GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dawn Braid understands the historical significance of her hiring as the NHL’s first full-time female coach. So do the Coyotes, even if they tastefully avoided trumpeting her hiring last week as a victory for women or a symbol of their progressive thinking.
The best part of last week’s news may be this, however: the fact that Braid is a woman was genuinely an afterthought for both parties when adding a skating coach to their staff.
“It’s a good thing for Dawn and others in the league that have aspirations to get to the level she is,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka acknowledged, “but really what entered into my thinking is what a valuable resource she is for our players and myself. The more we can have her integrated with our group, the better, so it’s about being open minded and doing what we think is best for our organization regardless of what are really meaningless variables.”
It doesn’t take much examination to understand that pro sports have a long way to go when it comes to fully integrating and accepting women. All of the female coaches and executives in pro sports could probably be housed under one roof. Female reporters regularly endure critiques of their looks and their ability to cover men’s sports. Female athletes regularly endure critiques of their looks and their fitness to play sports.
Braid is one of the lucky ones. She said she has never felt that degrading sting.
“Maybe it’s because of my client base or the fact that I have been doing this for a while,” she said. “I don’t think they look at me as Dawn Braid, the female. I’m their skating coach and they’re working with me because I’m getting results.”
Braid has a lengthy list of NHL clients who will attest to that fact, including the Islanders’ John Tavares, the Predators’ James Neal and the Coyotes’ Max Domi, Ryan MacInnis and Connor Murphy.
She estimates that she has worked with more than 100 NHL players, and she has served as a skating consultant for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres. She also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development.
“The biggest thing you look for when you’re trying to develop certain areas of your game is results, so when you have something that you can visually see and feel has made you better, that’s what makes you want to come back for more,” Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy said. “Dawn helped me remove a lot of unnecessary movements and stiffness in my backwards skating. I was moving my upper body, swinging my arms, not getting low enough and I had too narrow a base in my stance. Her coaching allowed me to calm my upper body and maintain a balance with my upper body over the top of my feet. That made me more confident and I was able to defend rushes more easily.”
Braid knew from the time she gave up her figure skating career that she wanted to teach skating, but it was the most important man in her life who encouraged her to pursue it at the highest levels: her dad, Bill White. Braid was assisting White’s Junior B team with power skating lessons when he urged her to dream big; to dream of an NHL career.
“I remember thinking, ‘dad, I’m really happy you think that much of me but, boy, the NHL? I don’t know if I can get there,'” Braid said. “He didn’t stop, though. He said, ‘I think you really have something here if you work at it.’ My dad was a firm believer that if work hard enough at something you can achieve it.”
Sadly for Braid, her dad never saw that dream realized. When the Maple Leafs hired her to help with their development camp in 2005, thereby launching her NHL career, her father had already been diagnosed with brain cancer.
“When it was announced that I was doing that development camp, the disease had already progressed and he didn’t understand what I was telling him,” Braid said. “He passed away shortly thereafter.”
Braid hesitates to identify a core philosophy in her coaching.
“I will preach strong basics — fundamentals and repetition because progress doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “If we’re going to work on this skill we’ll keep working on it because we are changing movement patterns. We’re not rebuilding everything about their skating, but we’re trying to make them quicker, more balanced, more explosive, more efficient and more agile.
“But I don’t throw every player in the same mold. I try to look at each player’s needs and one of the things I’ve tried to do over the years is understand how the game is evolving and what it requires from a skating standpoint.”
The Coyotes first approached Braid about helping their players when Darcy Regier was named Arizona’s assistant GM in 2014. Regier was familiar with Braid from her time with the Sabres, while he was Buffalo’s GM.
“Dawn worked in Buffalo with Sabres players and also traveled to our AHL team in Rochester to work with players,” Regier said. “She is an excellent skating coach. I think it’s a very good decision by the Coyotes to hire her.”
Chayka said the Coyotes had been pondering bringing Braid on full-time for a while because they saw the benefits she had on their roster.
“We think there is tremendous value to having her living here and being part of our staff and being available before and after practice for our guys,” said Chayka, who also noted the value she could have on recent acquisitions. “Take (defenseman) Luke Schenn for example. If he can improve his skating, that’s a player we think can be very valuable for us.”
Now that Braid is full-time, she will live in Arizona during the season. In addition to her work with the Coyotes’ players, she will also work with the team’s AHL affiliate in Tucson, and play a role on the hockey operations staff in evaluating and analyzing prospects, free agents and potential trade targets.
Although Braid is full-time, she will still keep her individual clients back in Ontario, and she will serve as a consultant for Calgary, spending what Flames GM Brad Treliving says will be between seven and 10 days per month with the team. Chayka has no problems with that arrangement.
“When you’re dealing with world class people there is going to be demand,” he said. “You can either cut off that demand and try to keep them for yourself, which restrains a person’s ability to grow and learn and accomplish more, or you can make it part of the deal when you hire them, and understand that’s why they’re world class.”
Braid admits she may face some hurdles as the only woman on the coaching staff, but she stops short of calling it a concern.
“I spend a lot of time on my own, only because of the way people might look at if a female is out with all males afterward; how it would be perceived,” she said. “But that part of it, I don’t worry about at all. I worry about how I’m perceived on the ice. I just want to be a part of a progression with the team, and helping the players improve.”