William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, as part of Gender Equality Month, he profiles Blake Bolden, the NHL's first Black female pro scout, who now has a line of hockey sticks that carry her name.
Blake Bolden has come a long way from buying used hockey sticks at a secondhand sporting goods store as a young player growing up near Cleveland, Ohio.
The Los Angeles Kings pro scout and former National Women's Hockey League defenseman now has her own stick line by Verbero Hockey, an all-black carbon fiber twig that carries her name, initials and favorite inspirational slogan - "Be Bold."
"It's like one of those 'pinch myself' moments," said Bolden, who is also the Kings' growth and inclusion specialist. "Now it's like, 'You have your own stick now, your own logo, your own kick point, your own blade. It's got your swag, your vibe and it's beautiful."
Verbero unveiled the Blake Bolden Signature Series Mercury V350 stick in December and pre-orders are scheduled to be shipped April 15.
The Bolden stick line is the brainchild of Andy Sutton, a former NHL defenseman who is Verbero's owner and CEO. He met Bolden at a Sunday morning pickup hockey game in San Diego last year and was immediately impressed by the former Boston College defenseman's skill.
"I went up to her after the skate, I don't know if she knew me from Adam, and I said, 'Hey, I've never been on the ice at the same time with a top-tier female player,'" said Sutton, who played 676 games for seven different teams from 1998-2012. "I said, 'I just wanted to let you know I think you're incredible, it was really cool skating with you and I hope to skate together again some time.'"
Bolden showed up for the game the following Sunday and had more conversations with Sutton, whose company was in the process of developing hockey sticks that provide similar flex and performance to golf club shafts.
Eventually, he asked Bolden if she would be interested in joining Verbero as an ambassador and be interested in a branding alliance.
Verbero is working with several elite women's players, including Brigette Lacquette, a defenseman on the 2018 Canada team that won a silver medal at the PyeongChang Olympics, and forward Brittany Howard, a former NCAA Division I standout at Robert Morris University who is skating with the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association.
Bolden is a barrier-breaker in hockey. She was the first Black player selected in the first round of the Canadian Women's Hockey League draft (No. 5 by the Boston Blades in 2013) and the first Black player to skate in the NWHL when she signed with the Boston Pride in 2013.
The winner of the hardest slap shot at the 2019 NWHL all-star game, Bolden became the NHL's first Black female pro scout when the Kings hired her in January 2020.
Bolden said having her own stick line and working the nationally televised PWHPA game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday with NBC Sports broadcaster Kenny Albert is emblematic of a change occurring in hockey.
She's the latest women's player of color to land endorsement or personal branding opportunities. Forward Sarah Nurse partnered with CCM Hockey shortly after playing for Canada in 2018, was featured in an ad campaign by adidas last year and was the inspiration for a Black hockey-themed Barbie doll sold by Canada's Tim Hortons doughnut chain.
"It's great," Bolden said. "We're beautiful, marketable women in our sport. This is what should be happening. … we should be helping these companies reach a market."
Neil McOstrich, founding partner and chief storytelling officer of Cleansheet Communications, agreed.
"They're getting their due," said McOstrich, whose Toronto-based marketing agency has worked with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, Hockey Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros and other athletes. "In some cases, these endorsement and branding deals are reflecting not just the skill but the gestalt around that player -- the barriers they had to overcome to be there, the things they say and do when they're there, what they do for the community outside the game."
Angela James, who became the Hockey Hall of Fame's second Black player when she was inducted in 2010 and was named to the Order of Hockey in Canada for 2021 on Friday, said she's thrilled to see Bolden and Nurse are getting endorsement and branding offers and urged them and other top women of color in the game to seek more.
"It's very hard to get to your status, your level," James said in a recent episode of the NHL's Soul on Ice: The Podcast, hosted by Bolden, Nurse, Metropolitan Riveters defenseman Saroya Tinker and Arcadia University women's hockey coach Kelsey Koelzer. "If you get an opportunity, take advantage of it … do those advertisements … because that's only going to help the other young girls that are aspiring or are even afraid to attempt to play the game of hockey."