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Autumn MacDougall finishes five-year career with U of A Pandas

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Skating for one of the premier programs in the Canada West Conference, Autumn MacDougall concluded her stellar career with the University of Alberta Pandas with a multitude of accolades, including the highly prodigious status of First-Team All-Canadian. One of only three Canada West skaters gaining such acclaimed standing, including fellow Pandas skater, and team captain, Cayle Dillon, plus Calgary Dinos goaltender Kelsey Roberts, the privilege of recognition as one of the finest from coast to coast stirred strong feelings of national pride. Additionally, MacDougall’s season included nomination for the Bakewell Trophy, recognizing the University of Alberta’s Female Athlete of the Year.

Heading into the 2019-20 season, MacDougall certainly had a strong sense of momentum. Named to the U SPORTS All-Star Team that participated at Hockey Canada’s 2019 Summer Showcase in Calgary, joining her was fellow Pandas star, and Brodrick Trophy winner, Alex Poznikoff, on the roster. Undeniably, the combined achievement of All-Canadian and All-Star status were testament to her strong skill set, simultaneously part of an effort to enhance an already impressive quality of hockey at the Canadian university level, continuing to reach new summits.

“It is always an honour being named an All-Canadian. The amount of talent we have in U SPORTS is pretty amazing and I am very grateful I had the chance to play in U SPORTS and stay in Canada to grow the game.”

NOVA SCOTIA ROOTS

Raised in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, MacDougall is part of a tremendous sporting legacy. Beyond the indisputable impact of Sidney Crosby, who certainly placed the community on the global hockey map, there has also been a remarkable group of highly talented female hockey players adding to its sporting legacy.

In addition to the most recent heroics of MacDougall, Cole Harbour has also produced a group whose time on the frozen perimeter was brilliant. Among them included the likes of Alexis Crossley-Miller, who skated for Canada at the Under-18 IIHF Women’s World Championships, and whose father, Brad, is a prominent member of the local hockey community. Suzanne Fenerty, a revered skater for St. Francis Xavier and former CWHL Draft Pick, joined by Cassandra Labrie, a graduate of L’Université de Moncton and forward for Canada’s contingent at the Winter Universiade, plus Shelby Ryan, a current U SPORTS competitor standing between the pipes for the University of Prince Edward Island, among others.

Making the sojourn westwards to continue her hockey dream, MacDougall’s career in Pandas Green and Gold did so much more than burnish this proud Cole Harbour legacy. Becoming a cornerstone for the program, as evidenced by Team MVP honors in 2017-18, MacDougall’s run with the program is also defined by a Golden Path Trophy win in 2017, which was also the last game for goaltender Lindsay Post, who had been recognized as Team MVP from 2015 to 2017.

Autumn MacDougall in the Pandas Green and Gold (Photo credit: Ian Kucerak, Postmedia)

2019-20 SEASON

Starting the All-Canadian season on a very strong note, MacDougall amassed a phenomenal seven points in an October season series against the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds. Sweeping the series at Clare Drake Arena in convincing fashion, with a cumulative score of 14-1, the highest number of goals scored by the program since 2009, it certainly made a powerful statement about the Pandas prominence in the conference.

From the outset, the opening game saw McDougall record the game-winning tally, part of a three-point performance. Continuing her strong play with a four-point outburst on October 5, 2019, placing five shots on net, such an amazing weekend was one of legend as MacDougall also reached the Century Club, becoming only the 12th Pandas player to log 100 career points. Adding luster to such a sterling performance was the fact that Madison Willan and fellow Senior, Poznikoff also gained four point games.

In recognition of such a sensational showing, MacDougall quickly added to her haul of hockey hardware. Recognized with the honour of the University of Alberta’s Sherlock Holmes Pub’s Athlete of the Week Award, it certainly set an exciting tone for the season to unfold, one that saw the Pandas finish first overall in the Canada West season standings.

”Starting the season on a high note was great for our confidence going into the other weekends and it was nice to see our hard work during off season and preseason pay off.”

Highlights definitely emerged as a key theme during MacDougall’s greatest season in the Pandas green and gold. Undeniably, no event held as much impact as Senior Night. A rite of passage for any player, a highly emotion-filled occasion defined by celebration and appreciation, it was made much sweeter as the January 31, 2020 celebration saw the Pandas blank the Regina Cougars by a 2-0 mark. Fittingly, MacDougall scored in the game, with an assist credited to phenomenal freshman Willan, signifying a passing of the torch. As a side note, Willan also placed her name on the score sheet with the game-winning goal.

Belonging to a Senior Class which included Dillon, Poznikoff, Abby Benning, Chelsea Dearsley, Alex Gowie, Danielle Hardy and Regan Wright, the most important aspect of the Senior Night celebrations found MacDougall fantastically swept away by the presence of her parents, making the cross-country trip to recognize their highly talented daughter. Taking into account how one’s teammates can take on the aura of a second family, Senior Night became an intersection where past and present collided, providing MacDougall with an evening bound to supply a wealth of pleasant memories, becoming a type of residual warmth in future reflections,

”Senior night was really special. My parents actually surprised me that weekend and flew all the way from Nova Scotia to see me play. We had a really great senior class this year and we were all close so it was definitely cool to be able to share that night with all of them.”

