The Arizona-raised, California-born Johnson was one of the more fascinating hockey stories of the 2014-15 hockey season. Before the season, she learned that she had a Chiari malformation, a rare structural condition of the spinal cord and brain that contributes to a tinier than normal space for the brain, pushing it downward.
Mainly, her brain was sitting under the base of her skull. It was something she was born with. She had symptoms all her life, small things such as migraines and pressure headaches. She thought they were a normal part of her life.
Johnson had surgery in September 2015 that she stated opened up some space and eliminated the first vertebrae in her neck so there was more room to breathe.
As hyped as Johnson was about joining the NWHL, Blake Bolden, a Black defenseman for the league champion Boston Pride and a former teammate of Johnson’s at BC, was hyped about the possibility of the two being reunited in Boston.
Johnson said it was great having her by her side and Bolden teaching her all she knows. She felt that it would have been an added bonus for her playing in the NWHL with Bolden. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way. But Bolden is a solid competitor, and she’s excited about playing against her because she’s a good player.
Kaliya Johnson ended up signing as a free agent with the Connecticut Whale of the NWHL.
The NWHL has four teams – the Whale, the Pride, the New York Riveters, and the Buffalo Beauts. Players are paid and the teams stick to a salary cap that was somewhere around $270,000 in its original season.
The salaries aren’t anything to live on. Therefore, players have to get regular employment to supplement their incomes. Still, most, like Kaliya Johnson, are proud to be called a professional hockey player.