K atie Guay and Kelly Cooke, a couple of Massachusetts women with their hockey dreams still evolving, both were on the job Friday night, partnering as referees in the 3-on-3 elite women’s tournament that was newly incorporated into the NHL’s All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.
Guay, 37, and Cooke, 29, also wore the league’s shield in September when they were among the first four women ever chosen to officiate at NHL rookie camps. It was a significant step for all of the women, and especially progressive for a league that has yet to follow the lead of the NBA and NFL in handing women a whistle and making them true in-game stakeholders in their sport.
“I think they’re definitely looking for the right person to break that barrier,” said Cooke, who grew up in Andover and recently became a corporate attorney in Boston. “There’s people out there who are coming up and one could be the right person.”
Perhaps that woman is Guay, who Cooke considers a friend and mentor. Paul Stewart thinks Guay is the most obvious current candidate. Stewart, 66, was an NHL referee for more than 20 years, and later hired Guay and Cooke to officiate men’s Division 1 games during his years assigning ECAC officials.
Stewart, in fact, firmly believes Guay and Cooke have the requisite skill package — a bundle that includes skating, judgment, overall feel for the game — to progress through the ranks to the NHL.
“These are two very intelligent women,” said Stewart, noting that both graduated from Ivy League schools, Guay from Brown and Cooke from Princeton. “What I say about refereeing is that it take guts and brains to make the call. Gender or anatomy . . . none of that matters.”
There is no knowing if the NHL ever would hire a woman as a full-time on-ice official. But the move in September, assigning the four women to work NHL rookie camps, if nothing else showed the league’s willingness at least to explore the idea. Progress. Small steps.
Stephen Walkom, director of NHL officiating, told nhl.com last fall that women working NHL games “is definitely a possibility.”
According to Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, Walkom’s efforts to make the officiating combine “as inclusive as possible” will pay dividends, making it likely that women will be included in the NHL’s officiating ranks.
“All of them need to continue to develop their games,” said Daly, referring to the four women who officiated in St. Louis. “But absolutely, I see it in the future.”
Like the NHL, Major League Baseball has yet to break the gender gap among umpires, though it briefly seemed to be getting there in the late 1980s when then-commissioner Bart Giamatti advocated for Pam Postema.
The NBA, in many ways the most progressive of the four major pro leagues, removed the glass ceiling in 1997 with the hiring of Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner as referees. Both are retired now, but the NBA this season counts six women, five of them full-timers, on its officiating staff.
The novelty of a woman on the whistle in the NBA wore off in three or four years. Palmer retired in 2016 after working 919 games. Kantner was dismissed in 2002. The third hire, Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling, came aboard full time in 2014 and remains among the half-dozen women on this season’s refereeing roster.
The NFL hired Sarah Thomas as their first woman to work on the field in 2015. She remains a line judge, the only woman yet to work games, and last January became the first woman to participate in the postseason, assigned to the the Patriots-Chargers playoff game.
Guay, who grew up in Westfield and today lives in Mansfield, transitioned to officiating immediately after graduating from Brown in 2005. In 2018, she reached what she believed then was the pinnacle of her career, chosen as one of the referees to work the Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
“The highest I ever thought I could go was the Olympics,” said Guay, prior to boarding her flight Thursday night to St. Louis. “When I got there, I thought I’d made it.”
But then came the invite to attend the NHL officiating combine in Buffalo later that year, followed by a second invite last summer when 11 women were included in the class of 90 officials.
Soon after that second combine, the league invited Guay, Cooke, Kendall Hanley, and Kirsten Welsh to participate in the NHL rookie camps. Hanley and Welsh, both linesmen, joined Guay and Cooke Friday night in officiating the 3-on-3 skills game in St. Louis. If the league were to get serious soon about advancing a woman up the ladder, logically one or more of these women would have the edge.
“You know, I honestly had to pinch myself when I was out in Orange County in September to officiate hockey for the NHL,” said Guay, who was assigned to referee during a prospects tournament in Irvine, Calif., while Cooke was placed in Nashville. “It was something I never ever imagined . . . to have these experiences, so I take nothing for granted.”
