For the first time in University of Alberta Pandas Hockey history, a player has been drafted into the National Women’s Hockey League.
Autumn MacDougall — a recently graduated fifth-year kinesiology, recreation, and sport student majoring in kinesiology and minoring in recreation therapy — was drafted to the Buffalo Beauts National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) team on April 29. She was a member of the Pandas Hockey team for five seasons.
MacDougall was selected with the 14 pick overall in the third round by the Buffalo Beauts. This makes her both the first Pandas player drafted into the NWHL and Canada West graduate to be selected.
The NWHL was founded in 2015, originally starting with four franchises: the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, and Metropolitan Riveters. It has since expanded to six teams, including a new team in Toronto which was brought into the league this summer.
The Buffalo Beauts captured the 2017 Isobel Cup as league champions, losing in the league final in 2016, 2018, and 2019.
MacDougall set the Pandas program records for her 24 power play goals and 18 game-winning goals. She captured 125 points, landing her as the sixth highest point earner in Pandas history. Additionally, MacDougall is a two-time Canada West Champion award winner in 2019 and 2020, and scored the game-winning goal for the Pandas in 2017 at the U SPORTS National Championship.
In an interview with The Gateway, MacDougall said this is “an incredible honour and opportunity” to represent the excellent U of A hockey programs within the NWHL.
“This is such a special moment,” she said. “Its really cool to continue playing the game I love and showcasing the great program we have here at the U of A for hockey.”
She said it was “a cool moment” to see her name flash across the screen with all the other draftees.
“There are so many other amazing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and U SPORTS players who were up there,” MacDougall said. “And I was up there with them.”
“This is a huge opportunity,” she added. “When the season ended I knew that my love for the game and passion for hockey didn’t stop, so having this professional opportunity is absolutely wonderful.”
Pandas head coach Howie Draper said he was “thrilled” for MacDougall and the opportunity in front of her.
“This will be an incredible opportunity for her to continue her playing career, and raise the level of her game at the professional level,” Draper said. “She excels at creating chances for herself and her teammates in the offensive zone. She has quick feet and great puck handling skills that I think will translate well to the NWHL level.”
MacDougall was quick to point out that it was the support she received from Draper, the entire Pandas team, and the U of A that really allowed her to get to where she is today.
“Hockey is a team sport and the team really allowed me to play and bring my best to the game. It’s also a testament to the quality of program we have and the wonderful coaching from Howie [Draper].”
For MacDougall, the way the Pandas season ended was “a huge disappointment.” The team made the finals but could not finish playing the series because of it being cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions. It marked the first time in 58-years the David Johnston University Cup would not be presented to a team.
“It was hard,” MacDougall said. “We were there at nationals hoping to play. Unfortunately the season was cancelled in the middle of the tournament. It was my last year and a lot of other seniors on the team were hoping to end off the tournament on a high note and bring home the national title.”
“Unfortunately because of COVID-19 we weren’t able to play,” she added. “I and the whole team completely understood the reasons why and the severity of it but it still is hard. I look back and think what could have happened, especially with our amazing team.”
MacDougall said she is continuing to train at home and looks forward to starting the season with the Buffalo Beauts in the fall.
“I miss the ice and being able to do things with others,” MacDougall said. “But I know the wait will be worth it.”
“I am just ecstatic,” she said. “To continue playing hockey, especially in the NWHL, is going to be something I truly look forward to. I just cannot wait to get started.”