Top Photo Credit: Michelle Jay
A week or so ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down and chat with Pride General Manager Karilyn Pilch to get some insight into not only her background, but also her hockey philosophies, and some behind the scenes goodies from this spectacular season they’ve been on. What followed was a good 45 minutes to an hour of hockey talk, storytelling, and general fun had! Let’s preface this by stating that I am not a trained journalist and have literally never conducted an interview like this, so apologies if it feels a bit awkward from a question-asking flow.
Spencer Fascetta: What’s your typical day-to-day look like?
Karilyn Pilch: It definitely varies, based on the week, whether we’re playing at home, whether we’re playing on the road, or maybe even off that weekend. I often reference we’re a start-up culture. Never at any point do you say “well, that’s not my responsibility.” This week we’re going to Connecticut and New Jersey, so working on travel, getting our itineraries done, communicating with the players around those logistics.
I’ve also had a couple of players to set up interviews for, so there’s some of the player management, PR piece, and then obviously working with the coaches figuring out what we’re going to do for lineups this weekend. It sort of runs the gamut of the entire business operation of running a team straight through player management then game performance. I think on any given day I could be doing any of that, and I think the role is a good mix of everything I mentioned.
SF: What attracted you to this position?
KP: I have to start by saying, I loved BU; obviously, I played there, went back and worked there, Brian Durocher is one of the best people on the planet, and I was very fortunate to work there.
I did get my MBA [while at BU] and knew I would eventually make some sort of change from my Hockey Operations role. My entire career in hockey, even when I was at St. A’s [St. Anselm’s College], I have been balancing what I would call “business” and hockey. While I was there, I coached, and worked in accounting and finance at the same time, so I’ve always straddled the line of business and hockey. My hockey ops role was very similar in the sense that it was a lot of coaching behind the scenes and then a lot of logistic work like scheduling, travel planning, alumni engagement. When this position with The Pride opened, I thought “Wow, this is, I think, the next step of a really solid balance between hockey and business and something I think I could make a big impact on.”
I think I looked at it from how much I could learn from being in this position but also how much I feel I could give to women’s hockey, so that’s sort of how I ended up rationalizing “OK, I’m going to leave my home, and go out here.”
SF: Well, it helps that you’re not going too far…
KP: No, true, exactly, exactly, by my home, I mean my Terriers I guess. (laughs)
SF: You’ve been in this role before and now after the purchase of the team by Miles Arnone. What’s are some of the biggest differences in how you’ve operated in your position after the purchase?
KP: People ask that a lot, and ultimately it comes down to resources and how much Miles believes what we are doing. Right away he hired Hayley, our team president, which moved some of the bigger picture business elements out from under my umbrella. That allowed me to really focus on the players, and their needs, which was huge.
It was great for us, it’s great for them [the players], and I just think him coming in and being able to just give us more of what we need to be successful was a very exciting time.
SF: That’s been the most encouraging part of the entire season for me, not only the fact that he stepped in, but how much he wants to be involved, and wants this to succeed, I want this to attract other people in other markets to invest like I have
KP: Absolutely, yeah
SF: I’ve always said that’s what the league needs, private ownership, and it will just explode.
KP: I think someone like Miles who is such a successful businessperson putting stock into our team and organization, I think is opening people’s eyes.
He wants Boston to be the model, but he wants other franchises. He doesn’t want us to be the only ones privately owned, and he wants to see other franchises be purchased, and grow from where they are because it’s better for everyone. He has a really positive outlook on the entire league and organization.
SF: How does the communication stream work between you, Paul, and ownership?
KP: Completely open communication. So, I communicate with Paul daily and cover anything you could think of in and around our team. We talk about practice, our opponents, obviously our players, plans for future games, seasons, and everything in between. I also talk with Hayley every day, again about a million different things and Miles more occasionally, Hayley is more the go to with Miles, but at the same time Miles is always accessible. Just an example, he is going to come to practice Thursday just to check in with the players, so there’s very open communication, and everyone is basically always available.
