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At Caps development camp, guest coach Laura Schuler feels ‘right at home’

Washington Capitals guest coach Laura Schuler stands with assistant coach Kevin McCarthy during development camp Wednesday. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)

Laura Schuler looked out over the ice from the second floor of the Capitals’ practice facility, elbows resting on the guardrail, pen in one hand and paper in the other.

Clad in a navy Capitals jacket, Schuler was lined up with Washington’s coaching staff, of which she is a member this week.

Schuler, an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota at Duluth’s women’s hockey team, served as a guest coach for Washington’s development camp, which ran Monday through Friday. The opportunity came about through her involvement with the NHL Coaches’ Association’s Female Coaches Development Program. Lindsay Artkin, the president of the NHLCA, recommended Schuler to the Capitals.

Without any previous ties to the organization, Schuler progressed through an interview process that led to an invitation. She spent the week learning from Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff.

“It’s been unbelievable to be in a room and talking amongst so many amazing hockey minds,” Schuler said. “We’ve just been sharing drills, sharing knowledge, and it’s been so much fun. So I feel right at home.”

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Although Schuler is a new face around the Capitals’ organization, she has plenty of development camp experience. She worked for a decade with Hockey Canada, specifically with its development program and under-18 team. Much of that knowledge translated to Washington, where she worked with the 35 athletes attending the Capitals’ development camp.

Asked whether she gave the coaching staff suggestions, Schuler laughed. “No, I don’t give them suggestions. I let them know what we do and how it’s very similar,” she said. “To me, hockey’s hockey, and learning the details is what’s so critical as a coach, and those guys are so good at it.”

Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said he was glad Schuler was able to learn from Laviolette and gain experience working with the Capitals coaching staff.

“It’s great for her to be around our coaching staff to see how they plan the schedule, just to see how they operate,” MacLellan said.

The owner of an extensive coaching resume, Schuler is entering the second year of her second stint as an assistant coach at Minnesota Duluth. Her first time on the Bulldogs’ staff was a seven-year tenure highlighted by a national championship in 2010. She has also served as the head coach at Massachusetts Boston, Northeastern and Dartmouth.

Schuler played college hockey at Northeastern and went on to play for Canada’s national team. She was a member of the 1998 Canadian team that won silver at the Olympics and was on teams that won gold medals at the world championships in 1990, 1992 and 1997.

Schuler later coached the Canadian women’s hockey team at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where it won silver after falling to the United States in the final.

One member of that team, Rebecca Johnston, worked as a guest coach with the Calgary Flames this week. She said she saw the news that Schuler would be a guest coach with the Capitals on social media, and she looks forward to trading stories from development camp with her former coach.

Johnston is also heartened by the positive strides for women in both men’s and women’s hockey, both in coaching roles and front office positions.

“I think it’s really important to open those doors because I know that there’s a lot of talented female hockey players out there with great hockey minds [who] know the game so well and can teach it so well,” Johnston said.

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The Capitals hired a woman, Emily Engel-Natzke, as their video coordinator last month. Engel-Natzke previously was video coach for the Hershey Bears, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate. When she found out Schuler would be joining Washington as a guest coach for development camp, Engel-Natzke reached out immediately to express her excitement and offer help.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Engel-Natzke said of the recent shift toward more female representation in hockey. “If you just even look at Laura’s coaching history, she should have had this opportunity years ago.”

Schuler said she was grateful to be in Washington and hoped her presence at development camp reinforced that there is a place for women coaching hockey.

“I feel like hockey is one of the greatest learning laboratories there are in the world for learning life skills and life lessons, and I think that as long as you put your mind to it, you can do whatever it is that you want to do,” she said. “And hopefully we’ll see women will have the choice, the choice of whether or not they want to coach men or women, and it will become a norm.”