William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles former professional player and collegiate coach Jessica Koizumi, who returned to her home state of Hawaii in August to conduct inline hockey clinics.
Jessica Koizumi’s hockey journey began with an act of disobedience.
A neighbor invited Koizumi to go skating at the Ice Palace in Honolulu when she was 7 years old, but her parents said no.
“I grabbed a backpack, I packed some warm clothes, and I walked right out the door and told my neighbors that my parents said ‘yes,'” Koizumi said. “I went to the rink. My parents could not find me anywhere … They drove to the rink, found me on the ice wheeling around with one of those push things.”
Koizumi started playing hockey when her family relocated to Minnesota shortly after her defiant act, and later to California. She became a star at the University of Minnesota Duluth and won a gold medal playing for the U.S. at the 2008 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Harbin, China.
But the 38-year-old Honolulu native hasn’t forgotten her island roots. She returned to Hawaii in August and conducted clinics at Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas to help grow the sport, particularly among girls and women.
“It was really an extremely rewarding experience for me to be able to pass along my knowledge of the game in a vacation state where I was born,” she said. “I had no idea what to expect.”
What she found were 92 participants ages 8 to 50 — including mothers and daughters — during five clinics held Aug. 15-19, all eager to learn.
“I didn’t know they had a roller rink here, to be honest,” she said. “The last time I was in Hawaii was 2019, and I didn’t know about it. I do remember visiting the Ice Palace and there was a ‘Now Hiring’ sign, so I was chuckling about, ‘Maybe I’ll just move to Hawaii and take this job here.'”
Doug Jones wouldn’t mind. The director of hockey operations for KIHA said he reached out to Koizumi to return to Hawaii after his sister sent him an article about Koizumi being an associate head coach for the University of Vermont’s NCAA Division I women’s hockey program.
“I’m, like, ‘Oh my God, it would be great to get her because she’s a native Hawaiian to come back to the island to help us build a women’s program, or introduce the sport to the women from the standpoint of, look what Jessica’s accomplished with her life with hockey,'” Jones said.
Koizumi is the seventh-leading goal scorer (84) in Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey history and ranks 11th in points with 155 (84 goals, 71 assists) in 132 games.
She had two goals, including the double-overtime game-winner, in Minnesota Duluth’s 4-3 victory against Boston College in the 2007 women’s Frozen Four semifinals. Minnesota Duluth lost 4-1 to Wisconsin in the final.
Koizumi went on to play six seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League from 2009-15, with 77 points (39 goals, 38 assists) in 89 games for Montreal and Boston.
She scored the first goal in the National Women’s Hockey League in 2015 with Connecticut and had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 16 games in 2015-16 and 2018-19.
Koizumi got into college coaching in 2010 as an assistant on Yale University’s women’s team. She moved on to Ohio State University’s women program in 2016-17 and became an associate head coach at Vermont the following season.
Jones’ cold call led to further conversations. Koizumi said she had a plane ticket to Hawaii a week later.
“I didn’t know who this person is, this is a stranger who’s reaching out to me, what is this, I just needed to do a little more research,” Koizumi said. “I learned that he’s an amazing person, an amazing advocate of the sport. The girls side here, he just wants to grow that program. He has an immense passion for the game, and I think he’s a great fit for what they need here in Hawaii.”
Clinic participants said Koizumi was just the person they needed to help them improve or to get comfortable playing, if they were beginners.
“I was kind of going in feeling I would be out of place, intimidated,” said Becca Skramstad, 42, who joined the clinics with her 8-year-old daughter, Isla. “She was super-welcoming and right away I felt, ‘I can do this.’ The atmosphere she provided, everyone just felt that this was something we can all do. And we did.”
Shauna Mead, a 38-year-old veterinarian who began playing inline hockey in May, joined with her two daughters, Keylanah, 10, and Maile, 8.
“It took a day or two to figure out where the skill level was at and she figured out there was a variety,” Mead said. “She had a really cool setup where she grouped us together with people of our skill level during the clinic. It was really fun.”
The clinics marked a transition period for Koizumi. She left Vermont and college coaching this summer after 13 seasons and started JZumi Performance LLC, a hockey development company.
She’s also working with Elev802, which has hockey training and performance facilities in Florida, Massachusetts and Vermont, and as an adviser to Women’s College Hockey Recruiting, a firm that helps players and their families navigate the college hockey recruiting process.
“I’m so grateful for all the programs I worked for and all the players that I’ve coached,” Koizumi said. “I know I’m going to miss various areas, especially once the season starts. But I’m at the point in my life where I’m excited to give back to various levels and have a little bit more opportunity to spend time with family and friends.”
Photos: Courtesy Doug Jones, University of Vermont, USA Hockey