When Kathryn Tappen was studying journalism at Rutgers in the early 2000s, she was one of a few women in her program.
But she didn’t let that intimidate her. Instead, she tapped into her natural competitiveness, the same trait that once propelled the Morristown, N.J. native to walk on to the Scarlet Knights track team and earn a scholarship. In her professional career, Tappen worked her way up from local anchor to national NBC Sports host and reporter.
On Sunday, in honor of International Women’s Day, she’ll become a part of history when she anchors the country’s first NHL game broadcast and produced exclusively by women.
“I think it’s just trailblazing," Tappen said in a recent interview. "It’s a one-of-a-kind broadcast, on a day that everybody’s going to be celebrating women and all the milestones women have achieved in recent years.
“And by the way, the women who are involved in this broadcast, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, are the best at what they do. These are women that have worked really hard to get where they are, and they deserve every opportunity to shine.”
During the NBC Sports Network broadcast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks game at 7:30 ET Sunday night, Tappen will be accompanied by studio analyst and three-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jen Botteril; Kate Scott, who’ll do play-by-play; and U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield and AJ Mleczko, who’ll provide game analysis. Behind the scenes, director Lisa Seltzer and producers Kaitlin Urka and Rene Hatlelid will make sure the show runs smoothly.
“It’s not just the person in front of the screen," Hatlelid said. “There’s a lot of us behind the scenes that [young women] can look up to as mentors.”
The broadcast will mark a milestone for a league that’s traditionally been dominated by white men.
While women have been gaining ground in front offices across the country, there are still few women who hold hockey operations jobs — the ones that involve direct player interaction and coaching responsibilities. It was just months ago that an NHL team hired its first female pro scout, Cammi Granato, who works for the new Seattle franchise. On the broadcasting side, the people providing play-by-play and analysis of games remain predominantly male.
“There’s a culture there," Tappen said. "There’s a boys club there, and it’s hard to break into it. Yet here we are, 2020, and it’s totally different. There are women all throughout the game.”
Tappen worked at NHL Network before joining NBC Sports in 2015. Along with co-hosting NHL Live and NHL Overtime, she’s covered the NFL, Notre Dame football, and the Olympics.
Over the past few years, the 38-year-old said she has witnessed the biggest changes in terms of gender diversity. Two years ago, she did her first broadcast with a female producer.
Hatlelid, 40, who was often the only woman in the production truck when she was starting out, has noticed a shift, too.
“I’m not sure the opportunities have changed as much as the optics of seeing that these positions are available for females,” she said. “I think females are starting to see at a younger age that there are a lot of options."
And as more and more women enter the “boys club,” they said, fans become used to seeing and hearing them in the space. Tappen credits several high-profile victories — including the U.S. women’s hockey team winning its second-ever gold medal at the 2018 Olympics — with helping empower women who work in and around the game.
Someday, Tappen said, she hopes an all-women broadcast won’t be a cause for celebration, but a normal occurrence. When fans tune in Sunday, she wants them to envision that future.
“I want fans and viewers to be open-minded," she said. “I want people to listen and embrace something different. It’s not going to sound like our normal Sunday night sounds.
"I want the audience to embrace it and sit back and enjoy it and be inspired by it,” she continued. "The younger generations are going to listen and see this and realize this is where we’re going. This is where the league is going. This is where the world is going.”