Gen­der bar

Fe­male coach in the NHL a ques­tion of tim­ing and the right woman

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

The NBA has two fe­male as­sis­tant coaches and the NFL re­cently hired one. Is the NHL next?

Long­time hockey ex­ec­u­tive Brian Burke says “it’s a ques­tion of when, not if.’’

“What I think has to hap­pen is the leagues lower than the NHL _ col­lege hockey, ju­nior hockey, Amer­i­can League _ would have to train and bring qual­i­fied, ca­pa­ble women along. It can’t be a rookie as­sign­ment,’’ the Cal­gary Flames hockey op­er­a­tions pres­i­dent said.

Women aren’t coach­ing men in those leagues yet, so by Burke’s ra­tio­nale, a woman in the NHL’s coach­ing ranks isn’t im­mi­nent.

As any job-seeker has learned, it’s who you know. Con­tact has yet to hap­pen be­tween a men’s team with a va­cant po­si­tion and a woman with the am­bi­tion and the right cre­den­tials.

“The re­la­tion­ship I’m sure is a big fac­tor in the hir­ing,’’ said Melody David­son, Hockey Canada’s di­rec­tor of fe­male hockey. “It doesn’t mat­ter what job you’re try­ing to get, but even more so in coach­ing and sport, the re­la­tion­ships are huge. Those re­la­tion­ships have to be built first in the women’s game be­fore those op­por­tu­ni­ties are there.’’

David­son coached the Cana­dian women to back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2006 and 2010. She has the deep­est re­sume of any woman in hockey, in­clud­ing scout­ing, coach­ing, manag­ing and in­ter­na­tional men­tor­ship of other coaches.

The 52-year-old from Oyen, Alta., was also an as­sis­tant coach in the Al­berta Ju­nior Hockey League for four years.

No men’s league higher than that has sought her ser­vices, but David­son ac­knowl­edges she bears some re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Never been asked,’’ she said. “Again, it’s about re­la­tion­ships. Who is to say if I hadn’t started to pur­sue some­thing or go af­ter some­thing, or if some­one else does it, it might not come about right?

“I can’t lay it in the hands of some­one else to come and ask me.’’

Cana­dian star Hay­ley Wicken- heiser, who has played men’s pro hockey, and for­mer cap­tain Cassie Camp­bell-Pas­call think a woman could be an NHL coach or in hockey op­er­a­tions within the next five years.

Camp­bell-Pas­call rubs shoul­ders with NHL coaches and general man­agers in her job as a tele­vi­sion re­porter on na­tional hockey broad­casts. Her hus­band Brad is an as­sis­tant general man­ager with the Flames.

She ex­pects a woman to be an NHL scout or as­sis­tant general man­ager be­fore there is a fe­male coach.

“I’d love to see some­one in man­age­ment,’’ Camp­bell-Pas­call said. “How close the NHL is? I’m not sure.’’

Wick­en­heiser be­lieves the first woman in could be an as­sis­tant coach, but that per­son needs a lot of “hockey cred’’ and a healthy ego. “You have to have gar­nered the re­spect of the male col­leagues you were work­ing with,’’ Wick­en­heiser said. “Oth­er­wise you would be thrown to the wolves a bit.

“It comes down to hav­ing the skills and con­fi­dence to go into that en­vi­ron­ment. Not ev­ery­one can or wants to. It’s not an easy en­vi­ron­ment to op­er­ate in. It’s cut-throat and it’s about per­for­mance and you have to have the right tem­per­a­ment.’’

Wick­en­heiser is a can­di­date when she stops play­ing. The 37year-old plans to com­pete in a sixth Win­ter Olympics in 2018.

“If you get some­one who has been around, some­one like Wick­en­heiser, who has the knowl­edge about hockey then I could see it work­ing,’’ said Daniel Al­freds­son, the Ot­tawa Senators se­nior ad­viser of hockey opera- tions.

Said Wick­en­heiser: “I per­son­ally have had that con­ver­sa­tion a cou­ple of times over the years with GMs and peo­ple who have asked me ‘ Would you like to be in­volved at the NHL level?’ But ob­vi­ously I’m still play­ing. I would def­i­nitely be in­ter­ested.’’

The NHL and its teams em­ploy fe­male ex­ec­u­tives and women in front of­fices, but hir­ing them into hockey jobs is not top of mind.

“We have plenty of women in man­age­ment and teams have their own hir­ing poli­cies,’’ NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman said re­cently at the general man­agers’ meet­ings in Florida. “I think the clubs have been pretty pro­gres­sive in their hir­ing.’’

Burke said five years is a “rea­son­able timetable’’ for a woman to join an NHL coach­ing or man­age­rial staff.

CP PHOTO

Team Canada head coach Melody David­son gives high-fives to play­ers at the end of prac­tice at the World Women Hockey Cham­pi­onship in 2009.

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