By Daniel Rocchi
The first female player in Toronto Blue Jays history—that’s the future a young Kori Cheverie imagined for herself.
“I always had these ideas that I was going to be involved with a men’s team because that’s all I knew,” she says. “I played hockey with the boys, I played baseball with the boys, I did everything with the boys, my best friends were boys.”
Cheverie isn’t a Blue Jay, not yet anyway. The 29-year-old chose her skates over her cleats a long time ago. But she wasn’t wrong about the trail she would blaze.
The Ryerson men’s hockey team began training camp last week and Cheverie is the newest member of their staff as an assistant coach. She’s the first female assistant coach to be hired on a full-time basis in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s hockey history.
Cheverie is already familiar with most of the team after spending the last three years as a skate training specialist at Ryerson, working with the school hockey teams and running development camps for community programs.
She spent much of her last year in that role contemplating a coaching position with the men’s team, liking the idea more each time she thought about it.
In January, Cheverie approached then-associate coach Johnny Duco about a role with the team, if he were to inherit the head coaching job from Graham Wise. Wise was in his tenth year behind the Ryerson bench and pondering retirement.
Duco and Cheverie had already worked closely together through the skate training program and Ryerson hockey camps, and Duco was keen on the idea of bringing her on board.
When Wise’s retirement was announced internally within Ryerson Athletics, he suggested that Cheverie apply for the assistant’s position. The Rams officially announced Wise’s retirement on June 15 and Duco was named interim head coach less than three weeks later. Cheverie’s hiring was announced on Aug. 12.
“I looked for an assistant coach [with strength] in some areas that I lack,” says Duco. “I have vision, but I think Kori’s application skills are tremendous. I felt that we compliment each other well and that some of the things that aren’t my strongest suits are very strong in her.”
Cheverie’s hockey resumé is an impressive one. This summer, she retired from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) to focus on her new role with the Rams after six professional seasons with the Toronto Furies, including a Clarkson Cup championship title in 2014.
A native of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Cheverie played her collegiate hockey at St. Mary’s University in Halifax while completing an honours degree in criminology.
In five seasons with the St. Mary’s Huskies, she was a three- time Atlantic University Sport (AUS) first-team all-star and Huskies women’s hockey MVP, and was selected as the St. Mary’s female athlete of the year twice. She also won gold with the Canadian women’s hockey team in 2009 at the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Winter Universiade in Harbin, China.
“She’s had a great history with the game,” says fifth-year forward and team captain Michael Fine. “She’s educated, she’s knowledgeable. All that is stuff that our players can use going forward and lean on her.”
Professional men’s sports are starting to see more women in coaching roles, but change has been relatively slow in the hockey world.
In 2014, Becky Hammon became the first full-time female NBA coach, joining the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings also have a female assistant in Nancy Lieberman, while the NFL’s Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as that league’s first full-time female coach in January.
But it wasn’t until Aug. 24, nearly two weeks after the Rams hired Cheverie, that the Arizona Coyotes hired skating coach Dawn Braid as the NHL’s first female full-time coach.
The historic nature of Cheverie’s role has been well-publicized, and while she’s intent on staying focused on the team’s upcoming season, the significance of her hiring isn’t lost on her. Partly because her mother, Janice, isn’t letting her forget it.
“I know that it’s a very important position, and I’ve had this conversation with my mom especially,” says Cheverie. “She’s always giving me life advice about how to conduct myself.”
Cheverie looks to her mom, an entrepreneur who owns a preschool and a daycare in addition to being an elementary school teacher, as a major role model.
“She’s taught me how to be a leader, and what a good leader looks like.”
Now Cheverie is looking to be a role model in her own right.
“I know that girls will always look up to the professional players,” she says. “I’m glad now that they can aspire to be a coach in the NHL.”
Cheverie is on a one-season contract with the Rams. Her position with the team is groundbreaking, but she knows there are no guarantees in sports. She isn’t worried.
“[Ryerson has] goals,” she says. “If we don’t happen to meet the standards, there’s a chance we won’t be here.
“I like to take risks, and I feel like this is a really great risk to take.”