Since being founded in 1917, the NHL hasn’t made what still today would be considered a bold step forward by hiring a female official. Ideally, in 2020, it wouldn’t be considered bold or even progressive. It would just be a competent, qualified woman filling a job.
The league happily, and deservedly, espouses and promotes a “Hockey is for Everyone” ethos, encouraging players of all races and genders to play the game. Willie O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s color line as a Bruin in January 1958, is the face of the league’s diversity efforts, tirelessly beating the drum for more kids, often those from cities and of meager financial means, to pull on skates and pick up sticks. No gender bias. All welcome.
Thus far, the guys in stripes remain, well, guys only. Nonetheless, Guay, employed full time as a fund-raiser for USA Hockey, remains encouraged by how things have trended recently.
“The NHL is certainly opening doors,” she said. “A couple of years ago, they opened the invite for the combine and they had a couple of female attendees. This past year, there were 11 of us. And now to take that next step further and invite four of us to the rookie tournaments . . . you know, the path is certainly being created. Now it’s just a matter of time now that the path is all the way to the top.”
STILL PLUGGING AWAY
Don’t expect Backes to retire
By the end of this coming week, David Backes is expected to be wearing the Spoked-P of the Providence Bruins, his Boston-approved respite expired. He cleared waivers last Saturday and still has some $4.5 million coming his way through the end of his contract (expiration: spring 2021).
For that kind of cash guarantee, no one expects Backes to retire, even if the NHL is no country for old, and especially proud, men.
If Bruins general manager Don Sweeney can’t bundle Backes, 35, into a deal between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline, the next benchmark to keep in mind would be mid-June, the start of the league’s annual two-week buyout period. The Bruins could bid him adieu, trim $1 million off his remaining $4 million payout, and his cap hit for next season would drop from $6 million to $4 million, followed by a final $1 million hit for 2021-22.
It’s highly unlikely that Backes suits up again for the Black and Gold varsity. It’s also not impossible, even with management’s determined effort now to try to patch over roster soft spots with youth and speed. That’s the way of the league in 2020: When in doubt, go faster. Still in doubt? Give us more fuel, Scotty, even if you think you’re givin’ her all she’s got.
If fast, faster, and fasterer aren’t the answer, then maybe Backes makes it back to Boston. Let’s not forget, it was in Round 2 of last year’s playoffs vs. Columbus when Backes drew back in for Game 4 (assist), Game 5 (assist), and Game 6 (goal) and helped the Bruins erase the Blue Jackets. His brawn mattered. If not for his relief stint, maybe they don’t make it to the Tomato Can Hurricanes.
As of today, the $30 million promise Sweeney extended Backes in July 2016 has produced 39 goals and 94 points over 217 games. The worst UFA hire in team history? No, but certainly the most expensive.
If Backes is bought out, those 94 points will have cost $29 million, or $308,511 apiece. That’s a lot of $13 drafts up there in the new 11th-floor Budweiser Select Bar at TD Garden.
Matt Beleskey, Sweeney’s first high-cost UFA, wasn’t that pricey in overall dollars. He signed for five years, $19 million just after Sweeney assumed office in 2015 and delivered 45 points over 143 games before Sweeney tucked him into a farewell package in February 2018 for Rick Nash. Cheaper money than Backes, but a bigger bust.
Sweeney has gone UFA light on July 1 in the three years since the Backes deal, making his priciest overall commitment to defenseman John Moore (five years, $13.75 million). He also gave the same $2.75 million average to goalie Jaroslav Halak, but only for two years, a deal that expires this season. Measured by bang for the buck, Halak stands as Sweeney’s best UFA purchase.
Overall, considering a blend of player profile, cost, and what was expected upon coming to Boston, Backes and Beleskey rate among the five worst UFA deals in Bruins history, along with these three beauts:
■ Paul Coffey — Signed in the summer of 2000 for one year at $2.25 million. Management was desperate to fill the void at point on the power play after dealing Ray Bourque to the Avalanche. But Coffey was dead on double runners upon arriving, and the Bruins cut him free after he went a paltry 0-4—4 over 18 games.
