A look back at a special Panda championship hockey season, and a few questions for four of that team's alumnae.
Something glorious happened on ice for the U of A Pandas at the conclusion of the 1999 - 2000 hockey season — they won it all. In that championship season the Pandas became the first Western Canadian women’s team to win the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU, now CIS) national championship. They got there the hard way after team captain Susan Huculak, ’99 BEd, scored the winning goal in a shoot-out victory over the Concordia Stingers in the semi-final game to send the Pandas to their first-ever gold medal game. For the final game, the Pandas travelled to Montreal, where they defeated the heavily favoured hometown McGill Martlets by a score of 2-0. In recognition of the team’s accomplishment, the entire group is being inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame, joining the likes of such hockey greats as Wayne Gretzky, ’00 LLD (Honorary), Mark Messier and Hayley Wickenheiser.
Under the leadership of head coach Howie Draper, ’91 BPE, for the past 14 years, the Pandas have collected six more national titles, including one in 2009-10, for a league record seven women’s hockey championships.
But Draper will never forget the first time his team brought home gold. “The group of players that won that gold medal was pretty good in terms of individual skills,” says Draper, who was also named the 2011 Canada West Coach of the Year. “But what made their achievement possible was the amazing collective determination they displayed as a team, side by side. That win paved the way for much of the success our program has enjoyed over the ensuing years.”
The talented group of players featured five CIAU top scorers and five conference all-star selections, including first-team selections A. Danielle Bourgeois, ’05 BA, ’09 LLB; Krysty Lorenz, ’00 BEd; and Stacey McCullough,’02 BSc. Bourgeois and McCullough were also named to the CIAU all-Canadian team, while Draper was named Conference Coach of the Year and Bourgeois was selected as Canada West Rookie of the Year.
“This is a very proud moment for us and for the Pandas hockey program,” says Draper about being inducted into the Hall of Fame. “It’s an honour to be inducted into the building that houses so many great Alberta sports players, teams and builders.”
The induction ceremony will take place in June. The Hockey Hall of Fame is located within the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Red Deer.
A. Danielle Bourgeois, ’05 BA, ’09 LLB
Then & now: Played left wing for five years. Currently a lawyer with Field LLP in Edmonton.
When did you start playing hockey? I started playing hockey unofficially when I was three and taught myself to skate while watching my brother’s outdoor practices. My parents gave me a hockey stick to help with balance and a pair of elbow pads to cushion the blow when I fell. I started playing hockey officially when I was five years old.
What’s your best memory from the 1999 - 2000 team? My best memory happened when we landed at the Edmonton Airport after defeating the McGill University Martlets for the CIAU championship. We came down to the baggage area, and as we rounded the corner there were (what seemed like) hundreds of people jammed in the baggage area cheering for us! It was an unreal feeling and a moment I will never forget.
What did you feel upon learning you were being inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame? I felt instantly honoured to have been part of Alberta sport history. We were the first university women’s hockey team from the west to win a CIAU national championship. I’m also excited to have a chance to reunite with the 1999-2000 team and hope that other alumni come out as well.
What was it like to play for coach Howie Draper? Playing for Howie Draper was a great experience. During my five years on the team, Howie and I learned how to bring out the best in each other and how to work together at our weaknesses. Howie taught me so many invaluable lessons about hockey and life, and I am proud to say we still are, and will always be, great friends.
Stacey (Phillips) McCullough, '02 BSc
Then & now:
Played goaltender for five years. Currently working for a company called Edmonton Valve and Fitting. I do engineering work with designing systems and build custom solutions for customers.
When did you start playing hockey? When I was four.
What’s your best memory from the 1999 - 2000 team? Winning nationals that year and just how much fun we had everyday on and off the ice. We pushed each other hard and had fun with it.
What did you feel upon learning you were being inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame? I was excited to relive some of the memories from that year. I’m still friends and keep in touch with a lot of the teammates from that team, and we are all excited for an excuse for another get-together. Our 1999 - 2000 team had a chemistry that was second to none. We were successful on and off the ice. Everyone respected everyone else and accepted their role on the team.
What was it like to play for coach Howie Draper? Howie is a great coach and remains a great friend. He successfully laid the foundation for a tradition of excellence for the Panda hockey program. Howie did a great job of instilling values in us, and we were the true definition of a team. He knew exactly how to get the most out of each and every athlete. His hockey knowledge is phenomenal, and his interpersonal skills were exactly what they needed to be. I feel honoured to have had the chance to play for him and, more recently, coach with him. [She was the Pandas goalie coach from 2005 to 2008.]
Lori Shupak, ’03 BSc(Kin), ’06 MSc
Sherwood Park, AB
Then & now:
Played centre for five years. Currently a physiotherapist at Leading Edge Physiotherapy in St. Albert, AB.
When did you start playing hockey? When I was 16.
What’s your best memory from the 1999-2000 team? Winning. We all play sports to win and be the best. That year we were. As a team we had high goals and Howie pushed us hard. On a personal note, scoring the winning goal in the final was pretty exciting.
What did you feel upon learning you were being inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame? I told my family and close friends about the accomplishment, and I’m very excited to have a chance to see everyone again. That Pandas team — and so many to follow — were exactly what “teams” are supposed to be. We were successful on and off the ice because we treated each other with respect and unconditional acceptance. As a unit we had excellent chemistry, and, no matter what we did, we had fun doing it. The energy we had when we were together was so positive and contagious. It was the start of a winning tradition that is expected of Pandas Hockey.
What was it like to play for coach Howie Draper? Howie is an amazing coach. His ability to manage athletes and communicate effectively is second to none. He always challenged me as an athlete and a student and encouraged community involvement. Howie could put together the best practice plan and game strategy and find words to effectively motivate you. He created a family-like environment and was instrumental in all of us getting better every single time we played hockey.
Susan Huculak, ’99 BEd
Then & now:
Played centre for three years and was assistant captain in 1998 - 1999 and captain in 1999 - 2000. Currently a teacher at Bev Facey High School in Sherwood Park, AB.
When did you start playing hockey? At 19. Up until then, I played competitive ringette. Ringette provided me with many similar experiences to travel and compete at a very high level, provincially and nationally.
What’s your best memory from the 1999 - 2000 team? Raising the CIAU Championship Trophy. It was also great to score the winning goal during the semi-final shootout to dethrone the two-time CIAU Champions Concordia Stingers.
What did you feel upon learning you were being inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame? Nostalgia and pride. I also felt fortunate and thankful for all of the people who supported women’s hockey from the grassroots to varsity level. We were the impetus to building a dynasty. It’s impressive and inspiring to think what our team/program accomplished in three short years and continues to build on.
What was it like to play for coach Howie Draper? He was always prepared, devised well-planned and strategic practices, personified passion for hockey, and encouraged us to be successful on the ice and academically.
Being part of a hockey program in its infancy and winning the CIAU Championship with Howie only three years into the program was great. We were always going out to support the other varsity teams, and, likewise, other student-athletes supported the most successful athletic program in Canada at the time.