Celebrating Black Voices

Blake Bolden’s Impact on Hockey Extends Far Beyond a Single Game

For most hockey defensemen, totaling 29 points, registering seven multi-point games, and earning Hockey East Defenseman of the Year in a single season are once-in-a-lifetime accomplishments. For former Boston College women’s hockey defenseman Blake Bolden, they are just a brief glimpse into a career filled with everlasting impacts on the game of hockey. 

In back-to-back games on Oct. 31 and Nov. 3, 2012, Bolden tallied a career-high four assists against then-No. 3 Boston University in a 7–1 road victory and then a career-high two goals and 13 shots against the Terriers in a 5–5 tie in Chestnut Hill. But Bolden does not even remember those games—she has no recollection of them. 

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on with you, if you’re sick, if you’re ill, if you had a bad grade on your test—you’re showing up,” Bolden, BC ’13, said of facing BU. “I don’t even remember those games because I think I blacked out. I just was in flow state the whole time.”

Bolden said all that mattered was that she was taking away a victory from someone else in their own barn, as she always preferred to play on the road. 

“Doesn’t surprise me that she said that from just the context of it felt like you’re professional hockey players on a business trip to go win games,” Molly Schaus, Bolden’s teammate during the 2009–10 season and BC ’11, said. “I think for her, it was an opportunity to rise to the challenge to prove to whatever team we’re playing, whatever coach, that she’s one of the best defensemen in the country.” 

In the second of the two contests, Bolden took six shots in the first period alone—more than any other BC player logged in the entire game. 

“They hit the net I guess,” Bolden said of her barrage of shots. “I loved when the puck was on my stick. It was a feeling of being a quarterback. You’re a defenseman, you have control of breaking out the puck, and I was fortunate enough to have a great shot. I used it to the full extent of my capacity.”

And whether it’s the Battle of Comm. Ave. battle against the Terriers or a street hockey affair with Willie O’Ree—who broke the color barrier in the NHL—Bolden’s intensity and personality come through while playing, coaching, and expanding the game she dedicated her life to.  

“That’s one of my favorite memories is playing street hockey with Willie O’Ree and Blake Bolden,” Schaus said. “Willie’s in his 80s just chirping us and winning faceoffs. Yes, they both understand and appreciate the position they’re in and the responsibility to be that voice and role model for others. But you put them on the ice and … they just love to play hockey.” 

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Bolden was not born into a hockey family. Rather, it became a family affair when her mother started dating a police officer who also worked as a security guard for the Cleveland Lumberjacks, a former professional team in the International Hockey League. His favorite sport was ice hockey, and his relationship with Bolden’s mother led Bolden to discover a newfound love of the sport. 

“Because of that relationship, I got to go to the arena,” Bolden said. “I got to have my little media pass, my lanyard to go into the tunnel, sometimes go into the locker room, meet the players. So from that experience, it turned into a family thing because he’s basically like a father figure … then I just was like, alright, well this is a sick sport, I want to learn how to play and then we immediately just started.”

Although hockey was not a big part of sport culture in Cleveland, according to Bolden, she began to develop her game at an early age. When she was 6 years old—and still unable to stop on her left skate—Bolden began playing organized hockey with the Tri City Cyclones. As her game progressed, Bolden started playing up, joining the Ohio Flames under-19 team as a 12- year-old. 

“So it was like play up as high as possible or you’re playing on a boys team,” Bolden said. “And I think I was the only girl. Me and Megan Bozek were the only girls in that league for that age group.”

Upon entering college, Bolden became known as one of the best offensively minded defensemen in the country, according to BC head coach Katie Crowley. When she stepped onto the ice for the first time in Chestnut Hill, her ability to control the blue line was clear.

“We had a little bit of a strange overlap where I was off at the 2012 Olympics when she was a freshman, so obviously heard a lot about her from teammates,” Schaus said. “But her work spoke for itself and she was able to produce. Obviously as a goalie, you want really good defenders in front of you, and we had a strong corner that she jumped into and it made a huge difference.” 

As a freshman, Bolden played in 29 games and led all Hockey East freshman defensemen with four goals and nine assists. By the end of her senior season, Bolden ranked second all time of BC defensemen in points, goals, and assists. 

“Very grateful that she was on our team and that I didn’t have to stop her slap shot,” Schaus said. “Until this day, she still has the fastest slap shot in women’s hockey. I got to watch that from afar.” 

Bolden represented the United States prior to her career in college. During Schaus’ sophomore and junior years on the Heights, Bolden played for the under-18 national team, winning gold in 2008 and 2009. 

“I was in the national team program, and [Crowley] gave a talk to the girls and I was like wow, four-time Olympian, she’s incredible,” Bolden said. “I was kind of starstruck by [Crowley]. She was [coaching] in the Frozen Four when I was 14 years old, and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, they’re going into three overtimes with Minnesota Duluth.’” 

Bolden said following in Crowley’s footsteps was one of the pivotal reasons she chose BC.

“I had asks from all the different schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin and all the top dogs,” Bolden said. “And I was like, why do I want to go to like one of those top dog universities to just be another fish in their pond. I wanted to come to an organization and a program that I could maybe help build and change a little bit.” 

BC’s hockey program was just the tipping point of Bolden’s adult career, but the Heights is where her run of firsts began. 

Before her senior season in 2012, Bolden was tapped as BC’s captain, becoming the first Black player to ever earn the honor. 

“She’s done a lot of firsts,” Schaus said. “But in doing so, she’s opened the door for a whole new generation behind her. And that’s the goal, right? That’s what [Crowley] did in ’98. [BC’s coaching staff’s] goal is to create really awesome people. Hockey comes second.”

Bolden went on to break several more barriers. In the 2013 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) Draft, the Boston Blades selected her fifth overall. She became the first-ever Black player to be drafted in the first round of the CWHL Draft. 

In 2016, she played for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), becoming the first Black hockey player to compete in the NWHL, which is now the Premier Hockey Federation. 

“Especially in hockey in general, there aren’t a lot of Black women in the sport,” Crowley said. “She’s really created her own path. … She’s not even playing anymore, but she’s able to use her platform and promote Black women in hockey in general and I’m just so proud of her for that.” 

In 2020, Bolden joined the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL as a growth and inclusion specialist and pro scout. She was the first Black woman to scout in the NHL, and just the second woman to hold the position—Cammi Granato being the first. 

“There’s a future in hockey beyond playing, and I don’t think I knew that,” Schaus said. “I think it’s so important to realize [that] hockey is one piece of you.”

Bolden was featured by Sports Illustrated in “The Unrelenting: SI’s list of most powerful, influential, and outstanding women in sports” in 2020 alongside Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and Billie Jean King. 

“She is wise beyond her years,” Crowley said. “She was a mature person, even coming in as a freshman. She knew how to be light and funny, but she also knew when to be serious and when to be locked in. She didn’t need a whole lot of guidance. … I hope to think that her leading at Boston College has helped her in the realm that she is in.” 

As a spokesperson for women’s hockey through the Blake Bolden Mentorship program, Bolden continues to make herself visible to Black youth. She said she is honored to be an inspiration for the next generation of players, but acknowledged that she is just like any other person.  

“I think the number one thing is authenticity,” Bolden said. “To know that a Simone Biles has a hard time in the Olympics and has to take a step back and a Serena Williams has a hard time getting back into her game after having a baby, like, we’re all just human.”

February 23, 2023