Participating in the inaugural season of the modern NWHL, contributing towards the Boston Pride winning the first Isobel Cup, Kelly Cooke earned a unique place in American hockey history. While she remains an integral part of the league’s future, holding a valued place in its leadership structure as the Director of the Player Safety Committee, her presence remains just as relevant on the ice.
Balancing her duties in the NWHL with ambitions towards a legal career and Master’s Degree, devoting 10-hour workdays as a paralegal, Cooke, a graduate of Princeton University and native of Andover, Massachusetts, also wears the black and white vertical stripes, defining features among the hockey officials jersey. Adding an empowering dimension to her hockey narrative, she has proven to be just as proficient in this other endeavour of her athletic odyssey.
Certainly, Cooke’s duties as Director of Player Safety for the NWHL serve as positive influence in her outlook towards the game. Discussing both roles, Cooke’s confidence shows, with an emphasis on integrity and strong focus, able to separate the unique aspects of each,
“I think my role as the Director of Player Safety is complimentary to my role as an official. Naturally, the perspective that I bring to the Player Safety Committee is that of an official, but I believe they are pretty distinct roles. When I am on the ice, I concentrate on calling the game fairly. When I am reviewing plays as part of the Committee, my priority is to protect the players in the league, regardless of the on-ice call.”
Although it may come as a recent revelation for some that Cooke has been garbed in the paraphernalia of a referee, with obligatory whistle in hand, such an occupation ran parallel to her playing career for many years. Having first worn the stripes at the tender age of 12, the result was a perspective that allowed the cerebral Cooke a greater appreciation for the game’s minutiae as a player.
Revealing the importance of organization in effectively and responsibly balancing the obligations of officiating, competition and studies, an element that extended beyond Cooke’s time with the Princeton Tigers. Employing such assiduous attention to the commendable ability to balance such duties as a professional player, whether it be with the former Boston Blades, or the shift to the Boston Pride, the demands of such commitment were alleviated by the element of enjoyment, never feeling like toil, rather a labor of love,
“You really rely on time management as a student-athlete, so that is something that I carried with me when I started working full-time while playing and officiating on the side. Each endeavour was unique and enjoyable in its own way, so I never felt like any of them were work, which made them much easier to juggle when my schedule was hectic.
I think the most rewarding element was being able to pursue three separate passions simultaneously: I knew that I wanted to go to law school and become a corporate lawyer. I loved competing alongside my teammates on the Pride, and I realized that officiating was something I truly enjoyed and wanted to continue doing at a high level after I finished playing.”
Recently, Cooke experienced a monumental milestone as an official. Alongside the likes of Katie Guay, Delaney Harrop and Amanda Tassoni, all former players who transitioned into officiating, they comprised what is believed to be the first-ever all-female officiating crew in the history of the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four.
Having also comprised the officiating crew at the 2019 ECAC Championship Game, contested between the regular season champion Cornell Big Red and two-time defending NCAA champion Clarkson Golden Knights, the opportunity for this fascinating foursome to take on the same role in a much bigger venue provided an empowering highlight for 2019 in ice hockey.
With People’s United Centre in Hamden, Connecticut, home of the Quinnipiac Bobcats, as host for the Frozen Four, Cooke relished the privilege of serving in one of the most prestigious showcases for the female game. Coincidentally, Cooke also worked with Guay, who are both IIHF-licensed officials, in the championship of the 2019 Women’s Beanpot in February, establishing a working rhythm that yielded positive benefits for the following tournaments, while simultaneously adding to their growing legacies in New England hockey.
Traveling to Romania following the Frozen Four, taking on refereeing duties at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division II Group B tournament, it marked the third consecutive year that Cooke has worked international events, a prestigious assignment for any official. In 2017, Cooke officiated in Kazakhstan, while 2018 brought her to the unlikely spot of Mexico. Still developing its hockey programs. Mexico, which saw national team player Claudia Tellez claimed by the Calgary Inferno in the 2016 CWHL Draft, served as the host for the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B Qualification, finishing in second place behind the undefeated Netherlands.
Also in 2018, Cooke participated in the Boston Marathon, reaching an athletic pinnacle that not only paid tribute to a cherished friend, but embodied the essence of both teamwork and loyalty. Demonstrating how the women of hockey can remain role models after playing, Hayley Moore, the Pride’s former General Manager, also joined her in a collaborative effort that saw both run the Marathon. Part of a commendable fundraising effort for Journey Forward, a non-profit organization from Canton, Massachusetts, geared towards improving the quality of life for people whose lives have been altered by a Spinal Cord injury.
One such person was Denna Laing, a treasured teammate whom Cooke played alongside at Princeton, and in the professional ranks with the Boston Blades, winning the 2015 Clarkson Cup title together, and later the Boston Pride. Both participating in the Women’s Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, the first-ever professional women’s ice hockey match contested outdoors, the feeling of celebration and jubilation quickly turned to despair and desolation.
With Laing suffering a career-ending injury at the Classic, the remainder of the season was dedicated to her courage and spirit, with the Pride winning the Isobel Cup in her honor. Remaining immensely loyal to Laing, whose fight in the battle against spinal cord injury includes refusing to diminish quality of life, their friendship endures and strengthens, each a mutual source of encouragement.
Worth noting, Laing also participated in the 2017 Boston Marathon. With the support of Bobby Carpenter, the first American-born player to score 50 goals in an NHL season, pushing her wheelchair, the duo crossing the finish line together represented one of the event’s most heartwarming moments. Part of a landmark year that also saw Laing present at the NHL Awards, while receiving Journey Forward’s 3-D’s Award, the following year was just as treasured.
As Cooke and Moore’s commendable efforts at the 2018 edition of the Marathon added another proud chapter to the legacy of women in the sport as hockey humanitarians, it ran parallel to Laing receiving the Class of 1967 Princeton Varsity Club Citizen-Athlete award in the same year. Recognizing selfless and noble contributions to sport and society by a member of the Princeton community, Laing shall always hold a treasured place in Cooke’s heart.
Subscribing to the philosophy of paying it forward, ready to give back and inspire others, Cooke is a compelling individual who has helped to redefine the role of women in hockey, shattering expectations, and reconfiguring boundaries. Possessing so many remarkable career highlights, from a pair of professional championships, to seeing the world through her officiating duties, Cooke’s reflection on the proudest achievement in a brilliant body of work truly brings her full circle. Finding an uplifting accomplishment that holds multiple meaning, the beauty of such triumph weaves all the chapters of her hockey odyssey, connecting friendship, teamwork and success in a way that redefined the essence of the game and her personal purpose for participation.
“Hockey has given me so much over the years, but I think the most rewarding part is being able to give back to such a special community and to inspire the next generation of young athletes. Running the Boston Marathon for Journey Forward was a no-brainer.
Denna is one of my best friends, and seeing how much that organization has done and continues to do for her and others is inspiring. Witnessing the hockey community come together to support Denna and to support my Boston Marathon run shows just how strong the hockey world really is.
Looking back, I would say that my favorite moment as a player was winning the first-ever Isobel Cup with the Boston Pride. That season was extremely difficult, and witnessing our team come together after Denna’s injury to really support her meant a lot. We wanted to bring the Isobel Cup back to Boston, so to be able to drive right to Spaulding after winning so that we could give her the Cup was something that I will always cherish.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Featured image details: Cooke (second from left) part of the officiating crew at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B Qualification in Mexico (Image obtained from Facebook)