The 25-year-old Thunder Bay native is one of more than 200 female professional players who recently vowed not to play in North America next season in the wake of the May 1 demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL).
The player boycott – which also includes some players from the still-operational National Women’s Hockey League (the CWHL’s American sister league) – was launched in an attempt to raise awareness and rally support for the establishment of a single, economically viable professional league for women.
“We’re not asking for millions of dollars, we’re just asking for something we can live off so we can train and not have to worry about where our gas money to get to the rink is going to come from,” said Makela, who’s made the commute from her home in Newmarket to the Furies’ home ice at the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence in south Etobicoke over her last two seasons with the team.
Unlike their male counterparts, Makela said she and the vast majority of her teammates juggle full-time jobs with their hockey commitments just to make ends meet. When it folded earlier this month, the not-for-profit CWHL was reportedly paying the players on each of its six teams an annual stipend ranging from just $2,000 to $10,000.
“I have to pay for pretty much all of my own equipment. That’s not professional hockey,” Makela added. “We want something that we can be proud of to call professional hockey.”
With a desire to make a better life for herself and her four-year-old Golden Retriever, Charlie, the Mercyhurst University graduate said she was determined to make the best of the yearlong boycott by returning to school and honing her natural talent for graphic design at Toronto Film School.
“Originally, I really didn’t want to go back to school, but…I decided, why not apply?” said Makela, who previously studied Exercise Science while playing for the NCAA Division 1 Mercyhurst Lakers in Erie, Pennsylvania, and is now enrolled to commence studies in TFS’s Graphic Design & Interactive Media Diploma come October.
“I’ll be on my year off, so this is the perfect time to do it. Things just kind of fell into place.”
For Makela, graphic design first emerged as a passion when she began taking on the creative task of designing her own goalie masks – the most recent incarnation of which was painted by David Arrigo and incorporates everything from a touching tribute to her late, WWII veteran grandfather, to the ‘Focus, Focus, Focus’ mantra espoused by her very first goalie coach, to a gaggle of the cartoon Minions she’s currently “obsessed” with.
“I can sit on my computer for hours PhotoShopping goalie masks and stuff like that, and I realized I really had a passion for it and I definitely had an interest,” she explained, noting that she previously designed her own masks when she was playing for the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts (2015-16) and the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes de Montréal (2016-17).
“I watched some videos about what you can do with graphic design, and it was so interesting to me – I got a new passion for it.”
Makela also saw the potential to incorporate her interest in design into her day job as a goalie coach for both McGuire Goaltending + Hockey Development and M-Power Hockey, as well as her own independent endeavor, MakGoaltending, which provides off-ice training camps for young female goalies.
“Once I started coaching a little bit more…I realized I had to do all these posters, I had to do marketing, I had to create a logo – and I really enjoyed doing that,” she said.
“One day I was showing my friend, and she said, ‘You know what, you have some really good ideas. You should look into graphic design.’”
Taking that advice to heart, Makela began researching local graphic design programs, and TFS’s Graphic Design & Interactive Media Diploma immediately jumped to the head of the pack.
Within the span of just a few days, Makela had reached out and made contact with a TFS admissions advisor, visited TFS’s Davisville Campus for a tour of the graphic design facilities, informally met some of the faculty, and learned all she could about the 12-month program.
Taught by a faculty of industry-active designers whose own portfolios boast work for such brands as Hudson’s Bay, Canada Post, the TTC, and Indigo Books, the TFS program is designed to prepare students to “think critically and execute visual solutions across print, digital platforms and motion graphics.”
But it was its focus on creativity, Makela said, that ultimately sold her on attending TFS over rival programs elsewhere.
“I loved it. It was super cool to see some videos of what people have done from Toronto Film School, where they’ve moved on to, different pieces of artwork that they’ve done,” she said, noting that she’s looking forward to getting started in October.
“I thought it would be a great experience to be able to do all that, and I’m really excited to get going.”
As for her post-TFS plans, Makela’s aim after graduating is to secure full-time employment in the graphic design industry she’s grown so passionate about – a job that would provide her with the security and liveable income her life in hockey has deprived her of.
That way, she can focus all her off-hours on her own hockey career, while simultaneously helping to usher in a whole new world for the female hockey stars of tomorrow she currently coaches.
It wasn’t until stepping out onto the ice for the first time as a professional female hockey player, Makela said, that she realized the true impact she and her teammates were making on the generations of young players waiting to follow in their footsteps.
“That first game, we went out with all these girls screaming, giving us high fives, and I remember one of the coaches saying to them ‘That’s going to be you someday’ – that’s when it really hit me that this is way bigger than ourselves,” she said.
“What we’re going right now with the CWHL and NWHL, it’s to create better hockey for future generations…Just seeing that passion from those girls and being able to be somebody involved in this transition towards making a sustainable league – one where girls can make a living wage – is just something really cool to be a part of.”