Blake Bolden's love for hockey began as a young girl growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she was introduced to the sport and the International Hockey League's Cleveland Lumberjacks. She frequented the rink as a young girl and became a familiar face to the players.
That spark and passion for the game was instilled in Bolden at a young age and her love of hockey continues to this day. She did not know it at the time, but Bolden would go on to enjoy an accomplished playing career and become a key figure in women's hockey, breaking barriers on and off the ice.
In addition to her success as a player, Bolden recently became one of the initial female scouts, and the first black woman, in a scouting capacity with an NHL organization, when she joined the LA Kings pro scouting staff in February.
As Bolden grew up and advanced in youth hockey, her role models included U.S. Olympians Angela Ruggiero and Cammi Granato. She watched them capture gold in 1998, the first-year women were allowed to compete at the Olympics, and that was motivation that eventually led to representing her country and winning gold in the IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship.
Following a decorated collegiate career at Boston College, Bolden joined the Boston Blades (CWHL) and became the first professional women's hockey player to break the color barrier.
Becoming a Champion for Diversity
Bolden never stopped admiring inspirational leaders there. Willie O'Ree, the first African American to play in the National Hockey League in 1958, was one of her biggest role models, one that she was able to connect with during his screening for Soul On Ice.
"He is just so open, welcoming and communicative and is so great at sharing his story that it's so inspirational no matter how many times you hear it." Bolden said. "I've been fortunate enough to be in certain events alongside him, and I mean he's the legend and I just think that's really cool that we can share that bond."
It's that bond with O'Ree that led Bolden to become involved with Black Girl Hockey Club and, as it's grown, so much more.
Chance Encounter Leads to Scouting Role with Kings
Back in November, Black Girl Hockey Club came to STAPLES Center for an LA Kings game, and Kings President Luc Robitaille spoke to the group.
"I introduced myself obviously as a fan and was like 'Oh, hi I'm Blake and I play hockey here.' And [Robitaille's] like, 'Oh yeah, I've been following what you guys are doing. I commend what you guys are doing, which is really awesome.'
And then he just kind of asked me about my interests and if I had ever thought of scouting. It kind of just happened to where he made the spark in my brain and we just continued on with the conversation."
Just months after NHL Seattle announced its hire of Granato as the first female pro scout in the NHL, Bolden quietly began her scouting role in a similar fashion to that of her childhood hero.
Celebrating Black History Month
On February 26, Bolden was at the Kings game as part of the Black History Month Celebration. She has been working with the league to further discussions about diversity in hockey.
"It's such a privilege to be this player," Bolden said. "I mean I feel I was just luckily born at this time to where I could be a first of something and I'm just trying to carry the torch and just pass it on."
Growing the Game
For Bolden, growing the sport of girls' hockey in Southern California is her passion.
"It was incredible having the girls involved in the NHL Skills Competition. It was so important to see Kendall Coyne take her opportunity in the fastest skater event last year and making people take notice that women's hockey exists," Bolden said. "And I remember a couple of years ago running into people saying, 'Oh, I didn't even know women's hockey was a thing.' And it's like, 'yes it's a thing; we're here.'"
What's her biggest piece of advice to young women wanting to try out the sport of hockey?
"Once you pick up a stick and you get on the ice, it's really addicting and once you get on a team and have fun with your friends," Bolden said. "It's something that is life-changing and will definitely give you life lessons to take with you forever. Just go after it and have no fear and experience everything and take everything that you can out of the sport."
Advancing Gender Equality
As the calendar shifts into March and Gender Equality Month, the Kings hosted their International Women's Day game on Saturday against Minnesota.
Bolden once again served as a central figure alongside Team USA's Annie Pankowski throughout the game.
Bolden may lead a busy life and have a hectic schedule, but she is always ready to serve as a key ambassador for the game of hockey and embrace her role of breaking barriers.