On March 1, 2020, Sportsnet unveiled our first-ever edition of The 25 Most Powerful Women in Hockey. It was a project meant to shine a light on and celebrate women in all parts of the game, and also to etch an image of hockey’s landscape at a specific point in time through the lens of the women shaping it.
Two weeks later, that landscape drastically changed when COVID-19 grabbed hold of the globe. Sports hit the pause button. Seasons were postponed, then cut short, and our attentions quickly turned from when our favourite game could return to if.
Thankfully hockey did return and when it did, important conversations came with it: Conversations about hockey’s place in society, about its seeming inability to address issues of racism and inequality in meaningful ways, and about the need for the game to grow — in every sense of the word.
The women highlighted here are steering that growth and pressing on in what has been the most challenging year on record — a year of empty arenas and forging connections from afar, of challenging norms and adapting on the fly, and of laying the groundwork for a return not to normalcy but to something better. These are the newsmakers, culture-shifters, team-builders, and progress-shapers who led the way in 2020 and will keep pushing hockey forward in the year ahead.
WHEN WE TALK about hockey, and power within it, the conversation often focuses on the growth of the game. But, what does that really mean? Making the sport more accessible through grassroots initiatives? Expanding its reach and popularity by attracting new fans and audiences? Of course. But as we all now understand, those efforts alone aren’t enough.
Hockey’s power brokers have never meaningfully engaged with issues of race and racism, but this year, the game was finally forced to look inward and begin to acknowledge how badly it’s failed BIPOC communities. What followed were expressions of contrition, of a desire to learn and grow, and some promise for a future that brings a shift in culture. Now it’s time to walk the walk.
At the centre of this all is Kim Davis. The highest-ranking Black executive in the NHL’s league office, Davis’s role was thrust into the spotlight last summer as the Black Lives Matter movement pushed the league and its fans to take that hard look in the mirror.
“The NHL has long used the phrase ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ not as a statement of today’s reality, but as an expression of our vulnerability and a vision for our future,” Davis wrote in a personal essay published on NHL.com last June. “While the game is not renowned for its diversity, I believe it is nonetheless poised to become the most inclusive sport in the world.”
A few months later, Davis and the NHL unveiled a multi-faceted plan outlining how they intend to make that potential a reality. Among the plans of action are partnerships with the NHLPA, the establishment of the Player Inclusion Committee, mandatory diversity training for players, mentorship programs for BIPOC players at the grassroots level, a confidential hotline for reporting misconduct and unethical behaviour, and much more. Those initiatives have been met with optimism, but Davis and the league will continue to be put under the microscope on these issues as the game on the ice moves on.
“Her time is now,” says NHLPA director of player health and safety Maria Dennis, who works closely with Davis on inclusion efforts through the female hockey advisory committee. “I’m so glad that she’s in hockey at this point in time, because I think it’s a perfect opportunity to draw on her skillset. Because she’s a great leader and she can create a lot of initiatives that do a lot of good in this world – not just hockey.”
IN HER ROLE overseeing the NHL’s marketing, communications and social media strategies, Browning is constantly trying to find a balance between hockey’s penchant for promoting the name on the front of the sweater and the growing demand from fans to know more about the name on the back. “There’s been a tectonic shift in the world of sports, where fans are following athletes first, then clubs, and then leagues,” she told Sportsnet’s Chris Simpson. “Fans really want to feel personally connected to the players and when you have that personal connection, you’re more invested in the sport.”
With the 2019–20 season on pause and everyone at home last spring, social media went from being an integral link in the player-fan connection to the only one. Browning found herself with a unique opportunity to offer fans a glimpse into the lives of NHL players with a series of Zoom chats and virtual player availabilities. Suddenly, we were seeing inside players’ homes and getting video bombed by their kids and dogs, putting a face and a personality to the stars we’ve known only through their stat lines. “One of the small bright spots during the pause was that, for the first time, we had 611 players post on social media around a variety of topics around their lives,” says Browning. “It was such an extraordinary moment for our fans to get to know our players on a more personal basis.”
