The professional path of Colgate University Women’s Hockey Assistant Coach Chelsea Walkland is an apt example that development is rarely linear. It requires dedication and diligence, regardless of the industry we choose.
Walkland, who had worked as a youth hockey coach while in high school and college, aimed to pursue a career in sports. Following her playing days at Robert Morris University, she scored a graduate assistant opening in hockey operations at her alma mater, to launch it.
“That was what got my foot in the door to the coaching world,” she said.
That foot in the door led to a memorable one-year coaching stint at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where Walkland was part of a national championship team. She followed that immediate success with two years at Oswego State, before returning to Robert Morris for five successful seasons. That led her to Colgate, where she has been behind the bench since 2019, helping lead the Raiders to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Yet another door opened this past July, as Walkland was chosen to serve as a guest coach for the Buffalo Sabres development camp, one of 11 women to guest coach at NHL camps over the summer.
Walkland, also an assistant for the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team, took the time to share some highlights from her own career journey, described her coaching philosophy and also offered some valuable tips for youth coaches just getting started.
USA Hockey: What has your coaching development path been like?
Chelsea Walkland: I have coached at a handful of different places and I can confidently say that I have learned and developed at each and every stop. With every opportunity, I try to be where my feet are and learn as much as I possibly can. For example, my Director of Hockey Operations year was great because I was able to learn so much of the ins and outs that go into running a hockey program. As a player I did not realize how much there was that went into it! I learned everything from travel and meal planning to equipment ordering and skate sharpening.
USA Hockey: What coaches have really influenced you?
Walkland: Two coaches really stick out for me are Diane Dillon, who was the Head Coach at Oswego State, and Brian Durocher, the former Head Coach at Boston University. Diane provided me with an incredible amount of mentorship early on in my career that was truly invaluable. I was paired up with Brian Durocher at my first-ever USA Hockey Development Camp as an intern coach. His advice to me as a young coach was to be my genuine self and not try to be anyone else.
USA Hockey: What do you love about coaching?
Walkland: The people, the relationships, the pursuit of attaining goals and the opportunity to be a part of someone's journey with them.
USA Hockey: What are your coaching goals?
Walkland: My ultimate goal is to make a positive impact on the players and program that I am a part of and learn as much as I possibly can to help be ready for any opportunity that comes my way. In addition to coaching at the collegiate level, I have aspirations to continue to coach in the international game.
USA Hockey: How was your experience at the Buffalo Sabres development camp?
Walkland: That experience was absolutely incredible. The Buffalo Sabres’ leadership group, from Terry Pegula, Kevyn Adams, Don Granato and Seth Appert, created the most welcoming environment and shared so much with us. The camp took place in early July. What stood out most to me was the way the organization created a culture that allowed players to do their best work. They were able to be themselves, try new things, and feel valued.
USA Hockey: What is your coaching philosophy – what are your priorities?
Walkland: My coaching philosophy is to create an environment where players can do their best work and to use the sport of hockey to help them grow and develop into their best selves both on and off the ice.
USA Hockey: What things do you value most in players (on and off the ice)?
Walkland: On the ice, I value dynamic skating, a puck possession mentality, creativity, and competitive fire. Off the ice, I value high character, great teammates and internal drive.
USA Hockey: What are you most excited about with your current role/upcoming season?
Walkland: I am excited for the group of people that we have on our roster for the upcoming season and the opportunity to get better every day. We have a great mix of players with veteran experience, some players looking to take on new roles, and some really talented first years that will add a lot to our group both on and off the ice.
USA Hockey: Do you have any advice for coaches who are just starting their own career paths?
Walkland: My biggest advice for new youth hockey coaches is to be your genuine self, network and be a sponge and learn as much as you possibly can every day. Try to make the game fun and try to foster a love for the game at a young age. Design practices that are age-appropriate for your group, promote decision-making and puck possession, and competitive.