Suman Chakrabarti and Grace Hoene both hope that seeing people who look like them around rinks and on the ice is becoming the norm and not the exception.
Their ongoing work to make the sport more inclusive led to being named the first recipients of USA Hockey’s new Hockey Director Network Scholarship. The scholarship is a collaborative effort within USA Hockey and is meant to encourage more diversity among hockey directors in the U.S.
The scholarship covers the cost of travel, registration, hotel and meals for the annual North American Rink Conference & Expo (NARCE) May 17-20 in Buffalo, New York. Presented by the United States Ice Rink Association, the event is considered the premier annual professional development and networking event for the ice rink and ice sport industries and will attract hundreds of professionals for education and networking opportunities.
Chakrabarti, 43, of Seattle, has been involved with hockey since he was growing up in Pittsburgh. He continues to play adult hockey and has spent many years coaching youth hockey, helping USA Hockey with his technology expertise and working with the NHL on creating more diversity in the sport
“I fell in love with the game,” Chakrabarti recalled. “It’s now become something where there’s an avenue for me to give back. Specifically, I’ve been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the sport. [The NHL] paired me up with the Kraken, and I’ve been very engaged as a volunteer to try and grow the sport.
“We want to get more black and brown people into the sport. That’s been important to me.”
Chakrabarti said he likes being out on the ice to show boys and girls of color that there’s a place for them in the sport.
“There’s got to be a belief that … we offer something to the sport,” Chakrabarti said. “There’s a lot of unconscious bias. It’s not gone.
“I am totally capable of making some of that change happen. And I believe I can make it happen.”
Chakrabarti, who works for Microsoft, said he wants to do something in hockey when his technology career ends.
“I don’t know where my hockey path goes,” Chakrabarti said. “I love just watching kids develop in this sport. I love participating in making the game more accessible to a lot of people.”
Though he never served in uniform, Chakrabarti is in the process of forming a veterans’ league, noting that he has “a huge amount of respect for veterans, and I really want to build up the sport around it. I’ve seen what it can do. I just want to be an advocate for veterans. I take it seriously.”
Another longtime coach, the 32-year-old Hoene is the youth hockey director for the Missoula (Montana) Area Youth Hockey Association.
“It’s crazy. I didn’t even know this was a job,” Hoene said. “I kind of stumbled into this, I guess. I think I just kept saying yes to things.”
After playing youth and high school hockey while growing up in Edina, Minnesota, Hoene skated in an adult league while a student at the University of Montana. She began coaching youth hockey at age 21.
“I’ve coached every year since then,” Hoene said. “I’m almost exactly at 10 years.”
Hoene plans to stay in hockey and in Missoula.
“We’ve just got such a great community here in Missoula, in Montana,” Hoene said. “There’s a reason that I came out here, and then there’s a reason that I stayed here because it’s just an amazing place to live.
“And coupled with a really awesome hockey community, how could you leave? I feel taken care of here, too. I think I still have more to give here in the Missoula community. There’s exciting stuff happening.”
Hoene reacted with surprise when told that she had been awarded the scholarship.
“I’m kind of like, ‘Really? Me?’ It’s an honor,” she recalled, adding “how important it is for girls to see other women in positions like this. I never saw it when I was younger. I didn’t know it existed. I have 10 years of girls who I coached who have seen me in this position, and now they know that that’s possible. It’s cool.”
Thanks to the new scholarship, this will be the first time that Hoene has attended NARCE.
“I was going to try to go, either way, but it definitely just made the burden a lot easier, obviously,” Hoene said. “I’ve been trying to get to this conference for the last four years. I’ve been wanting to go since I got hired. It is not easy to get there from Missoula, Montana. This year when this opportunity came about, I’m like, let’s do it, let’s go.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.