Hamilton’s Laura Fortino says she’s humbled to become the first female to be named an assistant coach in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
On Monday, Hamilton Bulldogs president and general manager Steve Staios said Fortino, 31, will be the team’s assistant coach and director of player development.
“It’s super humbling and such an honour and it’s a privilege,” Fortino told CBC News.
She said she is “just one of those, along with the other women, being a trailblazer and being a role model for the younger generations of females.”
“We can step into these roles and we can contribute. We can be an asset to a hockey club and all these other women who have been paving the way in the NHL and the OHL,” Fortino said.
She said being in the OHL “speaks volumes” that “the calibre of women that we do have out there that … can contribute.”
These women, she said are “not being hired just because we’re a female but we’re being hired on our own merit and what we bring to the table and the resumes that we do have and the hard work that we do put in day in and day out to make us who we are and now we can be a difference maker alongside these men.”
In July, the New Jersey Devils named Kate Madigan their first female assistant general manager, making her the sixth woman to hold the title in the NHL.
I’ve always been passionate about coaching and developing, it’s been part of me, I’ve been doing it for years now. I have my own development sessions that are run throughout the summer for both males and females.– Laura Fortino, assistant coach, Hamilton Bulldogs
Fortino has been a star with the Canadian national women’s team for many years but has never coached before.
“I’m still playing, so it’s something that I, you know, I really had to think about,” she said.
“But I’ve always been passionate about coaching and developing. It’s been part of me. I’ve been doing it for years now. I have my own development sessions that are run throughout the summer for both males and females.
“So, it’s something that’s not really new, but being on the men’s side and a professional setting in the OHL is something new to me, but I’m loving it so far and I can’t wait to get the season going,” she said.
Not ready to stop playing
Meanwhile, Fortino says she will still continue playing hockey and the coaching staff at Hamilton Bulldogs understands this.
“They are so supportive in my playing career … they all get it. They all played the game, so they know that I don’t want to hang up my skates too early because I think that’s something I would regret in the long run in the future,” she said.
“So, I’m still loving it. I still feel that I can contribute to the game at the highest level. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been, so I’m not ready just yet to stop playing.”
Staios said the Hamilton Bulldogs “are incredibly excited” to welcome Fortino, adding she “exudes the passion, character and leadership that we covet in Hamilton.”
“We have witnessed firsthand through our training and development camps over the years, her ability to coach and mentor players,” he said.
“Laura’s playing experience and success speaks for itself. She has been an instrumental part on many championship teams and undoubtedly will carry on that success as a coach.”
A culture change on the men’s side is needed, Fortino says
Fortino starred with the Cornell Big Red from 2009-2013 and then enjoyed professional success with the Brampton/Markham Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). She’s been a driving force behind the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).
“I’m thrilled to add Laura to our staff,” said Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee.
“With her infectious personality and fantastic hockey resume, I’m grateful for the opportunity to work alongside her.”
Responding to the Hockey Canada scandal that has placed junior hockey under the spotlight, Fortino said, “We want change within the hockey culture on the men’s side.”
“That’s something as a female coming in, that’s something maybe I can help promote and help change and help educate these young men within the Hamilton Bulldog organization.
“We have a great group of guys and if there’s any area within that that I can help, I definitely will because I do want to see that change and I do want to see that culture change on the men’s side,” she said.