The Calgary Inferno made history when they selected 32-year-old Claudia Tellez in the eighth round of the 2016 CWHL Draft. Tellez did not play CIS or NCAA hockey. She was not playing hockey overseas in Austria, Sweden, or Russia.
Tellez is one of the best players on the Mexico Women’s National Team. A hockey program that just started in 2012.
The Inferno invited 33 players, including Tellez, to their training camp before the beginning of the 2016-17 regular season. Calgary’s forward depth has been their greatest strength. With holes to fill on the blue line the Inferno selected just four forwards with ten picks in the draft. Tellez had the odds stacked her in camp before she ever stepped onto the ice.
But that didn’t keep her from turning heads.
“We were pleasantly surprised with several players that we didn’t have a lot of background with prior to the draft,” Inferno general manager Jeff Stevenson told Today’s SlapShot. “Up front Claudia Tellez from Mexico was a player that we knew had the work ethic to be a pro, but beyond that we didn’t know what to expect. There was a lot to like about her game. She was strong on the puck, caused havoc in front of the net and she wouldn’t quit on any play.”
Stevenson’s comments echo the scouting report on Tellez. Almost everyone who has seen her play has commented on her tenacity and strength. Tellez stands at 5’6″, but she plays like a wrecking ball with the puck. Her game is raw but there is real talent there. Tellez traded in her inline skates for ice skates just four years ago.
“There is still work to be done on [Tellez’s] game, particularly with her skating,” Stevenson shared. “But that is to be expected since she only transitioned four years ago from roller hockey.”
Tellez is older than the vast majority of players in the CWHL and NWHL, but she is still actively working on her game. She readily admits that she needs to work on her speed and skating. Tellez applied for the CWHL Draft because she believed that skating with CWHL talent would improve her game. But her ultimate goal is growing the game in her home country.
“It would be something historic for Mexico, and perhaps even for Latin America, if a Mexican player played in the CWHL,” Tellez told Kate Cimini in an interview for Excelle Sports. “I think that players could emerge [if they played] there. That’s where my interest lies. I’ll do whatever I can to promote and support ice hockey in my country.”
Tellez is currently listed as one the 15 players on the Inferno’s reserve roster. Her choppy strides and lack of speed kept her off of Calgary’s main roster. But her nose for the net, fire for the game and unlikely origin story has the world of women’s hockey talking. And her performance at training camp has the Inferno keeping close tabs on their eighth round pick.
“We’ve asked her to work on a few areas and plan to follow up on her progress as she tries to lead Mexico in their qualification rounds for the Olympics,” Stevenson shared. “There is a chance she could crack our roster one day.”
In the first round of Olympic qualifying games, Tellez scored three goals and added three assists in two games. She and Joanna Rojas, a 16-year-old forward, helped Mexico dismantle Hong Kong and Turkey in Group J this month. Mexico named Tellez their player of the game for the team’s 11-5 victory over Turkey on Oct. 9. She scored a goal, picked up two assists, and put seven shots on net.
The next step for Tellez and Mexico’s women’s national team is another round of Olympic qualifiers in Kazhakstan. Mexico, the 26th ranked team, needs to be one of two teams that emerge from Group G to stay on the long road to PyeongChang 2018. They will cross sticks with Great Britain, Poland and 18th ranked Kazhakstan in early November.
The odds that Tellez will skate in the 2018 Olympics are against her, just like they were in Calgary’s camp. But each game played is a victory in itself for Tellez and her teammates. Each game is another brick in the foundation of women’s ice hockey in Mexico.