Coaching and guiding others is something that has come naturally for Rhea Coad, but she is always refining her craft. Everything in life works out for a reason. That is a notion that Coad firmly believes. More than that though, it is a concept she feels is consequential to instill in others.
“The greatest thing that I’ve learned about life through hockey is how to handle adversity,” Coad explained. “Adversity within life, and within hockey. Always having to come back and pull up the boot straps, and get back out there. Going back in the third period down a few goals, or if it is life and you get thrown a curveball, you’ve got to look at the positives. I really try to give the benefit of the doubt to everyone. Just staying positive, and knowing that everything is meant to be the way that it is. That’s kind of my outlook on life.”
Coad has assumed two different assistant coaching positions for the 2019-20 season. One is at the NCAA level with Nazareth College’s Golden Flyers – her second season with the newer but highly successful program. The other position is in the professional game. With a widely revamped look, Coad is part of the tightly-knit coaching staff of the Buffalo Beauts, along with head coach Pete Perram, fellow assistant Matt Bak and General Manager/goaltending coach Mandy Cronin.
A native of Wheatfield, NY – a suburb of Buffalo – Coad is helping her hometown pro team and a college just down the road. While she may be a natural at it, coaching is not something that Coad expected. But as she said, everything is meant to be the way that it is.
A College Standout at Canton
Coad spent some time with THW during a long bus ride back from Boston, Massachusetts following the Beauts second and third games of the 2019-20 regular season. Both were tough losses for Buffalo – scores of 4-2 and 8-1 on Oct. 12 and 13 respectively. Regardless of the final numbers or outcomes, the experience served as a teachable moment for the young squad that Coad helps to sculpt and develop. It is part of the bigger picture of developing the person as much as developing the hockey player.
“A lot of them are fresh out of college,” Coad said, “and I think that right now their only identity is hockey. So it’s important to try to show them that everything isn’t just hockey, and that they have so many other great qualities. On the ice, we can all have a tendency to kind of put our heads down when adversity comes, but instead we need to work past it. I think that works for the Beauts as well. Helping them find their way outside of hockey, as well as on the ice.”
A highly-accomplished athlete, Coad was a three-sport standout at SUNY Canton. She excelled at ice hockey, golf and softball during her NCAA career. Coad was a four-year member of the women’s hockey program at Canton, and was team captain for the 2016-17 season. She led the Kangaroos to an overall record of 14-11-2. In return, Coad was the 2017 recipient of the SUNY Canton Pillars of Character Award. At the close of her collegiate hockey career, she had amassed 13 goals, 12 assists, 25 points and 83 penalty minutes in 76 games.
Coad’s success on the softball diamond would see her post a career batting average of .339. And, softball is where her coaching ventures all began. Oddly enough, it was not something that immediately crossed her mind.
Beginning With Softball and Onto Hockey
“My senior year I originally wanted to open my own gym to be a personal trainer,” Coad smiled over the memory. “I was running a clinic for softball, and my head coach came over to me, and was kind of just of joking around, or so I thought, when she said ‘You know, you should really consider coaching’. I sort of laughed, and was like ‘Yeah, I would enjoy that. I like mentoring and teaching kids.’ She went serious on me at that point, and asked me to come up to her office after the clinic. I didn’t know if I was in trouble or what. I went up there, and she actually offered me a chance to coach after I graduated.”
Having graduated in 2017, Coad returned as an assistant coach for the Kangaroos the very next season. She was also able to gain valuable experience while serving as a student coach intern at St. Lawrence University.
“Right away I grew to love coaching,” Coad stated. “I jumped back to hockey though, because hockey is my true passion.”
Early Success With Nazareth College
Nazareth College’s women’s hockey team’s inaugural season was this past 2018-19. Under the tremendous head coaching and commitment of Chris Baudo, the team went 19-5-2. That included a season start of 10-0. Coad was Baudo’s right-hand lady as the fledgling Golden Flyers quickly took off.
Once more, the opportunity to play an integral role in Nazareth’s birth and early success happened unexpectedly for Coad.
“It actually came out of nowhere,” she explained. “I knew that I wanted to get into coaching hockey, and schedules had just come out for the new year. I looked at one and I saw Naz was on it. I thought, ‘What the heck? They don’t have a women’s hockey team!’ Naturally, I had to go check out the website, and I saw that no assistant coach was posted at the time. I reached out and just tossed out some emails.”
It never hurts to ask, and in Coad’s case, doing so panned out perfectly. She would find the opportunity to further kindle her love for coaching and do so within the game she holds most dear.
“I was a collegiate coach already,” she explained. “I wasn’t a coach in hockey at the time, but I had a lot of hockey experience. I also wanted to be back closer to home, because Buffalo is home for me. Chris emailed me back, and explained that they already had an assistant right now but she was in the process of a Division I offer. I went and interviewed while she was still there. She got the Division I job, and Chris offered me the job at Nazareth. It was the best decision I think I’ve made in my career so far. I’m super grateful and happy to be where I am.”
To Play or Coach for the Beauts
Coad has also faced adversity, so she knows what she is talking about when helping others to overcome some of their own. Born May 11, 1995, she is plenty young to conceivably have a professional playing career of her own. Injuries in college hampered that opportunity to some extent, but where one door closes another opens.
“I had been getting the emails from Hayley Moore (deputy commissioner of the NWHL at the time) and to skate at Beauts’ Free Agent Camp,” Coad shared. “I had a knee injury in college, and I didn’t think I’d really be able to do it. Chris said to me, ‘Rhea, why do you get to determine what you can and cannot do? Let someone else decide that for you.'”
Baudo, as he has demonstrated time and again since taking the helm at Nazareth, showed that he was right.
“The night after Chris told me that I went and emailed Mandy (Cronin),” Coad recalled. “I sent her my hockey résumé, which is my résumé. Mandy said to me, ‘Yeah, we’d love to see more video of you, but actually, we would highly consider you as the assistant coach given your experience.’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t have to get in shape for that’,” she laughed heartily. “I am extremely happy to work with such high caliber players and coaches.”
The Season Ahead for the Beauts and Nazareth
The Beauts’ bus arrived back in Buffalo at approximately 1:00AM on Oct. 14. At the time, Coad needed to be to Rochester – an hour’s drive away – for a 7:00AM practice. She did what she needed to do, and did so with a smile. After all, Coad’s focus is on bettering others, and oftentimes that means sacrificing things such as sleep and time in order to pave a better road for someone else.
“I think that I have a life’s purpose,” Coad shared warmly. “I was a leadership consultant for a little bit on the side last year. I think that my life’s purpose is exactly what represents me – my openness and resilience that allows me to mentor and guide people at defining moments in life. Defining them and refining them.”
Both the Buffalo Beauts and Nazareth Golden Flyers are most fortunate that a first-rate individual such as Rhea Coad is investing great care and concern in their team members. She is a single cog, but a vital one if there ever was one. Perhaps though it is meant to be the way that it is, as she would say.
“I really try to build confidence in my players,” Coad said, “and I think that I have built a lot of confidence in myself over the past few years. College level really helped me nail home the confidence, and then at the professional level as well. I think building that confidence in myself and leading by example really helps others.”