There are few women in professional hockey, but one of the few has brought her talents to the Hershey Bears this season: Emily Engel-Natzke.
The 30-year-old was hired by the Bears in November 2020 as the team’s video coach. She was the Washington Capitals first female coaching hire in franchise history. She’s often the only woman in the room.
“A friend told me that being a video coach is getting your masters in hockey,” Engel-Natzke said.
She has extensive experience in hockey for someone so young. She started playing in middle school, but didn’t pursue a NCAA career in college (although she did play on a club team at University of Colorado).
Her first coaching experience came at Wisconsin working with the men’s and women’s programs as a video coach.
“I didn’t even play college hockey,” Engel-Natzke said. “I never played professionally. Sometimes in my head, in my imposter syndrome, [I think] I never even played at a high level, how could I possibly know what they’re talking about?”
But her role is as technically involved in hockey as any. She scouts opponents and helps the coaching staff and players break down film before, during and after games. And she does so at a high level.
She is involved in every coaching meeting with Head Coach Spencer Carbery, assistant coaches Patrick Wellar, Scott Allen and Alex Westlund. She’s often asked to share her opinion or perspective.
“They wanted to learn from me and I was going to learn a lot from them,” Engel-Natzke said. “So there’s not a lot of ego in the room, which I think is really great. I feel comfortable making my opinions heard.”
This is Engel-Natzke’s first season in the AHL, the highest level she’s achieved in her young career. With the pandemic, the usual workload of a Bears season has been altered or reduced with the team only playing three opponents this season.
“Obviously this season is not really want anybody expected,” Engel-Natzke said. “It doesn’t feel maybe like a real season, but for me its kind of the perfect scenario [to learn].”
Perhaps the ability to ease into pro hockey was a blessing, after a year that cost Emily so much. He father Tom contracted coronavirus in March as the pandemic was beginning and passed away in April.
“It’s weird to think it was the hardest year of my life but it was also one of the greatest,” Engel-Natzke said of joining the Caps organization. “I was able to take this job, and make that step that I had been looking forward to [making].”
Emily says her father was her biggest supporter. An avid history buff, Tom would always ask the family to go on trips to Washington, D.C., while everyone else wanted to go to the beach. Emily says he also had a wicked sweet tooth.
With those in mind, she feels like her dad played some part in her rise to the AHL after his passing. Hired by the hockey organization in Washington, to work in the “Sweetest Place on Earth.”
“It’s just the perfect situation, so it feels like my dad maybe had a hand in that somehow,” Engel-Natzke said.
The video coach may be the first of her kind for the Capitals organization, but she doesn’t want to be the last.
“There has to be that opportunity in that room for discussion to bring more women into the room,” Emily said.
The Hershey Bears are set to conclude the 2021 season in May.