Saying a woman is powerful in the game of hockey today can mean so many different things.
It can mean she laces up the skates, elevates the competition, and empowers others to follow suit. It can mean she strides into an office and takes her seat at the decision-makers’ table. It can mean she calls the shots in a broadcast booth or a boardroom. However it’s earned and then exercised, though, having power is about bringing people together, generating ideas that push the game forward and holding the keys to the future.
Hockey is always changing, so it should be no surprise that the barriers and boundaries around who wields power in the sport have changed, too. In 1956, a nine-year-old named Abby Hoffman had to cut her hair — and trim her name — so teammates and opponents wouldn’t know “Ab” was actually a girl. Today, girls hockey is one of the fastest-growing sports in North America and women are hitting the ice at NHL All-Star Weekend.
That progress would never have been possible without women like Angela James, Angela Ruggiero, Margaret “Digit” Murphy, Sami Jo Small, Shannon Szabados and so many others like them. Those trailblazers changed the game on the ice, in the spotlight and behind the scenes — in some cases, in ways we perhaps don’t even fully realize just yet. And so, with a nod to all the women who came before, we’ve put together a list of the players, coaches and executives who follow their example and continue to work for progress — the most powerful women in hockey today.
This list is meant as a celebration, a way to highlight the incredible achievements women are making in hockey right now, in all parts of the sport. It’s a pause to appreciate, but also hopefully to inspire and rejuvenate, because there’s plenty more work to be done. Let’s keep moving forward.
ON JAN. 24, 20 of the best women’s hockey players on the planet gathered in St. Louis for a game of 3-on-3 on the NHL all-star stage. That doesn’t happen without Kendall Coyne Schofield.
One year earlier in San Jose, Coyne Schofield became the first woman to compete in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, completing the Fastest Lap event in a blazing-fast 14.346 seconds. It was clear, even in her first three explosive strides, that what Coyne Schofield did that night was about so much more than a lap around the rink. In just over 14 seconds, she accomplished what her predecessors and peers have been fighting for their entire careers: she created a platform, a voice, an opportunity and a spotlight under which to shine.
And what she’s done with that platform in the two years since has made the Team USA captain the most powerful woman in hockey today.
She won gold at the 2019 women’s world championship with the most dominant American squad we’ve ever seen, now the Goliath of women’s hockey to Canada’s David. She established a direct line into hockey fans’ homes as a colour commentator on NBC Sports’ Sharks coverage, and is starring in national ad campaigns. And she played (and continues to play) a central role in the standoff dividing women’s professional hockey as a major force in the establishment of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association — a group of 200 of the world’s best players who’ve opted to hold out from playing professionally in North America while fighting for a new league they believe would be more sustainable than anything currently in existence. The PWHPA is one of the key drivers of the conversation around the state of the women’s game, and Coyne Schofield is the president of its players’ board. She is living proof of what can happen when you give an elite athlete the stage she deserves.
We know her name. We see her skill. We’re flocking to NHL rinks to see her play.
She’s got young girls the world over picking up the game for the first time and dreaming about being as fast as her, and she’s working tirelessly alongside her hometown Chicago Blackhawks to make that happen.
When Coyne Schofield skates, we watch. When she leads, peers follow. When she speaks, we listen. Now that’s power.
“HOW DO WE ensure that as we grow we have a welcoming culture and we have the right conditions for people to not just survive, but thrive?”
That’s just one of the many questions Kim Davis asks when she looks around the NHL. Her official title is a long one, but it still only scratches the surface of her many responsibilities in the league and across the hockey world.
Her domain is expansive, and starts where hockey does: at the grassroots level, in small-town rinks. Since joining the league office in November 2017, Davis has worked closely with organizations up and down what she calls “the hockey spine” and guided NHL franchises, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada in their efforts to cultivate more diverse and inclusive environments, from their fanbases right up to front offices.
If the NHL is hockey’s north star, Davis is the one ensuring it lights a path for all to follow, “really setting the right tone and example across the sport of hockey as it relates to creating and ensuring that we have a welcoming environment,” she says.
IN 2015, Dani Rylan did something no one in hockey has ever done: she created a professional women’s circuit in the United States that actually pays its players, the National Women’s Hockey League.
