Blake Bolden is an honest-to-goodness professional hockey player. She is among the pioneering players in the inaugural National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), which began this past weekend.
Bolden played for two seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), but she and the other players didn’t get paid. Now she and her fellow NWHLers are expecting to be paid. She signed this summer as a free agent with the Boston Pride.
The MSR contacted her shortly after her signing and spoke to her by phone.
“I thoroughly enjoyed playing in the CWHL,” said Bolden. “It was great competition. But it was tough to travel every weekend, being the only American on the team and working a full-time job” at a nonprofit organization that works with Boston area youth.
Bolden, a 2013 Boston College graduate who also played hockey there, finished as the third all-time scoring defensemen. “I thought about going overseas [after graduation] but I didn’t really wanted to be overseas alone,” she recalled.
But the CWHL called and, two seasons later, the NWHL.
“It’s nice that I can be home in my apartment in Massachusetts,” continued Bolden, who now lives in Boston but originally is from Ohio. “It’s comforting to know that [the NWHL] can get better in the future.”
She is the NWHL’s first Black player.
“Being the first [Black player] on (her former Canadian) team, and now being in the first league ever played in America, I just think that’s amazing,” said Bolden. “Growing up, I honestly didn’t know anything like this could happen.
“I was always an athletic kid,” stated Bolden. “I started playing hockey when I was seven years old. My mom was a single parent, and she met this wonderful man who became my father. His favorite sport was ice hockey.”
Her adopted father would regularly take the young Bolden with him to his part-time job at the Cleveland’s minor league hockey games. “I would get into the games for free. I would go into the locker room and meet the players, and they would come to my birthday parties. I just fell in love with the sport.” This, Bolden said, helped “developed a relationship between” her adopted father and herself.
“Being athletic, I picked up [hockey] pretty quickly.” Until she reached high school, Bolden played “on a small team of boys.” She then attended a New York prep school, where “I realized I was a decent hockey player and I could go play hockey in college and could get a scholarship, which I did.”
With no women’s hockey players to emulate, “I used to like Brett Hull — his slap shot was amazing. I wore his Number 13 in high school,” said Bolden.
At Boston College, “I was a free spirit. College was the greatest time as a player to learn and be more mature. I was captain my senior year and I did a pretty [good] job leading my team to three Frozen Four appearances in a row. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
Now a pro hockey player, Bolden can be a role model for younger Black females. “I only hope to make the opportunity for all African American women or men easy as it is for any other skin color playing ice hockey. This is a sport where you can [play] and don’t have to feel like Black people can’t do that.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.