#NWHLxWISS is a series in partnership with accounting firm WISS that highlights the careers, interests and stories of women in the NWHL as well as women working at WISS.
Kelly Cooke played for the Boston Pride during the NWHL’s inaugural season before retiring from playing professionally to continue her career as an on-ice official and pursue a law degree at Northeastern University. Cooke is returning for her second season as the NWHL’s Director of Player Safety.
Outside of being an official and the Director of Player Safety, what do you do?
I’m in my last year of law school, and at Northeastern you participate in a co-op while you’re in school, so I just started my co-op at a law firm in downtown Boston.
How did you decide to go into law?
I studied English in undergrad, but law was what I always wanted to do. I really like it, so I definitely think it was the right decision.
You went to Princeton for undergrad, a great Ivy League school. How important was getting an education while you were playing hockey?
It was the most important thing. Growing up, I was always taught that the most important thing was academics. You can’t play hockey forever, so academics were what will take you farther in life. It was the priority when I was choosing a college. Princeton had a great mix of academics and athletics.
How did you decide to go into officiating?
I started doing it when I was young because my older brother was a ref, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I got to college and saw the college officials. That was when I really started to understand their journey and where officiating can take you in life.
Where do you see your officiating career going?
For female officials, the pinnacle is to ref in the Olympics. That’s always been my goal. That’s what we strive for and what keeps us moving forward to inspire either younger girls or college girls.
How did you get involved in the NWHL Player Safety Committee?
After I stopped playing, I realized I wanted to focus on law school and officiating. [NWHL Founder and Commissioner] Dani Rylan and [Deputy Commissioner] Hayley Moore approached me, and it was just the perfect time and the perfect opportunity for me. As an official and a soon-to-be-lawyer, it was something I knew I would really enjoy doing. Staying involved in the league that I’ve been a part of since Day 1 was really important to me.
What advice do you have for girls and women who want to be officials? How do you develop the thick skin you need to be an official?
Give it a try! It’s definitely something that’s fun, and you’re involved in a team still. You find a whole new family with officiating, which people don’t necessarily expect. Playing hockey your whole life, you’ve always had that team culture, and you still have that as an official. As for the thick skin, it takes a lot of practice. It’s not for everyone. It’s just about being confident that you know the game. People are always going to yell at you; there’s always going to be some conflict. You just have to have confidence in your calls.
What are your future career goals with officiating and law?
I definitely want to take officiating as far as I can and keep doing international tournaments. I’ll be joining a law firm once I graduate, so I just want to keep balancing my workload with my passions in officiating and the NWHL Player Safety Committee. I want to continue to develop in all three facets to remain involved in all the things I enjoy.