Another massive opportunity for growth moving forward: gaming.
“This is an opportunity for us to really expand beyond our audiences,” she told Simpson. “Our players are gamers, our fans are gamers. It’s an opportunity to cross-pollinate with other influencers, whether they’re gaming influencers, other athletes from other leagues, or fans, and this is going to continue to be a big part of our future.”
“HAVE YOU EVER thought about being a scout?”
That was the question from Los Angeles Kings president Luc Robitaille that set Blake Bolden on a new hockey path.
It was November 2019, and Bolden was at a Kings game as a special guest with the Black Girl Hockey Club. The two former pro players started talking hockey and, a few months and a couple of interviews later, Bolden was officially named the Kings’ new AHL Pacific Region scout — the first Black woman to be a pro scout with an NHL organization, and the second woman behind the Seattle Kraken’s Cammi Granato.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 10, 2021
Bolden is no stranger to making history — she’s the first Black woman to be selected in the first round of a CWHL draft, the first to play professional hockey in the NWHL, and she won league championships in both — and her life motto is right there in her name: Be Bold.
In addition to using her growing platform to influence young BIPOC players and women getting into the game, she also dedicates time to coaching and mentoring girls through Blake Bolden Athletics, helping young players develop the mental side of their game. And just last month, she unveiled the first-ever female stick line in partnership with Verbero:
— Blake Bolden (@SportBlake) February 9, 2021
(Anyone who’s seen Bolden’s elite shot understands she’s serious about her hockey sticks.)
A prominent force around the game, Bolden has also emerged as a leading voice in anti-racism efforts. In addition to her scouting role with the Kings, she’s the club’s growth and inclusion specialist, and is also part of the The Alliance: Los Angeles, which includes all 11 L.A. pro teams sharing a common goal of eradicating systemic racism in the community. She’s also lending her voice to the PWHPA’s efforts for women’s hockey, and just recently hopped into the broadcast booth for the opening weekend of The Secret Dream Gap Tour. Her colour commentary in New York provided sharp insight and context to the women’s game — on the ice and overall.
Bolden is everywhere. And as we continue to learn with her every move, her journey is not so much about where hockey has taken her but where she is taking the game.
SHE’S BRIGHT, she’s one of the hockey world’s most underrated stars, and she’s about to release the Kraken.
This June will mark two years since Mandrycky became one of the very first hires in Seattle’s front office. A month after that, the foundation she built will be filled with a roster of players and a cupboard full of promising prospects through the expansion and entry drafts.
Under her guidance, and with a heavy influence from her background in analytics, that foundation took shape with an emphasis on diversity — be it backgrounds, identities, experience or ideas — and a desire to combine outside-the-box thinking with traditional hockey minds.
She’s set the tone, and soon we’ll see the vision she helped create with the rest of the club’s builders come to life when the Kraken hit the ice for their inaugural season in 2021–22.
ON FEBRUARY 27, the PWHPA officially dropped the puck on The Secret Dream Gap Tour, finally marking the organization’s return after being sidelined a year by the COVID-19 pandemic. The highlight of the weekend was a historic matchup at Madison Square Garden – the first professional women’s hockey game played at the legendary arena.
Hefford serves as the face of the PWHPA, an organization comprised of more than 120 of the world’s best women’s hockey players, and its ongoing campaign to push for the creation of one unified, sustainable pro league.
She also represents the growing support behind that campaign. The Tour’s title sponsor, Secret, pledged $1 million to the cause back in November, officially opening the door for the organization to hit the road for another tour and up the stakes with cash prizes for the winning teams in the tournament-style stops. Other major brands have also come on board by sponsoring each of the organization’s five regional teams (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Minnesota and New Hampshire). Partnerships with NHL teams, starting with the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs, will see the PWHPA’s players take to NHL ice in more markets and broadcast on major national networks, including NHL Network in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada.
