By Kristen Anderson
As a professional scout for the Los Angeles Kings, Blake Bolden’s role during the 2020 NHL draft was like any others: to provide insight and give her input when asked.
But the excitement that surrounded the 29-year-old’s presence with all of the other team personnel that day was palpable.
While the Kings made history by selecting Quinton Byfield second overall, making him the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history, Bolden was making history herself as the first Black female in a scouting capacity with an NHL organization and the second-ever female pro scout in the league.
Being the only female at the Kings’ virtual draft table was a type of trailblazing that Bolden is used to and a role she takes seriously.
“It kind of takes me back to when I played Triple A boys hockey in Cleveland,” she said. “You know you’re qualified and you know you can do the job, but you don’t particularly know the guys that well, and they don’t know you that well. But they have been super open and welcoming…it’s fun. It’s like being on a team again in the locker room with the guys and just trying to navigate that, but I do feel comfortable.
“You feel privileged to be there but also deserving at the same time.”
Bolden’s lengthy hockey resume proves that, starting with her admiration of the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International League while growing up in Ohio. That love of the game motivated an impressive NCAA career playing defense with the Boston College Eagles, where she was eventually named captain for the 2012-13 NCAA campaign.
She captured gold at the 2008 IIHF under-18 women’s world championship and was part of USA Hockey’s evaluation camp for the 2012 IIHF world championships.
Bolden played for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s League and captured the 2015 Clarkson Cup. Most recently she was with the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s League after playing with NWHL's Boston Pride, helping the team win the inaugural Isobel Cup in 2016. She also played overseas for the HC Lugano women’s team in Switzerland.
All of it has led her to this current role, an impactful success story of a Black female hockey player chasing her dreams – a story that was few and far between when she was growing up.
“When I was a young girl from Cleveland, Ohio, I loved the game and idolized our '90’s and early-2000’s NHL players,” Bolden said. “But where were the Black women that I could look up to? I didn’t know about Angela James until I was way beyond college…we all have to work together in understanding that these changes in our culture and community are important, and we need to share stories and be out there so others can see that.”
On top of her playing experience and new role on the Kings’ scouting staff, Bolden is also a diversity and inclusion specialist on the community relations side of the organization.
It’s the reason why she was able to spark up a conversation with Kings’ president Luc Robitaille during a chance encounter while she was at Staples Center with Black Girl Hockey Club, which led to her current history-making role.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolden, as an AHL scout, visited rinks and attended games in the league's Pacific Division to collect data and information on prospects.
After the NHL pause in the spring, she learned the ropes as the scouting staff collectively evaluated potential players and trades throughout playoffs while preparing for the NHL draft and free agency.
During her first experience in the war room, Bolden provided input and support as needed as the Kings selected Byfield, the highly touted center from the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL.
“For me, it was very calm – a nervous, puck-drop energy,” she said of the NHL draft day experience. “There was a lot of anticipation and excitement.
“Not only are we excited about Quinton Byfield, I think the community of Los Angeles is going to be really excited, especially the Black community. But our guys knew what they wanted and executed perfectly.”
She hopes her path will help pave the way – and inspire – more women to be involved in the NHL.
“I think it’s a huge deal,” Bolden said of being the first Black female professional scout the league. “I think throughout my career, even just playing hockey, I think I’ve always been in a time where there’s always game-changing or trailblazing to do…and that’s a big deal for our younger generation. You always want to leave the game better than you found it.
“I think women in this sport, we try to do that and give back and be good role models and be a pillar for those who want to follow in our footsteps.”