NEWS
04/13/2012 04:15 EDT | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Former player Goyette one of few women pursuing profession of hockey coach

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Danielle Goyette coaches players on the Canadian women's hockey team who were her teammates not long ago.

She joined Canada's coaching staff this season as an assistant coach to Dan Church.

Goyette played 16 seasons for Canada and won two Olympic gold medals. She officially retired in 2008, but had already started coaching the University of Calgary women's team by then and won a national university title this year.

She's in the first wave, albeit small, of former players getting back into the game as coaches.

That's significant because the top female coaches in hockey are worried about their numbers.

Canada's Melody Davidson was the only female head coach in the Olympic women's hockey tournaments of both 2006 and 2010.

She's now Hockey Canada's female head scout and a coaching mentor for the International Ice Hockey Federation.

There may be only one woman again in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. Katey Stone of the U.S. is the lone female head coach at this year's world championship.

"It's a sad state of affairs where we are in women's hockey, whether it be at the college level and . . . we're just trying to do what we can do to put ourselves in a position to be there in 2014," Stone said. "On a bigger scale, it's an issue."

Including Goyette, there are three female assistant coaches among the eight teams at the world championships. Laura Halldorson of the U.S., and former German player Maritta Becker are the other two.

The IIHF aggressively developed female officials for the women's game. All referees and linesmen at the world championship are female. The organization hasn't been adamant about getting women behind the bench.

"There's not enough experienced female coaches yet," said Tanya Foley, the IIHF's director of female hockey.

"Right now, we're more concerned with having the best coaches teaching the athletes how to become hockey athletes. If they ever mandate having to have a female coach on the bench, I'd be a little surprised because the most important thing is having the best coach working with the national team program."

Goyette had Davidson and former national team coach Daniele Sauvageau as coaching mentors. Hockey Canada has invested in Goyette's coaching career, making her an assistant to Davidson at the 2009 world under-18 women's championship.

Goyette, from St-Nazaire, Que., feels lucky to be in an environment nurturing her as a coach, but that doesn't mean it's not challenging.

"I work as hard as a coach right now as I did off-ice training as a player," Goyette said. "It's not something natural in me and not everyone who can do it, but I think if we give the chance to women to be able to head coach, I think we're going to develop more women coaches."

The most fertile ground of coaching opportunities for women is drying up. The number of women coaching NCAA women's hockey teams has plummeted from about 50 per cent in the late 1990s to 20 per cent, according to a study by Dr. Jeff Gerson of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

"It's a trend going on in other sports, but hockey seems to be one of the more extreme declines," Gerson said.

Davidson, a former head coach at Cornell, says family pressures, isolation on the job and a lack of coaching opportunities discourage women from pursuing the profession or staying in it.

Running an NCAA Division 1 program requires long hours and travel. During his research, Gerson found only two women hockey coaches with children. Davidson knows of two in the NCAA who are pregnant now.

"They don't know whether they're going to manage it, but they're going to try," Davidson said. "I talk to so many females, the pressures they feel and the guilt they feel when they're away from their child."

Davidson is an example of a woman who looked for coaching opportunities close to home in Alberta and found few.

"We don't have midget, bantam triple-A at the level the guys have or Tier 1, Tier 2 or minor pro to develop and grow and learn, so we have to help her get those opportunities," she said. "Right from the minor hockey level, we need to grow and develop female coaches and we need those coaches to have female role models."

Gerson is also studying female coaches in Canadian university sport. His early findings so far indicate about a third of CIS coaches are women.

Goyette has two female assistant coaches in Calgary. When she looks around the Canada West conference, there are women coaching university teams in Regina, Lethbridge and at the University of British Columbia. Her former Canadian teammate Carla MacLeod is an assistant coach at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

Why do women need female coaches anyway? Canadian captain Hayley Wickenheiser says it doesn't matter to her whether her coach is male or female. Goyette also said it was irrelevant to her as a player.

Davidson and Stone argue male and female athletes are different and that females benefit from having a woman as a coach.

"Personally, I think it matters," Stone said. "The players who say 'I don't care' or "I'd rather be coached by a man' many of them have never been coached by a competent woman or someone that cared about them and created a team culture and atmosphere that was really positive.

"Women are different than men. We react differently to things. We understand how each other feels. Guys also let women get away with a lot more than a women would. That discipline is a good thing."