William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles coach Jazmine Miley.
Jazmine Miley aspired to become a hockey coach because she noticed something missing from the game: other women on the ice or behind the bench who looked like her.
"One of the major things was to bring diversity and change the culture," said Miley, an Afro-Latino woman from Queens, New York, who began playing hockey at 13. "It's very rare to see a person of color playing or coaching hockey. I want to be one of those girls for girls to look up to."
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Miley, a former collegiate player, is on track to reach that goal as the new coach of the Carolina Junior Hurricanes Under-16A girls' program.
She was hired in May and begins work in September after playing 39 games from 2014-15 to 2018-19 for Finlandia University and Chatham University -- both NCAA Division III schools -- and for Liberty University on its American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I and II teams.
Miley, 24, earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice studies from Liberty but she's anxious to get her coaching career in North Carolina started.
"I want to show players that it doesn't matter who your parents are, where you come from, it's all about the attitude of what you bring to the table," she said. "When it comes to teamwork, you have to hold everybody accountable. But it's not what you say, but how you say it."
Kelsey Koelzer, a member of the NHL and National Hockey League Players' Association Female Hockey Advisory Committee, said that although Miley's working at the youth hockey level, her hiring is a significant step in women's hockey.
"Even taking beyond her being a female as well as a minority, just her love for the game she's going to be able to instill in the next generation of female hockey players is amazing," said Koelzer, a defenseman for the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women's Hockey League. "Then you add that on top of the fact that she is a female and minority hockey player, it sets a different precedent. She's going to be an example and role model, someone who people really can respect and look up to in a power position within women's hockey."
Although girls' hockey is one of the fastest growing segments of the game, men far outpace women in the coaching ranks. Of 60,142 coaches registered with USA Hockey during the 2018-19 season, 3,125 were women. Women accounted for 3,934 of Canada's 91,988 active coaches in 2017-18, according to the latest figures available from Hockey Canada.
It's not unusual for girls to grow up playing hockey without ever having a female coach let alone one of color, Koelzer said.
"I had one female coach when I played one year of high school hockey at Hatboro-Horsham [in Pennsylvania]," said Koelzer, who played for Princeton University and was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NWHL draft. "In college, I had some good strong female leadership to look up to, but not in my youth days."
David Reaugh, the Junior Hurricanes girls program director, said he first learned about Miley from North Carolina parents who saw her work with their children at a hockey camp held on Liberty's Lynchburg, Virginia campus.
"Everybody I talked to gave her great reviews as an instructor, as well with the camp, and as a person," Reaugh said. "Right after we announced her, I got three or four texts saying 'Oh, that's an amazing decision or 'My daughter remembers her from camp.' One of the coaches tweeted 'This is an absolutely amazing addition.' It was well-received quite quickly."
What made Miley especially appealing to Reaugh was that her hockey journey mirrors what a lot of what Junior Hurricanes girls and boys endure to play the game.
She traveled long distances from Queens to play youth hockey on Long Island and in New Jersey before leaving home to play at Chatham in Pennsylvania, Finlandia in Michigan and Liberty in Virginia.
Youth participation is up 39 percent in the past decade in the southeast United States, according to USA Hockey statistics. But accessibility to rinks remains a challenge for players and parents.
"Our U-19 team has players from Florida all the way to Maryland; our U-16 team is South Carolina to middle Virginia and we have girls that easily travel one to two hours just to come to practice," Reaugh said. "Most of the time, the answer to the girls down here is 'Well, go to prep school, move up North, get out of the South.' I think [Miley] fits in with the model which is tough it out, make sure we're showing everybody who you are so that you get the right opportunities without having to leave your family four years early."
Instead, it's Miley who's on the move for hockey and she couldn't be happier.
"I just knew this was my opportunity, the right opportunity," she said.