How 2 Canadian women are set to realize their Olympic hockey dreams from behind the bench

Ali Domenico and fellow Canadian national women's hockey team assistant coach Kori Cheverie, both 34, are set to make their Olympic debuts in Beijing, having forged an uncommon route to the esteemed national team.

Ali Domenico, Kori Cheverie forged uncommon paths to Winter Games

Canadian women's hockey assistant coach Kori Cheverie is seen above during the gold-medal game against the U.S. at the 2021 world championship. Cheverie is set for her Olympic debut in Beijing. (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

When Canada's Olympic women's hockey roster was announced last week, assistant coach Ali Domenico was stuck in quarantine, unable to watch with the rest of the team.

"Even knowing the players who were going to be selected, I was just pretty choked up," Domenico said.

"It's really important for me to have that impact on players' lives, and now the fact that I'm going to the Olympics — it's a dream come true pretty quickly."

Domenico and fellow assistant Kori Cheverie, both 34, are set to make their Olympic debuts in Beijing, having forged an uncommon route to the esteemed national team.

In fact, their Hockey Canada journey started together around five years ago when they were coaches on the same team at an under-18 training camp in Calgary.

It was only recently that Cheverie pointed out to Domenico their shared roots and the full circle Beijing will represent.

"I've always dreamt of being on the Olympic team as a player. I think probably it became more and more real that this could be a path for me when I started with Hockey Canada," Cheverie said.

Since that camp, Domenico moved from the bench of Syracuse University's women's team into her current role as associate coach with Providence College. She was also tabbed to lead Canada's U18 team for the 2021-22 season, but the world championship was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Ottawa native played college hockey with St. Lawrence University in New York from 2005 to 2009.

"Hockey is in my blood, it's my passion. But the athletes are just such an important piece. It was a big reason why I got into coaching. My coaches had such a positive impact on me as a person and a hockey player. And I thought being able to have that ability to do that for other people would be unbelievable," Domenico said.

Cheverie's playing career included a stop with the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, with whom she won a Clarkson Cup in 2014.

The New Glasgow, N.S., native dabbled in coaching with her provincial branch of Hockey Canada and would lead skill sessions and small group work while with the Furies. 

She joined X University, then known as Ryerson and expected to announce its new name this year, in a development role in 2013 and was named assistant coach of the men's team three years later, making her the first woman to serve in a full-time coaching role in U Sports men's hockey history. 

"I probably had a little bit of a naive mindset at the time because I thought, 'Hey, you know what? This isn't going to be any different than playing hockey my entire career,'" Cheverie said. 

"I grew up playing with the guys, and so I just thought this is something that I know pretty well. And I think that if I hadn't gone in with that mindset, it might have been a very daunting task."

WATCH | Breaking down Canada's women's hockey roster:

Reactions to Hockey Canada’s Olympic women’s team announcement

4 months ago
Duration 5:55
CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey is joined by CBC’s Olympic hockey reporter Kenzie Lalonde to break down the announcement of the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey roster and what to expect from the women’s hockey tournament at Beijing 2022.

Cheverie said connecting with the male players can be challenging at times.

"It was almost like a personal battle with my own mindset of, 'Hey, how do I fit in here? How do I figure out how to navigate athletes who may not have ever been coached by a woman before?"

She eventually reached the conclusion that just being herself would help form those connections — a lesson Domenico said she's learned on the women's side, too.

"Whether you're teaching or just your personal relationships with them, you build that trust both ways. And then I think that allows you to pull the most out of them and try and hold them accountable while holding myself accountable as well," she said.

More women entering coaching world

In a profession often dominated by men, that mindset has helped each Canadian assistant grow and thrive.

Domenico points to Cheverie as a role model for helping more women get behind the bench.

"I think we're living in a world where there's a lot of firsts, which is exciting. But at the same time, it's not going to be the last for this to happen," she said. 

"And I believe that females seeing other females and other women furthering themselves in their career — and not just potentially on the women's side, it happens on the men's side as well — is great."

Domenico is seen above during her time with Syracuse. (@Cuseice/Twitter)

Already, Cheverie doesn't view herself as much of an outlier.

"Being the first to do something is scary and daunting for anybody. You're kind of looked upon as someone who's blazed the trail for everybody else," she said.

"I wish there wasn't as many barriers for women wanting to coach on the men's side, but there's just more and more [female coaches] every day, every week, every month and year that pass by."

Under Team Canada head coach Troy Ryan, Domenico is responsible for the defence and power play, while Cheverie oversees forwards and penalty kill.

Cheverie said she isn't sure what exactly her long-term goals entail. Like any good hockey person, she's taking it one day at a time.

Domenico, meanwhile, said she'd like to lead her own program one day.

Both grew up with dreams of playing for Team Canada. Soon, they'll be able to say they were part of a Canadian women's hockey team at the Olympics.

A shot at gold awaits.

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