Cactus Shadows’ Carlee Turner hits the top shelf

Writer Tom Scanlon

 
Around Cactus Shadows High School, Carlee Turner is known as, “That girl who goes away for half the year and then shows up again.” Around Vermont, Carlee is known more simply as “hockey star.”

Carlee spent roughly half of the last four years in Stowe, Vermont, studying and playing hockey at the North American Hockey Academy (NAHA). She blossomed this year, taking on the role of team captain and leading NAHA in goals and points. In perhaps her shining moment, she was on a partial breakaway, being dragged down by a defenseman, yet managed to lift a shot over the goalie into the top right corner (“top shelf”) of the net. Her skills and dedication earned her a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, which has a strong hockey tradition.

Just before leaving Vermont to finish her schooling at Cactus Shadows, Carlee attended the Junior World Hockey League awards ceremony, where she heard her name announced as the Liz Turgeon “Player of the Year” Award winner. The award is named after a star player who died in a 2010 car accident.

“Carlee embodies the many qualities that Liz brought to her team and our league, and as leader and captain of the NAHA White team,” reads the announcement on jwhl.org.

“As a player, Carlee brings a passion and compete-level that is reminiscent of Liz, pouring herself into her shifts and relishing the responsibility of leading her team.”

After five months away from home, spending much of her time shuttling to games around the frozen Northeast and Canada, Carlee sat at a North Scottsdale outdoor cafe, relishing a beautiful April day. Snow is pretty, but … “The cold — I can’t deal with it sometimes,” Carlee says, with a sigh of relief. “It’s nice to be back here; it’s warm. I come back and I’m pale. I’m paste white.”

She’s been sending her hockey friends pool pictures, enjoying hikes and soaking up the sun.

Wait, time out! How was a hockey star born and raised in sunny, sizzling North Scottsdale and Cave Creek, where ice is what you have in your drink, not what you have under your skates?

Laughing and brushing back her long brown hair, the ingénue Carlee (no black eyes or hockey scars) notes the family tree started in the land of hockey: Canada.

“Both my parents are from Vancouver and my dad grew up playing hockey,” she says. “They moved down here when my brother was young. My brother, Keenan, started playing hockey. He’s four years older. When I was a baby, I would be at the rink most of the time. I grew up there. I kind of grew up wanting to be like my brother.”

The Ice Den in Scottsdale became her home away from home, where she honed her passing and shooting skills under the wing of Keenan, who played through high school and gave his kid sister tips. In her early teens, Carlee was at a hockey camp when she was recruited by NAHA coaches to come to Vermont. After a family visit, “My parents knew it was a good place and that their 14-year-old daughter was going to be safe there,” Carlee says. “The coaches were like parent figures.”

Even so, letting Carlee go off to hockey school was difficult.

“[It was] the hardest thing her dad and I have ever had to do, putting her on a plane at Sky Harbor Airport at age 14 and letting her fly to Vermont,” her mother, Caroline, recalls. “Lots and lots of tears, I assure you, as we are a very close family. But we did it, as it was what she really wanted and she could not achieve her dream by staying here in Arizona. So we took a step back and did what we thought was best for her and what she wanted, and it’s all paid off.”

Even with an intense hockey schedule and a somewhat chaotic life split between Vermont and Cactus Shadows, Carlee has maintained a straight-A performance in school. Her father is Dr. Kevin Turner, who has a family practice in Glendale. His daughter just might follow his footsteps into medicine.

“Nothing is for certain, but I have always been a science kid; I really like the biologies,” Carlee says. “I may want to take a pre-med route.”

Until she goes away again, Carlee has a few weeks to finish her high school education, capping a surreal, bi-coastal schooling. She returned to Cactus Shadows in early March, having to shift gears from the hockey world to regular high school.

“They’re total opposites,” she says of her two schools, “so it’s hard to fit back in. But my friends say, ‘Oh, you’re back!’ It’s nice. They ask how the season was, and I tell them it was great.”

She’s too modest to brag about her accomplishments, so few around North Scottsdale and Cave Creek know the truth about Carlee Turner: she’s one of the top young women hockey players in the country.

And a couple of years from now, if you tune into the 2018 Olympic Games, you just might see Carlee playing for the United States team.

“It’s a huge, huge goal,” Carlee says. “Something I’ll keep working and driving for throughout my career.”

Whatever this 18-year-old shoots for after graduation, it won’t surprise Carlee’s mother if she reaches her lofty goals.

“She’s a great kid,” Caroline says. “Very smart and focused and has a bright future, for sure.”

Top shelf, all the way.

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