A lot has happened since then. Rylan’s recruited and lost big-name players, kept her doors open when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League closed and shuttered its own, signed a lucrative deal with Twitch to broadcast games online that’s brought in six million views this season, sold-out rinks, introduced a revolutionary revenue-sharing system, and stuck by her guns and stood strong in the face of the PWHPA’s efforts to advocate for one league — a league not named the NWHL.
To some, Rylan represents hope for women dreaming of playing professional hockey in North America. To others, she’s the exact opposite, as many believe the existence of the NWHL is the one thing holding up the creation of an NHL-backed women’s league. She’s a lightning rod on both sides. (It’s worth noting that the NHL has not explicitly stated that a women’s league would be in the works either way.)
That a 32-year-old woman from Tampa Bay built a league from scratch and has kept it afloat for five years is an incredible display of power in hockey. That she’s not folding in the face of unthinkable pressure to do so is another.
Regardless of which side of the women’s hockey divide you land on, Rylan’s power is undeniable, and her next move will tell us a lot about where the game is going.
AS HOCKEY EVOLVES, so too does its fanbase. It’s Heidi Browning’s job to not just keep up, but set the pace when it comes to how we watch, discuss, and relate to the NHL and its players. Browning is always on the hunt for new ways to market the game and to reach — and keep — new and younger audiences.
She knows that in order to lead, you must listen — and that’s exactly what she’s doing with NHL Power Players, a recently created program that enlists the help of 13- to 17-year-olds from all areas and backgrounds in North America to spark ideas for how the league can best serve an audience that increasingly follows individual athletes instead of teams. Her findings have led her to spearhead more content created around players’ personalities, removing the gear and helmets and allowing fans a first-hand look at the life of a pro hockey player. And it’s not just about audiences — Browning works across the NHL to help elevate its players, giving them a voice and building their own brands.
LEADING THE BUFFALO SABRES back into contention is proving to be a tough task (understatement), but Kim Pegula has never been one to back down from a challenge. As president and CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, she is president of both the Buffalo Sabres and the NFL’s Buffalo Bills — the only woman to hold the position in either league.
Pegula has worked hard to cultivate a strong fan experience, which has seen her direct the building of new facilities and events befitting the city’s passionate fanbase — the newly renamed LECOM Harborcenter, for example, which has been home to the NHL Scouting Combine since 2015 and will continue to host through 2022.
Pegula also has the power to shape women’s hockey in Buffalo. Under her guidance and financial backing, the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts were considered a model franchise. With access to Sabres facilities and marketing efforts, the Beauts played at Harborcenter until Pegula relinquished control of the team back to the league last May (a move she says was not related to the PWHPA’s holdout, despite the timing).
Pegula also chairs a special NHL council dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion at league and club levels.
SHE’S ONE OF the most recognizable faces in hockey, a household name across Canada, and a vibrant personality in a game that’s looking to showcase more of exactly that.
The Force is strong with this one.
— NHL (@NHL) January 30, 2020
Natalie Spooner is everywhere, and the game is all the better for it. The two-time Olympian is a strong representation of what it means to be an athlete today. It’s no longer just about skill. It’s also about charisma, being accessible to fans and offering a glimpse into the life of an athlete.
Spooner’s 37,800 Twitter followers and 66,800 Instagram followers make her one of the most-followed women’s hockey players, and her presence in and around the game has also made her a strong brand ambassador for a long list of sponsors. She’s no stranger to media appearances, either, whether it’s breaking down NHL action between periods on Sportsnet broadcasts or guesting on prominent hockey podcasts.
— Natalie Spooner (@natspooner5) February 15, 2020
She’s gained visibility and built her brand through non-hockey endeavors, too, competing on season two of The Amazing Race Canada (partnered with teammate Meaghan Mikkelson) and Battle of the Blades.
It’s a been a while since I’ve…. Ice danced! #floss https://t.co/jnIW3ZLa6Q
— Natalie Spooner (@natspooner5) January 27, 2020
Sometimes we forget this, so it’s worth the reminder: Hockey is fun. And when Spooner’s on the ice, she looks like she’s having a blast.
Nurse & Spooner interacting before the 3 on 3 game is the wholesome content everyone deserves to see today
“Are we actually here?”
“Spooner… you’re here” pic.twitter.com/rRdJuyGXAk
— Alyssa Turner (@aturnz11) February 8, 2020
“EVERYONE HEARD BOB COLE and Harry Neale for years,” says Cassie Campbell-Pascall. “And then, all of a sudden, there was a female voice.”
