ST. LOUIS – Amber Fryklund grew up playing hockey in Hibbing, Minn. Like most young girls at the time, she had to play on boys’ teams. It wasn’t until she reached high school that she was able to suit up with other girls. That’s where her career took off.
A finalist for the Miss Minnesota Hockey award, Fryklund went on to play at Bemidji State University, where she became the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Still, any idea that there could be a career in the game after she hung up her competitive skates was little more than a pipe dream.
Yet here she is, almost 15 years later, sitting shoulder to shoulder with other dedicated coaches, most of them men, listening to presenters, taking pages of notes and talking hockey at the 2016 National Hockey Coaches Symposium.
Like her male counterparts, Fryklund is a dedicated hockey coach. And just like them, she has given up part of her all-too-short summer and paid her own money to come to St. Louis to earn her Level 5 coaching certification, the highest level in the USA Hockey system.
“Being here is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Fryklund, who is entering her sixth season as an assistant coach with her alma mater. “This is just another opportunity for me to get better as a person and a coach.”
She is one of 19 female coaches attending this year’s symposium. Over the past decade, the number of females in attendance has risen slowly. To date 86 female coaches have attained their Level 5 coaching certification, starting with Michigan coach Sue McDowell, who did it in 1995.
But with the number of women wrapping up their playing careers and entering the coaching ranks, those numbers are only going to increase.
“I think the goal for everyone involved in the game is continuous growth for females to get involved in events like this,” said Stephanie Wood, a former player at Northeastern University who is now the hockey director with the Islanders Hockey Club in North Andover, Mass. “The biggest piece of advice that I could give someone is that they just have to go out and do it. They have to take it upon themselves to promote their own development and growth.
“I know that when I come to an event like this that I’m going to be outnumbered, but you just have to get out and do it. With the support of USA Hockey is outstanding because they’re trying to promote people like me to get out and get involved more. Hopefully that will lead to more females wanting to do the same.”
With the start of the hockey season just around the corner, coaches are using their time here in St. Louis as motivation to return to their clubs and use what they’ve learned here to make players and coaches better in their respective areas.
“Hockey season has become a year round thing so I came here looking to just re-motivate myself again,” said Sarma Ozmen, a former University of Minnesota player who now coaches high school hockey in the state.
“I’ve been a head coach for almost eight years and I’m always looking for some new ideas to take in a different direction with my own coaching to become better.”
“One of my philosophies when you do something like this is to take something back. I feel like I have a whole booklet of things that I can take back,” added Fryklund. “All the coaches and presenters here have a really simple message and they’re all consistent. It’s been very powerful and educational.”
And while they may be outnumbered, all the women here said their male counterparts have treated them with respect and as peers in their pursuit to improve their craft.
“The hockey world is so small so it’s not been a big deal. A lot of us grew up playing boys hockey and you have to have a level of confidence where you’re willing to get engaged. It hasn’t been an issue at all,” said Melissa Pacific, who took the head coach at Exeter Prep School after graduating from The Ohio State University.
“Would I like to have seen a female speaker on the program, maybe, but we might not be there yet. … I think you’re going to see in the next six years more and more women here. And I’m ok with that. We’re just not there yet.”
None of the women here want to be labeled as trailblazers, pioneers or trendsetters. They are hockey coaches, first and foremost, and they are here for the same reason as their male counterparts. They want to become better coaches so they can improve hockey in their respective areas.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I have right now. Growing up I would never have imagined that I could coach hockey for a living. I really enjoy my job and love what I do being around hockey every day and being able to impact student athletes. I think that’s the coolest part,” Fryklund said.
“I’m happy with where I’m at but I’m always striving to get better. I’d love to be a head coach someday. Hopefully that will happen but in the meantime I’m just trying to get better, learn more and continue to live the dream.”