VOORHEES, N.J. – Nearly a decade ago, San Antonio Spurs legendary head coach Gregg Popovich hired Becky Hammon to become the first female assistant coach in NBA history.
It was a glass ceiling-breaking move and raised hope that the door was opening for more female coaches in the pro ranks.
While the anticipated movement hasn’t exactly panned out yet, there are signs in both the NBA and other major sports that attitudes might be changing.
An example of this is right here with the Flyers.
Princeton University women’s hockey coach Cara Morey was invited back to the Flyers Development Camp at the Flyers Training Center this year after several previous visits.
The former Brown University standout, who went on to play women’s professional hockey as a defenseman, has been helpful to the 30-plus young players who have been receiving instruction on a daily basis.
After Wednesday’s afternoon session, Morey, 44, was asked if she feels like a bit of a pioneer in a male-dominated pro hockey community.
“I think there have been skating coaches and maybe some mental skills coaches (in the past),” she said. “But there aren’t enough on-ice coaches.
“Girls growing up had male coaches in their lives. So if a man or a woman comes in, it’s not a big deal for them. But I don’t think there’s anyone out here (on the development camp roster) who had a woman coaching them when they’re young. I think we need to be involved with the younger boys’ hockey.”
In truth, women’s hockey across the board keeps getting better each year and so does the level of coaching. If nothing else, having the NHL make a daring transaction like the NBA Spurs did would certainly create headlines and possibly expand the sport’s overall fan base.
“I think it is a little bit of a pioneer (development),” Morey said. She sees signs of greater acceptance. “I’m happy. I think you’re going to see a lot starting to come on. This program that they’re doing with the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players’ Association) and the NHL Coaches Association, they’re bringing in women and minority coaches across like 10 NHL clubs this year.”
Even after doing this for a number of times, there still are some butterflies. She knows she has to be at her best from the start of a session to the finish.
“There’s a little bit of pressure,” she said with a smile. “Because if I’m going to be representing a gender I want to do a really good job, right?”
Since she’s been around the FTC before, the comfort level is much better on both sides.
“Way more comfortable,” she said. “I think everybody is. I think it’s that way with all coaches. The first time you come in you’re unsure, the players are unsure who you are.
“And then every year the faces become more and more familiar. It’s awesome. It gets better every year. This time when I walked in, it was like ‘Hey!’ In the past, it was like, ‘Whoa!’ ”
Corey cited defensemen Oliver Bonk (taken No. 22 in last week’s NHL Draft) and Emil Andrae (ranked fourth among Flyers’ prospects by The Hockey News) among those who have caught her eye.
Andrae, who is rather on the small side for an NHL defenseman at 5-9, 180 pounds, was “in the news” on Wednesday when he semi-totaled forward Elliot Desnoyers during a routine drill.
“His footwork is so good,” Morey said. “He uses his size in the right way and his stick placement is great. So even though he’s smaller, he creates a bigger bubble for himself so it’s harder for them to get around him.”
Besides coaching Flyers prospects, Morey is learning things herself as she goes along. Top development coach Riley Armstrong has been particularly helpful.
“Riley does an amazing job,” Morey said. “It’s super-collaborative. They want a lot of feedback, so there’s a lot more meetings where we’re talking about the drills. It’s really high tempo.”
There were lots of girls and women taking it all in from the bleachers at FTC. Morey said that’s an encouraging thing to see.
“I really didn’t think about that part until I got off the ice,” she said. “One of the dads said, ‘hey, my daughter is here.’ The neat part was she just came to watch hockey. She was like, ‘oh, my goodness, there’s a girl on the ice!’
“It lights them up and makes them think ‘wow, there’s girls out here – something maybe I can do.’ I’m sure they thought about playing. But to think about coaching professional hockey, this is a whole new area that’s getting exciting for them.”