It’s nice to have friends—or mothers—in high places. Kate Whitman Annis celebrated the New Jersey Devils’ first Stanley Cup championship on the Brendan Byrne Arena ice in 1995 when her mother, Christine Todd Whitman, was governor of New Jersey. Whitman Annis, who played hockey at Wesleyan University, has now come full circle as executive director of the Devils Youth Foundation. The former general manager of the National Women’s Hockey League’s Metropolitan Riveters in Monmouth County details how she is planting the seeds of her favorite game in the Garden State and recounts the game that changed her life in East Rutherford a generation ago.
What are your responsibilities with the Devils?
We work so hard at the Devils Youth Foundation making sure hockey is accessible to everyone. We work so that kids have the chance to play hockey throughout the state.
Hockey is such an expensive sport—isn’t it prohibitive to many families?
It’s true, but what we do with the Devils is give children in New Jersey an opportunity to play. We have free equipment and make ice accessible.
How do the Devils’ programs work for kids?
We offer free programs all over New Jersey. We have a learn-to-skate program. Our community outreach runs at rinks all over New Jersey. Our Devils alumni come out to teach skills. My kids help out. I come from a women’s hockey background and love to see the little girls on the ice.
How did you start playing?
My dad is the reason. I was a figure skater. My dad told me I had the personality of a hockey player. I joined a girls’ team when I was 12. The game has been such a part of my life and my family’s life.
Do your children play?
I have four boys, and they all play hockey. They learned to skate where I learned—at the Essex Hunt Club. It’s been great for my family. My husband is the only one who doesn’t skate.
I’m surprised you married him.
[Laughs]. He has other talents.
Your hockey life extends well beyond the Devils.
I coach a 14U girls team and I spent the last six years as the varsity head coach at the [K-12 private] Pingry School.
What are the upsides for kids playing hockey?
There are so many lessons to learn. What we do at the Devils is help kids see themselves on the ice. Hockey gives you resiliency. You learn to make quick decisions, and when you’re on a team, you’re family; you work together.
Were you a Devils fan growing up here in Jersey?
Absolutely. The Devils winning the Stanley Cup had a huge impact on me. I was lucky enough to be on the ice when they won [in 1995], and it changed my life and my brother’s life.
And now your children attend Devils games?
I love that my kids get to go to Devils games. It has had a huge impact on them watching [Devils center] Jack Hughes. They say, ‘How does he make those moves?’ It’s because he works hard every day.
Kids from Jersey can dream big. Kyle Palmieri grew up in Montvale and was a Devils star.
Exactly. You never know what will happen if you put the work in.
It must have been cool having access to the Devils during their Stanley Cup runs when your mother was governor.
That experience on the Devils ice changed the trajectory of my life. I’m lucky that I work for the Devils and I have the opportunity to expose New Jerseyans to the great game of hockey and the Prudential Center.