“Take a moment to look up at the most iconic ceiling in all of sports and entertainment,” tennis legend Billie Jean King, whose Women’s Sports Foundation sponsors the New Hampshire-based chapter, said in an address from the MSG stands during the Tour stop, “because you’re about to bust through it.”
BORN INTO BASEBALL, Tumminia built a successful career in America’s national pastime and only officially made the transition from the ball diamond to the rink last year. When she did, though, she didn’t just dip a toe — she dove right in… during a global pandemic.
As chairwoman of the Toronto Six when it launched last April, Tumminia played a key role in expanding the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League (currently the lone women’s pro league in North America) and instantly cultivated a passionate fanbase in a market that’s already flooded with options for sports fans. That she also introduced Toronto to the legendary Digit Murphy, president and head coach of the Six, was perhaps her biggest gift to the city.
October brought a change in NWHL leadership and the adoption of a new governance model. League founder Dani Rylan Kearney stepped down as commissioner to oversee the process of establishing independent ownerships for four of the clubs, and Tumminia took the reins.
Her top priority was clear: To get the NWHL back on the ice and continue the growth of the game. The launch of the league’s micro-season, a two-week campaign beginning Jan. 23 at the historic Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., had excitement at an all-time high. Tumminia’s specialty is in marketing, fan engagement and forming large-scale sponsor partnerships, and in all three areas she thrived: A massive deal with Discover was announced at the beginning of the season, viewing numbers via Twitch rose every game, and a broadcast deal with NBC Sports would have seen the league’s playoffs get a national audience in the U.S.
A COVID-19 outbreak ultimately cut the season short, however, leaving Tumminia’s ambitious vision for the comeback incomplete, for now.
She now holds the keys to what’s next.
WE DON’T YET know the full financial ramifications of the pandemic on the NHL, but as commissioner Gary Bettman said back in January, “We’re out of the M range [millions of dollars lost] and into the B [billions].”
As a top executive working across all business areas of the league office, Cohig has worked with clubs to navigate the uncertainty that accompanies empty rinks. Bubbling up in Edmonton and Toronto during last summer’s return-to-play meant identifying new ways for teams to optimize fan engagement and in-venue partner activations without the benefit of home-ice advantage during a long Stanley Cup run — and (mostly) empty rinks in 2020–21 present similar challenges.
Now, as some markets gradually open up to fans, Cohig and her team have played a central role in developing the extensive guest-experience protocol teams must follow to ensure the health and safety of those in attendance.
Cohig is constantly looking ahead and anticipating the business needs of all 31 teams, and this year that includes the launch of a 32nd. A key part of the incredible debut of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, Cohig practically wrote the book on best business practises for expansion. The Kraken present an entirely different challenge — surely, a few new chapters.
THE HEALTH AND SAFETY of NHL players is always Maria Dennis’s top priority. Suddenly, last March, on top of her usual duties, Dennis and the rest of the world had a global pandemic to contend with, too. “Basically, it was all hands on deck,” she says. “We all had to mobilize.”
With the hockey world on pause, Dennis and her NHLPA team, in collaboration with the NHL, assembled a team of lawyers, medical consultants, and infectious disease specialists to tackle the immense challenge of figuring out how hockey could return safety.
“We had a lot of people involved. I give credit to a lot of people in my office who helped work on all these protocols,” says Dennis, who represented the players’ association on-site in the Edmonton bubble last summer.
Following the resounding success of the NHL’s return-to-play over the summer, a new season has brought a whole new set of health and safety challenges outside of the safe confines of a quarantined environment, and a whole new set of protocols to best address them.
“Each club has a different set of rules they have to comply with — not just the NHL protocol, but also their local public health protocols,” says Dennis. “So, it’s a constant communication with them to make sure everybody’s in compliance.”
