Hockey Hall of Fame member Angela James wants more female coaches


The Toronto Six, the Premier Hockey Federation’s (formerly the National Women’s Hockey League) latest expansion team, sits atop the league standings with a 7-1-1 record. Although they only joined the professional women’s hockey league last season, the Six had already placed first. What makes it different this time is that, for the first time in the history of the league, the staff includes two black coaches.

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Mark Joslin was hired as Toronto’s head coach in June, becoming the first black coach in league history. He added Hockey Hall of Fame member Angela James to his staff later that month. The Seneca College alumni duo may be the first, but James hopes they are far from the last black coaches in professional women’s hockey.

“When Mark approached me to help him integrate the female side of things – Mark has been on the guys’ side in junior hockey, pro hockey, individual training – it was obvious,” told me. James said last month for The Founder 4 podcast. “Basically, I think it’s really important that women are included.

James has an unwavering love and passion for hockey and is now back behind the bench for Ontario’s only professional women’s hockey team. James also coaches at the youth level in Ontario and believes that more women in the early stages will lead to more women coaches at the higher levels.

“I totally believe that if we are to be able to educate and promote our women to higher levels of hockey, we have to give them the opportunity at the grassroots,” said James.

For her part, James encourages the women who serve as coaches or bench coaches to get on the ice and experience the sport up close. Despite their skating ability, James sees this small step as an essential way to develop a sense of belonging in a sport that many believe to be white and male dominated.

In Canada, women have a mandate to get involved as trainers or team leaders, James said. On the one hand, the mandate ensures the involvement of women. On the other hand, James thinks there isn’t much encouragement for women to grow beyond these roles.

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“They have to get involved that way and not be intimidated by guys who feel like they have to take charge and that it’s their game because it’s actually our game,” said James. The Hall of Fame is hoping the terms will go further and require women to take on the coaching role.

It is essential to involve more women and parents or BIPOC volunteers at the local level. There are some Canadian born hockey players who may not have a Black teammate, let alone a Black coach during their hockey career. Thus, perpetuating a narrative that hockey is not for them.

“In my 20 year career I have never been coached by a coach of color and this coming season with the Toronto Six I have the opportunity to be coached by two,” said the defenseman. Saroya Tinker in a video message posted after James was named assistant coach.

Tinker played his rookie season with the Metropolitan Riveters and expressed on and off the ice his belief in inclusion, equality and fairness in hockey and society. The former Yale student runs her own mentoring program and is involved with the Black Girl Hockey Club and other grassroots movements to diversify hockey.

Both the PHF and the Toronto Six were criticized last season for their handling of equality and inclusion. Tinker has been entangled in an online speech with the hot-headed and controversial Barstool Sports while Toronto Six president Digit Murphy has been criticized for supporting the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group.

It’s fair to ask how the federation is moving forward from these missteps, I certainly have. It’s also more than fair to honor the story Joslin and James make while shaking their heads as to why no black coach has found their way into professional women’s hockey until 2021. I certainly did. .

For now, the Toronto Six are leading the way in representation. Tinker and reigning league MVP Mikyla Grant-Mentis are the only black players in the PHF this season and both play for Toronto. Additionally, T6 hired Managing Director Krysti Clarke over the summer. At every turn, Toronto has women, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA community in leadership roles.

Representation matters, but so does proximity. There is a real chance to forge a new future for hockey in Toronto. It’s fitting that Angela James, the first black woman to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame, is in the game.

“Hockey has always had a culture (sensation) among whites. I know we’re trying to change the culture, but more importantly, understand and accept each other’s cultures, ”James told me. She added that different people will bring different cultures and experiences to hockey. Its goal is to embrace individuality and use it to elevate the common goal of making hockey a welcoming space.

James should hardly be seen as a symbolic hire, given his resume. She is convinced that the coaching staff in Toronto were hired on merit. That said, she’s mindful of the optics and seizes her chance to represent black women, queer women, or whatever else she is “the exception” in hockey spaces.

“If this is what it takes to change, then this is what it takes… it’s unfortunate that it happens in some industries, but it has to start. And starting off, there’s equal representation, ”James said. She believes she can help break the cycle of BIPOC and candidates who are being left out of the hockey space simply because they are not in the right networking circles.

This is an ongoing problem and one where some diversity initiatives fail. We cannot assume that systems will organically change when their structures were created amid open, systemic and legal racism and segregation.

The Toronto Six’s last practice before their very first home opener on November 6 was a bit of a distraction. This last workout was also an exercise for the public announcer, so the workout was stronger than usual.

James called in a request to the PA booth. She and head coach Mark Joslin have requested that a Motown song or two be added to the rotation. The DJ obliged and the coaches turned the ice center into a dance floor.

“We all started rocking and rolling and getting down to it,” James said.

It’s my kind of hockey.

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