SCOTTSDALE – Kelsey Koelzer and Kori Cheverie represent the future in the moment.
That was clear this year at the Arizona Coyotes’ development camp, where they worked as assistant coaches under coach André Tourigny during the intrasquad meeting in July. Koelzer and Cheverie’s participation was made possible through the Coyotes’ Diversified Training Camp, which launched in September and aims to create more diversity in the coaching talent pool.
Keolzer and Cheverie took full advantage of the opportunity to show their belonging, regardless of gender or race.
“We want to prove that we’re not just good coaches, we’re just good hockey coaches,” Koelzer said. “It’s something we each bring. Each person brings a different wealth of knowledge to the table.
Cheverie agrees, saying, “I’ll be really excited for the day we don’t have to have an interview about what an amazing opportunity for a woman this is. It’s just an amazing opportunity as a hockey coach.
Tourigny acknowledged the differences women face when coaching in a male-dominated league and the challenges minorities face when entering a venue where they are few and far between. Born in French-speaking Quebec, the Coyotes coach can understand the desire to earn a job solely on merit.
“I’m French, and the first time I coached for Team Canada, people were saying they needed a Frenchman on staff,” Tourigny said. “I didn’t want to be part of the staff because I was French. I wanted to be part of the staff because I am a good coach. The goal is to have the best coaching period. No sex, no gender, nothing, just good coaching.
Koelzer became the first black head coach in NCAA ice hockey history in September 2019, when she took over Arcadia University’s women’s ice hockey program. Her resume includes more accolades for the first time as Princeton’s first-ever women’s hockey All-American and the first black player selected first overall in a North American Hockey League pro draft.
Cheverie, currently an assistant coach with Hockey Canada, has history coaching men’s ice hockey teams. She became the first woman to coach a Canadian men’s national team as the assistant coach of the men’s World Under-18 Championship team and worked as an assistant coach with the men’s hockey team Ryerson University from 2016 to 2021.
“I think anytime you can coach at the highest level, that’s where I want to be,” Cheverie said, “whether it’s on the men’s side or the women’s side. And in the meantime, I’m just trying to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible so that if that opportunity arises, I’m ready to take it. That’s kind of how I approach my coaching career.
Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong and Tourigny hope the NHL catches up to the NFL and NBA when it comes to the number of professional female coaches in the sport.
The start of the 2021 NFL season featured 12 female assistant coaches, and seven women were NBA assistant coaches in the 2021-22 season.
Armstrong, a former AHL coach, was thrilled the Coyotes welcomed women to learn from their coaching staff for the second year in a row.
“Just to have people around you with more knowledge to share with you…they’re going to leave camp and they’re going to be inspired by new ideas and new ways of presenting and new thinking processes about coaching” , Armstrong said. “It’s going to have a huge impact for them as they move forward in their careers.”
While a few states, including Texas and Florida, have seen a rapid 71% increase in the number of girls playing hockey over the past decade, participation remains heavily skewed. According to a study by Zippia, men outnumber women 9 to 1 in turnout across the country. Access could be one of the reasons for the imbalance between men and women.
“I didn’t have a women’s team; that was not an option,” Koelzer said. “I had no choice but to play with the guys if I wanted to play hockey. And that was something I had absolutely no problem with.
“When I was growing up I knew I would go to college, but playing college hockey wasn’t something I knew was in the cards for me. Once I had that knowledge, once I had the confidence to say that was my end goal, it really helped propel my game forward.”
Koelzer and Cheverie hope their success stories, groundbreaking achievements and efforts to create more opportunity will help break down barriers for women aiming to succeed in male-dominated sport in the future. Still, the two coaches, the Coyotes organization and a group of others realize there is work to be done.
But, at least the groundwork is laid for like-minded women interested in coaching professional hockey – and the future is bright.