NURSE WAS 15 when she first learned about Angela James, who during her playing career broke gender and racial barriers and helped inspire other women and Black players to get into the game. “She sounded like an absolute beast on the ice. She sounded like she could take over games when she decided to turn it on and she seemed like such a dominant force, and that’s something that I have wanted to do in my own hockey career,” Nurse said of James during a Sportsnet interview back in 2019. “I think she was so ahead of her time.”
Two decades after James last hit the ice in competition, we’re still seeing the Hall of Famer’s legacy unfold in rinks across the nation. In the decades to come, the same will likely be said about Nurse.
The PWHPA member and Team Canada forward may still be sidelined from competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but her work never stops. A crucial part of Team Canada’s next wave of on-ice leaders, Nurse has also taken on a vital role with the PWHPA, and was appointed to the organization’s board in September. Last May, she stepped up again as one of hockey’s first to speak out against racial injustice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
A true triple-threat, she’s also beginning to forge a career in broadcast — she and teammate Natalie Spooner have both appeared on regional Sportsnet NHL panels increasingly over the past year.
A living example of the power of representation, her likeness was even translated this past year into a special-edition Barbie in collaboration with Tim Hortons.
OF NORTH AMERICA’S four major professional leagues, the NHL is the only one that has yet to break the gender barrier in coaching. Lindsay Artkin is on a mission to change that. In addition to her daily responsibilities providing support and assistance to NHL coaches and overseeing all the association’s marketing and communication initiatives, Artkin is building a pipeline to get women behind the bench by enlisting the help of NHL coaches as mentors. The NHLCA unveiled its Female Coaches Development Program exactly one year ago and is wrapping up its first campaign this spring.
Among the program’s many current participants are Emily Engel-Natzke, who was hired as a video coach for the AHL’s Hershey Bears in November; Ryerson Rams assistant coach Kori Cheverie, the first and only woman behind the bench of a U Sports men’s hockey team; Kelsey Koelzer, who was tabbed in 2019 to launch Arcadia University’s women’s program; and former Team USA captain Meghan Duggan.
Not everyone shares the same goal of breaking into the NHL, but the opportunity to exchange ideas and implement new methods into each coach’s community is something that benefits the game at all levels.
The program is an extension of the organization’s coaching mentorship program, which gives up-and-coming coaches access to those in the NHL and AHL and gives mentees an opportunity to learn and build a network. Last summer, Artkin launched yet another branch of the program, specifically focused on BIPOC coaches.
HER PLAYING CAREER has taken her to the tops of podiums around the globe. She’s skated (quickly!) on NHL rinks and called shots from the sidelines in San Jose as she dipped her toes into the broadcast pool. Now, one of women’s hockey’s biggest stars is back where it all began as she takes on her next challenge in the game: Coaching.
In November, the Chicago Blackhawks announced the hiring of Coyne Schofield as a development coach, making the Illinois native the first woman to hold such a position with the Blackhawks and just the second female development coach in league history, after Hayley Wickenheiser (Maple Leafs). In addition to working with the rebuilding team’s AHL prospects in Rockford and sharing scouting reports with the big club, Coyne Schofield is also the team’s youth hockey growth specialist.
Of course, her playing days are far from over. Coyne Schofield recently ended a year-long hiatus (due to COVID-19) when she and fellow American stars including Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel, hit the ice in New York and Chicago as part of The Secret Dream Gap Tour. In May, she’ll lead Team USA to the women’s world championship in Halifax and Truro, N.S. on the hunt for a fifth consecutive gold in the tournament after last year’s edition was cancelled.
With Coyne Schofield picking up where she left off, the growth of the women’s game can continue to progress – and fast.
HOCKEY NEEDS RENEE HESS.
As the founder of Black Girl Hockey Club, Hess is creating space for Black women in the game. And what started as a series of meetups with club members at NHL games has become a multi-faceted organization that is pushing the sport forward at all levels.
In the past year, Hess and BGHC have promoted dialogue led by change-makers with a series of virtual events and urged players, coaches, teams, fans, media members and executives to align in the fight to end racism and #GetUncomfortable with an online pledge campaign. The organization has also made it possible for Black girls and women across the globe to get into the game by helping reduce cost barriers with a scholarship program.
