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Coaching To Change Female Hockey

Linda Massie will make her 4th appearance behind the bench at the next Canada Winter Games, this time as Head Coach for Team NL Women’s U18. – Courtesy of Linda Massie

PORT AUX BASQUES – It’s not hard to understand why Linda Massie has been selected as the next Head Coach of Team NL Women’s U18. It’s a challenge she has sought out, having served previously in 2011 as an Assistant Coach. Massie appears well-suited to take on the role.

The Port Saunders native, who now works as an educator in Port aux Basques, has racked up an impressive list of hockey accomplishments both on the ice and behind the bench.

In 1999 she played ringette at the Canada Winter Games and went on to play for Team NL at the Atlantic Challenge Cup tournaments from 2000 to 2003. She also played for Team NL at the 2003 Canada Winter Games.

Massie has been coaching various levels of minor hockey since 2006. She’s served as an Assistant Coach for Western Female Hockey at the NL Winter Games in 2005, as Assistant Coach for Team NL female high performance hockey from 2006 to 2011 and again in 2019.

She’s also a coaching clinic facilitator with Hockey NL and a delegate for Hockey Canada’s National Female Hockey forum.

“I’m really excited about it,” she confesses. “I’m not nervous yet. I’ve had experience at the Canada Games as a player and as a coach, and I have an amazing coaching staff by my side, so I’m just really excited to get the process started to really get to know the girls and start working with them.”

Massie has played hockey all of her life, starting in Twin Towns on the Northern Peninsula when she was only 5 years old. She left home mid-way through Grade 11 after being scouted to play defence for St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island.

“It was a huge adjustment,” recalls Massie. Transferring to a private school in the U.S.A. meant adjusting to differences in the curriculum. “They moved me back to halfway through my 10th Grade year, so I ended up getting two and a half years down there as opposed to just one and a half.”

She turned down opportunities to play Division III after high school and returned to NL to continue her education. She pursued a degree in Physical Education at Memorial University where she soon became interested in coaching.

“In Newfoundland there’s really not a whole lot for females once you get past minor hockey age,” says Massie. “I got involved in coaching a high school team while I was in University and through that I started doing my coaching clinics.”

As player in high school, Massie had gone through the high performance program and wanted to return to it on a coaching level. Hockey NL helped her become certified as a high performance coach through a training program held in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

High performance hockey is exactly what it sounds like. For the players, it serves as a week-long basic introductory training experience similar to the national team’s camp. Besides the on-ice practices, this also involves a lot of other development including fitness testing, off-ice workouts, team bonding, presentations on nutrition, and goal-setting.

“It’s a pretty rigorous try-out camp,” says Massie. “And then from there, the team that’s selected attends the Atlantic Challenge Cup in New Brunswick in October.”

Closer to home, Massie spent this past season coaching U9 female hockey at the Bruce II Sports Centre. The program saw roughly 17 skaters take to the ice under Massie’s tutelage.

“That was something that we really only got off the ground in the last two years. That was my kind of push to try to grow and develop female hockey in the area, knowing that there was so many young females in our association. I really wanted to see an Under-9 program, we worked on getting even more ice time for them this year,” says Massie. “It was going really well until we got shut down.”

Massie’s love for female hockey is evident even during a phone interview. It’s a passion she hopes to pass on to the next generation by helping them to build a solid foundation, and by helping to grow a strong community program for future female hockey players.

“My heart is really in growing and developing the female game and I believe that you really got to sell the game to the younger girls. You want to recruit the girls at a young age, make it fun.”

That dovetails nicely into her role with Hockey Canada’s National Female Hockey forum.

“That’s my whole reason for wanting to be a part of the high performance program and just being able to see girls from all areas of the province, and see where we’re lacking and what we’re lacking, and being able to talk to other coaches across the country, and seeing how we can grow and develop and change our programs.”

One of Massie’s biggest challenges is just getting enough ice time, a topic that came up at the forum for discussion over the May 8 weekend.

“Ice time is an issue everywhere,” she admits. Aside from that and other logistics, another big challenge for female hockey players is self-confidence. “Trying to develop a confidence in females to believe that they belong in the game, and that they’re capable of doing all the same things that males are doing. Even for coaches, realizing that… females are also equal.”

Massie has observed that more males will step up to the plate for a coaching role, even those that are under-qualified.

“Whereas females could be qualified or over-qualified and still feel that they’re not good enough.”

Massie says there’s a new Canadian development model that is hoping to map out a plan specifically for females.

“We know that females grow and develop differently than males, and so there’s already one for the male side, or for mixed minor we’ll say, there’s already a player development model, but now they’re looking at releasing one for the female side, so that will address the different needs for females.”

Now that she’s been named Head Coach for Team NL, Massie will have a couple of years to prepare for the next Canada Winter Games, currently scheduled to take place in Charlottetown in February 2023. There’s a lot for Team NL’s new coaching staff to do before then, including deciding who makes the cut.

“They must register for the Spring and Summer camps, but you know we’re always watching too. So as soon as we can get back into rinks we can identify players and encourage girls to come try out for these teams, but we will be watching closely at the Atlantic Challenge Cup,” explains Massie. “We will narrow down the team and we get to have the final say in the selection.”

Massie says that journey from player to Head Coach stems mostly from a strong desire to give back to the game that has given her so much.

“I’m almost 36 years old now and I’m just starting to finally realize some of my dreams and it’s been a lifelong process really. Every step that I’ve taken in my life has led me to the point that I’m at now, so I really just want to be able to inspire and support girls to realize their dreams as well,” shares Massie. “And I hope that by seeing a girl come from a small town and be able to do these sorts of things, I hope that inspires other girls to be able to do the same.”

Massie says her hockey skills have helped prepare and guide her throughout all of the stages of her life.

“It makes you resilient. It gives you connections to people all across the country, across the world,” says Massie. “I went away and finished my schooling at the age of 16, so it really gave me an independence. It gave me experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

She’s still enjoying new experiences thanks to coaching. Massie is one of only two females in the province and among the first 18 selected as part of the Hockey Canada Master Coach Development Program, which consists of female hockey leaders across the country to lead the next wave of female coaches. The program includes many Olympic Gold Medalists like Breanne Jenner, and Massie readily admits to being a bit star struck at times.

“I have so much appreciation for their commitment to the game and their commitment to training, and now that I’m older I realize so much better what it takes to get to that level.”

As part of the Master Coach program, one of the last training sessions was a scheduled face-to-face conference during the Women’s World Hockey Championship. Originally scheduled to take place in Halifax and Truro from May 6-16, the tournament was cancelled because of COVID-19.

“That was absolutely devastating,” says Massie. “It really takes away that visibility for other females. I think just for inspiration and growing the game, it’s important for those females to be seen on TV and to see where they can go, and to have that taken away I think was a bit of a step backwards when it comes to really trying to grow the game.”

Even if the Women’s Hockey Championship hadn’t been part of the Master Coach development, Massie had always planned on attending the games.

Moving forward, she hopes to coach Team Atlantic, return to the U9 girls at the local level, and serve as a mentor for other female coaches. She’s not sure she would ever set her sights on coaching at the NHL level. Her favourite team is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Massie grew up watching hockey legend Mario Lemieux flying up and down the ice.

Still, she won’t rule it out completely.

“I could try!”

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