Campbell-Pascall was one game into a new job as a host on Hockey Night in Canada when she got the last-minute call to fill in for legendary broadcaster Harry Neale. That many hockey fans now know her by her voice alone is a testament to the power she holds in the game, but her commentary isn’t the only way she’s helping call the shots. Her impact can still be felt through her work as a consultant to the Canadian national team and she’s used her platform to weigh in on the state of the women’s game. She has also long pushed for women to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and in 2018 became the first woman appointed to the selection committee.
Campbell-Pascall is a strong representative of the wave of progress that’s washed over broadcast booths everywhere. Fellow former Olympians A.J. Mleczko (NBC, MSG), Jennifer Botterill (MSG Islanders), and Tessa Bonhomme (TSN) have also become household names for hockey fans, and the list of female hosts, storytellers, and commentators — think Christine Simpson (Sportsnet), Tara Slone (Rogers Hometown Hockey), Kathryn Tappen (NBC), Amrit Gill (Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi), and Caley Chelios (Tampa Bay Lighting radio) — is constantly growing.
IT’S BEEN ALMOST a year since Jayna Hefford sent shockwaves through the hockey world by announcing the closure of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League after 12 seasons, citing an unsustainable business model. Now, one of the greatest women’s hockey players ever is hoping that, despite that setback, her post-playing legacy can be even greater.
“Having to deliver that [news] to the players was not an easy thing,” Hefford says. “But I think also there was always a sense of optimism that things were going to be better because of it … In many ways, as difficult as it was, it really created this window of opportunity to do something.”
That something is the PWHPA, and empowered by its members, Hefford is the face of the Association. As its players hold themselves out of the NWHL, Hefford and her team have worked tirelessly to give them weekly ice time, organize showcase events to spread awareness of the game and their cause, and partner with NHL clubs to amplify their message.
“People think it’s just about being a professional athlete and making millions of dollars — and that’s the furthest thing from what we’re trying to do. It’s really about having proper medical care, about having proper health insurance, about not having to practice at 10:30 at night. Having a great facility that has adequate training rooms and showers and towels and all that sort of stuff,” Hefford says. “It seems little, but it all adds up into the infrastructure around it.”
OVER THE COURSE of her nine-year career with the NHLPA, Maria Dennis has continually worked to ensure the NHL acts with players’ health and safety front of mind. She’s also been heavily involved in the development of various health- and technology-related programs available to players and teams and has had a seat at the table during crucial CBA negotiations.
A long-time champion of women in hockey, Dennis continues to work hard to normalize women in positions of power. “If someone says, ‘I met the CEO of a Fortune 500 company,’ someone will automatically assume that it’s a man,” says Dennis. “I’m waiting for that assumption to just not pop up in someone’s mind.”
She’s not waiting idly. Her latest project is the recently-formed NHL/NHLPA Female Hockey Advisory Committee, which she chairs. The 11-woman committee, which includes Hall of Famer Angela James, long-time Chicago Blackhawks staffer Annie Camins and player-turned-coach Kelsey Koelzer, is also making a big difference around the league with the Female Hockey Ambassador Program, which enables teams to bring a female hockey mentor to events and gives young girls access to a visible role model at the rink.
STACY WILSON. CASSIE CAMPBELL. Hayley Wickenheiser. Caroline Ouellette. In 2018, Marie-Philip Poulin joined that list as the next Captain Canada, another strong leader in a sport with a rich history of them.
With back-to-back golden goals on the Olympic stage in 2010 and 2014 (and nearly another in 2018), Poulin’s name was already written into the history books, but since she’s shown it should be there in all-caps. Highlight it. Underline it and make it bold. Just go ahead and put her in the Hall of Fame, already.
To grasp No. 29’s power in the game, you need only look at her resume. Her poise under pressure and ability to deliver in the biggest situations makes her an all-time great at just 28. And her willingness to step up and demand change makes her an important figure with the power to propel the PWHPA’s message forward.
Now, her mission as leader on one side of hockey’s most intense rivalry is to propel Canada back atop the podium.
SUSAN COHIG ISN’T in the spotlight much, but her work often is. Cohig has been with the league for more than 20 years and is heavily involved in the business of the NHL, with responsibilities that span licensing and marketing, sales and finance, partnerships and broadcasting, and beyond.