I probably communicate with our hockey ops staff the most, and it helps that we travel together. That staff includes our coaches, athletic trainer, and our equipment manager, and we are all in regular communication, even if that means sending a baby Yoda meme. I feel incredibly lucky to work with them and they’re great at their jobs but they’re even better people. Working remotely aside from practice and games is a challenge and being able to know that this crew just gets their work done, and you don’t have to look over anyone, they’re just awesome and I can’t say enough good things about them.
Then obviously our coaching staff, our tandem, Paul and Heath, they’re great, the players love to play for them, and ultimately that’s what we need, we need someone whose able to motivate the players and then someone who the players want to play for. It’s a really good, were in a really great spot knock on wood, but yeah, got sidetracked a little there, but open communication. There’s not anything I’d call structured, we’re checking in throughout the entire day, (if) anything comes up we just chat about it.
SF: You talked a bit about Miles providing the resources, what sort of stuff specifically has he done that you think has pushed the organization to get to the next level, whether that’s providing stuff for the players, or the staff.
KP: So, Miles has a really strong focus on the player experience, which is great, because that obviously falls in line with everything that we’re trying to do and what our coaching staff and beyond want, a more positive experience for our players. So, that is his number one focus. I think that we’ve done a lot of the little things that have taken away from things the players might have thought about. So for instance we flew to Buffalo on one of our trips, and it didn’t become this big, “oh, Boston’s flying to Buffalo,” it was one less thing the players had to worry about, travelling on a bus for you know, 6 hours or whatever it may be up to Buffalo, and was more like “OK, here we are, we’re going to the airport, we’re going,” so I think a lot of the things he’s done though they’ve been subtle have gone a long way.
Another one was hockey pants, the players really wanted actual pants not shells, so we got that done, and it was like OK, that’s one less thing to worry about, and something that seems small, but all of these things add up to the point where they’re not thinking about all of these non-playing things anymore, they’re just playing. And things like making sure we have proper nutrition, hydration things like that in the locker room, then obviously with the resources of our staff, being able to have, like I said with Hayley focusing so much on partnerships and business operations, where I’m able to actually focus on the players. We have been able to dial in more to them, and, be a little more in tune to what their needs are, so I think the whole picture was a lot of small implementations that make a big impact
SF: That’s great to here, because the little things are so often missed, and to hear that his main focus is the players, that’s fantastic.
KP: Well, if you think about it too, if the player experience improves, and you keep these players, and then they’re more successful, that brings more success in and it’s a positive cycle, and when the team is winning and getting tons of press, that helps the business side of things. He obviously cares about them, but it’s a really smart business decision as well, and I think that’s where I respect a lot of Miles, is that he knows what’s important because of who our players are as people and caring about them as people, and he does a very good job balancing that with what it’s going to take to make the business successful, so my business mind really appreciates that.
SF: Shifting to more on-ice things, walk me through your philosophies on team systems and structure, and what it takes for a team to be successful in how they play.
KP: So, it’s funny that you say this, because it’s an interesting change from when I was at BU, where I felt like we had a lot of structure, and I think I would say, a lot of control over systems and things like that, and I think at this point, Paul’s philosophy is so different but also so successful. It’s interesting when you take the best of the best players and put them in one place and see what they’re able to do with less structure, it’s been very, very interesting and exciting to me. And I think just letting our players play, obviously we have ideals on coverage, keys that are important, and things like making smart line changes, so all of those elements are still a part of the game and a part of the system but I really respect his philosophy of giving his players freedom. Which before I definitely would be like, “No no, we need a specific F1, and F2,” and he’s like “Well what happens when this? Let them play hockey” and what can I say? “OK…”
And obviously those are his coaching decisions, and I fully support them, and I’m appreciative that he respects my opinion as well, but like I said, when all of a sudden you’re working with the caliber of talent that we have, and you’re able to give players freedom and they can perform the way that we’ re performing, I was like “OK, kudos to you Paul, you win.”
SF: I can see that, ideally, you’d want to have that freedom, you almost want to have a loosely defined what should be the fallback, but just go play, they all got to this point for a reason.