Strong partnerships with players and collaborations with teams — including the creation of co-branded toques with the Seattle Kraken, with all proceeds going to BGHC scholarships — have helped thrust Hess into the hockey spotlight, which is exactly where she belongs.
EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, Cassie Campbell-Pascall was seated high above the ice in the Calgary Flames’ broadcast booth helping make history. To her right was Leah Hextall, calling play-by-play as the home team hosted the Vegas Golden Knights — the first woman to do so for a major national NHL broadcast in Canada. Producing the game was a team made up mostly of women — a landmark broadcast on International Women’s Day.
“There is no one person who’s a better teammate in a broadcast booth than her,” Hextall says of Campbell-Pascall. “Cassie gives me confidence when I lack it.”
A staunch supporter of women’s hockey and national team consultant, the former Team Canada forward and Olympian has also become a mainstay on Hockey Night in Canada. That young viewers today are growing up seeing her breaking down plays and chiming in on all matters of the game every Saturday night is yet another way Campbell-Pascall is propelling the game forward.
“I can’t put into words how much I respect Cassie as a professional and a person,” says Hextall. “And the best part is, she calls me her friend — now that’s cool.”
IN NOVEMBER, Kim Ng made history with Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins when she became the first female general manager in any major North American professional league. It’s only natural to wonder when the NBA, NFL and NHL will catch up, and who will be the ones to put the hammer to those glass ceilings.
Women cannot open these doors alone, though. It takes a lot of time and a conscious effort by those in power to help build these talent pipelines. But progress is being made and, over in Switzerland, Florence Schelling is leading by example.
Last April, Schelling was named general manager of SC Bern in the Swiss professional league, the first (and currently only) female GM of a top-level professional men’s hockey team. A legend in the blue paint in her home country, the 31-year-old retired goaltender suited up for the Swiss women’s national team for 15 years and appeared in 11 world championships and four Olympic Games during her illustrious playing career. Since hanging up her skates in 2018, Schelling — who holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration — has coached at the club and international levels and was head coach of the Swiss women’s U-18 team at the world juniors in 2019–20. Now at the helm of a struggling SC Bern, Schelling’s navigation of the revival of a roster and an ongoing global pandemic makes her not just one of hockey’s most powerful women, but also one of its busiest.
NOT SO LONG AGO, Tinker felt like she’d fallen out of love with hockey. The game to which she’d dedicated so much of her life too often left her feeling isolated and alone.
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about playing pro,” Tinker told Sportsnet’s Tara Slone during a recent episode of Top of Her Game. “My whole senior season at Yale, I was kind of done with the game. I didn’t want it anymore, I didn’t want to be at the rink. I wasn’t having fun.”
A change of heart, with the encouragement of her coach, led to the Oshawa-born defender being drafted fourth overall by the NWHL’s New Jersey-based Metropolitan Riveters. In the year since her arrival on the pro hockey scene, Tinker has become a leading voice in discussing diversity within the game and, through her partnership with the Black Girl Hockey Club, has raised more than $30,000 for the organization’s scholarship program.
They ask me what I do and who I do it for!!https://t.co/8Vn9tYKs6v
— Saroya Tinker (@saroyatinker71) February 26, 2021
Though Tinker’s rookie campaign was ultimately cut short due to a COVID outbreak, her impact continues to reverberate throughout not just the NWHL but all of hockey.
A LEADER IN hockey analytics and a champion of women in the growing field, Chayka’s work didn’t stop when hockey did last March. Instead, she teamed up with fellow stats guru Alison Lukan to host a series of virtual panel discussions called Hockey (Analytics) Night in Canada, a gathering place for the statistically inclined and others looking to learn.
