U of A women's hockey coach first to reach 600th win

Edmonton's Howie Draper has become the first U Sports women's hockey coach to win 600 games.

The University of Alberta Pandas surprised their coach by mentioning the milestone after Friday night's 3–0 victory over the Mount Royal University Cougars.

Though the players were excited, for Draper it was just another win.

"It was nice and it was exciting for the moment, but we've got bigger things ahead for our team," he told Rod Kurtz Monday in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

Draper was not the first coach to reach 600 wins in the history of women's collegiate hockey in Canada. But he is the first to do so since 1997, when the sport was added to what was then called the Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union (now U Sports).

Draper has led the Pandas to eight national championship titles and been named national coach of the year four times, most recently last year.

Last year, he coached Canada's national women's U18 team to gold at the world championships in Obihiro, Japan.

Fifth-year defence player Abby Denning told CBC she has been lucky to spend her entire university hockey career playing for Draper.

"He cares so much about everyone," she said. 

Don Voaklander/Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics

Draper grew up in Edmonton and attended the University of Alberta, where he played defence for the Golden Bears. His first coaching experiences included stints with U of A hockey camps, youth teams and a team in Sydney, Australia.

Athletic director Ian Reade hired him to set up the University of Alberta's women's program in 1997.

The team won its first national title in 2000 and dominated during that decade.

Between 2001 and 2007, the team won six consecutive Canada West titles and five national ones. Between Feb. 1, 2001, and March 13, 2005, the Pandas did not lose a game.

"We had some outstanding teams at that time and some phenomenal players who were able to put the puck away and do all the rest of the things you have to do to be successful in the game," Draper said.

This fall, Pandas who played between 2001–2007 were inducted into the Canada West Hall of Fame.

Draper said when he started coaching the team, he tried to emulate beloved Golden Bears coach Clare Drake, who led the men's team to six national championship titles. Drake died in 2018.

"Everything that we've been able to achieve as a program, I think, is a direct reflection of the impact that he's had on me and a number of the other coaches who have come through the Pandas hockey team," Draper said.

The Pandas are currently ranked second in the Canada West conference.