KP: Yeah, I would think that you’d be a systems guy too, if you were in my role, you’d be like, same thing, deer in the headlights at first, “What’s going on here?” But it works!
SF: I can tell! Knowing that, what are you looking for in players when you try to make additions to the roster?
KP: So that’s another thing we spend a lot of time talking about, and for our future, is what we want in the locker room, and reflecting on this season why have we been so successful, and a lot of it comes down to character. And we’ve talked about “Hey does a room full of character beat a room full of talent” and we really need to be smart about finding the right players that A) have character and B) have talent and I think that’s going to be really important to us moving forward. I would say that character is going to be the number one. I just think that if you ask any player on our team right now they’ll 100% tell you that they’re playing for the person to the left and the right of them, and I think that has brought us so far. I think back to when I first started watching a handful of practices, and when we were jumbling lines in the beginning, and figuring out who fits where, and pretty much everyone was able to play with everyone, it was a this really positive group of people, and I remember thinking “This might actually be something a little more special than I thought it was” and I think that will continue to be our philosophy in the future. You know, we’re obviously always going to be looking for the skill piece, and the talent piece, and goal scorers, and defensemen who can move the puck and things like that, but it has to start with character because hockey is such a team sport, and we’re going to continue to want people to be here for the right reasons and to play for each other and not as individuals, so that’s going to be huge for us.
SF: So, when you’re scouting for new players, are you constantly going to college games looking at specific players, or are you going in with the mindset of “I’m just going to go and watch and see who catches my eye and then I’m going to go from there.
KP: It’s a little bit of both, so obviously we like to get a good handle on the seniors, and we do communicate with the NCAA coaches themselves, but coming from the college hockey background and recruiting, for me, I just like getting out there, and watching games. Other options like Hockey East being on NESN and us being able to catch a bunch of those games on TV has been great too. I think things are always a little different in person, so I’m the type that does like to get out and see games live. I was able to attend the Beanpot games, we were involved with a BU/Northeastern game prior to that as well, so I’ve seen a bunch there, we also scrimmaged against Harvard, it’s been great. I also want people to know that we are there, and we are watching these players, and we’re trying to continue to build this league, and make sure we’re doing our due diligence and putting the right players in it, so I think it’s sort of twofold, one of getting out there, knowing what you want, getting the handle on the seniors, and then just communicating with coaches to know, like I said, we’re out here, and we’re building towards the future.
SF: What role does team video play in player evaluation for you?
KP: So that’s something that I think is growing with our league, and something that just based on time is probably a little underutilized at this point. We definitely go back and watch our own film, and the coaching staff will have conversations about it, and try to figure out whose where, whose why, where did things fall apart, but to take the time that I think it takes to successfully implement video is a huge commitment. I did a ton of video when I was at BU, it was probably 50% of my job when I was there, so I trust there’s value in it, I just think at this point, it’s balancing a time piece where it’s difficult to dedicate the time to it, and to find the time to present it to players. The amount of time we spend with our players right now is just the nature of our business, so when we do see them, is showing them video the best use of their time, or is you know, I don’t even know, asking them how their day was more valuable? It’s just a balance, and I think that’s probably something that we’ll talk about over the summer and try to implement a little bit more.
SF: Thanks so much for chatting with me Karilyn! Good luck in the playoffs!
KP: And you with yours! (I work with the UNH Women’s Hockey team, be sure to tune in to OUR playoff matchup this weekend after we advanced to the semifinals for the first time in over a decade! Women’s Hockey East Semifinals are at 12 PM (#1 Northeastern vs. #7 Maine) and 3:30 PM (#5 Connecticut vs. #6 New Hampshire) on NESN+ on Saturday, March 7th)
Be sure to tune in to see the Pride take on the winner of the 4/5 play-in game between the Buffalo Beauts and Connecticut Whale (to take place Friday, March 6th at 8:30 PM) at 2:30 PM, Sunday, March 8th live on Twitch!
By: Spencer Fascetta | Find me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey