Why Mary-Kay Messier believes hockey needs more girls and women, and how you can help 

As Vice President of Marketing for the world’s most recognized hockey brand and a member of the world’s most legendary hockey family, Mary-Kay Messier is using her platform to raise an important ruckus. She’s on a mission to make ice hockey as much of a sport for girls and women as it is for boys and men. 

This longtime Play Like a Girl advisor and Bauer executive recently participated as a mentor in our Executive Auction at the Women’s Leadership Summit. We sat down with Mary-Kay to talk about her efforts to grow the game she’s always loved. 

On her hockey background

To say that Mary-Kay grew up around hockey would be an understatement. While she never played organized hockey, she was born into a family that did. Her dad was a former professional player who was a coach by the time Mary-Kay was born, while her two older brothers (including six-time Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Famer, Mark Messier) worked their way from the youth circuit all the way up to the professional level. Three of Mary-Kay’s four children play, too.

“I played for fun, but I didn’t play organized hockey,” she says. “That didn’t exist for girls when I was growing up. Even so, I still saw what hockey had to offer, from teaching life skills and building self-confidence to forging lifelong friendships and bringing together families. And I feel strongly that girls deserve to have that equal opportunity.” 

On how hockey compares

While Mary-Kay may not have played on a hockey team, she has plenty of other experience with organized sports. She played basketball and volleyball in grade school and, later, played college tennis. 

“Sports in general are amazing for building girls’ confidence and self-esteem, but hockey takes that to another level,” she says. “There’s a camaraderie that differentiates it from any other sport. The time spent in the locker room where friendships and bonds are forged, working to achieve a common goal—that’s a growth experience we can all take with us regardless of what we want to do with our lives.”

On equal opportunity for girls

In Mary-Kay’s role as VP of marketing for Bauer Hockey, she has met some of the world’s most elite female hockey players like Marie-Philip Poulin, and Hilary Knight—and has heard similar stories about inequalities in the sport time and time again. “It’s not uncommon to find out that these incredible women grew up following their brothers to the rink, only to be pushed into trying figure skating,” she says. 

Being so intimately engaged in the sport from behind the scenes for so long, Mary-Kay has developed a keen eye for these blind spots. “Through this work I’ve become acutely aware of the struggles facing women in this sport who just want the opportunity that they deserve. But more than struggles, I’ve also seen so much persistence and resilience.”

On why she’s perfectly positioned to help grow the game

Mary-Kay approaches this problem from a couple of angles. She has the backing of Bauer: “Our leadership and entire team is very passionate about how we can chime in as leaders to help drive the advancement for women and girls in hockey,” she says. 

She has her personal experience as a mother. “Three out of four of my children used hockey as the vehicle to pursue an academic career. Watching that happen made me realize even more that girls deserve this opportunity, too. My appreciation for the game really changed over the course of my life— from being a daughter and a sister to being a mother.” 

Mary-Kay also has the full support of her brother, Mark. The same month Mary-Kay signed on as senior advisor to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, the Mark Messier Foundation announced a $100,000 match donation to the PWHPA, which has been working toward establishing a sustainable professional league for women’s hockey since 2019. 

On closing the ‘dream gap’

Also that same month, the PWHPA’s Secret Dream Gap Tour made a stop at Madison Square Garden for a history-making puck drop. The game was televised on Sportsnet (an ESPN-esque sports specialty channel in Canada) and on the NHL Network, which is partly owned by NBC Sports. In other words, it was kind of a big deal. Since then, two other PWHPA events were broadcast nationally, and another—the last stop of the Dream Gap tour, in Calgary, Canada—is happening now.

“I believe the game at Madison Square Garden was a tipping point,” says Mary-Kay. “Ratings were strong, and I was flooded with messages from mothers and fathers saying, ‘My daughter got to sit in front of the TV and see women playing professional hockey.’ Representation matters. It makes realizing the dream possible. And by creating a sustainable professional women’s league, we’re creating opportunity for the next generation of girls.”

On the power of girls-only hockey 

Also key to creating that reality for girls is actually providing them opportunities to play with their peers. Mary-Kay is encouraged by efforts across the U.S. and Canada to introduce the game to girls and get them playing in girls’ leagues at a younger age.

For example, Play Like a Girl recently expanded its longtime partnership with the Nashville Predators from an annual 3-hour on-ice clinic for beginners to a new 12-week development program for middle school girls. The program is free to participants, features hockey basics and includes free gear to keep (a must for making the game more accessible to underserved communities). 

This summer will mark the start of a girls’ 3-on-3 league, which is open to girls like Play Like a Girl participants Arianna and Dasani who participated in both the clinic and development program. Mark your calendars now—there are plans to repeat these offerings again in the fall.

Girls-only hockey programs also provide an opportunity to expose girls to coaches, role models and mentors with whom they can relate. 

When Nashville hosted the NWHL All-Star Game in 2019, Bauer Hockey and Play Like a Girl co-hosted a series of girl-specific educational activities including a panel on positive body image with women professionals and Olympic athletes. “That’s a really important message to hear from women who have pursued careers in sports,” Mary-Kay says. “Athletes are proud of their strong bodies and what they can accomplish. The message is empowering.”

On how you can help grow the game for girls

Sport is all about connection, confidence and community. We strongly believe we each have a role to play in growing the game in hockey and any other sport. Hockey, in particular, is a great way to promote teamwork and community. 

For starters, encourage the girls in your life to try hockey. Watch women’s hockey and build a culture of watching women’s sports in your home. Coach or volunteer with a girls’ team in your local community or school in the area. Support the companies that sponsor women’s hockey. 

If you’re a decision maker in your company, seek out women hockey players for your campaigns. “These athletes make some of the strongest brand ambassadors,” Mary-Kay admits. “They’re powerful role models and leaders, and they’re invested in giving back to their communities.” So, make sure they get paid equally too.