Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius stopped by the Boston Latin School girls’ hockey practice the other day. But she wasn’t there to watch. She was there to skate.
On that recent Tuesday afternoon, the 52-year-old superintendent strapped on a pair of shin guards, slipped on shoulder pads, donned her helmet, and took to the ice at the Francis L. Murphy skating rink in South Boston with the rest of the team. Wearing a white and purple Boston Latin practice jersey, she looked like just another skater, and at first glance it was difficult to discern her from the high school players.
Cassellius didn’t appear to get any preferential treatment during the practice session. She stickhandled the puck, made passes, took shots on net, skated laps, and ran through the drills just like the other girls. When the players took a knee to listen to Latin coaches Tom McGrath and Olivia Collins talk, Cassellius was right there with them, on one knee, listening intently.
At one point, she skated over to the bench to grab a drink out of her water bottle. “These girls are good," she said.
Before coming to Boston, Cassellius was the commissioner of education for the state of Minnesota, and she played defense for the Galaxy, an amateur women’s ice hockey team that competes in the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota.
Since taking the helm of the Boston Public Schools this summer, Cassellius has been as busy as you might expect, and ice time has been hard to come by.
“I wish I could skate more,” she said. “This is why I like the idea of coming out with the girls and skating with them.”
Cassellius, a mother of three, has been playing organized ice hockey for about a decade now. She first picked up the sport when she was a hockey mom in her 30s, when her oldest son was in middle school. He played hockey and wanted to practice with her. Up until then, she’d been using figure skates.
“So then I got pair of hockey skates," she said. "I skated with him and I’d shoot pucks with him and practice with him.”
Cassellius and her husband made a skating rink in their yard each winter, and ice hockey became a family affair.
“We would flood the side yard of our house, and practice skating in the yard and shooting with the kids," she said. “We’d play pickup as a family. It’s a lot of fun to play with the kids.”
Cassellius’s love for the game continued to grow from there. She was in her 40s when she joined her first adult hockey league.
“When I was 42, I was in Minneapolis Public Schools at the time, and a colleague of mine was creating a team," she said. The team was called the Penalty Box, “and they called us the Boxers."
She then went on to play for The Loon-a-Sticks (the loon is Minnesota’s state bird) and, most recently, the Galaxy.
When she took the Boston superintendent job, she needed to find a new team. “I didn’t want to go all year without playing because, you know, I was starting to get that itch,” she said.
She ended up signing with the Pirates, a team that plays in the South Shore Women’s Hockey League. They play at rinks in Bedford, Canton, Milton, Dedham, and Westborough.
“They’re much better skaters than I am, but it’s a whole lot of fun to play with them," she said.
Her teammates immediately made her feel welcome.
“They’re good, but they’re not mean," she said. “So in Minnesota, I mean you hear about Minnesota nice all the time? Some women, in some of our leagues, you know, get a little excited about the game, I’d have to say. But here, the ladies that I’ve played with here have just been so nice."
Cassellius said she usually plays defense, but can also play forward.
“I play conservative defense, so I stay back, and then I get scrappy in the corner,” she said.
But not too scrappy.
“The only time I get in the [penalty] box is the occasional hooking," she said.
Did she ever get get in any scraps in Minnesota?
“No, not me, I’m too nice," she said, smiling. “Plus, I have to keep my reputation. They always knew they were playing with the commissioner.”