The NHL gets closer to its first female coach:

Kori Cheverie fondly reflects on the conversations she had with her grandfather who grew up in Nova Scotia, where he encouraged her to believe that anything was possible in sport.

First woman to play for the Toronto Blue Jays? Sure. Hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head while representing the Toronto Maple Leafs? Dark.

Although now out of the question as a player, Cheverie’s gender-breaking aspirations seem much more achievable today for the 34-year-old, who has spent the past five years breaking down the barrier. male hockey coaches.

In 2017, Cheverie became the first female assistant coach of a men’s hockey team at the Canadian university level (at Ryerson). This month, after serving as an assistant on Canada’s Women’s Olympic Championship team, she completed a stint as Hockey Canada’s first woman behind the bench for a men’s team at the World Under-18 Championships. years.

“It’s kind of funny to look back and reflect on those conversations when I was a kid, because I was the first to do a lot of things on the men’s side of hockey,” Cheverie said, recalling discussions with his grandfather, Jack Rehill. “They talk about the limitless childhood I had growing up and what I was told I could be capable of.”

And she has not finished dreaming.

Cheverie’s rise, coupled with the growing number of women entering professional hockey management and developmental roles, has quickly accelerated the timeline for when – not if – there will be a woman working behind an NHL bench. .

Even though Pittsburgh Penguins president Brian Burke believes the glass ceiling should have been shattered yesterday, he balances his impatience by noting the inroads the league is making to blast its old boys club image.

“I think it’s basically that we’ve been tied together by our past, which is white people playing hockey and going into management,” Burke told The Associated Press.

“It might be a slower build than people like,” he added. “But I’m greatly encouraged by the change in the last two years in the role of women in hockey, from non-existent to significant in a very short time.

In the four years since Hayley Wickenheiser opened the door as assistant director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the league’s women’s hockey-related ranks have grown to nearly 30. And that’s not including five teams from the NHL led by women.

The Penguins are among the leading NHL teams. With two women already on their hockey team, the Penguins expanded the roster by naming U.S. Olympian Amanda Kessel as the team’s first manager program participant last month. Vancouver is the first NHL team to hire not one but two assistant general managers in Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay.

Vancouver is the first NHL team to hire not one but two assistant general managers in Cammi Granato (pictured) and Emilie Castonguay.

“I think it’s kind of myopic if people didn’t think there would be some kind of gender equalization eventually, not just in hockey but across industries,” the association president said. NHL coaches Lindsay Artkin. “It wouldn’t be unrealistic to see a woman hired into the NHL after next season.

The NHLCA played a role in accelerating the movement. With the support of her male coaches, Artkin launched a female development program two years ago.

The program has identified 50 women – including Cheverie – at various levels to work directly with NHL coaches in advanced training sessions. In addition to exchanging ideas, the program also provided women with networking opportunities that they previously lacked to market themselves as potential candidates for coaching.

While Artkin said NHL coaches are impressed with the wealth of knowledge the women bring, female participants find the sessions reinforced a belief of being equal when working with men.

Minnesota forward Bethany Brausen (16) shoots Boston University goaltender Kerrin Sperry (1) during the 2013 Frozen Four Women's NCAA Championship in Minneapolis.

“It’s absolutely empowering,” said uOttawa women’s assistant coach Bethany Brausen. “The terminology may be slightly different, but we all speak the same language.”

Whatever apprehensions Brausen had about supervising men, they faded away when a male coach said most players don’t care about gender, but about one thing: do training makes them better?

“It’s a very simple thing to say,” Brausen said. “But I think to hear a man, a coach at this level, say that explicitly, it’s ‘Of course’. As soon as he said that, I thought, ‘Why would it matter to see what do you look like or, frankly, what is your background?’ »

A 25-minute drive-in conversation with Christine Bumstead was enough to convince former Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice how knowledgeable she was to recommend her to the program.

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“Christine is going to be an excellent coach. She’s one now,” Maurice said of Bumstead, who just completed her first year as an assistant for the University of Saskatchewan women’s team. “There are a lot of very smart young coaches, some are male, some are female, and they now have an opportunity that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

He’s confident the gender barrier will be broken, just as other walls have come down remembering how the Canadian Junior Hockey Leagues once shunned American-born players.

“If you’re not ready to change and grow as a coach, you’re done,” Maurice said, before noting that “men don’t have the market cornered by communication.”

Canadian forwards Jennifer Botterill (17) and Cherie Piper celebrate after the women's gold medal match at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

“You watch Jennifer Botterill on television. She talks about the game differently,” he said of the Canadian Olympian turned broadcaster. “It’s just a different perspective sometimes. It may or may not have something to do with her being female. But she is interesting.

The NHL has lagged behind the other three major professional sports in North America when it comes to hiring women.

In 2019, Rachel Balkovec became major league baseball’s first full-time hitting coach and this year became the game’s first female minor league manager. The NBA introduced seven assistants this year. And the NFL’s female coaching ranks grew to 12 last season.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he expects the process for hiring women as coaches to evolve, rather than imposing quotas or implementing rules.

“I hope we don’t need this,” Bettman said. “Hopefully it will evolve to the point where it becomes part of the way you operate where you don’t need arbitrary rules for people to do the right things.”

NHL Vice President Kim Davis said he credits the development program with giving women direct access to those with the power to hire.

The odds of that happening have improved dramatically, NHL Vice President Kim Davis said, crediting the development program with providing women with direct access to those with the power to hire.

“The fact that they have access and you have women in those roles, it will eventually lead to those women getting into those leadership positions as GMs, as coaches,” Davis said. “So I’m extremely encouraged by our progress. We have much more to do. Under no circumstances are we doing a lap of honour.

While Cheverie would certainly love to be the first woman hired to coach in the NHL, she stressed that the opportunity should be the right fit to work on a staff and team that is open to hearing her voice.

“I would like to be in the NHL. Of course, I think a lot of female coaches would. But it’s not the alpha and omega for me. I want to do my best,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to the day when this isn’t a conversation anymore,” Cheverie added. “I wish that day were today and we were just talking about a coach coaching a team and trying to help them win versus how a woman fits into a group of men in a setting. jock.”

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