■ Martin Lapointe — Only 28 when he reported to his first Boston training camp in 2001, never came close to living up to expectations surrounding his historic four-year, $20 million pact. He managed to squeeze out 83 points over his three years prior to the 2004-05 lockout, then moved on to three more ho-hum seasons with Chicago (and final twirl with Ottawa).
■ Alexei Zhamnov — The cupboard bare after management miscalculated potential roster losses out of the lockout, the desperate Bruins wooed Zhamnov for $13 million over three years. He turned 35 by opening night, fractured an ankle in January, and was sent away in the dark of night after posting 1-9—10 in 24 games.
Kreider’s name keeps coming up
Until further notice, it appears Chris Kreider will be Rumor No. 1 as the Bruins approach the trade deadline.
They remain in first place in the Atlantic Division, with a dozen games to go prior to the Feb. 24 deadline. One of those games is a Feb. 16 stop at Madison Square Garden to take on Kreider and the Rangers.
The line on Kreider (left wing): big (6 feet 3 inches, 216 pounds) and very fast on foot. If acquired to ride with David Krejci, he could end up being the No. 2 center’s biggest/fastest regular running mate since the days he pivoted Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.
While that sounds enticing, and it could end up being GM Don Sweeney’s best option, keep in mind that Kreider, 28, has yet to fulfill his promise on offense. This is his eighth NHL season and the former Boston College standout has never posted better than the 28-25—53 line he put up with the Blueshirts in 2016-17.
Maybe Krejci could draw more offense out of him than any of the long list of pivots Kreider has played with on Broadway. Kreider also never has played behind a line as productive as the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak trio, but he’s often been assigned to No. 2 line duty and that power play. That would be the same in Boston. Past results don’t necessarily indicate future performance, but they might.
Sweeney, when last doing big business with Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, rolled out his largest deal yet when acquiring Rick Nash at the 2018 deadline. Nash, 33 at the time, arrived with 434 goals and was considered a sure remedy in that ride-along with Krejci. Like Kreider, he had size (6-4, 211). Unlike Kreider, he had big scoring bona fides.
The cost then was Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, and two picks (Rounds 1, 7).
Despite Kreider being younger and without Nash’s history of concussions, the Rangers should not be able to come close to extracting that kind of haul. More likely the Rangers net the usual package of roster player, prospect, and pick. The Bruins have the assets to get it done, then decide if they care to sign him long term in July after his current deal (four years, $18.5 million) expires.
Reviving the power play will be high on the Bruins “to do” list when they finally get back on the job Thursday for practice in Brighton. Among the league’s best on the advantage for most of the first half of the season, they shot blanks in their four games leading to the bye break, going 0 for 15. “We are not generating enough second-chance puck recovery,” noted coach Bruce Cassidy. “That’s when our power play is really good. And when we do [recover the puck], let’s not force a play.” Prior to the current drought, the Bruins went a franchise-high 14 straight games with at least one power-play goal, converting 16 of 50 (32 percent). Leading the way with PPGs during the record run: Bergeron (5), Pastrnak (4), and Jake DeBrusk (3). Marchand, mired in a goal-scoring slump the last six weeks, connected only once . . . Alex Carpenter, daughter of Bob Carpenter, the “Can’t Miss Kid,” was among the women competing in the women’s 3-on-3 showcase Friday night in St. Louis. She was a prolific scorer in her four years at BC (class of 2016). Brother Bobo, who graduated from Boston University last spring, finally made it into the AHL Bridgeport lineup to begin his first pro season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Signed to a two-way deal out of BU, he entered the weekend 0-2—2 in 10 games. Because of the operation, he was unable to participate in training camp . . . One of Carpenter’s teammates in Bridgeport, left winger Ryan Bourque, is the 29-year-old son of Ray Bourque. Chris Bourque, who played briefly with the Bruins in 2012-13, is back in Europe (Munich this season). He entered the weekend with 36 points in 39 games. Drafted No. 33 overall by the Capitals in 2004, he turns 34 on Wednesday, in case you weren’t feeling old enough.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.