BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
It is just past noon on the first Saturday of June, 2021. Inside the Olympic Rink at the Northtown Center at Amherst a group of 26 women in full hockey gear gather on the ice.
While temperatures outside are climbing into the low 80’s, the temps inside the rink remain cold enough to freeze ice. It is the first day of a two-day Free Agent Tryout Camp for the Buffalo Beauts.
Among the small group of observers watching the players on the ice is the Beauts new head coach of the Beauts, Rhea Coad. Seated on one of the cold, metal bench seats, Coad watches intently as the players on the ice go through drills drawn up by the Beauts head coach and her staff.
For almost two hours Coad observes, takes a few notes, talks occasionally to Buffalo General Manager, Nate Oliver and at times looks almost frozen in her seat.
Upon the conclusion of the first day of camp, Coad leaves her seat and makes her way out of the arena and into a warmer area outside of the arena’s second floor doors.
“This is definitely going to make our job harder than you want to have,” responded the first year head coach. “We’re excited for them (the players), but at the same time I think drills that we did exposed a lot.”
With many National Women’s Hockey League procedures reversed this year because of the Pandemic, this free agent camp should have been held following all the League’s player drafts. This year it comes first and with only a handful of spots open on the Beauts roster and not knowing who will be drafted, it makes the coaches and GM’s job that much tougher.
Which puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the Beauts first-year head coach. But if there is a positive in all of this it’s the fact that for the past two hockey season Coad has done a juggling act, serving as an assistant coach to both the Beauts and Nazareth College.
Coad admits there was one deciding factor for her in becoming head coach of the Beauts.
“It’s many of the players already on the Beauts, as well as Nate and the staff that is built around me is the reason I’m here,” remarked the Wheatfield, NY native. “I’m from the Buffalo area.
“I never thought I would come back to Buffalo. I’ve been saying that I would never come back since the minute I left to go to the Ontario Hockey Academy.
“I think this is a feel good moment. I feel that I’ve come full circle in my life and I’m ready to start my head coaching experience here.”
Where that coaching path will take her remains to be seen, although the former MVP of the Ontario Hockey Academy does have a plan.
“To be a head coach has always been in my mind,” stated Coad, who played four years of college hockey for SUNY Canton. “I think my next jump would be to a Division I program.
“I never thought I would leave the college realm. But the Beauts player won me over. I couldn’t imagine not being here.”
And Coad will be the first person to tell you that being a head coach is a constant learning profession.
“I definitely don’t know everything,” remarked Coad, who also played softball and golf while at SUNY Canton. “I love learning and I’m always curious.
“Even with our players, I always ask them ‘why’ a lot. They always think I’m second-guessing them.
“And I will tell them I want to know what they’re thinking. Maybe I should be thinking that way too.
“I’m not afraid to reach out to other coaches or assistant coaches to see what they would do in certain situations.”
Coad believes that there is a good combination in Buffalo with her and her players.
“I think the biggest thing, whether it’s college or professional, on the women’s side is that they want to have fun and feel loved,” said Coad. “If you give them the best, they will give you the best product.
“That’s where I’m relatable to them. But now the tone will change towards them with being the head coach.
“But not much will change and I think the players know that. And I think that’s what makes them excited.”