Kate Madigan blushed and she couldn’t help smiling.

When it was time at the New Jersey Devils development camp for her to show up with her title, Madigan got the chance to say she was an assistant general manager. She is only the sixth woman in the history of the National Hockey League to hold this position and the fifth currently.

“It’s something I’ve worked really hard for,” she told The Associated Press this week. “For me, it’s so exciting, and I think it’s going to stay that way for a while.”

Madigan, Chicago Blackhawks assistant general manager Meghan Hunter, Toronto’s Hayley Wickenheiser and Vancouver’s Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay are at the forefront of concerted hockey efforts to diversify team offices to catch up with other leagues that have already made significant progress in this department. More than 25 years after Angela Gorgon became the first woman in NHL history to hold the position, changes are happening rapidly at the leadership level with Mike Grier becoming the first black general manager and nearly 100 women in hockey operations, player development, health or safety roles around the league.

“The pendulum really swings to add diversity,” said Granato, a Hockey Hall of Famer who was named assistant general manager for the Canucks in February. “There are naysayers who say, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to catch up and just add people to add them’, but they’re qualified people. But I’m not surprised. I’m excited about it. It’s great that the NHL embraces that kind of mentality and looks to that to open the pool.

Just as people thought Madigan was crazy when she said in high school that she wanted to be general manager one day – “It’s not so crazy anymore,” she points out – Hunter didn’t know there was a path for her when her playing days were over. She turned to college women’s hockey coaching because that’s all she thought was available to her.

Hunter was a top college player but fell short of the levels of Team Canada star Granato and Wickenheiser. She wasn’t a players’ agent like Castonguay and she didn’t evolve in the business world like Madigan.

Having worked her way up the Blackhawks organization since joining the club in 2016, she marvels at the different journeys women have taken to get here.

“It’s amazing to have more women coming in from different angles: different skills that other women can see they bring to the table,” Hunter said at the NHL Draft in Montreal. “Having women in powerful leadership positions is huge, and that can translate into young women.”

The draft was a watershed moment for the league, with more women on the field than ever before. Madigan announced New Jersey’s first selection with his father, the athletic director of Northeastern University, beaming with pride from the stands.

“She’s a bright young woman with a very strong work ethic, so we’re proud of her for her early growth and development,” said Jim Madigan. “She’s still only 29 with a long track ahead of her, but the folks in the Devils organization haven’t put up any barriers for her and have been nothing but helpful in helping her continue to grow in the profession. .”

Kate Madigan was promoted the day before the draft by the Devils, who also have longtime American star Meghan Duggan as director of player development. Less than six months earlier, Castonguay had secured the agent position at the Canucks’ AGM after more than five years as an NHL Players’ Association-certified agent.

Castonguay, who notably represented 2020 No. 1 pick Alexis Lafrenière, credited Vancouver president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford for being a forward-thinker in adding him with Granato.

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

Wickenheiser, who in addition to her duties with the Maple Leafs works full-time as a doctor, sees this as an evolution of the game. She told reporters in Toronto over the weekend that while the sport’s tradition was dominated by men, “in the rest of society, women play very important roles, and I don’t see why it could be any different here in hockey. »

It’s only just beginning to happen. Two decades since the NBA first had a woman in an assistant coaching position and a year and a half since Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins became the first woman to be named general manager of an NBA team. Major League Baseball, the NHL always celebrates the breakthroughs of this nice guy.

In June, the Washington Capitals made Emily Engel-Natzke the first full-time woman on the NHL coaching staff when they hired her as video coordinator. Seattle’s top affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, has hired Jessica Campbell to be the American Hockey League’s first full-time assistant coach.

“There are many other women who can fill other roles,” said Engel Natzke. “There are a lot of very good coaches in the international game, NCAA. I hope the door keeps opening a little more and hopefully in a few years it won’t be as bad, it’s just another hire.

Coaching is the next frontier, with the NHL trailing the NBA and the NFL in women stepping into these roles. Getting up to speed on that front is the goal of the NHL Coaches Association, which launched the Women’s Coaching Development Program last year in a bid to broaden the pool of available candidates.

NHLCA President Lindsay Artkin said “the opportunities ahead for female coaches are limitless.”

“This program would not be possible without the tremendous support of our NHL coaches who have spent hours mentoring and networking with the women in our program,” Artkin said. “It’s that level of connection that will continue to lead to more women getting coaching opportunities in the NHL.

That’s what Madigan thought when she saw Duggan working on the ice with Devils prospects in development camp. It may take a while for a woman to land an assistant coaching job in the NHL, let alone be hired to lead a bench, but progress has already been made.

“Coaching will come,” Madigan said. “I don’t know this year, but I think in the next two to three years I would expect to see one. I think it will happen.

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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