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Madison Willan makes her mark at Winter Universiade


Celebrated as a multi-sport sensation, Madison Willan added another exceptional achievement. Earning the call for the Canadian contingent at the 2023 Winter Universiade in Lake Placid, New York, dynasty and destiny provided an exciting backdrop.

With a determined Canadian roster looking to capture their first women’s ice hockey gold at the Universiade since 2013, Willan, a star forward with the Alberta Pandas, made an immediate contribution. Scoring Canada’s first goal of the tournament, also proving to be the game winner in a 4-0 shutout versus Slovakia, her heroic efforts set the tone for an undefeated run.

The recipient of the 2020 U Sports Rookie of the Year Award, Willan, also a member of the Pandas varsity golf team, was among four players on the roster from the Canada West Conference. Joined by Mount Royal Cougars forward Tatum Amy, both finishing the season as Canada West All-Stars, plus Saskatchewan Huskies teammates Camryn Drever and Isabella Pozzi, Willan simultaneously enjoyed the opportunity to add to the legacy of Pandas skaters enjoying international play.

Following the likes of Pandas alumnae Andrea Boras, Leah Copeland, Jennifer Newton, Stephanie Ramsay, Rayanne Reeve, Tess Houston, Jessica Kampjes and Alex Poznikoff to wear the Canadian colours, another unique parallel emerged for Willan. Prior to joining the iconic University of Alberta Pandas program, led by legendary head coach Howie Draper, Willan already enjoyed the privilege of wearing the Maple Leaf. Playing the outfield position as a teen prodigy for the Canadian women’s baseball team, many of its most celebrated players also possessed a hockey background.

Adding to Willan’s unfolding athletic narrative, she reached the celebrated pinnacle of competing for a second national team. Earning greater standing as a world class athlete, a combination of maturity and perspective encompassed her sentiments. Finding a tremendous appreciation, reflecting on the revered prospect of wearing the Canadian hockey jersey saw the realization of a dream come true. 

“Playing for Team Canada in any sport is a huge honour and privilege. I have always dreamed to play for Team Canada in hockey and I am super grateful I got the opportunity to live that dream.”

Competing in Potsdam, NY during the preliminary round, Maxcy Hall saw Canada dominate with a superlative 5-0 mark, outscoring their opponents by a cumulative total of 31-2. The reward of qualifying for the medal round immediately provided the excitement of a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Gracing the ice at the aptly named Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, it added to the prestige of participating in an international tournament. Originally known as the Field House International Ice Rink, its magical aura is attributed to serving as one of the venues for the 1980 Winter Games, highlighted by the legendary Miracle on Ice, a remarkable event in hockey mythology. Undeniably, the thrill of gracing Olympic ice held a profound importance for Willan.

“It was super exciting as there is obviously a lot of history so it was pretty special to have that opportunity to win gold on that ice. We were also in the dressing room of the infamous ‘locker room 5’.”

Defeating Japan in convincing fashion, a 5-0 shutout saw Willan earn an assist on a second period goal, scored on the power play by Maggy Burbidge of the St. Francis Xavier X-Women. Enjoying the jubilation of a gold medal, the feeling of a fait accompli also ended a drought on top of the podium. Signifying the first Canadian team to win women’s hockey gold at the Winter Universiade in a decade, the gap featuring silver in 2015, 2017 and 2019, the achievement took on a sensational sheen. On the final day, the Canadian men emerged victorious on ice, defeating the host United States by a 7-2 mark, resulting in double gold.

Worth noting, the previous Canadian gold medal team from 2013, prevailing in Trentino, Italy, also held a proud Pandas connection, with Draper serving the role of head coach. Fast forward to 2023, another golden Panda takes a prominent place in program lore. Strengthening her leadership skills while enjoying the unique novelty of skating alongside players from throughout all four of the conferences in U Sports ice hockey, new friends found in linemates Burbidge and Emmy Fecteau of the Concordia Stingers, another exciting milestone adds to the emotion of victory in Lake Placid.

Marking the first gold medal won for Willan while representing Canada, further aspirations are within reach. Whether it is at the rink or on the diamond, earning Baseball Alberta’s Women’s Player of the Year Award for 2022, Willan is a tremendous ambassador for Canadian sport. Looking forward to another season of Pandas hockey in the autumn to come, she also has her sights set on the 2024 Women’s Baseball World Cup, to be held on home soil in Thunder Bay, Ontario. With the milestone of hockey gold in the Canadian jersey, the dream of duplicating the feat in the Canadian baseball hat holds an exciting anticipation.

“We had a very talented group of women that came together to form a special bond which resulted in an astonishing finish. Winning a gold medal while representing your country has always been a dream of mine, and to finally accomplish that goal is a surreal feeling.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated ” Further reading:

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In this article: #TeamCanada, #UniversityHockey, #USports, #WinterUniversiade, #WomenInSport, #Womenshockey, grow the game, Hockey

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