CIS Women's Hockey Championship profile: Howie Draper, head coach Alberta Pandas
Source: Alberta Sports Info
Howie Draper doesn’t have a nickname. In fact, he’s never had one. But, as the only head coach in the history of University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas athletics with seven national championship rings, he could easily be called “Knuckles”.
Since 1997, the year women’s hockey was added to Canadian Interuniversity Sport, Howie Draper, a former national champion defender with the Golden Bears’ hockey team, has been the head coach of the University of Alberta Pandas’ women’s ice hockey team. In those 14 years, 15 counting the current season, Draper has presided over seven national championship teams. That is more than any other U of A coach, in any other sport, and more than any other women’s hockey team in the history of CIS. He has guided teams to undefeated seasons; in fact, Alberta didn’t lose a regular season game between 2000 and 2005, or 86 straight wins, a period in which the program collected three CIS championships in a row (2002 – 2004). Draper has also coached members of Canadian Olympic teams (Judy Diduck and Delaney Collins-Pye).
On March 8th, 2012, Coach Draper, the U of A’s most successful coach, will accomplish a first in his storied career: he will finally get to host the championship he has won more than anyone else.
The CIS women’s hockey championship, March 8th – 10th, 2012, will be played in Edmonton at the University of Alberta in Clare Drake Arena, an arena named after the coach Draper played for while with the Bears who, like Draper, is revered for his accomplishments on the bench (Drake won four CIS titles as bench boss for the Bears as well as one national championship as the head coach of Golden Bears football; he also owns the CIS record for wins by a coach with 697).
“We’re very excited to be hosting for the first time in program history. We’ve traveled to a lot of national championship tournaments in the past, so for us to have the opportunity to host the best in CIS, and to do what we always set out to do, which is be the best ourselves, is a real special challenge that we’re all looking forward to,” said Draper.
Women’s hockey was added to the stable of Golden Bears and Pandas athletics in 1997 as part of a movement to develop, support, and promote women’s sport in Canada, a movement spearheaded by then Athletics Director Ian Reade. In fact, from 1998 until 2007, the University of Alberta collected 18 national championships in women’s sport, including six by the Pandas’ hockey team.
The Pandas won their first national championship trophy at the conclusion of the 1999-2000 season, a mere three years after the program was created. That sort of early success made Draper and the Pandas leaders in the development of women’s hockey in Canada, particularly at the University level. In Draper’s estimation, however, despite their success, the timing wasn’t right back then for Alberta to host.
“I think the time is right for us to host now, at this point in our program,” noted Draper. “I personally believe that, in the past, there were other conferences and other schools that could benefit by hosting the national championship, and bringing that attention to their programs. Now, I think we’re at a point where all the other conferences are competitive and strong, and more and more teams are becoming competitive for the national championship, and certainly with the success our program has had in the past, I think the time is right for that attention to come our way.”
“One of the reasons we were able to be successful early on is because we had the model of Concordia University,” Draper continued. “They were so strong early on, and they really were the national benchmark. We did our best to match that, and we were fortunate enough to surpass it. Without sounding like we’re strumming our own guitar, once we surpassed that benchmark, I think to a certain extent, we helped pull CIS women’s hockey to that level as well. Now, some schools are competing at that level, and in some cases some schools have surpassed us, so hosting this championship is opportunity for the Pandas’ hockey program to really benefit from national exposure and stimulate some growth in our world.”
The McGill University Martlets, who hosted the national championships in 2004 and 2005, have now won three of the last four CIS banners, while the Manitoba Bisons have won two of the last three Canada West championships.
Although the Pandas have clinched a playoff spot already this season, they could finish anywhere in the standings from fourth place to second. They are one point ahead of Saskatchewan and Lethbridge, while the Bisons are just three points back. The parity in CIS women’s hockey is at the highest level it has ever been, to the point that McGill and Alberta, owners of the last six CIS championships, are ranked No.2 and No.7 in the country. The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks are No.1, while Calgary, Moncton, St. FX, Guelph, Saskatchewan, Montreal, and Toronto round out the top 10.
The benefits from hosting the national championship are numerous. The host team, first and foremost, has a guaranteed berth into the tournament, and a shot to compete for glory on home ice before family, friends, and supporters. That sort of benefit obviously impacts the current team, but also has a farther reaching benefit for Draper and the Pandas.
“From a recruiting standpoint, it’s always nice for me to be able to say we competed at the national championship and it’s now the opportunity for our rookies to compete at home for the trophy. The experience our young core will have at this championship will really strengthen them and help them develop. This tournament is really a significant step up in terms of the level of play, and I think it’s a real eye-opener for young athletes to experience that, so they can see what it takes to win that trophy.”
“From a developmental standpoint, having the host berth is nice because we don’t have to win every regular season weekend just for the opportunity to get into the national championship. Obviously, it would be great if we did and finished first in Canada West and won our way in. But, we have a very young team and that host berth has really allowed us to take a step back and really focus on the process, not the results. It gives our young athletes an extra opportunity to really develop and grow as an athlete.”
Another aspect Draper, and Reade, who returned to the Director of Athletics position in April of 2011, hope to develop is a deeper sense of knowledge regarding the issues that surround the game of women’s hockey in today’s world.
“It would be great to see an increased awareness as well. In a general sense, we don’t do a very good job at the CIS level at promoting women’s hockey, and hopefully hosting this championship will raise the profile of our program, of CIS women’s hockey, and of women’s hockey across Canada.”
The puck drops on the CIS women’s hockey championship on March 8th at Clare Drake Arena at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.