Brittany Knopp’s history-making head coach role with Mid-Michigan Raptors hockey team

Brittany Knopp has been skating and playing hockey for 27 years, with multiple coaching accolades, including the assistant coach of Central Michigan University Men's Hockey team and being the head coach of CMU Women’s Ice Hockey team. But last year, she made history as the first female hockey coach in Michigan for high school boys’ varsity teams with her role as head coach of Mid-Michigan Raptors – a co-op team made up of high school student players from six area schools including Mt. Pleasant, Ithaca, Clare, Alma, Shepherd, and Sacred Heart Academy. 

When Knopp learned to skate at five years old, she had a choice to make: figure skating or hockey. She chose hockey. Knopp started off playing on boys’ hockey teams, and is no stranger to being forced to prove herself both on and off the ice. 

After growing into girls’ hockey teams, travel hockey leagues, AAA hockey, and NCAA hockey at Finlandia University, Knopp returned to Mt. Pleasant and began working at the ice rink part-time. That position grew to full-time, and she started coaching as well. 

Instead of only teaching one-on-one learn-to-skate lessons or advanced skating methods individually within her role at the ice rink, Knopp also found herself as a mentor to an entire team of players.

Initially, Knopp says the transition from being on the ice as a player to teaching other players was hard.
“As a player, you’re focused on individual play, and if my team needed a goal, it was easy for me to get on the ice and go score a goal and win the game that way,” she says. “As a coach, it was really hard to transition and how to explain what you’re doing with your body when it comes so naturally to you.”

“With a whole team aspect, you’re not just focused on one kid, now you’re focused on 21 kids, and how to put 21 different personalities together to form one team. It was a big transition,” she says. “I also really never understood how much background work there was in the aspect of planning game days, planning team meals, team video off-ice, summer workouts, scheduling the ice, the refs, etc. There was a lot more that I wasn’t aware of as a player.”

Though a lot of work, Knopp enjoys being able to teach players life-lessons on and off the ice. She cherishes the lifelong friendships and bonds that the sport has given her thus far. 

“The team sport aspect was always so special to me. I still have friends from when I was five years old playing, that are still my friends today,” she says. “Truly, the hockey community and the people are what’s the best about the sport.”

Skating fast and hard on the ice, making goals, and assisting are indescribable feelings for Knopp, but the best part is being a good teammate, she says. “Hockey is like a full-time job – you’re at the ice arena a lot. You really become a family with your team and their family members, and that’s truly what’s so special about hockey.”

Growing up, she had a unique influence of watching her mother and father in various coach positions, including her father’s role at Central Michigan University. “That was a great inspiration to me,” Knopp says. Other impactful mentors include Bob Venable, Sr., a mainstay in the local Mt. Pleasant hockey scene, according to Knopp.

Despite having a jam-packed resume of coaching experience, including being the assistant coach for the Central Michigan University Men's Division II Ice Hockey team for four years, and the head coach for Women's Division II Ice Hockey team for three years, some teams still were unaware of Knopp’s hard-earned title. 
“As a female in a male-dominated sport, you always have to prove yourself. I had no problem doing that at all,” she says. “What I've seen in my coaching career – even at the college level – is that when I was an assistant coach, most of the other teams thought I was the trainer or the team manager. You’re always working for that respect of your place in the sport.”

After starting her job as head coach of the Mid-Michigan Raptors Varsity Boys Hockey team in April 2022, she was surprised to learn she had made history. 

“Around early June, I had a parent approach me and tell me that I was the first female hockey coach in Michigan for high school boys varsity teams. I was like ‘no way.’ I started doing some research, but it was very limited. I thought I should ask someone, and when we got our new AD, Jason McIntyre, I asked if he could ask the high schools in our league if this was true. He confirmed it.”

Knopp says the news of her accomplishment was bittersweet. 

“When I found that out, I was very proud and very happy,” Knopp shares. “However, at the same time, as a woman, it just kind of throws reality in your face that we’re still breaking barriers in 2023, which is kind of a little bit sad. I’m glad I am paving the road for hopefully more women to get into the sport and to continue their careers in the sport, and to go into coaching instead of just dropping off the map after their hockey career.”

Looking ahead, Knopp hopes to lead a successful program, one that’s not weighed by wins, but rather, by education and lessons learned. 

“It’s trusting the process instead of the outcome,” she says. “My biggest thing is to be able to teach these kids life lessons on and off the ice, to become responsible adults.”

After a recent 2022 rebrand of the Mid-Michigan Oilers, now the Mid-Michigan Raptors, Knopp is able to be a positive influence to not only Mt. Pleasant students, but players from other nearby schools as well. The co-op team is made up of high school student players from six area schools including Mt. Pleasant, Ithaca, Clare, Alma, Shepherd, and Sacred Heart Academy. 

Knopp says the rebrand helps create an inclusive identity for the team. 

“Kids from all over didn’t want to play for Mt. Pleasant Oilers, but here they can play for a whole team together under one brand, the Mid-Michigan Raptors.”

The $8,000 rebrand was made possible from individual family donors, Isabella County, and the Community Foundation. 

“I’m so proud of our hockey community for getting together and knowing that this needed to happen to make all the kids feel included,” Knopp says. “It made me feel very happy. I personally know all of the donors very well. It made me proud to be a part of the hockey community in Mt. Pleasant.”
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at