Following the euphoria of Senior Night, the Pandas never missed a beat. A 4-0 blanking of the Manitoba Bisons on February 8, 2020, as Kristen Chamberlin required merely 14 saves, saw MacDougall score the final goal of the game. Finding the back of the net against goaltender Amanda Schubert, who was recognized as the First Star of the Game, MacDougall’s 17th of the season was unassisted.

Finishing the season with 31 points, MacDougall would capture the Canada West scoring title, finishing four points ahead of teammate Kennedy Ganser. Worth noting, the top four scorers were all Pandas, as Madison Willan, who would capture the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Award, paced all Canada West rookies with 25 points, while Poznikoff was one point behind at 24. MacDougall’s statistical dominance also included leading the conference in goals (17) and power play goals (10), tying with Willan and Calgary’s Elizabeth Lang in game-winning goals (6), while her 103 shots on net trailed only Saskatchewan’s Bailee Bourassa, pacing the conference with 119.

POSTSEASON PLAY

Exerting their dominance in a highly impressive postseason, MacDougall shone. Amassing four points in four playoff games, including a solid 19 shots and a plus/minus ranking of +4, she rose to the occasion in another highlight-filled time for the dynastic program. Defeating the likes of UBC and the Mount Royal Cougars, en route to a conference championship, a remarkable 14th in the program’s proud history, the Pandas earned a place as the top ranked team nationally. A 5-1 win to open the Canada West championship against Mount Royal resulted in MacDougall’s final goal as a Panda, recording the game-winning tally in the second period, as Ganser and Dillon earned the assists, taking advantage of a power play opportunity. The final game, a leap year game on Sunday February 29 saw MacDougall and Dillon collaborate, logging the assist on Willan’s second goal of the postseason.

Undoubtedly, the Pandas triumphant acquisition of the Canada West title marked a highly special milestone, providing MacDougall with a triumphant conclusion. Although MacDougall and her fellow Pandas had aspired for an even bigger prize, entering the U SPORTS Nationals as the top seeded team, the unfortunate impact of the coronavirus forced an abrupt end to the postseason, one whose visceral impact was felt throughout the sporting landscape. Scheduled to face the host University of PEI Panthers in the opening round, the tournament would have allowed MacDougall an opportunity to return to her Atlantic Canadian hockey roots.

With tremendous maturity, testament to MacDougall’s amazing leadership, the sadness of a National Championship eluding the Pandas due to circumstances beyond any of the participating teams’ controls could not put a damper on a stellar body of work in 2019-20. Recognizing the feeling of achievement, finding a commendable consolation that her last game on home ice was one where the Pandas captured the Canada West crown, a tone of gratitude defines her sentiments,

”It was definitely bitter sweet. We obviously did not expect the season to end the way it did, not being able to play at Nationals, but I am grateful we were able to end the season as champions and I can walk away from the program as a champion. The last time I was able to wear the Pandas jersey was in our home rink in the Canada west championship and that is a really special memory for me.”

Finishing her Pandas career with 125 points, on the strength of 67 assists, MacDougall was nothing short of brilliant in five fantastic seasons. Possessing sharp instincts and a balanced offensive attack, a smooth goal scoring touch complementing her playmaking skills, MacDougall was a spark plug on offense, extending an era of hockey excellence, which has defined the Pandas program for nearly two decades.

“Playing for the Pandas is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. One of the best parts about playing for the Pandas is the friendships and memories I made throughout the years. I will definitely miss being around the team every day.”

NWHL DRAFT PICK

Following MacDougall’s final game garbed in Pandas paraphernalia, there was still the precious opportunity to make history, bridging a unique connection between U SPORTS hockey and the professional game. While the 2020 NWHL Draft already held a historic tone, as it marked the first-ever edition of the Draft to feature a Canadian team on the board, as the expansion Toronto franchise held the first pick overall (later traded to the Boston Pride), it was the Buffalo Beauts who made headlines.

With the 14th pick overall, the Beauts, who have had more Canadians play for their organization than any other in NWHL history, selected MacDougall, marking the first time that a U SPORTS skater was taken in the NWHL Draft. Coincidentally, the next pick was another fabled player in recent U SPORTS history. Having captured the OUA’s Marion Hilliard Award, Erin Locke, the team captain of the York University Lions became part of Toronto’s Draft Class.

Akin to MacDougall’s Pandas, Locke’s Lions also qualified for the 2020 U SPORTS national championships, and both definitely hold the potential to maintain their star status as NWHL professionals. The historical context of this acquisition holds tremendous meaning, adding more validity to the superlative talent that graces the frozen perimeter in arenas throughout U SPORTS play, demonstrating their value as prospective professionals, world-class competitors, and remarkable role models, all descriptions worthy of MacDougall’s stature.

“I feel very blessed and honoured to be drafted into the NWHL with such a great organization. U SPORTS has so many talented players and I am grateful I had the chance to play in that league for five years. I hope more girls continue to play after university and feel they have a place to play.”

”All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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