Friday, 15 September 2023

Well-Deserved Opportunities

As the news broke today on the identities of the six coaches that had been named as head coaches of the new PWHL franchises, the emotional gamut for Canada West fans may have went from shock and/or surprise to happiness based on the two names that will be moving out east for professional hockey opportunities. Both Howie Draper and Carla MacLeod have been hired by the PWHL to be the first head coaches in two respective teams' histories, and there's little doubt that both Draper and MacLeod are more-than-qualified to run a professional women's hockey team with their experiences and knowledge. Losing them means that the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary will need to appoint new people to run their programs quickly (and they have), but the women's professional hockey world got a little stronger in the coaching ranks today with Draper and MacLeod being named to two benches.

If it hasn't been stated on this blog enough before, there is a tremendous amount of respect for Howie Draper on the HBIC side. Howie is a legend in the university game for what he's done, and I was always in awe of how no matter what cards are dealt to him that he and his players find ways to overcome any speed bumps on the road to success. Howie told Lisa Szabo of The Quad in 2021 that he's a "big rule-follower and was pretty risk-averse as a youth," and it seems his teams follow that mindset as the Pandas play a very effective game in all three zones without taking unnecessary risks.

Having been witness to the Pandas' years of success, one could make the case that he's one of the best minds in hockey when one considers Howie's past success as he's led the program to 14 Canada West championships and eight U SPORTS titles over the 26 seasons he's guided the Pandas - both of which are records. In knowing that, it seems likely that the New York PWHL team will resemble how the Pandas played in terms of having strong offensive puck support, a fierce forecheck, and extremely smart defensive play.

If we're looking at the draft on Monday, Draper may have a request for GM Pascal Daoust in that former Pandas such as Alex Poznikoff, Kennedy Ganser, Megan Eady, and Lindsey Post are added to the New York squad. That's not to say that he'll be picking these players ahead of other players, but some of the later rounds could see those four former Pandas heading to The Big Apple if Draper needs players he knows can execute his systems. Having players who know his systems may also benefit the New York team when games get started as those players can adapt quickly to changes made to his systems.

"I'm honoured to have been selected to help lead the New York Women's Hockey Team this season," Draper told the UofA's Connor Hood. "I have mixed feelings about taking this step, obviously. On one hand, I am excited to be stretching myself and seeing what might be possible at that level of the game. On the other, I leave a group of athletes and coaches that I truly love working with on a day-to-day basis. The maturity and character that exists among this group gives me every confidence that they will do great things in my absence."

Personally, I believe New York may be one of the more dangerous teams in the inaugural PWHL season with Howie Draper directing the squad. There's still a ton of work to be done before the puck is dropped, but Howie's attention to detail and his incredible preparation skills will have New York in every game this year.

If losing Howie Draper wasn't enough for one U SPORTS conference to take, Canada West also saw one of the newest coaches head east as Calgary Dinos head coach Carla MacLeod accpeted the head coach position with the Ottawa PWHL squad for this season!

As stated in my interview with her a few weeks ago on The Hockey Show, MacLeod is one of the brightest and best coaches that I've seen behind the bench at any level, and she was just rewarded with a three-year extension to continue coaching Czechia's national women's team because of her abilities to get the best out of those players. And now she gets that opportunity with Brianne Jenner and Emily Clark!

It's nearly been a vertical line for how quickly Carla MacLeod has rose to what is now a professional hockey job. Just a few years ago, she was the head coach of a CSSHL team before taking the head coaching job at the University of Calgary following the departure of Danielle Goyette. Less than one year later, she's behind the bench of the Czechia National Team at the IIHF Women's World Championship, and now she's coaching professionally in the PWHL. That's an impressive resumé over the last few years!

In having watched the Dinos under Carla's guidance, it would seem that speed and a high hockey IQ are traits she wants to see in players. That could mean we could see an Ashton Bell, a Hanna Bunton, or someone like Kaitlin Willoughby having their names called by Ottawa GM Michael Hirshfeld on Monday. With Emerence Maschmeyer already signed to a contract, I'd expect Carla's team to have a quick, mobile defence as well. Bell would be a good addition there, but Emma Maltais and Jaime Bourbonnais may be on Ottawa's radar early in the draft. Regardless of who is selected, it will be a 60-minute effort needed each night under Carla's watch.

"It is with mixed emotions I take this next step," MacLeod told UofC's Lance McKenzie. "The excitement surrounding the PWHL, and the direction women's hockey is headed professionally is certainly something I am proud to be a part of. I am humbled that Ottawa believes I am the right coach to help build their program and look forward to the opportunity that lies ahead.

"Having said that, it is not lost on me how great it has been to work at the University of Calgary, particularly within our Joan Snyder Program of Excellence in Women's Hockey these past two years. To work with our student-athletes daily has been a true privilege. Coming to work has been fun because of the people involved, from our athletic department to our staff and players. I've been incredibly fortunate. I leave with confidence knowing the program will continue to thrive because of the passion everyone brings to being Dinos."

Getting the most out of her players on any given night is one of Coach MacLeod's best skills, and I feel like Ottawa will be a difficult team to play against anytime they take the ice. If Carla's team resembles her work ethic, they're going to wear the opposition down quickly.

For those asking, Canadian National Women's Team head coach Troy Ryan is leaving Dalhousie University's women's program to coach the Toronto team, and he's worked closely with GM Gina Kingsbury before while with Hockey Canada.

Canadian National Women's Team assistant coach Kori Cheverie was hired by Danièle Sauvageau to guide the Montreal team. Cheverie was an assistant coach with the Ryerson Rams men's hockey team and has coached the U18 Canadian men's squad as well.

Natalie Darwitz hired former Minnesota Golden Gophers assistant coach Charlie Burggraf to guide the Minnesota team. Burggraf also coached Bethel University's men's team, and he and Darwitz hav worked together before.

Boston GM Danielle Marmer hired Courtney Birchard-Kessel who was slated to join the Boston University Terriers program this season under head coach Tara Watchorn. Kessel previously worked with Princeton for the last four years as an assistant coach.

Six GMs have hired six coaches. On Monday, they each choose 15 players with whom the head coaches will work, and the PWHL will begin to take form in terms of having teams ready for January. We're officially closer to a single, professional women's hockey league than ever before so if you're not excited yet, it's time to start finding that excitement before Monday's draft!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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