Breaking the ice: Danielle Marmer makes history with the Bruins

By Chris Brodeur February 27, 2023

Danielle Marmer led the ceremonial puck drop prior to Quinnipiac's Frozen Fenway game

Before she became the first female coach in the 98-year history of the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins, Danielle Marmer ’17, MA ’21, was a Quinnipiac student at a crossroads.

Hockey had led her to this moment, opening so many doors along the way. So why now, halfway through her playing career with the women’s ice hockey team, did it suddenly feel like a door was slamming shut?

“I wanted nothing to do with being at the rink,” Marmer said, recalling a period when dwindling playing time and her lack of a clear role on the Bobcats’ roster made the game joyless.

In stepped Cassie Turner, then QU’s associate head coach but already laying the foundation for the culture of compassion and player empowerment that would make her one of the premier head coaches in the country.

Turner asked pointedly what Marmer wanted out of her remaining seasons and vowed to help her wring the most from her potential. “And my love for hockey came back,” said Marmer, a defensive-minded forward who appeared in 132 career games for the Bobcats from 2013-2017, developing into a beloved “grinder” among teammates for her willingness to contribute momentum-shifting plays that didn’t always appear in the stat sheet.

“Her biggest impact was behind the scenes and how she navigated creating a phenomenal team environment,” Turner said. “She understood that there were other people feeling the way she felt, and so she really found a way to create an inclusive environment and pass it forward. When I reflect on what she did as a leader, it lasted and continued to ripple through our team for years to come.”

It wasn’t long before fate and Coach Turner conspired again to present Marmer with another inflection point in a promising coaching career.

After serving in a player development role specifically devised for her on Turner’s staff, Marmer was looking to enhance her résumé. Turner spotted an internship with the Bruins’ scouting department, an assignment at which Marmer so excelled that the storied NHL franchise created a full-time position for her in the summer of 2022.

The Vermont native who grew up rooting for the Bruins would serve as the team’s new player development and scouting assistant, marking the first time the organization had hired a woman to work in an on-ice capacity. She’s one of six women working in player development across the league, per NHL data released last October. There are more than 100 women working in hockey operations, including six assistant general managers.

QU alumnus Danielle Marmer looks on during a Boston Bruins training camp drill. (photo courtesy of Steve Babineau / Boston Bruins)

Marmer’s appointment in such a sports-mad market drew widespread praise, earning her a congratulatory tweet from tennis legend and lifelong women’s sports advocate Billie Jean King. But the 28-year-old insists she is not a trailblazer; it’s more apt, she says, to call her a “reinforcement” for a wave of long overdue progress in major professional sports.

“There are women who are doing this — obviously it's not at the rate of men — and we want to get more women in that door,” Marmer said. “I just want to do my job really well so that I continue to keep that door open.”

Just say ‘yes’

Keeping doors open — and occasionally kicking one down — is a mantra for Marmer, who was born in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and later relocated to Dorset, Vermont, with her family. The middle child in a trio of sisters who grew up at the rink managed by their mom, Susan, Danielle was just a toddler when she decided that tagging along and watching her older sister Whitney’s figure skating lessons weren’t sufficient.

“That’s the genesis of everything,” recalled Susan. “She was driving me crazy. I approached the coach and told her the situation and she said, ‘Well, if she wants to be out on the ice, that's the best time to start trying.’ So she went out and probably fell a hundred times. But she kept getting back up and working on it. That’s the way she’s been her whole life.”

The Marmers had a tiny yet irrepressible competitor on their hands. Danielle’s trademark was an intense focus, whether she was teaching herself to juggle or commanding the respect of her male teammates as the take-charge catcher on her Little League baseball team. She played on boys ice hockey teams until high-level girls developmental teams beckoned, her talent attracting the attention of, among others, future Quinnipiac assistant coach Brent Hill.

Along the way, Danielle was gathering plenty of material for two key public speaking engagements: first as a senior at the Bobcats’ team banquet, where she implored the younger players to “be a senior now.” Then this past August, when she was invited back to the Mount Carmel Campus to give the alumni address at the Class of 2026 Welcome Ceremony.