In addition to being a booming industry and an area of huge growth in hockey operations departments around the globe, analytics has also become one of the most diverse sectors of the game with a surge of women making waves. The introduction of the NHL’s long-awaited puck and player technology, while it has seen some hiccups caused by COVID concerns and equipment issues, brings more attention to this dimension of the game and is a result of the growing appetite for it.
“I think it’s adapt or die at this point, honestly,” Chayka says of the ever-evolving tech sphere. “But I also think that it’ll be very good for hockey and you’ll see a lot of fresh new faces, a lot of different perspectives come into the game.”
Chayka has also stepped up to offer Stathletes’ services to women’s tournaments and leagues, including most recently the NWHL, providing the kind of insights women’s hockey hasn’t had before.
It’s inevitable we’ll see the use of analytics expand even more in the coming months, particularly in reaction to ongoing COVID restrictions and their impact on scouting and development.
“Especially now — you can’t be in an arena, you can’t scout, you can’t travel. The draft is an issue, player development is an issue,” says Chayka. “How do you bridge that gap? Well, it’s data.”
WHO’S READY FOR a rematch?
The 2020 IIHF Women’s World Championship, scheduled to begin last March, was one of hockey’s first casualties of COVID-19. Now, two of the world’s best players, each representing one side of the sport’s finest rivalry, are set to hit the IIHF stage once again when the tournament returns to Nova Scotia May 6 to 16. There’s a little extra on the line, too, with the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing now less than a year away.
Can Canada break Team USA’s golden streak? The last time Canada claimed gold against the U.S., it was off Poulin’s stick at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. What followed was four straight world championship golds for the Americans punctuated with Olympic gold in PyeongChang in 2018.
Fierce opponents on the international stage, Knight and Poulin also represent a united front when it comes to the growth of women’s hockey through their backing of the PWHPA.
BEFORE 2020, Hayley Wickenheiser was a hockey hero. When COVID-19 hit, Wickenheiser emerged as a hero of a different kind. The long-time Team Canada star and Hall of Famer is now on the frontlines of the pandemic as she completes medical school, and when a nationwide personal protective equipment shortage among frontline workers arose, Wickenheiser stepped up and used her platform (alongside friend Ryan Reynolds) to call for donations to help Canada conquer COVID-19.
As @conquercovid19kicks off their campaign again today in support of LTC frontline workers here’s a reminder of how their incredible success story all began with @wick_22& @VancityReynoldshttps://t.co/3MiNIW24DK
— Christine Simpson (@SNChrisSimpson) March 1, 2021
Wickenheiser’s legacy as a player is solidified as one of the game’s best ever, but her career in hockey continues as one of the few women working in an NHL player development department. Hired by the Maple Leafs in August 2018 to work with prospects, we’ve since seen another women’s hockey great, Coyne Schofield, follow in her footsteps.
THESE DAYS, brand identity and fan engagement are almost as important to the success of a franchise as the product on the ice. And love ’em or love to hate ’em, the Flyers are thriving in both. As a surge of young stars revitalizes the lineup and Philly’s status as a contender, Valerie Camillo is breathing new life into the brand made famous by the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s.
Camillo’s kingdom covers just about everything around the game. She directs all business activities for the organization from arena operations (including a massive, $300-million overhaul to significantly improve the fan experience) to revenue strategies, marketing and everything in between.
Of course, she’s not doing it alone. Four of the seven executives reporting directly to Camillo are women, as are some of the brightest minds behind the brand — including director of fan experience Cindy Stutman, senior manager of digital media (and Gritty’s boss!) Christine Mina, and director of hospitality Mandy Bauer (the brains behind the Flyers’ ‘Rage Room’ at the rink and other millennial-centric arena initiatives that were a huge hit pre-COVID).
The former chief revenue and marketing officer of the Washington Nationals, Camillo joined the Flyers in January 2019, becoming the first woman hired as an NHL team president. And though women are still scarce in hockey operations departments around the league, she is part of a recent wave — including Chicago’s Jaime Faulkner and Pittsburgh’s Jenny Darling — taking the reins on the business side.