Take NHL expansion, for example. That the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the best success stories in league history is due in part to Cohig’s work to help launch the franchise. She’s now a crucial part of the onboarding process for NHL Seattle, which is set to make its on-ice debut in 2021. Should the NHL step in and form a WNHL, as the PWHPA hopes, Cohig would very likely be heavily involved in its launch, too.
She has also been integral in the NHL’s efforts to elevate women’s players and give them a stage on NHL ice. She was a driving force in involving women in All-Star Festivities over the past few years, bringing in the players and providing them an opportunity to shine on the NHL stage, and was also a driving force in establishing the successful Canada-USA Rivalry Series the past two years.
SINCE SHE WALKED into a nearly empty office last July, Alexandra Mandrycky, the first front-office hire in Seattle’s hockey operations department, has been building the foundation of the NHL’s newest team and surrounding herself with a smart, diverse group of talented hockey professionals.
“Ultimately, diverse teams leads to diverse thoughts. This is not a ‘Yes Man’ kind of culture,” says Mandrycky, who points out the franchise’s mission to hire a front office with a 50/50 gender split. “We want people that are going to challenge the tradition.”
In Mandrycky, Seattle has a rising star who’s doing exactly that. She’s one of the brightest minds in hockey with a sharp focus on analytics, first noticed by NHL brass for her work launching War-on-Ice.com and then during her tenure as a hockey operations analyst with the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s such an exciting challenge because we really get to lay the foundation, we get to create the culture,” Mandrycky says of the new Seattle club. “Not all teams even have an analytics staff, or technology staff, so to be able to have that as part of the fabric of the hockey operations department, really from the beginning, I think is going to give us a really big competitive advantage.”
CANADA’S FIRST (and currently only) female NHLPA-certified player agent holds the keys to two of the most notable players in the nation right now: Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin and 2020’s top NHL Draft prospect Alexis Lafrenière.
“We don’t just negotiate contracts, we accompany them in their lives and that’s probably the best part of the job,” Castonguay says. “It’s growing with that family and watching them realize their dream that makes it all worth it for us.”
Castonguay signed Poulin in 2015 and helped her become one of the most-sponsored women’s hockey players in the game while embracing her power as the face of women’s hockey in Canada. “It’s something that I felt was important because I was getting involved in the men’s world and I played hockey myself so I know what the women go through,” she says. “It was important for me to make sure that Marie-Philip was able to live the life of a pro … So for us, it was about getting sponsors to be aware of that, and they answered the call.”
MEGHAN CHAYKA IS a leading voice at the intersection of technology and sports — two traditionally male-dominated fields. With Stathletes, the data and analytics company she launched in 2010, Chayka is altering the way we watch games and analyze performances, and helping those who build teams evaluate prospects and construct rosters.
“There’s different use cases for data and analytics in sports. I think it’s a process of education and connecting the dots for communicating with management, coaches and players,” Chayka says. “It can be used as a competitive advantage with alignment of staff working towards a similar goal. Analytics can be used in leagues, media, and the growing digital world to attract more fans. It’ll be an important part of the future of hockey.
There’s still a long way to go when it comes to bringing more women into stats roles, but Chayka is lending her voice to the cause. “I feel like I’ve won [personally], but the war is never over in terms of where are not only women accepted but where are they wanted,” she says.
SHE’S THE GOAT when it comes to women’s hockey in the United States, having put a face and a name (and a gold medal) to so many young hockey-loving girls’ dreams back in 1998, and now the Hall-of-Famer and broadcaster is lending her expertise to a new area of the game as a pro scout with Seattle’s expansion franchise, the first woman to hold such a position in the NHL.
“Now, you’ll hear women and girls say ‘I want to be a scout,’” says Seattle director of hockey operations Alexandra Mandrycky. “[But] it’s a job that you never even thought was possible.”
It feels like we’re at the beginning of what could be a wave of new talent and fresh perspectives in scouting with women starting to come into the fold in departments across the NHL. In August 2018, Noelle Needham, co-founder of Legend Hockey, became the first female full-time amateur scout in the NHL when she was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Anaheim Ducks — who, as The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman has pointed out, had a female scouting coordinator in the 1990s in Angela Gorgone — recently hired Gabriella Switaj as an analyst and amateur scout. And Blake Bolden, former NWHL forward, was just announced as the latest addition to the Los Angeles Kings’ scouting staff.
