Why I’ll be the first Female NHL GM: Rachel Doerrie’s Story

By Rachel Doerrie (@racheldoerrie)

I remember the exact day it happened. The day I knew I was hooked. My parents joke that I was destined to be a hockey-obsessed kid. Heck, my mother had me while watching a Leafs/Sens game. The first jumper I ever wore home from the hospital, one covered in Toronto Maple Leafs logos. But the day that did it for me, was the day I had breakfast with Mats Sundin.

I’d always loved watching the Leafs, pictures of me as a toddler staring at the TV while Roberts, Belfour, Mogilny and yes, Aki Berg played. But with Sundin, it was different. I wanted to know everything about him; how he shot, took faceoffs, his famous backhand. That love for Mats blossomed into where I am today, a graduate of Laurentian’s Sports Admin program, a former intern of the Leafs (that hopes to be back soon), and the Video Coach for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.

Growing up, I always had an affinity for statistics. So much so, my mother would joke, “What are you going to do with all of this useless information?” Well, a decade later, she doesn’t think they’re “filler in my head,” that’s for sure.

For whatever reason, I understood hockey. I could explain things at a young age and watch developing plays that my father’s friends were in awe of. As I started to mature, I realized I watched the game a little differently than most. It wasn’t, “The powerplay isn’t clicking, this is frustrating.” It became, “The powerplay isn’t clicking and this is why.” The first person to express their belief that I had a future working in hockey was my old hockey coach. He was one of the really good ones. One who grew me as a player and a person, more than I could’ve ever imagined.

Let’s talk about him for a second. My minor midget year, I was mired in a nasty slump and had no confidence. The team was in Pittsburgh and he pulled me aside to the corner of the rink where I usually stand pre-game. He spoke to me about overcoming the barriers, the mental side of things. He told me that he believed in me, and that great things would happened if I believed in myself. I will never forget that conversation, or the many more we have and continue to have. Inevitably, when there are tough days, I think about the advice he has given me and am forever grateful for it.

Knowing I was not good enough playing Midget A to make it is a player, I started to look at university programs that would allow me to work in hockey, with one dream: To be the first female General Manager of an NHL franchise. There’s more than just the GM now, opportunities in team operations, coaching and player development.

The first step of the plan, attend Laurentian University for Sports Administration, a renowned program for those with aspirations of working in sport. Having skipped a grade already, my parents were hesitant to ship me off nearly 2 years younger than my peers. They also knew I was a little different. I had been this way my whole life, and when I had my mind set to something, there was no denying it. Off I went.

The first two years in Sudbury, it was tough. School work piled on, I was not able to watch as much hockey as I had previously, but I always made time for one game a night. I kept up to date on everything in the NHL, and become enthralled with the “analytics” movement. I was looking for a way to differentiate myself from others. In the summer of 2015, I interned at Maple Leaf Sports (MLSE). I learned more at MLSE about different areas of sports business than I could’ve imagined. I worked on everything from Raptors to Honda Indy to Toronto FC to the PanAm Games. I met some key people, some of which are my closest friends now. The internship developed me in a professional light, and personal one. Having spent the summer at MLSE, I wanted to continue…enter the Sudbury Wolves.

The former video coach approached me and asked if I had interest in the position, as he was moving on. Knowing my affinity for video, he believed I was a fit. In early September 2015, I met with the Wolves coaching staff, where I became the Video Coach for the Wolves. We had an exciting 1st overall pick in David Levin, a sharp shooter in Dmitry Sokolov and some young talent in the system. Every game, I took the video laptop up to the “perch” in the barn, hooked up the video feed and live-clipped the game. Each intermission, I brought the laptop down and sorted the events for the coaching staff to review. At the start of the season, I sat quietly, observing our coaching staff. As the season progressed, I became more comfortable offering up analysis of what I saw. Big credit to David Matsos and Drake Berehowsky for allowing me to contribute. I have an enormous amount of respect for them, as well as our GM Barclay Branch. They have given me the opportunity to be a part of a coaching staff, learn an incredible amount and feel comfortable.

At the end of the season, a tough one, I was leaving Sudbury, for good. However, I knew the replacement I would be hiring could not travel. Because of the relationship I had built with our Head Coach, I agreed to travel with the team. I knew the opportunity to work with him would further my development and I wanted to be part of the positive direction our team was heading in.

I decided to take the summer to spend time with family, something I had not really had the chance to do for a couple of years. With less of a workload, I turned my research to stats, and using the skills and I gained from video coaching to do some systems analysis of my own. Funny enough, now that I’ve learned to watch video from a coaching perspective, it has become impossible to watch it like a fan anymore. I was warned this would happen, but I appreciate it. It allows me to connect with the game on a different level. Any analysis that I do, I post about on my personal blog. I have spent the majority of the last 8 months interning at the CWHL and doing video/statistical analysis, when I’m not travelling with the Wolves.

Why am I here? Why do I continue to push for this?

It’s a dream, that has become a goal, that now, has a plan. But I’m also here because of some very important people. My parents, they’ve supported me, with both negative and positive reinforcement. The hockey coach I mentioned earlier, he’s a pillar in my life. Perhaps, the best support of them all, my grandfather. I had a special bond with him, until he passed away suddenly this past Canada Day. There have been many times I have questioned myself, it was always met with hug and some comforting words of encouragement. Every time, I walked away or hung up the phone knowing he was in my corner. That kind of support is vital to any success. Not a day goes by that I do not think about him; and one day, hopefully when I achieve this great goal, I know he’ll be there.

Where moving forward?

Well, I’m still with the Wolves, and loving it. I do some video consulting for minor hockey teams. I still watch almost 4 hours of hockey a night. I write on the blog when I can, each post is about 3 hours of research and video editing. I spend a lot of time with my younger brother, playing hockey and working with him and his team. There have been days where it has been tough. I try and block out the noise, because that’s all it is. I will continue to learn and push forward in the hockey world, taking opportunities to learn, whenever possible. I’m considering law school, or an avenue that allows me to work for the NHL. It is not about how long it takes me to achieve my ultimate dream, it is that I will be relentless in my chase for it. It started out as a breakfast, and has grown into an obsession, and hopefully, a career.

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2 Comments

  1. Good luck! Despite all of that Leafs nonsense, I hope you do achieve your goal and become an NHL GM, whether or not you are the first woman to get the job. The complete lack of diversity in hockey is rather annoying (Ted Nolan’s the only non-white NHL coach who comes to mind, and I can’t think of any non-white NHL GMs…), so it would be cool if you were part of a wave of change.

    Like

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