Amanda Kessel is joining the Pittsburgh Penguins for a one-year fellowship that fast-tracks her for an NHL management role.
"My dream is to work in a hockey front office, and when the Penguins presented this opportunity to me, it wasn't something I thought was available -- because it wasn't available," Kessel told ESPN. "But I'm grateful to the Penguins because they're very forward-thinking."
Kessel, a three-time Olympic medalist for the U.S. women's hockey team, is the inaugural participant in the Penguins' Executive Management Program, which is focused on giving women and minorities necessary exposure in hockey front offices. Kessel will rotate through Pittsburgh's production, hockey operations, marketing and partnership departments.
"It has been a priority for us at the league level and at the clubs to make sure we're creating a more welcoming, inclusive environment to bring people of all backgrounds, beliefs and orientations in the game in whatever capacity that suits their skills, whether it's playing or being an executive,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I think it's wonderful."
Penguins CEO David Morehouse said he was inspired by similar programs at Fortune 500 companies.
"If you surround yourself with people who look like you and have the same experiences and point of views as you, you're in bad shape," Morehouse told ESPN. "Amanda is the perfect person for this. She's intelligent, she's articulate and a very good hockey player who knows a lot about hockey. Olympians have played their whole life playing hockey. When they're done, there should be a place for them to go, because their experience is invaluable."
Kessel, 30, said she is leaving the door open to continue playing, but is excited to begin taking next steps in her career -- something she previously viewed as daunting. Kessel graduated from the University of Minnesota after a hockey career that included three national championships and winning the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2013 as the top female collegiate player in the country.
"When I graduated in sports management, I can't really remember females that were involved in hockey positions that I'd want to be in; it seemed impossible at the time," Kessel said. "I didn't want to coach, so what was the path for me to get to where I wanted to go? I didn't know, and to be honest, it seemed unattainable."
Kessel consulted Cammi Granato, another former U.S. Olympian who was recently named an assistant general manager of the Vancouver Canucks after scouting for the Seattle Kraken. Granato's advice for breaking into the NHL: "Be yourself. You have the experience, you have the knowledge, there's so much you bring to the table. You have the value they need, so don't try to be anyone else."
Said Kessel: "It's tough, especially when you're transitioning from your playing career, because you only know one thing you think you want to do, but you're not really sure. The opportunity to be exposed to multiple departments will give me better perspective of my aspirations."
Kessel said she is most excited about joining an organization that is consistently driven to win. The Penguins are set to make their 16th consecutive playoff appearance this spring, which is by far the longest streak in North American professional sports.
Morehouse said he hopes -- and believes -- other NHL teams will take notice of the Penguins' executive management program and eventually follow suit.
"It makes the business better, it makes the executive team better, if you not only bring in different voices, but help them develop," Morehouse said.
Morehouse said he got to know Amanda when her brother, Phil, played for the Penguins.
"We've had good luck signing Kessels," Morehouse joked.