Angela James continues to blaze a trail, plus Pride and more — Jillian Flynn chats Maine hockey — Must-click women’s hockey links
The IX: Hockey Friday with Anne Tokarski, June 3, 2022
Welcome back to Hockey Friday, everyone, and happy Pride! It’s been a pretty quiet week in women’s hockey…other than, you know, that part where Hockey Hall of Famer and Hockey Canada trailblazer Angela James was named the general manager of the Toronto Six. That part was pretty awesome.
In early March, James and a group of her peers in the Canadian hockey history books including Anthony Stewart, Bernice Carnegie, and Ted Nolan, became owners of the Six. Shortly thereafter, James joined the team’s coaching staff as an assistant under Mark Joslin. Her new role as general manager will focus on managing “player activities, team operations and logistics, as well as game day event management,” including communicating with free agents and coordinating their contracts.
James’ appointment to the office of general manager doesn’t make her the first openly gay woman to hold such a position in professional women’s hockey — her predecessor, Krysti Clarke, was openly queer, as well as former Metropolitan Riveters general manager Anya Packer, current general manager Tori Charron, and PWHPA Operations Consultant Jayna Hefford, to name a few — and she definitely won’t be the last. In a sport where being cisgender and heterosexual is the norm and where many fans aren’t receptive to anything other than that…James’ appointment, and the appointment of other queer women of color, is a really good thing.
As a queer woman who first fell in love with men’s hockey, where, like I mentioned, heterosexuality is generally the norm, seeing LGBTQ+ people at the helm of professional sports teams is something I never could have fathomed at fourteen when I was just figuring out my own sexuality. It means, in some deeply personal but also extremely extrapolated way, that maybe, someday, I could do that kind of thing too.
And while women’s hockey has historically been more LGBTQ-friendly than its counterpart on the men’s side, that doesn’t mean everything is perfect and that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done to ensure everyone is welcome at games, in the front office, and in the community. We need to ensure that support for the LGBTQ+ community within hockey doesn’t start and end with rainbow logos, and that team branding and messaging is more than just a facade.
I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is the desire to hold teams, organizations, and leagues accountable for uplifting the LGBTQ+ community not just during Pride, but year-round. Every queer player, every queer front office member, and every queer fan deserves investment into their community and investment into their belonging at the rink.
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At The IX, we deliver a newsletter to your inbox six days a week across six sports, with original reporting, analysis, interviews with newsmakers and links to work being done across the women’s sports media landscape. With so much going on in the world of soccer — between the upcoming World Cup and the ongoing NWSL regular season — subscribe now and save 21% for your first year. That’s 21% as in rising star and No. 21 for Angel City FC, Alyssa Thompson.
This Week in Women’s Hockey
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Five at The IX: Jillian Flynn
Maine native, former goaltender for the Black Bears, and current goaltending coach at Colby College Jillian Flynn sat down with The IX to talk about being a leader and a game-changer on and off the ice in the state of Maine.
Question: Tell me about growing up as a female hockey player in Maine, committing to your dream school in-state, and after graduation, staying local to coach at the D-III level. What has that entire timeline been like for you?
Jillian Flynn: Growing up in Maine, hockey-wise, is a very unique experience. I think a lot of people have this perception that Maine is a hockey state just because it’s more north which is, unfortunately, not really true, especially at the high school level.
I remember growing up I had the little like, cheap paper player cards for the Maine women’s team. And I remember I would have them and I’d lay them all out and they wore like, Itech gear and stuff like that. Super old, janky stuff. And yeah, it was just kind of a dream from there and I didn’t really realize it was even a thing that women played hockey at a collegiate level until I was in…I want to say middle school?
So then the recruiting process. I stayed pretty much in the state of Maine for my recruiting process as well; I wanted to stay kind of close to home. And so I looked at some Canadian schools, and then I looked at Colby and Bowdoin and Maine and I was fairly aware going into Maine that I wasn’t going to play a whole lot. And that didn’t really matter. I think some of it had to do with my own ego of wanting to play D-I because that’s pretty cool. And then also just the fact that I grew up watching this team, from middle school in high school on and knowing the players and wanting to be there. And so in many ways it was the standard statement of it was a dream come true. And my time there was incredible. I loved it.
Q: You played as a backup for most of your collegiate career, but that didn’t stop you from being a leader on and off the ice. What was it like serving as captain your senior year, and did you always have that natural leadership instinct?
Flynn: Yeah, I think like, high school sports are so interesting because 99% of the time, whoever is the best at the sport is going to just be the captain because that’s how high school sports tend to work. And so that’s kind of what happened in all of my sports in high school and I really enjoyed being in that leadership role. Obviously, a much less serious thing than than in college.
