Longstanding Panda’s hockey coach, Howie Draper, is leaving the University of Alberta varsity program after 26 years for a shot as head coach of the Professional Women’s Hockey League team in New York.
During his 26 years as the Panda’s bench boss, the program has captured a record 14 Canada West titles and eight national championships, success that makes his decision to leave all the more difficult.
“It’s really tough to leave the program that I cut my teeth on, and all the people that I got to know and the current players,” Draper said.
But the opportunity was “literally placed on (his) lap,” and while it’s scary to make such a big career and life change, he is looking forward to the new adventure and being pushed outside of his comfort zone.
“A wise man once said to me, ‘Any positive opportunity, don’t let it go by because you never know where it might take you.’”
And while the Pandas’ players are sad to see their coach go, they are also super excited for him.
“We’re of course a little sad to lose our coach and not just our coach, but someone that’s part of our family. But we’re super excited for him. This is an opportunity you can’t pass up,” said Panda’s goalie Halle Oswald.
Draper’s impact on female hockey in the Edmonton area goes beyond the U of A — the coach helped create the Edmonton Female Hockey Alliance, which he ran with people like Aimee Skye, the alliance’s chair, who is confident Draper will do an outstanding job at the professional level.
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“He’s an amazing person to work with. He’s an amazing coach and I think no matter where he goes, he’s really going to leave a mark on female hockey,” said Skye.
The inaugural season of the PWHL — created to replace the Premier Hockey Federation after it was dissolved in July — doesn’t start until January, but the idea of a successful women’s professional league is already inspiring these young athletes.
“There’s no female players in the NHL. We’ve only got Team Canada, so I think it means a lot to some girls in getting more recognition for women’s hockey,” said Oswald.
Being a part of something that can continue to grow female hockey is inspiring Draper as well.
“Once this gets off the ground, I’m pretty quite certain that we’ll see real growth in the foundation of the sport,” he said.
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