Carey’s passion for hockey evident by her past

April 19, 2011, 12:51 p.m. (ET)

Darren Eliot is best known for his work as the television analyst for the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers.

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Reagan Carey, Director of USA women's hockey. (USA HOCKEY)

Reagan Carey, who became the director of women’s hockey for USA Hockey in August 2010, also knows him as someone who could predict her future.

“I had sensed something like this position was coming to her two or three years prior,” said Eliot, who also oversees the Thrashers’ community hockey programming and worked alongside Carey in that capacity. “I told her she was going to be either an athletic director or a director of women’s hockey. After she got the job, I told her ‘See, I told you so.’ I had no doubt she was the uniquely right person for the job both from the sports standpoint and from the business standpoint.”

Eliot hasn’t looked into his crystal ball to predict the outcome of the IIHF Women’s World Championships, being held this week in Switzerland, but Carey has to like the outcome so far. The U.S. topped Slovakia 5-0 in its opening game on Sunday and then cruised past Russia, 13-1, in Monday. Team USA rounds out preliminary play with a game against Sweden on Wednesday, and hopes to round out its World Championships debut under Carey’s leadership with a gold medal next Monday.

With a mix of veterans and young players also making their World Championships debut, Carey like the newest version of Team USA.

“I don’t think we have to harp on what the objective is at the World Championships,” Carey said. “Everybody is really focused on what they need to do as a player, team and coaching staff. We’ve been spending a lot of time evaluating our own performance to know exactly what we need to do to get the job done.”

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Angela Ruggiero fires a pass down the ice in the game between Team USA and Slovakia at the 2011 IIHF World Women's Championship. (IIHF Images/USA Hockey)

Among those on the roster are Angela Ruggiero and Jenny Potter, the only U.S. player to have played in all four Olympic Winter Games since the women’s hockey was added to the program in 1998.

On the other end of the spectrum, four players from the U.S. team that won the 2010 Under-18 World Championships will make their debut with the senior team this week. That number is not lost on Carey.

“They’re well aware of what kind of opportunity they have to play for their country,” she said. “Given that they are young, it’s impressive to see that they don’t take it for granted. We’re starting to see that leadership develop, and we hope that translates as they continue on to the senior level. (The U-18 national team program) has given those players an opportunity to grow and develop on the international level before they hit the international team.”

For the select players who make the national team in the future, Carey plans to use all resources available. The residency program based in Blaine, Minn., figures to once again play some role in preparation for the 2014 Games.

“We haven’t finalized our residency program plans one way or the other,” she said. “Some version of it will happen, but it’s just a matter of when and the format. When we do get together, it will be in Blaine and we’ll be able to leverage that.

“Anytime the players have a chance to get together and work with each other in a great facility where they get treated well, I think everyone is eager to have those opportunities and have more of them.”

Current and past members of Team USA can expect opportunities to help with game’s development internationally in the coming months and years as well.

“The IIHF is working to further develop hockey in a lot of countries. They’ll be offering development camps this summer, and in those cases some of our players will be in attendance to help instruct teams and players from other countries,” Carey said. “There will be other smaller events, as early as July, when things will start to roll out. We want to make sure we’re in line to do what we need to do to support the worldwide game, not just our own efforts.

“Everybody knows the obligation we have to help develop programs in other countries. Our focus is on what we can do to be a partner to grow the sport. Canada is right there alongside us as well, and we’re trying to bring other federations or coaches to help generate that growth.”

Carey noted that the IIHF has already added to the development by forming a position of women’s program manager. Tanya Foley, a former player and coach at the University of British Columbia, worked for the 2010 Vancouver Organizing Committee as a divisional coordinator and assistant manager for ice hockey. Foley has since taken on the new full-time role with the IIHF.

“She started around the same time I did, and it just reinforces the IIHF’s commitment to growing women’s hockey across the board. She’s working hard to get everybody working toward how to grow the game,” Carey said.

Former players have agreed to participate in the worldwide outreach. They’ll be assigned to work with various federations as mentors and ambassadors.

