Angela James Should be the Next Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Angela James, with fellow inductee Cammi Granato at the Hockey Hall of Fame blazer ceremony prior to the Legends Classic Hockey Game at the Air Canada Centre on November 7, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Angela James, with fellow inductee Cammi Granato at the Hockey Hall of Fame blazer ceremony prior to the Legends Classic Hockey Game at the Air Canada Centre on November 7, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Angela James is a Canadian hockey legend. She is the perfect person to be the next head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Every Toronto Maple Leafs fan alive knows that the team, no matter how talented, can’t get past the hurdle of the first round of the playoffs. As a result, many have been calling for a change behind the bench. This article isn’t going to advocate for Sheldon Keefe to lose his job. Instead, it will only detail why Angela James needs to be the person to succeed him as the next head coach of the  Leafs.

Sheldon Keefe should be given more time to prove that he can take this team to the next level. After finishing first in the North Division, it would too reactionary to take the reins out of his hands at this juncture. Instead, finding a way to involve James in the organization would be a better decision and allow her to get a better feel for the NHL.

James is one of the biggest stars to ever lace a pair of skates. She is known as the Wayne Gretzky of Women’s Hockey thanks to her dominance on the ice. That nickname was given to her after a season playing at Seneca College where she was unstoppable. James recorded 73 points including 50 goals in just 14 games; that’s an average of more than a hat trick per game.

As a player, James has been inducted into four Hall of Fames. Her name has been immortalized in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame, the Hockey Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and Ontario Colleges Athletic Association Hall of Fame. That isn’t surprising considering James was an eight-time Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League (COWHL) scoring champion and the league’s most valuable player (MVP) six times. She was also named the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) MVP on one occasion and the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) MVP on three.

James’ accomplishments in the sport come with hardware. She captured gold medals at four World Championships, won the 3 Nations Cup tournament twice, and even took home gold at the IIHF Women’s Pacific Rim Championship. James also has a silver medal from the 1987 World Women’s Hockey Tournament. Her trophy case also features two OCAA championships she won with Seneca, an NWHL title that was captured with the Beatrice Aeros, and six gold medals from the Esso Women’s Nationals. James was even honoured with the 2021 Order of Hockey in Canada.

Making Progress in the Sport

If the Toronto Maple Leafs were to hire James, it would be monumental for multiple reasons. She would become the first female head coach in the NHL as well as the first Black head coach in the NHL. This is a league in dire need of progress and the Leafs would be a great club to begin making those strides.

The first woman to have an opportunity to coach in the league only came in 2016. That’s when Dawn Braid was hired by the Arizona Coyotes to be their skating coach. Unfortunately, there’s a very clear lack of females being given opportunities in the NHL. The Maple Leafs have never had a female coach, though their sister team, the Toronto Raptors, had Brittni Donaldson serve as an assistant coach for a season. To the Leafs credit, Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser was promoted in May to be the franchise’s Senior Director of Player Development.

The NHL is far too homogeneous. There has been just one racialized head coach in the NHL and it was for just one season. Dirk Graham became the NHL’s first Black head coach in 1998. He ran the Chicago Blackhawks bench for the 1998-99 season before being fired. There has yet to be a second Black head coach in the league. It’s well beyond time for that hire.

The Maple Leafs hiring James would be a step in the right direction for both the organization and the NHL. The Leafs have done a lot of good but they need to step up their actions when it comes to both equity and inclusion.

James will be joining The NWHL’s Toronto Six as an Assistant Coach next season but this isn’t her first foray into coaching. That came when she chose to trade in her stick and skates for a clipboard. James accepted Seneca College’s offer to be an assistant coach. In her first year as an assistant coach for the Sarnia Sting, James won the college championships. She had the same success as a head coach for the Sting, winning another title.

James also worked as an assistant coach at the 1999 Canada Winter Games where her squad, Team Ontario, won with the gold medal. Her group captured gold again at the 2001 under-18 National Championship. James has also given back to the game by coaching her own children’s minor league teams. She has even run her own hockey school and was the director of Seneca College’s hockey school.

The depth and breadth of James’ hockey experience doesn’t end there. She is also an accomplished referee, having officiated competitive games on both the male and female sides of the game. James earned a level IV referee certification through Hockey Canada, a difficult marker to achieve. The levels only go as high as VI. James has also been a mentor to younger officials and has served as an Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA) Referee-in-Chief. This experience helps James see the game differently and should make her an even better coach.

Next. Who Is The Leafs Latest Hire, Ryan Hardy?. dark

With all of James’s experience and success at all levels of the sport in a variety of different roles, she shouldn’t just be a candidate to take over for Keefe when the time comes. She should be his successor.