The women’s hockey game featuring the University of Alberta Pandas versus the University of Calgary Dinos Sept. 13 at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex turned out to be a barn burner of a game that fans will be talking about for some time.
It was a no holds barred challenge between the two hockey teams with the Dinos winning 4-3 in a penalty shootout. The exhibition game was a promotion for girls’ hockey and the Lacoka teams that bring girls from Ponoka and Lacombe together.
Both teams played as if this was a finals game partly because both coaches are quite competitive and have a long history with the sport. Danielle Goyette, head coach for the Dinos is well known for coaching the women’s national team to a gold medal victory at the 2014 Sochi Olympics but also as a member of Team Canada for many years.
Howie Draper, head coach for the Pandas, also has a distinguished coaching career; he has been head coach of the Pandas since women’s hockey was added to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) league in 1997. He has led the team to seven national championships.
“The more we go around and play in small towns it just inspires girls to play,” said Goyette.
This means coaches will be busier fundraising for their teams but the intent is to bring and retain a higher level of players to the women’s hockey. Draper says there are many high level women hockey players in the National Collegiate and Athletic Association in the United States but not as many in the CIS program.
Teams are getting better as the years progress; nine years ago the Dinos were part of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference but are now involved with CIS and compete against teams across the country.
However, a women’s hockey league is still some years away. In order to keep a high skill level, many Olympians go back to college or university and join the teams. Hailey Wickenhauser, the longest member of Canada’s national team, plays with the Dinos.
The future is bright however, added Draper. In an effort to keep players in Canada, this is the first year full scholarships will be awarded to female hockey players.
“The hope is that some of those players now will decide that the CIS is the place to play and that will also build the skill level within our ranks,” said Draper.
“We need to have a better base maybe at the younger level,” concluded Goyette.