Kelly Cooke has managed to be a part of every level of hockey. Starting out as a player, she learned that there is even more to the game in a different kind of a uniform.
A four-year forward at Princeton University from 2009-13, Cooke has managed to parlay a former career as a collegiate and women’s professional player into a new career as an official at both levels, as well as chairman of the National Women’s Hockey League Player Safety Committee.
We caught up with Cooke to hear all about it.
USA Hockey: When did you begin to think about officiating as a career?
Kelly Cooke: It actually started when I was younger. My older brother was officiating, so I started doing that during college during my days off and on Sundays with youth games. I didn’t really take it seriously until after I gradated and realized there was a path to grow the game and go to international tournaments and progress that way.
USAH: How helpful is it to be an official having been a longtime—and successful—player?
Cooke: Even growing up as an official, I kind of always had a bit more respect for officials, just because I’ve been there. I had the opportunity to watch the college officials and how they worked and how they acted when I was a player and it was a good learning experience to see how they conducted themselves. Now, when I am an official, I think having that experience of playing at a high level can help with what these players are thinking, how they’re going to act and what they’re gong to do. In a sense, I have a lot of understanding of what they’re going through. I think it makes it easier for me to officiate those games because I was there not that long ago, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the talent these players have and the high level they’re playing at.
USAH: And at the professional level you’ve been able to play and officiate, too?
Cooke: Playing in that first year of the NWHL (with the Boston Pride) was really cool. To be part of the first professional women’s league in the U.S. will always be special.
Now that USA Hockey is supplying officials for the NWHL, that’s something I’m proud of because all these great officials are having the opportunity to showcase their skills for little girls and show that there are amazing female officials out there and they deserve these opportunities, too. So just being able to showcase in such a great light and in a high-paced game is really tremendous for growing our side of the game as well. It’s something that a lot of people don’t even think about. Players might start officiating once they’re done with their careers, but to get some younger kids—middle school, high schools kids—and get them to start earlier, would be great.
USAH: Talk about your role with the NWHL Player Safety Committee.
Cooke: We review any plays that are submitted to us by coaches that occur in the game. Our role is to provide some type of discipline for players that acted in ways that they should not have and give the players confidence that they’re going to be protected on the ice, not just by the on-ice officials, but also by the player safety committee.
USAH: Final advice to the aspiring female officials out there?
Cooke: I would say the sky’s the limit. Your career isn’t done when you’re done playing hockey. The officiating side is a whole new world and gives you an opportunity to be a part of the game and still enjoy the aspects of the game we all know and love.