Gregoire and Weller: A monumental step forward for hockey coverage

In 2021, two women were elected to be a part of the hockey beat

Photo+courtesy+of+Kayla+Gregorie+

Photo courtesy of Kayla Gregorie

By Kayla Gregoire and Sophie Weller

“Welcome to the hockey beat.”

As I read this text aloud, a wave of empowerment washed over me. I knew that this was a moment I would not forget. There hadn’t been a woman on the hockey beat since 2019, but this year, for the first time, two women would take their rightful places.

An industry where women are constantly being questioned, with male coaches, athletes and spectators continually doubting their abilities and knowledge, sports journalism leaves room for commentary and criticism. Walking into classrooms and media sessions, the sea of men swarm around, making us always stand out, though not always in the best way.

However, during our time at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, we have witnessed and experienced nothing but equality and encouragement.

At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, it was announced that we would be members of the hockey beat, marking an important milestone in the history of hockey coverage at the Daily Collegian. In head coach Greg Carvel’s tenure at UMass, there have been just three girls on the beat, and this was the first time that two would sit alongside the others in the press box.

Mollie Walker began covering the Minutemen in 2017 and would remain on the beat for two seasons. Confident in her abilities and aware of her extensive knowledge, she knew that she had put in her time at the Collegian and worked for this opportunity.

“By the time my junior year rolled around, I remember feeling confident that I was going to get it and that if I didn’t, I knew I was going to make a big stink about it because there was nobody on staff that had even come close to my knowledge of hockey or my passion for hockey,” Walker said. “I think the fact that Jillian Jakuba was the S.I.D definitely helped me a lot, just having another woman around the team was great.”

In an arena filled with men, we felt relief and comfort walking in and seeing Jakuba. From the first moment, it was clear that everyone in that building respected her, listening carefully to everything she said. Players, coaches and staff all made sure to stop and say hello, with everyone in the media following her lead, never doubting what she had to say.

Having been a member of the beat, traveling and covering the team for a little over half the season now, we have never had an experience being treated differently by players and coaches. Our knowledge is not questioned, and no one asks if we belong in the media room amongst all the men.

“I really did have an all-around very good experience and with coach Carvel, he never treated me anything other than with respect,” Walker said. “So, all around good things, being the only woman on the beat at that point in time.”

Collegiate hockey and professional hockey are known for their lack of diversity, with the leagues traditionally being dominated by white men. Yet, breakthroughs are being made and the fight towards equality takes one step closer each and every day.

In 2002, Assistant Athletic Trainer Jodi van Rees became the first woman to work behind an NHL bench as the assistant. It wasn’t until 20 years later, however, that we would see this happen again.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, Aisha Vishram took her place behind the bench for the Los Angeles Kings, becoming just the second woman in NHL history to do so. However, when the news first broke, many media outlets were quick to say she was the first. Was this a mistake because it took so long for progress to be made?

“The fan base is very dedicated, and you really need to know your stuff in order to cover the National Hockey League,” Walker said. “I think that just coupled with the fact that obviously the sports media industry in general is just a male dominated space. I think that it comes out pretty strongly in hockey.”

Now a general assignment sportswriter for the New York Post, Walker recalls how apparent that lack of women in the newsroom was but how she was nonetheless met with support and motivation from her co-workers. She specializes in hockey, covering the NY Rangers often, and despite trying not to think often about being the only woman, it is clear when she is the only female voice in press conferences.

Walker’s presence on the beat was just the start of an emerging show of women in the press room. While the number of women in the room remain few and far between, there are always two who sit front row during post-game media sessions prepared to provide the public with relevant content and stories. Every day that we walk into media, we are proud to not only represent the changing times, but also be treated the same as all others in the room.

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kaygregoire.

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieeWellerr.