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The Toronto Six, the latest expansion team of the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly the National Women’s Hockey League), sits at the top of the league standings with a 7-1-1 record. Despite only joining the women’s professional hockey league last season, the Six has seen themselves in first before. What makes it different this time is, for the first time in league history, the staff includes two Black coaches.

MORE FROM FORBESGoodbye, NWHL. Hello, Premier Hockey Federation.

Mark Joslin was hired as the Toronto head coach in June, becoming the first-ever Black coach in league history. He added Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James to his staff later that same month. The pair of Seneca College alumni might be the first, but James sure hope they are far from the last Black coaches in professional women’s hockey.

“When Mark approached me about helping him get into the women’s side of things – Mark has been on the guys side of things in junior hockey, pro hockey, individual training – it was a no-brainer,” James told me last month for The Founding 4 podcast. “At the grassroots I think it’s really important that women be included.

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


“I totally believe that if we’re gonna be able to educate and promote our women into higher levels of hockey, they have to be given the opportunity at the grassroots,” James said.

For her part, James encourages women who serve as trainers or bench coaches to get on the ice and experience the sport close up. Despite their skating ability, James sees this small step as a critical way to grow a sense of belonging in a sport so many assume is white and male-dominated.

In Canada, women are mandated to be involved as trainers or team managers, said James. On the one hand, the mandate assures women are involved. On the other hand, James feels there isn’t much encouragement for women to grow beyond those roles.

MORE FROM FORBESMikyla Grant-Mentis Cleans Up At The NWHL Awards

“They have to get involved in that way and not be intimidated by the guys that feel that they have to take charge and that it’s their game, because it’s actually our game,” James said. The Hall of Famer is hoping the mandates will go further and require women to serve as coaches.

Getting more women and more BIPOC parents or volunteers involved at the grassroots level is critical. There are Canadian-born hockey players that might not have a Black teammate, let alone a Black coaching staff ever in their hockey career. Thus, perpetuating a narrative that hockey isn’t for them.

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

Tinker played her rookie season with the Metropolitan Riveters and was vocal on and off the ice about her belief in inclusion, equality, and justice in hockey and society. The Yale alumna runs her own mentorship program and is involved with Black Girl Hockey Club and other grassroots movements to diversify hockey.

The PHF and the Toronto Six both received criticism last season for their handling of equality and inclusion. Tinker saw herself entangled in an online discourse with the brash and controversial Barstool Sports while Toronto Six president Digit Murphy was criticized for her support of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group.

It is fair to question how the federation moves forward from these missteps, I certainly have. It is also more than fair to honor the history Joslin and James are making while also shaking one’s head as to why no Black coaches found their way to professional women’s hockey before 2021. I certainly have.

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. Further, the T6 hired general manager 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 too 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 mix.

“Hockey’s always had a white guys culture (feel) to it. I know that we’re trying to change the culture but more importantly, understanding and accepting each other’s cultures,” James told me. She added different people will bring different cultures and experiences to hockey. Her goal is to welcome individuality and use it to uplift the common goal of making hockey a welcoming space.

James should hardly be considered a token hire, given her resume. She is confident the Toronto coaching staff was hired on merit. That said, she is aware of optics and embraces her chance to represent Black women, queer women, or any of the other ways she is the “exception” in hockey spaces.

“If that’s what it takes for change, then that’s what it takes … it’s unfortunate that it’s come to this in certain industries but it needs to start. And by starting there’s equal representation,” James said. She believes she can help break the cycle of BIPOC and women candidates being omitted from the hockey space simply because they are not in the right networking circles.

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

The last practice for the Toronto Six ahead of their first-ever home opener on November 6 was a bit of distraction. That last practice was also a run-through for the public announcer so practice was louder than usual.

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

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

Now that’s my kind of hockey.

Source: Forbes

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