Granato is leading the way and opening doors for others to follow suit.
OVER THE COURSE of her 23-year playing career, Hayley Wickenheiser set the standard for women’s hockey in Canada. Now, as the four-time gold medallist and all-time Team Canada points leader embarks on her second career, she continues to set the bar high and lead the way for others to follow. It didn’t take long after her retirement for the Toronto Maple Leafs to scoop up the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer as their assistant director of player development — at the time, the highest hockey operations role held by a woman. The job sees her monitor the development of prospects in the WHL from her home base in Calgary, and work with Maple Leafs and AHL Marlies players on the ice a few times a month in Toronto. (All while balancing her medical school obligations, too.) She also continues to inspire young girls and women every year with her hockey festival, known as WickFest, which has inspired tens of thousands to lace up the skates.
WHETHER YOU DREAM of going pro or are just looking to keep making it out to a weekly game of shinny, you’re benefiting from the work of Mary-Kay Messier.
In her role at the helm of Bauer Hockey’s global marketing initiatives, Messier is always looking for the next wave of talented athletes to endorse and seeking new and innovative ways to grow the game — whether at the grassroots level with the First Shift program partnered with the NHL or in showcasing the latest gear on hockey’s biggest stage.
Messier’s passion for the women’s game also means that as she pushes the sport forward she’s making every effort to ensure women aren’t left behind. Her efforts include helping develop and promote a line of women’s protective gear and making sure sponsored female athletes get equal billing to their male counterparts in promotional materials.
“We need to create an appreciation for the power of these women and also the excellence of what they bring to the game,” she says. “So, by creating content and including them in global campaigns, it really helps to provide exposure.”
Her actions with Bauer Hockey also show that there’s a corporate appetite for advocacy, and that supporting women is a smart business plan, too.
“Hockey really needs women at every level,” says Messier. “They need girls in the grassroots to ensure growth. They need the female athletes at the highest level for kids to aspire to. And they need women in all the different business leadership positions to bring a different perspective to the business and continue to drive to elevate and advance all levels – not just women’s [hockey] but across the board.”
WITH FOUR CONSECUTIVE world championship victories and Olympic gold in 2018 on her mantle, former U.S. national women’s team director Reagan Carey pretty clearly led the Americans to the top of the international hockey world.
It’s Katie Million’s job to keep them there. No pressure.
Million took over in February 2019, shortly after Carey stepped down. She brings more than two decades of sports management expertise to the role, and is already off to a strong start. Under Million, the U.S. women won their fifth-straight world championship gold and were dominant in this season’s Canada-USA Rivalry Series. Carey’s fingerprints are still all over the roster, of course, but we should start to see more of Million’s moves soon. She’s injecting youth into the lineup, adding a few fresh faces ahead of the 2020 Women’s World Championship, and will have a full Olympic cycle to prepare her team to defend gold once the 2022 Games roll around.
GINA KINGSBURY KNOWS what it takes to win on the international stage – she did it twice as a player, taking home Olympic gold in 2006 and 2010. Now she’s tasked with getting Canada back atop the women’s hockey world.
Kingsbury was hand-picked by legendary long-time coach and general manager Melody Davidson to take over the program. Davidson, who is now a scout for Team Canada, first approached Kingsbury a few years prior to stepping down and helped groom the young player-turned-executive for the role before handing the reins over in 2018.
Unlike her U.S. counterpart, Million, Kingsbury’s had a bit of a bumpy start. After winning the first edition of the Canada-USA Rivalry Series, the Canucks won just one game in this year’s five-game series after falling to third at the 2019 World Championship. The upcoming 2020 worlds, on home ice in Nova Scotia, feels crucially important.
With a new wave of Canadian talent on its way, we could see a surge of youth in the next two years as Canada attempts to re-establish its program and its position as the winning side of the game’s most intense rivalry in Beijing 2022.
THERE’S A REASON Finland’s national women’s program has made such strong strides over the past decade. Her name is Noora Räty. Now, the star netminder is helping grow the game in China, too.
The 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games are still two years away, but Räty is already helping lay the groundwork as a player ambassador with the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, the China-based, KHL-backed club she’s played with since 2017–18. The team, which was part of the CWHL and is now being subsidized by the Chinese government in an effort to grow the game, is the lone Chinese club in an eight-team league based in Russia, the Zhenskaya Khokkeinaya Liga – or Women’s Hockey League (WHL).
