For Blake Bolden, it’s a matter of curing a case of wanderlust and fulfilling the desire to keep on keeping on in hockey.
The all-star defenseman began thinking last September that she wouldn’t return to the Boston Pride of the National Women’s National Hockey League after two seasons and she started to look for a new team – and a new country – to showcase her skills.
“I was on the women’s hockey profile website that lets you know all the professional teams and where they are,” Bolden told me recently. “I see Lugano, and I Googled it, and I just told myself ‘I’m going there.'”
Bolden, 26, recently signed on to play for the HC Lugano women’s team in Switzerland. Located in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region, Lugano is the country’s ninth-largest city and is about a 50-mile drive from Milan, Italy.
“I am extremely excited just for a new change, just to be in a different environment,” said Bolden, who’s already started to learn Italian. “I think it will be fun. It will be scary, it will put me out of my comfort zone. So that’s why I wanted to do it: just to get another box checked before I get too old, which isn’t coming anytime soon.”
Time and timing were the biggest factors in packing up and heading to Lugano. After four years as a hockey standout at Boston College , two seasons with the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League after being the first African-American selected in the first round of that league’s draft, and two season’s with the Pride, she feels it’s time to leave Boston.
She admits that the decision to go was made easier when she didn’t receive an invite from USA Hockey to try out for the women’s team that will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I had been in the CWHL for two years, I’ve been in the NWHL for two years, and I’ve been in Boston for seven so I wanted to do something else and I didn’t get an invite to the Olympic tryouts, so I figured ‘Why not?'” she told me.
Bolden said she didn’t expect to get an invite because she wasn’t invited to prior pre-Olympics camps, even though “people were saying that I was getting looked at” by USA Hockey.
A Boston Globe article in April questioned why Bolden didn’t appear to be under serious Olympics consideration by USA Hockey.
A Stow, Ohio, native, Bolden tallied 2 goals and 13 assists in 35 NWHL games over two seasons. She had 8 goals and 24 assists in 45 games over her CWHL career and 26 goals and 56 assists in 139 NCAA Division I women’s hockey games.
“It’s hard to say why they haven’t given her an opportunity,” Boston College hockey Coach Katie King Crowley told the newspaper. “Blake is awesome in every way. I would always want her on my team if I’m the coach.”
“Yeah, it is frustrating and it’s a big pill to swallow and it seems to come up in almost every conversation I that have with a reporter,” Bolden said to me about the lack of an Olympics look-see. “It’s fine. It’s just something I have to deal with. I can choose to be upset about it or I can choose to take the lemonade that I’m making from the lemons that I have right now, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m happy and I think everything happens for a reason, and I’m on a different path. I really have no regrets or wish that things turned out differently. At first, as a younger adult, it was troublesome for my family, and closest friends, and myself. But it’s okay now. It’s all good.”
Bolden said moving to Lugano will help fulfill her deep desire to compete internationally. She’s only done that twice, playing for the United States at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Under-18 Championships in 2008 in Canada and 2009 in Germany.
Bolden said the state of the NWHL’s finances didn’t play a factor in her decision to go overseas. The NWHL, which completed its second season, is the first North American women’s league to offer players a salary, ranging from $10,000 to $26,000.
But league officials informed players in November that their pay would be cut because of money troubles. An anticipated 50 percent pay cut was averted by a $50,000 contribution by Dunkin’ Donuts.
Bolden said she’ll receive about $3,500 a month playing for Lugano during the 2017-18 season. In addition, the team supplies lodging, health insurance, and access to a vehicle.
“It’s not like I’m making a crazy amount of money in Lugano,” she told me. “My pedigree, I have some great accomplishments as far as firsts, especially being an African–American in these leagues. I just want to keep experiencing new opportunities. So that’s another box that I’m excited to check off. Maybe I’ll go out there for one season and return to the NWHL, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m taking it one season at a time at this moment.”
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey.