Meet Professional Hockey Scout Blake Bolden. Bolden became the first African-American to compete in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) and has achieved a high level of success on the ice. She shares her passion and desire to inspire others!
Sam: Thank you so much for conversing. What drew you to the sport of hockey?
Blake Bolden: I was 6 when I saw my first hockey game in the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Lumberjacks were my home team, back then they were from the International Hockey League (IHL). I didn’t know hockey was in my own backyard, until my mother began to date a man whose favorite sport was ice hockey and was friends with many of the players. I attended these games with him and fell in love with the speed and intensity of the game. I asked him if I could learn. He was so excited, and that’s where it all started.
Sam: So, how did you then develop your level of play from the collegiate level to Canadian League and then to become the first African-American player to compete in the NWHL? And what has driven you to achieving the level of success experienced in professional hockey (All Star games, NWHL Defensive Player of the Year)?
Blake Bolden: I was surrounded by steep competition when I grew up. I was constantly challenged. I went to prep school in Lake Placid, NY called Northwood School, specifically to enhance my skills, become more mature as a student athlete, and get noticed by Division I college coaches. I told my parents that is what I wanted to do. So, they worked extremely hard to put me in the best position to succeed. With that, came a responsibility to do my best, in every contest. That became instilled in me at a young age. I always wanted to be the best or strive for my best.
I think I always wanted to make sure I loved the game. There were many instances where I could have quit and moved on with my life. Times when I didn’t make a US National Team, or mostly because being a professional women’s hockey player wasn’t lucrative. But I loved it, and could not stop playing. I felt I had a responsibility to young black girls who looked up to me. Because I did not see black people playing hockey as a girl, it was more than just me. But I always had to make sure I was playing because I loved it and I was still having fun. Or else, what’s the point? I had found a purpose. And I was not going to just step on the ice and not work my hardest in games. Fortunately, my hard work and mentality payed off.
Sam: What has been the most challenging aspect of being where you are today?
Blake Bolden: The most challenging is the years when I figured it was my last year and not knowing what to do. Should I “smarten” up and get a real job, one of those 9-5 where I’m unhappy but comfortable? Or should I just see where this ride takes me and enjoy every moment. Financially, playing pro was challenging. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes you ask yourself, “why am I still doing this?” But then a young wide-eyed black girl comes to your game and tells you she looks up to you and you’re her favorite hockey player. Or that she started playing hockey because of you. And you snap out of that head space. The conflict in women’s hockey is the financial challenges, the differences in leagues, as I get older, has definitely been the most challenging.
Sam: Based on your experience, what is the best piece of advice you can give to people chasing their dreams?
Blake Bolden: Have conviction that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. If you get cut from a team or something doesn’t go your way there’s a reason and a lesson to be learned. Rejection is just redirection. There is always more to learn and more to give. If I had given up, or decided to quit, I would have never become the first black player to play in the NWHL. I wouldn’t be the first black pro scout in the National Hockey League (NHL). I wouldn’t have the platform to change the game as I do now. I have found purpose and that’s what life is all about. Finding your purpose.
Sam: Finally, Do you have any future plans after hockey, or a place where people can follow your journey?
Blake Bolden: My plan is to have the game close to me wherever I go. I am currently scouting with the Los Angeles Kings. The second woman to ever scout pro. I am learning how I fit within this prestigious franchise. I plan to grow here, within the organization, keep changing the way hockey is viewed to the diverse community. Help make the game more inclusive to those who think hockey is not for them....it is. My goal is to continue to share my story and to inspire individuals to step outside their comfort zone. Or take that leap. And we shall see what happens.
Disclaimer: All Photos Provided Courtesy of Blake Bolden. Potential minor edits for length, flow, grammatical/formatting.
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