Team USA Forward Alex Carpenter, one of the best players on the American side at this year’s Canada-USA Rivalry Series, is another player-ambassador for the Rays. Her U.S. teammate, defender Megan Bozek, joined the team in November.
In playing overseas, stars like Räty, Carpenter and Bozek are doing what their PWHPA peers back home are not: playing competitive hockey, and making a living wage doing so.
And therein lies what truly makes them powerful figures, particularly in the coming months: The path they’ve chosen presents to many a third option in what has very much felt like a two-party standoff in the women’s hockey world.
HILARY KNIGHT KNOWS how to make a statement. As the face of women’s hockey in the U.S. for the better part of a decade, Knight has used the power of her platform to propel important conversations around the game. Considering her strong social media following (93,500 followers on Twitter, 150,000 on Instagram, and a YouTube channel dedicated to giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a hockey player) and long list of sponsors, she might just be women’s hockey’s ultimate influencer.
Her voice was central in 2017 when the U.S. Women’s team demanded better treatment and better opportunities to succeed and threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice. One year later, her jump from the NWHL to the CWHL saw some of the game’s best players pick a side and exposed the dysfunctional state of a game divided. (U.S. teammate Brianna Decker had a similar impact when she jumped to the CWHL.) Now, Knight is an integral voice in the PWHPA’s #ForTheGame movement and will no doubt play a leading role in whatever happens next.
And on top of all that, on the ice she just so happens to be one of the most dominant players the game has ever seen.
A FORMER PLAYER with the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale, Anya Packer took over the NWHLPA at a deeply challenging time. It was 2017, and the league had just announced it was going to be forced to slash salaries, a development that caught players by surprise and severely damaged their trust in league brass. Since then, Packer has worked tirelessly to mend that tear, representing the players’ best interest while partnering with Rylan to push for progress in a way that’s fair and transparent for all involved. “In the last year and a half … we’ve created a completely different dynamic for a PA and a commissioner to work together, and I couldn’t be more fortunate,” says Packer.
One outcome of Packer’s advocacy for players is the establishment of an innovative 50/50 revenue split last off-season between the league and players, which so far has seen players earn an additional 26 per cent on top of their base salary this season. “She and I work like partners because we own equal share in the success,” Packer says of her and Rylan. “With the new structure we’ve really gone from what could seem like a contentious relationship to a real partnership and I would say that she’s my partner in success as opposed to, we compete for success.”
SINCE SHE MADE her Olympic debut in 2018, Sarah Nurse has established herself as a crucial part of the next wave of powerful talent on Team Canada, a strong voice demanding change as part of the PWHPA, and a leader beyond the boundaries of the rink.
The advocacy roles in particular aren’t ones she necessarily anticipated a year ago, but Nurse has embraced them. And in doing so, she’s also driving crucial conversations when it comes to diversity in the game.
As a woman of colour playing a sport that’s still overwhelmingly driven by white men, Nurse understands the importance of visible role models, and is exactly that for so many young girls and boys.
Says Nurse: “When you see somebody who looks like you or who you want to be like in a position of authority or a position of power or a position that you ultimately want to be in, you gain that confidence and you really do think that you can do it.”
SHE’S THE CAPTAIN and scoring leader of the NWHL’s most successful team, and the first player in the league’s young history to hit 100 career points. In what has been an incredibly divisive year for women’s hockey, Jillian Dempsey has helped unite a team that’s about as dominant as you can find in pro hockey right now.
That she’s doing it all in her hometown of Boston — a (spoiled) sports town with no shortage of championship options — makes her success in helping to grow a fanbase all the more powerful. While some 200 of the world’s top players refuse to play in the NWHL this season, Dempsey is also making a statement simply by lacing up her skates every week. She shone the brightest at the league’s recent All-Star weekend, hosted by the Pride, and is growing her star power on a weekly basis with an incredible 17 goals and 40 points in 24 games this season.
Stick tap to Minnesota Whitecaps forward Allie Thunstrom, too, whose 21 goals in 20 games leads the league in the category and saw her make some NWHL history of her own as the first player to hit the 20-goal milestone in a single season.
