The NHL gets its first full-time female coach

Dawn Braid becomes the skating coach of the Arizona Coyotes, building on a new trend in pro sports
dawn braid female coach The Arizona Coyotes have hired a skating coach, Dawn Braid, who has already worked with dozens of players from several NHL teams. (© Scott Prokop |

With the World Cup of Hockey about to start tomorrow and the NHL season less than a month away, a lot of people are talking hockey again. Every season brings something new to the conversation, and this year is no different. Will the Leafs top pick Auston Matthews be the saviour the club has searched for? After having only four teams (Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Boston Bruins) win the last eight Stanley Cups, will this be the moment that another team goes from pretender to contender? And just what will the NHL do the celebrate its 100th year?

Somewhere among all of those talking points though, is something truly cool. The Arizona Coyotes made NHL history by hiring Dawn Braid as the league's first full-time female coach.

She is the team's skating coach, after working as a part-time coach for the Coyotes last season and consultant for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames. Earlier this same year, the NFL's Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as their league's first full-time female coach. The NBA broke that barrier back in 2014, when the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon.

Why has it taken so long?

An obvious question, but a good one. An easy answer would be to say that most coaches are former players. Because the players in pro hockey have been almost all male for a very long time, it makes sense that the coaches would be as well. But we are at a moment in time when women's pro sports league are growing, and women's sports in general are getting more and more exposure... and fans. Just a few weeks back at the Rio Olympics, 16 of Canada's 22 medals were won by women. Swimmer Penny Oleksiak became an overnight star, trampoline powerhouse and flagbearer Rosie MacLennan won gold again, while the women's soccer team repeated their inspirational bronze medal win from four years earlier in London.

Barb Underhill (right) has worked as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs for years. Here she is training with William Nylander during his rookie season. (Getty Embed)

In the world of hockey, women like Dawn Braid and Barb Underhill (who is the current skating consultant for the Leafs) may not have played hockey themselves, but they are being hired to teach a skill that is at the heart of the game. Skating. Both were competitive figure skaters when they were younger (Underhill has won gold medals at the World Championships). Their wisdom is something that has made NHL stars like John Tavares and Jason Spezza more complete players.

“When I heard she had been hired as a full-time coach, I couldn’t have been happier for her,” Tavares told the Globe and Mail. “It couldn’t happen to a better person. It was more than overdue.” He still trains with her in the summer.

A change that will only grow from here

New York Islanders captain John Tavares has worked with Dawn Braid for years. He says that he is embarrassed at the way he skated before she helped him. (Getty Embed)

One truth about the world is that change takes time. People are nervous to do something differently than their peers. But another truth? Once change begins, it only builds. Especially if people making the change start to do well.

“We feel that Dawn can provide a real competitive advantage to our team,” says John Chayka, the Arizona general manager. “She is at the top of her field, so we thought it was imperative to hire her. Players work hard for her and respect her knowledge. The bottom line is that she gets results. That’s the key thing.”

In the end, results are what matter. Getting the chance to prove that her results can be as good (or better) than a man's might seem like a simple request, but it's been a long time coming.

"It's something that I've wanted to see happen," Braid told the NHL's website. "The fact that they respect what I do enough to name me as a full-time coach, or to name me as the first female coach in the NHL, I take a ton of pride in that. I've worked very hard for this opportunity. It's been going on for years and I just look forward to going even further with it."

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