It’s tough to find someone busier, or someone making a more versatile impact, in the sport than Blake Bolden these days. She’s competed at the most elite levels of women’s hockey as a blueliner in the NCAA, CWHL, NWHL and with the PWHPA. She is the first black female pro scout in NHL history. And, now, working with Play it Again Sports, she has launched ‘emBolden her,’ a women’s hockey mentorship program.
Bolden caught up with The Hockey News recently to talk all things emBolden her and why she wants to be a role model for young women in the game.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: You’re a professional hockey player, an NHL scout and, now, you’re running emBolden her, working with 25 Canadian and American women aged 13 to 16. What attracted you to this idea?
BLAKE BOLDEN: There are so many things that attracted me to mentorship. One, just being a young girl playing ice hockey, I seldom had access to female mentors, role models, unless I watched the Olympics every four years, unless I had the opportunity to see a collegiate game somewhere. Most of the time, it was just me playing on a boys team or doing my thing on my own. And so, when I was playing professionally in Boston, I decided to start a mentorship program because I felt as though all of us can be role models in some way and give back to the sport.
THN: An expression we hear a lot in women's hockey is the idea that, “If you see it, you can be it.” Women players growing up compared to even 20 years ago can consume things like The Dream Gap Tour or Olympics or PHF, with more opportunities to see role models on a screen. Is that a responsibility you take on, to help the next generation understand that it's possible to do what you’ve done?
BOLDEN: Absolutely. I definitely think if you can see it, you can be it, but you just have to want to be that person for the younger generation, too. Everybody has their own path and, for me, I felt just empowered or emboldened, if you will, to give back because I thoroughly enjoy speaking and seeing young girls and seeing their faces light up and seeing them achieve goals.
And, honestly, that gives me more strength to be who I am as a person, so it's this mutual benefit that we both share. And I always like to tell people: it's not just about them. I'm learning just as much as they're learning. It's a give and take. It’s beautiful in that way when you think about it.
THN: What does the program entail? Do you have plans to expand it?
BOLDEN: It's a six-month virtual program where we focus on mental preparedness, goal setting, nutrition, basically anything that goes under the realm of being an athlete and being a young girl at an impressionable age. The goal is to definitely expand, but for now it is just me. I'm asking my former teammates and competitors to come on and speak to these girls, because diversity of thought is so important. If they're just hearing from me for six months, it could get repetitive and a little stale.
THN: What’s the ratio of hockey talk to off-ice life talk during the sessions?
BOLDEN: I would say it's pretty 50/50. I keep it normal, like, what are you going through at the ages of 13 and 16? What kind of person do you want to be? What is challenging you on a daily basis? Such as having anxiety and how to deal with that. Or on the ice, what do you want to do? Do you want to be a goal-scorer? Do you want to be a grinder? Do you want to be the best playmaker you can be? So we're sharing and talking about all those things and holding each other accountable, which is great.
THN: What’s an example of a topic that comes up during a session?
BOLDEN: One day I asked a simple question: “Hey, girls, how many of you feel anxious on the ice?” I couldn't believe how many hands went up. A lot of these girls just felt, “I hesitate a little bit, I double think, I overthink about what I'm going to do.” So we went through the steps of taking a few deep breaths on the bench, going back to your affirmations, going back to, what are you amazing at on the ice? Are you a heck of a good skater? Are you an amazing passer? Whatever it is, just continually reminding yourself that you're valuable.
THN: If you ran into someone on the street, and you just had to tell them quickly about emBolden her and what the long-term goal is, what do you want to accomplish?
BOLDEN: The main goal in my mind is to instill a little bit of power in each individual and for them to spread their knowledge and their wealth of experience with other people. I just want it to be a ripple effect of positive change, and I just want these girls to be confident in who they are. Because if we have massive amounts of confident, young, intelligent women, our future is just going to be so great, right? So, it's all about leaving the sport better than when you found it, and I just hope that it can grow from there and continue to make a positive impact.
THN: Being a trailblazer as not just a woman but also a black woman working as an AHL scout for the Los Angeles Kings, what has been your most interesting takeaway from the experience so far?
BOLDEN: Let’s say your general manager or someone in leadership asks you a question about a player. You’ve got to have an opinion. If you sway back and forth, then you're not convincing. For me, it’s fun to watch these young players I scout in the AHL, because everybody's trying to get to the NHL, so it's fun to see them fight and battle. I see myself in them, just trying to fight and scrap and battle. It’s about having that opinion and sticking with it and being confident in the things that come out of your mouth.
This is an extended version of an interview that appears in the 2022 Money & Power edition of The Hockey News.