When selecting a place to play, the choices for women playing high-level hockey are quite different than those for men of the same age. For instance, most women aren’t asked to chose between college or university and Major Junior because there aren’t two routes from which to choose. For the majority of women, playing at an university or college is the highest, most professional stage of their careers. This is currently changing as some university and college graduates find a home for themselves in the women’s professional leagues being formed in Canada and the United States. Staying close to loved ones may also figure into the decision, as picking a school closer to home could mean more support from family and friends, which would make being a student athlete far easier.
There are a multitude if reasons why an athlete might choose a particular school. They may wish to study a particular subject or course of study only offered at certain schools, or they may choose a school based on the history of the hockey program. For example, in the the CIS (recently rebranded as U Sports), the University of Alberta Pandas have won more national titles than any other school in Canada. Some other reasons might include confident or comfortable in a coaching staff or in fellow teammates. Whatever their reasons, when athletes commit to a school, they are making an important decision about their future. Not only are they deciding where they will study (followed by what they will study), they are deciding who they will play with and which people will become their support system. In short, they are deciding the next stage of their lives.
The University of Alberta Pandas, a women’s U Sports team located in Edmonton, draws players from across Canada and the occasional player from NCAA schools. Also, the Pandas hockey program has produced players who have done exceptional things after leaving the program. Coached by Howie Draper--who has found himself coaching for the Team Canada Senior Women’s program in the last year--there are many reasons a player might choose to pay for the Pandas. As mentioned above, they have the most National Titles of any school playing in any U Sports conference, they have won their Canada West conference title more times than every other school combined, they have a history as long as any program in the Canada West Conference, and they have a reputation for being fierce competitors. All of that combines with some unique research programs, a large and established university with multiple faculties and areas of possible study, and an expanding campus with constantly upgraded facilities make the University of Alberta a destination school for some young players.
Three Pandas players were kind enough to open up about their reasons for choosing the University of Alberta. These players aren’t speaking for their teammates, or for women hockey players in general. They are answering a simple question: Why did you pick the University of Alberta?
Hannah Olenyk is a third-year forward who had a fantastic rookie season with a career high 25 points. She’s had more modest success in the last two seasons but has remained an integral part of the University of Alberta Pandas multi-faceted offense. A physical player, Olenyk has tallied half her 2016-2017 goals on the power play. She has excellent hockey sense and is a reliable, strong, two-way player capable of playing in all situations for the Pandas. Olenyk chose the University of Alberta because she wanted “to play the highest level of hockey possible while still being close to [her] family.”
Kelsey Tangjerd is a first-year forward who joined the Pandas from the Calgary Fire. Being from Calgary, Tangjerd would have also considered the University of Calgary Dino--coached by Danielle Goyette--as a possibility. She played 18 of the Pandas 28 games and graduated to the second line during the Pandas last series against the Manitoba Bisons. Though Tangjerd didn’t record many points this season (only one), she was a solid player. She showed promise for the player she’ll become over her time as a Panda and wasn’t rattled by being placed in higher pressure situations.
When speaking about why she chose the University of Alberta, Tangjerd said she “picked the U of A for a few reasons. The two biggest reasons, however, were the great reputation it has for its hockey program and for its academics. Another reason is that being from Calgary, it allowed [her] to go to university away from home without having to be too far away.”
Finally, there is Alison Barnett, who is also a first-year player. She joined the Pandas from the Edmonton Thunder and is one of many hometown players. In her first year as a Panda, Barnett played in zero games and, as a result, recorded zero points. She was one of three Pandas not to see the ice this season but will look to make her debut as a second-year player. As a defender, Barnett will be looking to join fellow first-year Taylor Kezama next season. However, her reasons for joining the Pandas are the most rooted in tradition and history.
The reasons Barnett joined the Pandas in her own words:
Growing up in Edmonton, my mom used to always take me to watch the Pandas play. I can remember going to the U of A summer hockey camps and getting to change in the Pandas dressing room. I remember being in awe of the girls and at one point my cover photo on Facebook was the Pandas. I had a poster in my room and I even convinced my mom to buy me a jersey, I was pretty obsessed with them to say the least. Right off the bat it was my dream to play for the Pandas, and I never lost sight of that goal. Off the ice, I always knew I wanted to go into Engineering and the U of A had a strong program and various majors to choose from. Initially, I was debating between Civil and Materials Engineering and Materials Engineering isn’t offered at many universities so that narrowed down my options (although I ended up choosing Civil). It’s also nice to be at home and have your mom cook for you!
Barnett chose the university for a combination of reasons in the end. All players choose the route (and school) that suits their goals best. Whatever their reasons for choosing a particular school, and whichever path they take after leaving school – to newly forming professional leagues or to the professional world beyond hockey – for the time they’re at school and playing hockey, they are as much defined by their teams and success on the ice as they are by their successes off the ice.
A special thanks goes to the University of Alberta Pandas players Hannah Oleynk, Kelsey Tangjerd, and Allison Barnet, who offered their personal reasons for choosing the school they did.