Kind of feels like Dempsey’s Pride and Thunstrom’s Whitecaps are on a crash course set for the Isobel Cup Final, doesn’t it?
IN A GAME that increasingly values speed and finesse, more and more prospects, pros, and teams are enlisting the help of skating specialists like Dawn Braid. Take Taylor Hall, for example, whose work with Braid contributed to him elevating his game to Hart Trophy heights in 2017–18; or John Tavares, who sought out skating sessions with Braid en route to being the No. 1-overall pick in 2009.
Braid made history in 2016 when she was hired as a skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes, becoming the first woman to hold a full-time coaching job in the NHL. She’s now a consultant with the Calgary Flames and continues coaching some of the best prospects and pros during the off-season.
As Braid herself will eagerly tell you, she’s not the only one doing this kind of work. Barb Underhill is a consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tracy Tutton has a similar role with the Colorado Avalanche, and Carrie Keil has helped shape some of the best young American stars through her work with USA Hockey’s development teams. Their impact on the game can be seen throughout the NHL in every powerful, finely tuned stride they’ve helped build.
LINDSAY ARTKIN | NHL COACHES’ ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT
The demands on NHL coaches have never been greater and Lindsay Artkin is helping ensure they’re well-equipped to take it all on. The NHLCA is the go-to source for coaches on all things that aren’t hockey related, from help with pensions and health insurance to tips on mental health resources and sponsorship information. Artkin is also working to develop the next generation of coaches, including spearheading innovative programs coming down the pipeline specifically designed to diversify the coaching prospect pool.
KATIE GUAY, KELLY COOKE, KENDALL HANLEY, KIRSTEN WELSH | ON-ICE OFFICIALS
Bending the rules a little bit here (which is ironic) by grouping four names into one entry, but it’s only fitting considering these four all made history at the same time.
In September, referees Katie Guay and Kelly Cooke, and linesmen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh served as on-ice officials during NHL prospect tournaments — the first time women have ever called an NHL-affiliated event. If you tuned in to the Women’s Elite 3-on-3 Game during All-Star Weekend, you witnessed another piece of history when the foursome worked the game. (Though perhaps it didn’t register, since a good sign of strong officiating is going unnoticed.) It feels like it’s only a matter of time until the NHL catches up with the NBA and NFL and calls up its first female official to the big leagues. Remember these names.
KORI CHEVERIE | RYERSON RAMS MEN’S HOCKEY LEAD ASSITANT COACH
After a successful six-year run playing in the CWHL, it didn’t take long for Kori Cheverie to find her calling as a coach. She made history in August 2016 when she became the first woman to be a full-time assistant with a men’s U Sports team, and has since begun appearing behind Canada’s bench at various under-18 women’s tournaments. She made another leap in January when she served as an assistant with the senior women’s national team for the final three games of the Canada-USA Rivalry Series.
“BERRY” AND “TURBO” | TEAM CHINA DEFENDER AND FORWARD
China has its eye on the podium at Beijing 2022, and has been investing heavily in its effort to become a women’s hockey powerhouse. As the nation works towards that ambitious goal, it’ll lean heavily on two players in particular to lead the way on the ice: long-time Chinese national team captain Yu Baiwei, who goes by “Berry,” and top forward Fang Xin, a.k.a. “Turbo” because of her speed. (You’re rooting for them already, aren’t you?) China hasn’t qualified for the Olympics since 2010 but with an automatic host-entry in 2022, their journey to the biggest international stage is an intriguing one to keep an eye on.
DARYL WATTS | WISCONSIN BADGERS FORWARD
Looking for Canada’s next offensive powerhouse? She’s in Wisconsin. Daryl Watts took the women’s college hockey world by storm in 2017–18 with a remarkable 42-goal, 82-point campaign (over 38 games), winning the Patty Kazmaier award as the best player in the NCAA — the only freshman to claim the honour in its 22-year history. One year later, the Toronto native transferred from Boston College to the storied Badgers program and is leading them in assists (49) and points (73) through 34 games. She was recently named one of 10 finalists for the Kazmaier again this year as a junior, joined by fellow Canuck standouts Sophie Shirley and Sarah Fillier, and budding U.S. star Abby Roque. The future is bright.
Why do we ask Black athletes to speak for their whole race?
When sports and race collide in the headlines, Black athletes expect to be asked to step up and make a statement. So, how do players handle the pressure to be racial ambassadors?