DON’T LET THE standings deceive you — the Chicago Blackhawks are technically in the midst of a rebuild. In addition to turnover on the roster, the Original Six club is undergoing a bit of an internal overhaul, too, as fresh voices emerge at the forefront of the historic organization, headlined by new president of business operations Jaime Faulkner.
Hired in December, Faulkner is now the highest-ranking woman in the Blackhawks’ prestigious 94-year history. She brings extensive experience in sports, business and analytics, and is a passionate believer in the power of building a connection with fans — particularly in-person, once they’re filling the stands again.
(Fun fact about Faulkner: She was a billet parent for Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Jaccob Slavin, during his days playing for the USHL’s Chicago Steel.)
The hiring announcement of Kendall Coyne Schofield as a player development coach and youth hockey growth specialist in November shows a conscious effort by the Blackhawks to bring more women into the fold, as does the promotion of Meghan Hunter to director of hockey administration and amateur scout.
Hunter – yup, of hockey’s royal Hunter family – was president of hockey operations Stan Bowman’s executive assistant prior to the November promotion, and will continue to work closely with him. She now joins research and development/hockey analytics coordinator Mary DeBartolo as the second woman in the organization’s hockey operations and scouting division. Both have expressed general manager aspirations, and will be names to watch in this rebuild and beyond.
ALL EYES WILL soon be on Seattle as the Kraken take shape through this summer’s drafts. Seattle pro scout Cammi Granato and senior quantitative analyst Namita Nandakumar, meanwhile, have their eyes on everybody else as they help assemble an NHL team from the ground up.
The two women took very different paths to Seattle: Granato, a Hall of Famer and blazer of trails with USA Hockey, was hired in 2019 as the first-ever female full-time pro scout. Nandakumar, one of the best and brightest young voices in analytics, known particularly for her extensive work around draft strategies, was lured away last year from the stats department of her hometown Philadelphia Eagles. After all, opportunities to build a team from scratch don’t come around often, and Nandakumar wasn’t about to let this one pass her by.
Together, they represent the strides women have taken in both scouting and analytics, as well the Kraken’s refreshing approach to team building — with diverse hiring practices in mind and a desire to think outside the box. Most importantly, they share a common goal: To make the NHL’s 32nd team its best expansion club yet.
ON THE HEELS of a division title and a thrilling playoff run for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres began the 2020–21 season as one of most interesting teams in the NHL. Scooping up the off-season’s most sought-after UFA, Taylor Hall, and signing him to an unconventional one-year deal raised eyebrows and heightened expectations for the possibility of another playoff run in a market that’s been starved for years.
Nearly two months into the campaign, the Sabres remain one of the most interesting teams in the league — just… not in a good way. Hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak, injuries and the misfortune of sharing a realigned division with the Bruins, Capitals, Flyers and Penguins, the Sabres find themselves once again in the league’s basement and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. A co-chair on the NHL’s Executive Inclusion Council alongside league commissioner Gary Bettman, Pegula’s influence on the game can also be seen through her work with the league’s D&I efforts. But it’s her position atop the struggling Sabres that has her in the spotlight right now.
While Pegula’s purview doesn’t exactly extend to the Xs and Os, the club’s president and alternate governor — and the only female president of both an NFL and NHL club — will have a lot on her plate in bringing the Sabres back to relevance… the good kind of relevance, that is.
SHE HELPED BUILD the NWHL’s model franchise in the Boston Pride, served two years as second-in-command at the league office, and then returned to Boston to guide them through a historically strong season as team president. Now, Moore brings her winning experience to the AHL where she’s helping steer the NHL’s top development league through its toughest tests yet.
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit development leagues particularly hard. Three AHL teams opted out of the 2020–21 campaign (Charlotte, Milwaukee and Springfield) and the 28 still playing required realignment into five divisions, including a four-team Canadian division due to the closed U.S.-Canada border.
