HALIFAX — A junior hockey league on the East Coast wants to create new opportunities for women by hiring up to 10 of them as assistant coaches and scouts for the upcoming season.
The Maritime Junior Hockey League says it will be the first league in Canada to offer such a program. League president Troy Dumville, who has been on the job for only two months, said women do not enjoy the same opportunities as men do when it comes to hockey operations jobs in the junior leagues.
"I think it's important for teams to be more diverse," he said in an interview Tuesday.
"It's an asset to have different opinions and perspectives .... The perception has been for years that it's an old boys' club. I think that it's important that all levels take steps to changing that, not just with women but with diversity in general."
The program will feature monthly guest lectures from influential women, including broadcaster Tara Slone, Hockey Nova Scotia executive director Amy Walsh and Meghan Chayka, co-founder of hockey analytics company Stathletes. These women will serve as mentors to those who get the new jobs, Dumville said.
Slone, former co-host of Rogers Hometown Hockey and an advocate for social change in sport, said hockey in Canada is at a crossroads.
"It's been a very homogeneous group of people running hockey," she said. "Obviously, when it comes to toxic masculinity and misogyny … and matters of sexual assault and sexual impropriety, it's just so much easier to have that pack mentality when you don't see anything else but yourself.
"Just having women there, adding their voices and points of view, is going to make a massive difference. But this is just the beginning. Diversity can't just be one flavour."
Slone said she jumped at the chance to help with the MHL's diversity program. "I was blown away when Troy contacted me," she said. "It just takes somebody to say, 'I see that there needs to be some diversity in our leadership. It's not OK that we haven't made space for this.' And Troy did that."
Walsh said the program represents a step toward creating more equitable opportunities for women at the highest levels of the sport. "I believe that representation matters and that when you can see her, you can be her," Walsh said in a statement.
Dumville, who has worked as an NHL scout for several years, said the goals of the program go beyond promoting diversity within his 12-team league.
"The ultimate goal is … to move (these women) along so that when teams in the NHL or … other high levels of hockey are looking for candidates, they now have a pool of experienced women as well as men for those positions," he said.
The league is looking for women to serve as assistant coaches for New Brunswick's Grand Falls Rapids and Nova Scotia's Pictou County Crushers and Truro Bearcats. It also wants a female development coach for the Fredericton Red Wings and a number of scouts for the Red Wings, Crushers, New Brunswick's Campbellton Tigers and Nova Scotia's Valley Wildcats.
The deadline for applications is Aug. 31.
Dumville said women will get the first crack at applying for the jobs, but "we're not going to force somebody in that's not ready for that type of position," he said.
As well, he said he would like to see the program expanded to all 10 leagues in the Canadian Junior Hockey League. "There's no reason why this can't go national," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Toronto lawyer Andrea Skinner was appointed interim chair of Hockey Canada's board of directors. She is the first woman to hold the position in the organization's history. She takes over from Michael Brind'Amour, who resigned last week.
Hockey Canada is under the microscope for its handling of sexual assault allegations against members of past junior men's hockey teams. The federal government has frozen its funding until Hockey Canada meets several conditions, including a plan to change the organization's culture.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press