It is rare to hear of a referee having a career-best season, but that sure is the case for Kelly Cooke.
The Andover-born Cooke has been officiating Hockey East contests since she finished her playing career at Princeton University in 2013. But she started this season working the Women’s World Championships in August, then became the second woman to referee an American Hockey League game on Oct. 17, one night after Katie Guay became the first.
Now Cooke is preparing to head to Beijing, having received her first Olympic assignment a few weeks ago to officiate women’s games.
“Everything that’s happened this year has been very unexpected, but they are definitely amazing opportunities all around,” said Cooke. “I’m embracing every opportunity as best I can.”
Cooke began her officiating career around the Merrimack Valley at age 12, inspired by her older brother, who still works Hockey East games with her.
“It’s a perfect part-time job for middle school and high school kids,” said Cooke.
Back then, she balanced officiating with her playing career, but now she’s balancing it with her career as an attorney. Consistency is key in both, and Cooke thinks that quality sets her apart as a referee.
“I go out there, do my job, and stay consistent,” said Cooke.
Cooke hopes that her success inspires other college players to don a referee’s stripes.
“I think it’s a really exciting time to be a female official coming up,” said Cooke. “You never know what’s going to happen day in and day out and what opportunities are going to come your way.”
One of those assignments could end up being the Olympics. Playing in them is the goal of nearly every women’s hockey player. While Cooke’s original dream may have included a USA jersey rather than a referee’s, receiving the news of her selection was a thrill.
“It took a little while to soak in just because this is something that I’ve been working toward for so long,” said Cooke. “So many long nights of being in the car and working games all weekend, and then working my full-time job during the week. It was extreme excitement and then also kind of a sense of relief that this is finally happening and recognizing all of the hard work and blood, sweat, and tears that made this possible.”
Tuesday’s announcement that the Premier Hockey Federation’s Board of Governors will make a $25 million investment in the league, boosting player salaries, giving players benefits, and allowing for expansion, has spurred discussion among current college players evaluating their post-graduation options.
College players have three options to continue their hockey careers: the PHF (formerly the NWHL), the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), or playing internationally. Players typically pick the option that offers a location and schedule that fits with their full-time career. Ask any college player which league they intend on joining, and a typical response is, “Whatever one fits best with my job.” Another consideration is national team status, as many USA Hockey and Hockey Canada team members play in the PWHPA.
Has Tuesday’s announcement changed current college players’ minds? It’s unclear; with the Division 1 regular season drawing to a close, many have shelved their decision-making in order to focus on their current team. The promise of salaries increasing to a point where some could make it their primary source of income may help the PHF, but the schedule and other considerations may still keep players away. It also may force the PWHPA, which formed separately in a quest for better salaries, to work with the PHF.
Waltham native and Boston University alum, Anya Packer, hopes college players think hard about joining the PHF. The Metropolitan Riveters general manager and former NWHL Players Association leader thinks the changes should appeal to the group about to graduate.
“As a graduating college player, you want to find a league that supports you on and off the ice as best as possible,” said Packer. “Having full health care coverage and maternity leave is a huge part of that, and it should give some confidence to players considering the PHF that it’s a league headed in the right direction.”
Northeastern’s Frankel reaches milestone
Just two saves into Northeastern’s 5-0 victory over Boston College Tuesday night, Aerin Frankel became the first goaltender in Huskies history to notch 3,000 saves. The graduate student, who won last year’s Patty Kazmaier Award as the best player in women’s college hockey, finished with 25 saves for her seventh shutout of the season, tops in the nation. “Considering all the great goalies who have come through Northeastern, for her to hold that record is pretty remarkable,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint … Winthrop-based College Hockey America, the smallest Division 1 conference, engaged a backup plan for standings and playoff seedings this week. After a weekend series between Penn State and Lindenwood was canceled with no time left in the regular season to reschedule, the conference announced it would now use “percentage of points won in each series” to determine final standings.