Moore’s transition to the men’s league, in addition to coming at a pivotal time in its history, is also proof that the invisible border between men’s and women’s hockey doesn’t mean executives working on one side cannot make the jump to the other.
“In looking at the job description and talking to some colleagues in the industry, I just learned that the position was really a great fit for me, personally, and my interests, but also understanding that I am continuing to work on behalf of the women’s game by being a woman in this role,” Moore told Sportsnet’s Mike Shulman in January. “I think it just validates the tremendous amount of work that everyone has put into the women’s game to know the experience that I’ve received — that it does translate to the men’s side of the game, because it’s still the same game.”
CANADA’S ONLY FEMALE NHLPA-certified player agent helped guide the game’s most promising prospect through the strangest (and longest) of draft years — steering Alexis Lafrenière through a COVID-shortened QMJHL campaign, a dramatic two-part lottery and, finally, a virtual draft that saw the New York Rangers call his name.
Now, Castonguay’s work continues as she helps guide the NHL rookie through what has been a challenging first season in the pros. Castonguay’s clients also include Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin, one of women’s hockey’s most-sponsored athletes, and she is a staunch supporter of the women’s game.
THERE MAY NOT yet be a conventional pipeline for women looking to get into front office roles in hockey, but there are paths — and Needham is forging one herself.
After her playing career was cut short due to a knee injury, the South Dakota native pursued coaching and player development, co-founding Legend Hockey in 2009 and starting up Tier-1 team Sioux Falls Power five years later.
A hockey development powerhouse in the Midwestern U.S., Needham made the natural jump into scouting when the Toronto Maple Leafs hired her as a regional amateur scout in August 2018. Now, the 34-year-old is bringing her experience in all five areas of the sport – playing, coaching, training, scouting and business operations – to the USHL, having been named assistant general manager of the Chicago Steel in October. The 14-team league is the top junior hockey league in the U.S., sanctioned by USA Hockey, and has become a coveted stop in player development en route to the NHL.
With her USHL tenure only just beginning, it’s only a matter of time until Needham is back in the pros herself.
New Jersey Devils executive director of hockey management/operations
With a strong prospect pool bringing in fresh faces to the Garden State, the New Jersey Devils are on the rise. So, too, is Kate Madigan. Since joining the franchise in 2017 as assistant of player information/video, Madigan has rapidly ascended, taking on increasingly important roles within the club’s rebuild as one of just a handful of women across the league working in hockey operations.
OHL Erie Otters scout
Kiana Scott made history last March when she joined the Erie Otters scouting staff, becoming the first female scout in the OHL. After developing in the International Scouting Services mentorship program, Scott is now leading what could soon be a wave of young female and BIPOC scouts finding their footing in the game.
NCAA Providence College men’s director of hockey operations
In January, Theresa Feaster helped guide Team USA to gold at the 2021 world junior championship as video coach — the first woman named to a world juniors coaching staff and the first female assistant with USA Hockey at any major men’s tournament. Born into hockey (her dad is long-time NHL executive Jay Feaster), she has made clear her aspirations to become an NHL general manager. Feaster is currently director of hockey operations for the NCAA’s Division-I Providence Friars men’s hockey program, one of just two women currently holding full-time management roles on a men’s D-I hockey club.
How’s this for an endorsement?
“I think she’s going to be the best player in the world,” said USA Hockey teammate Hilary Knight, following the first PWHPA weekend. “Plain and simple.”
A Patty Kazmaier Award finalist as one of the top three women’s collegiate hockey players a year ago, the Wisconsin standout marked her arrival in the pros with a two-goal, two-assist performance to kick off her first PWHPA tour followed by two more points a night later in New York.
Look for her at the 2022 Olympics wearing the stars and stripes as part of the next wave of elite American talent.
Arcadia University women’s hockey head coach
Hired in 2019 to lead the Arcadia women’s hockey program, Koelzer made history as the first Black person at the helm of an NCAA hockey program. This fall, she is set to officially take her place behind the bench in the program’s inaugural season.
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