In a speech that touched on those same themes of urgency and receptiveness to new opportunities, Marmer spoke passionately about how adopting a “say yes” attitude has propelled her to unimaginable heights and could do the same for 1,872 new Bobcats.

“I urge you to get outside of your comfort zone right away, don’t wait to settle in, and start saying yes,” Marmer told the incoming first-year students. “Say yes to joining a club or an intramural sports team, participate in university activities, scream your head off at as many athletic events as you can.

“And if staying in your dorm room playing video games and scrolling through TikTok is more your speed, then at least keep the door open so you can accidentally meet people walking by.”

Adjusted for the digital age, that open-door policy can also mean letting the delete key gather dust. Turner — whose involvement with national teams in her native Canada dates back decades — would pass along job postings that couldn’t be found on LinkedIn. And Marmer was unbending in her loyalty to her mentor.

“She always felt like she needed to apply for something I forwarded her — or give you a reason why she wasn’t going to apply for a job in France, which was kind of funny,” Turner said. But a chance to work for the Bruins? That was a no-brainer for a New England kid who spent the bulk of her childhood on skates.

It’s a job for which her three-year stint as the Bobcats’ director of player development and hockey operations certainly provided a dress rehearsal. As did her Quinnipiac education. Marmer graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies and returned to earn a master’s degree in strategic communications, acquiring writing and research skills that serve her well as she files meticulous scouting reports on NHL prospects from the road.

Pinch-me moments and puck drops

Like a lot of New Englanders of a certain age, Gary Marmer grew up idolizing Bobby Orr, the legendary Bruins defenseman whose iconic post-goal “flight” in the 1970 Stanley Cup finals is immortalized with a bronze statue outside TD Garden in Boston.

Suffice it to say, Danielle’s first year on the job has produced an endless series of surreal encounters for dad and daughter to savor.

“She has to just kind of go with it and act like it's normal. But you know, maybe inside there's a lot of butterflies going on,” said Gary, who coached all three of his daughters in youth hockey. “I think she’s had a lot of pinch-me moments.”

After learning she’d landed the Bruins job in a phone call with general manager Don Sweeney, Danielle headed off to the NHL Draft in Montreal. She soon found herself at development camp, where she would take part in a ritual that would wobble the ankles of even the surest skater — like any new player, she took a warmup lap in front of the entire team.

By the time she got to training camp in September, having lunch alongside All-Stars Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak must’ve felt like old hat.

Marmer spends a lot of her time on the road scouting the team’s minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins, along with the various collegiate powerhouses that reside in Boston’s backyard. Her role is unique from others occupied by women in the industry in that it combines film study and in-person scouting assignments with some on-ice drill work.

Danielle Marmer is one of a handful of women serving in an on-ice coaching role for an NHL team. (Photo courtesy of Steve Babineau / Boston Bruins)

Through Feb. 2, the Bruins’ record stood at a sizzling 39-7-5. They have sustained the best start in franchise history — which includes a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park — and appear poised to hang a seventh Stanley Cup banner.

Days after the Bruins’ dramatic win at the historic venue, the Bobcats were due to skate on the same makeshift rink as part of the Frozen Fenway event. Needing an alumnus to drop the ceremonial first puck at such a prestigious showcase for the program, Turner said she “instantly” pitched associate athletic director Sarah Fraser on a certain Bruins employee.

The choice was finalized just as quickly. With snowflakes falling, Marmer stood at center ice wearing a white Bobcats beanie and did the honors, one chapter of her hockey life colliding with another. QU beat Harvard, 3-1, but Marmer’s journey — from player to coach to torchbearer — is a more powerful recruiting tool than any result.

“We have a mindset within our program that we want women to become the absolute best versions of themselves,” Turner said. “And knowing that, along the way, it’s not a direct journey. You’re going to be uncomfortable. You’re going to be in positions where you succeed and positions where you fail.

“I think Danielle is somebody who's been through all of that, and whether she would admit it, I think she now looks at it and says, ‘Wow, I’m so proud of myself.’ She can look at everything she’s accomplished and everything she’s conquered and say she enjoyed the process. ... There’s never a finish line. You’ve got to enjoy where you are, and I think Danielle has really embodied all of that. We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

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