For 123 games, the Pandas hockey team couldn’t be beaten.
The unmatched streak of 122 wins and one tie began in October 2001 . It stretched through regular-season games, tournaments, exhibition matches and playoff seasons. It saw the team scoop up four Canada West titles and three national championships.
After it came to a heartbreaking end on March 13, 2005 — losing the CIS title in a 4-1 loss to the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks — this team of smart, selfless players, led by the indomitable Howie Draper, resolved to get it back next year.
They did. Then, for good measure, they won it again in ’07.
The 2001-07 Pandas dynasty is the only women’s hockey team in history to win three consecutive national championships. The five titles won in this six-year span (the Pandas have won eight in total) is more than any other U Sports women’s hockey team has earned to date.
The Panda culture is described as having a synergy where teamwork is a triple play of fairness, respect and trust, and in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
But the individuals who made up the team — described as a veritable who’s who of women’s hockey in Alberta — were spectacular in their own right, based on the provincial and national awards given to players and coaching staff.
In each of the six seasons, a Panda was named as a Canada West player of the year — three times by Danielle Bourgeois and once each by Kristen Hagg, Lindsay McAlpine and Lori Shupak. At the national level, the player-of-the-year award was awarded to a Panda student-athlete in four of the six seasons.
Draper was named as a coach of the year three times by Canada West and twice by CIS. Eighteen players were selected as All-Canadian during the six-year reign.
Off the ice, they were equally high achieving.
Enrolled in a cross-section of faculties ranging from arts and science to education and law, each year multiple Pandas — sometimes a dozen or more — were named as Academic All-Canadian, an honour given to student-athletes who maintain an average of 80 per cent or better.
Today, they are lawyers, businesswomen, professors, coaches, Olympic gold medallists and more. Many — including coach Draper — are still involved in the game, helping the next generation of young women in the sport.
Their achievements from 2001 to 2007, as well as today, are a testament to dedication, hard work and the high bar that make up the foundation of Pandas Hockey.