockey with her father. “I do all this for my love of the game and in hopes to play college hockey.”

Connell’s plans include leveling up to be part of Sno-King’s first girls’ U19 AA team. “Everyone’s now competitive at that age and this team is a higher-skill team,” Connell said.


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The Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds became national champions in the 16U Tier II girls division. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Connell.

The Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds became national champions in the 16U Tier II girls division. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Connell.

Joely Connell holds a plate at Nationals after her team became #1 in their division. Courtesy Photo, Jacqueline Connell

Joely Connell holds a plate at Nationals after her team became #1 in their division. Courtesy Photo, Jacqueline Connell

The Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds were special guests at a Seattle Kraken game after their championship win. Courtesy Photo, Jacqueline Connell

The Sno-King Junior Thunderbirds were special guests at a Seattle Kraken game after their championship win. Courtesy Photo, Jacqueline Connell

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