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NHL’s glass ceiling finally shattering as more women move into front-office roles

Several women on the floor at the NHL entry draft, including five female AGMs
Vancouver Canucks assistant general manager Emilie Castonguay talks to GM Patrik Allvin during the first round of the NHL draft in Montreal, Thursday, July 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

Emilie Castonguay knew she wouldn’t be an anomaly for long.

The former player agent made history in January when she became the Vancouver Canucks’ first ever female assistant general manager — and a rare women working in an NHL front office.

“Sometimes there’s just one domino that needs to fall and I think the glass ceiling was broken there,” Castonguay said. “And I knew that after that, the floodgates would open.”

She was right.

At the NHL entry draft on Thursday and Friday, there were several women on the floor, including five female AGMs.

Cammi Granato, who joined the Canucks’ front office in February, sat next to Vancouver general manager Patrik Allvin, discussing players and, at one point, looking at a photo Allvin’s kids sent of the early-morning sky from their home in Sweden. Castonguay sat next to Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, carefully studying the team’s list.

Over at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ table sat Hayley Wickenheiser, who was promoted Tuesday to assistant GM of player development. Meghan Hunter of the Chicago Blackhawks and Kate Madigan of the New Jersey Devils were also on the draft floor after being elevated to assistant general manager positions earlier this month.

“There were times I didn’t think this was an option for women. Growing up, there was no representation, so it wasn’t something that I thought would happen in my lifetime,” Granato said.

Granato’s long been breaking down barriers for women in hockey.

She captained the U.S. team that beat Canada to win gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and remains the all-time leading scorer for the American women’s team. She and Canadian Angela James became the first women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. Then she became the NHL’s first female scout when she was hired by the Seattle Kraken.

“I think the mindset that is changing is that women are qualified,” Granato said. “I think before it was like ‘Well, women can’t do this job, women aren’t qualified, women don’t know hockey.’ But that’s not true.”

Front offices aren’t the only area women are breaking into the NHL.

The Montreal Canadiens recently brought on three-time gold medallist Marie-Philip Poulin as a player development consultant and the L.A. Kings have added Canadian Olympian Manon Rheaume as a hockey operations and prospects adviser. In the American Hockey League, the Coachella Valley Firebirds will have Jessica Campbell behind the bench as an assistant coach when they begin their inaugural season.

The wave of women sweeping into positions across the league has long been building, Hunter said.

“You could almost feel it. The timing was so right and it’s so awesome,” she said. “I could just see it was happening, that we we’re starting to break down some barriers.

“Women bring diverse opinions into the different organizations so it’s really awesome that we’re finally getting the opportunities.”

Coming out of the University of Wisconsin, Hunter women working in hockey operations. Instead, she worked behind the bench, even coaching Castonguay at Niagara University.

“I naturally just gravitated into coaching female hockey, and just started in that avenue,” Hunter said. “My path definitely wasn’t linear. I didn’t really know where I was going post playing career.

“I just kind of did what I enjoyed and I worked really hard at it and I’m just thankful that these opportunities are coming at the time that they are.”

The NHL broke another barrier last week when the San Jose Sharks hired Mike Grier as the league’s first Black general manager.

Having more diversity in front offices is “fabulous,” said Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland, a longtime NHL executive.

“To bring minorities and women into our sport, you think about all the, women hockey players on the Canada team, the U.S. team and other countries too, but they’ve been playing the game of hockey since they were little girls just like the little boys.

“So I think it’s great for our league, and I would expect it’s going to continue more and more.”

Folks that are moving into these NHL jobs deserve them not because they tick a box but because they’re talented, Castonguay said.

“I’ve said it from the beginning — for me, it’s just about hiring the right people and the most competent people, whether they’re male or female,” she said.

“And I feel like that’s what we’re doing. So as long as it keeps going in that trend, and we’re doing it for the right reasons, I’m all for it.”

—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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