Emily Engel-Natzke’s trailblazing journey into professional hockey

Emily Engel-Natzke's trailblazing journey into professional hockey originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

At a time in which the headlines have been dominated by news of COVID-19, an exciting and historic story came from the Hershey Bears and the Washington Capitals. Emily Engel-Natzke, 29, was named the video coach of the Hershey Bears in November.

“It was a little surreal,” Engel-Natzke said in an episode of the Capitals Talk Podcast. “You always hope for that phone call, but there’s always that voice in the back of your head saying, well, there’s other candidates. They’re probably more qualified. So I was honestly just over-the-moon excited and honored really to be a part of the organization and that they thought that I would be a good fit.”

Engel-Natzke is now the first female coach in the Caps’ organization.

Sports is a hard industry for women to break into. Among the litany of reasons for this, many women just don’t consider a career path in professional sports as possible for them because they don’t have many examples to look up to. That is what makes Engel-Natzke’s hiring so important and her story unique.

Though she is still adjusting to the idea that she is a trailblazer for women in the industry, it is a description that is well-deserved.

But how did she get there when so many before her did not get the same opportunity?

For Engel-Natzke, the goal was always to be involved in hockey. She developed an interest in the sport while growing up in Colorado in the championship years of the Avalanche.

“I grew up in Colorado in the late 90s, early 2000s,” Engel-Natzke said. “The Avalanche were pretty good back in those days so just watching those teams — Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, kind of the dream team honestly — is where I kind of fell in love with hockey.”

Engel-Natzke played the game as a goalie in high school, but was not good enough to play at the collegiate level. Desperate to stay involved in the game, she played club hockey while at the University of Colorado Boulder and began refereeing. College was also where she began to work with video. In 2014, she was hired by the University of Wisconsin to work with the women’s basketball team, but she never lost sight of her goal.

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“When I went to the women’s basketball team, honestly, I joined with the intention of hopefully going to hockey,” Engel-Natzke said. “I love basketball, but I don’t know basketball that well so it was obviously a learning experience. But it was just kind of that opportunity to get my foot in the door at a really great institution and luckily enough for me it kind of worked out in my favor.”

By 2015, Engel-Natzke was working with both the men’s and women’s hockey teams. By 2017, she was full-time with the men. Now, in 2020, she’s headed to the professional ranks with the Caps’ organization working in the AHL.

“It’s an honor,” Engel-Natzke said. “There’s so many teams out there and to be able to work with Washington and Hershey, they’re so highly regarded in the NHL and in the American League. Everyone that I talk to, they were like listen, you’re going to love Hershey. It’s a great place to work and it’s a great organization to be in so I’m just really happy.”

“I always wanted to work in professional hockey,” she added, “But to be able to be in this organization, I mean it’s kind of the cherry on top of everything, to be honest.”

Since the news broke, Engel-Natzke has had to grapple with the enormity of her achievement.

“It’s been a little overwhelming,” she said. “I knew there would be some news about it, but I didn’t expect it to be as big of a deal as it is. I understand the responsibility that comes with that too.”

With that in mind, Engel-Natzke had a message for all the women out there looking to work in sports.

“Dream big and don’t let people or experiences get in the way of that,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work, there’s going to be ups and downs for sure, but if you have the passion and you have the love for what you do, keep that dream alive.”

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