Then my freshman year, I very much had Imposter Syndrome, but in a happy way. Like, I was just happy to be there. And so I It wasn’t until the spring of my freshman year, when I knew that I wasn’t going to play a lot. I mean, I was behind [Carly “CJ” Jackson] and CJ is CJ and that was its own unique role and … we worked through that.
But I think it was once the seniors left that year and it was spring, the season was over and we were doing spring workouts I was like, “There’s really a lane here for me.” And it’s not going to be immediate, because there are other leaders ahead of me, but this is something I think is going to best serve my time here in terms of the team and myself.
And so starting sophomore year, I started trying to be very vocal, and just energetic and I remember it was the first week of sophomore year, and one of the freshmen came up to me and said, “I really love your positivity and your voice. You’re so loud you’re really encouraging.” And I was like “Okay, I can do this.”
And so we had the same, essentially the same captains sophomore and junior year. And then senior year, they were all gone and we’d had some incidents our junior year that required some leadership. And so many of us had to step up and I was one of them. And then yeah, senior year, like I said, I learned more about myself and communication with other people through that role than anything else. And I think it was extremely beneficial for myself but also for the team because the unique experience of me not playing and by senior year, I mean, I knew there was a very slim chance that I would play at all. And so I could really, really focus on being a leader and being a captain. And it almost I felt made me an extension of the coaches in the locker room just because I didn’t have to focus on playing at a high level most of the time.
Q: How do you think hockey fans and leaders like yourself can grow the sport of hockey in the state of Maine?
Flynn: Yeah, I think Maine…it’s not unique in the United States, but definitely in the Northeast, it’s unique in its size. In Portland and in southern Maine, where I am now, it’s better — there’s a strong population of kids playing hockey, and the middle of the state, I think it’s getting a little bit better. And then northern Maine just doesn’t have the resources to do much. And I think, I mean, the population can be relatively poor in rural Maine. And so I think hockey obviously has a huge cost. So the programs that are like, the free gear for little kids when they first start and stuff like that, I think, obviously help.
But what I think — and part of the reason why I went to Maine too — is there were so many people who inspired me that I could play who were females. I was the first person in my town to sign any sort of letter saying I would play a D-I sport. There was just..there was no one that played a D-I team sport, and so it wasn’t part of the scene and now it is a little bit up there because of me and a couple other people.
So I think it’s hard. I think having females at hockey camps is important. Because, you know, as a little kid, I went to so many hockey camps where I was usually the only female kid there but also, definitely there were no female coaches. And so I think young girls are drawn to female coaches and I think that’s super beneficial on the female aspect.
In the boys…I think seeing seeing people from the town be successful is super helpful just because it reminds them that they can do it. I think the Maine Mariners team up here, the ECHL team, has spread the game a fair amount down here. And you know, it’s no longer just hockey fans going the game. So I think it’s just regular people who want to see a sporting event.
And I think similarly, the Maine men’s [hockey] team does it a bit and we did it a fair amount too — they traveled to Portland and have like, travel home games, so they’re the home team but they play in Portland instead of at the [Alfond Sports Arena] and we did that in various parts of the state — Auburn and Falmouth and random parts. And the turnout for those games is huge because Orono, unfortunately, is out of the way so a lot of the kids in Portland are traveling up to games and seeing that they can play D-I hockey.
So I think continuing those types of things and getting people who are successful in the sport more involved in the youth programs is really important.
Q: What inspires you on and off the ice, and what has kept you motivated throughout your playing and coaching careers?
Flynn: I think there is a greater good to be done, and I don’t think it’s always clear. But I think in terms of hockey, growing up, obviously I wanted it for myself but when I was in middle school and in high school, I was coaching the goalies below me because there’s no goalie coach in northern Maine. So I’ve always had that drive to help those younger than me, or those who haven’t had the opportunities. I was so blessed to go to so many camps growing up because my parents could afford it, but that wasn’t the case for a lot of people.
So I think in terms of that, it was always kind of the next generation. My connection with my teammates in high school was just extremely different than it was in college, too, and so going to Maine and…that was the first female hockey team that I played on, that changed my drive in wanting to do what I did for my teammates and wanting to go further because we could do it as a team. And even when you get into the postseason, for me, at least no matter what year we were, one more game with your teammates in the playoffs was meant the world so I think a lot of it had to do with my teammates and the incredible people that they are.
And coaching, I think is, like I said, me being young and giving back to the next generation just because I love now that there can be all female hockey camps and there’ll be a full attendance. I knew growing up I knew every single good female hockey player in the state of Maine just because there was, like, six of us. And now that’s not the case, and I think that’s incredible.
So I think the greater good overall helping people in hockey…helping them have fun and and make their dreams come true if they want to play further.
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