“Our alumni group has been very supportive about going out and doing these kind of initiatives to grow the sport,” Carey said. “We’ve had some aggressive plans here all the sudden, and it’s great to see.”

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Kelli Stack collects the puck at center ice and begins the attack for Team USA against Russia at the 2011 IIHF Women's World Championship. (IIHF Images/USA Hockey)

Those who have worked with Carey don’t doubt her ability to operate toward a goal. Eliot worked in tandem with Carey for eight years. Carey began her tenure with the Thrashers as a marketing intern then made the shift to hockey programming as the director of hockey development.

“We started the Junior Thrashers (youth) program together,” Eliot said. “It started as summer hockey camps, and mostly because of Reagan it’s grown exponentially. It was a marketing program to start, but then they moved it to community development. I told if she came over to the community side and got this thing started, within three to five years, the process would be complete. She did it.”

The Junior Thrashers now offer programs ranging from cross-ice teams for entry-level players all the way up to Under-18 teams at the high school level. Eliot and Carey teamed up to put the spotlight on youth hockey during the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta. Teams of 10-year-old players from markets such as Washington, D.C., Tampa, Nashville and Charlotte all came to Atlanta to showcase their growth.

“It was a one-of-a-kind event made to bring awareness to each market in the Southeast,” Eliot said. “Everyone from USA Hockey was there, and she had overseen the whole program from beginning to end. I got way more credit for it than I deserved.”

Eliot is the first to admit that his role was secondary in many parts of their hockey outreach program.

“Reagan took more of a leadership role and control of the process,” he said. “The joke always was, ‘I’m in hockey development, but I have a career (in TV). I’m going to still be involved, but you tell me what to do. I’ll be there for the ribbon-cuttings and the ceremonies.’ She was such a detail-oriented person. Nobody outworked her, from the business side and the hands-on side, throughout her career here.

“I can’t say enough about her. She’s one of the best executives and worker and manager of people that I’ve ever come across.”

Carey also helped build the foundation USA Hockey’s American Development Model during her time with the Thrashers. The ADM is geared at using cross-ice programming to bring more young players into the game. The Thrashers were the first NHL team to implement the ADM into their youth hockey programming.

“We were way out in front with the ADM,” Eliot said. “We did some advance testing and provided different measurables of how it was working in our marketplace. Reagan was heavily involved in that.”

Thrashers president Don Waddell appreciated her contributions to hockey during her time with the team.

“Reagan is passionate about the sport and her love of the game is infectious,” Waddell said in an email. “She was instrumental in developing our hockey programs and was a valuable member of our staff. She was innovative in her execution of those programs and was dedicated to bettering hockey in our market.”

As for the growth of women’s hockey in a nontraditional market, Eliot said Carey again exceeded expectations.

“She expanded it way beyond where I even saw it going,” Eliot said. “She’d bring women’s Olympic hockey players into our women’s and girl’s weekend events. Everything she did was at the highest level. In Atlanta, we might be an ‘emerging’ or ‘nontraditional’ market, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be best in class. That’s the approach she took.”

Carey is quite familiar with those terms that define many markets in the South. She spent some her high school years playing hockey in Kentucky. She trekked back and forth to Ohio to join the Ohio Flames’ girls program, too.

“When I was 17 years old, I was not wearing a USA jersey and playing internationally (like members of the Under-18 team),” she laughed. “I think I was living in Owensboro, Kentucky, at the time playing on some boys’ team out of Louisville. I wasn’t on a Greyhound bus. My mom was bringing me to the rink.

“It’s amazing to see the opportunities the have now. That’s not to say I would have been there when I was playing!”

But Carey knows how important a role outreach can play in helping Team USA gain popularity.

“Seeing the girls running up to our players to get autographs — those opportunities can change things,” she said. “I remember when I was younger and I got to meet Kelly Dyer at the USA Hockey nationals. She signed some sticks for us, and we all had those sticks on our wall at home for a long time.”

Dyer was a goaltender on the U.S. national team, and won silver medals in 1990, 1992 and 1994 at the World Championships.

“It’s not always about making the national team — it’s about being part of something that you’re passionate about.”