As defensive partners growing up, Piper Hays and Hayley Palmer have great
chemistry on the ice. That chemistry jumped to a new level when the two
18-year-olds began their coaching journeys five years ago.
After becoming friends as teammates, they decided to become on-ice
assistants with the Vancouver Female Ice Hockey Association (VFIHA) when
they were just 13. Since then, they have continuously played on the ice
together and coached younger girls with the Vancouver Angels.
“I always liked working with children,” Palmer says. “I just thought it
would be nice to have younger coaches and female coaches, especially for a
group of young girls.”
“It’s just nice to give back,” Hays says. “I think [the girls] get an extra
kick out of seeing someone who’s older and still playing doing the same
thing that they’re doing. They get to kind of see what they can achieve.”
Both Hays and Palmer had few women as coaches in their hockey careers until
they reached the Vancouver Angels U18 team. Although they had positive
experiences with men coaching them growing up, they found having a woman
behind the bench fostered an even stronger relationship.
“The dynamic is just very different. It’s a lot more comfortable, a lot
more open,” Hays explains. “I think it’s easier to take criticisms from
people who understand where you’ve come from.”
The growth of women in coaching roles is an important mandate for the
VFIHA. When James Nedila became president of the association in 2014, he
says there were very few women coaching.
“They were like unicorns, we just couldn’t find them,” Nedila says. “It was
a big gap in our coaching where we are a female hockey association but the
vast majority of [our coaches] were male.”
The association launched several initiatives to increase the number of
women coaching, including mentorships and support for unexperienced coaches
and encouraging graduating players to return to the game to coach. Their
efforts paid off, and Nedila says people now routinely reach out their
association to coach and volunteer.
The hockey community has also flourished with more women actively involved
“The culture that we built in this association has definitely improved
because of representation,” Nedila says. “It feels like a more inclusive
place, it feels like a place where people can help out and see the impact
of their efforts immediately.”
Piper Hays coaching with the Vancouver Angels. (VFIHA)
After two years as on-ice assistants, Hays and Palmer took a coaching
course to become assistant coaches. Although they were the youngest and
only girls in the room back then, they have both noticed an influx of women
getting involved in hockey as coaches and volunteers.
“I think it’s just very important that more and more girls play, more and
more people coach, because there’s so many people that you want to have
represented,” Palmer says.
“The way things are going, it’s been pretty exponential growth,” Hays says.
“I’m hoping for at least 50% female coaches [in hockey in the future],
which I know seems like a pretty big, drastic number. But there’s a lot of
untapped potential right now, and I think once we get this steam train
going, I don’t think it’s going to stop for a while.”
The increase of women has also had a large impact on the young players,
“I have had girls tell me they want to coach when they’re older,” Palmer
says. “It’s great because I think they definitely see it as more of a
possibility when they see like me or Piper versus if they see like their
dads or their parents coaching.”
The feedback from parents about Hays’ and Palmer’s coaching has been
overwhelming positive from parents.
“Their attitude is infectious. It has an effect on everybody around them,”
Nedila says. “It’s good to see that feedback reflected back at them to say
you know what, you guys are really doing a great job.”
Hayley Palmer with a Vancouver Angels player she coaches.
A new chapter in their coaching journeys began this fall with Hays and
Palmer beginning university. Hays left Vancouver to attend the University
of Toronto, but she already has started building connections in Ontario to
“It’s an interesting transition,” she says. “I think bringing that sort of
experience into a new team is going to be pretty important just because I
want to provide that sort of energy and stability that I had with my
previous team. I know that a lot of places still don’t have that many
female coaches, so I’m hoping I can be someone that [the players] can come
to if they ever need anyone.”
With Palmer attending the University of British Columbia, she has continued
coaching and playing with the Vancouver Angels, although this will be the
first season without Hays by her side. She says several of the players she
coached were overcome with joy when they saw her back at the rink to start
“It really makes me feel like what I’m doing does affect other people and
it does affect the girls that I’m helping,” Palmer says. “Having them
remember me and having positive memories about me is really, really nice.”
The distance may have changed, but the friendship between Hays and Palmer
remains just as close. Despite being in different provinces now, coaching
is a special connection they will share for life.
“The entire time I’ve been coaching, my best friend and ‘D’ partner has
been there the whole time,” Hays says. “And to be honest, without her I
never would have gotten here.”
“We got to have the coaching bond, we got to have the hockey bond, the
defence partner bond,” Palmer says. “I think coaching together really made
our friendship even stronger.”
Do you have an idea for a Community story? Let’s hear it!
Click here to submit your idea