With a highly diverse draft class, the acquisition of Kaitlin Willoughby in the 2018 CWHL Draft certainly represents a significant blend of Western Canadian talent for the Calgary Inferno. Raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, she is joined by fellow Prairie stars including Manitoba’s Halli Krzyzaniak and Tatiana Rafter, plus Alberta’s Eden Murray. Bringing tremendous promise to the new-look roster, which also features a trio of Winter Games gold medalists from the United States, Willoughby’s assiduousness and team first approach are among her finest hallmarks.
The latest in a line of elite players from Saskatchewan who have been drafted by the Inferno, a growing legacy in franchise lore, Willoughby belongs to a distinguished group of talent which includes Jessica Campbell, Julie Paetsch, Toni Ross and Hayley Wickenheiser. Having competed at the university level with the Saskatchewan Huskies, it was an extension of Willoughby’s proud hockey legacy in the province. Having served as captain of the Bears, which was Prince Albert’s entry in the SFMAAHL, along with a spot on Team Saskatchewan at the 2011 and 2012 Canadian Under-18 nationals, she would also serve as one of the team captains in her later years with the Huskies.
“I am very proud to be a part of this legacy. I love Saskatchewan and it was amazing to grow up playing my entire hockey career in this province up until this point. I hope I can represent Saskatchewan well in the CWHL.”
Of note, the Saskatchewan linkage also extends into another unique facet for the wondrous Willoughby. Worth noting, the Inferno have also featured a notable group of Huskies alumnae. From the outset, Chelsea Purcell, who was the first captain in franchise history, back when its colors were navy blue and gold and its moniker was simply Team Alberta, she was also a three-time CIS Academic All-Canadian and a captain for the Huskies during her fifth season.
Currently serving as the General Manager of the Markham Thunder, where Purcell enjoyed the club’s Clarkson Cup title win in 2018, her hockey resume includes international play. Competing with Canada’s gold medal winning team at the 2015 ISBHF Worlds in Zug, Switzerland, Purcell also spent a season competing in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
A two-sport star, having captured numerous WWCFL titles as a member of the Saskatoon Valkyries female tackle football club, Julie Paetsch also excelled on the frozen perimeter of Rutherford Arena, garnering Canada West Player of the Year honors in 2012. Selected by the Inferno with the 46th pick overall in the 2013 CWHL Draft, she recorded a solid 22 points during her inaugural season with the club, ranking second in team scoring, respectively. As a side note, Paetsch also possesses her own international experience, having graced the gridiron with Canada’s women’s football team at the IFAF Worlds.
Inheriting the head coaching duties from Tomas Pacina, the arrival of Shannon Miller, who served as a police officer in Calgary, certainly encompasses a sense of homecoming. Best known as the first coach to capture five NCAA Frozen Four titles, along with her historic presence as Canada’s head coach for the first-ever women’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Games (Nagano 1998), Miller is also an alumnae of the University of Saskatchewan.
Of note, Purcell actually wrote an article about Miller for the University’s website when she was a student there. Undeniably, the chance to represent Huskies pride with the Inferno epitomizes a treasured opportunity which simultaneously serves to solidify Willoughby’s own legacy with the program.
“Yes of course, I am very proud to be an alumni of the University of Saskatchewan and to share that connection with two very important figures in the CWHL. The U of S (schooling and hockey program) is a huge part of my life and shaped me into the person I am today.”
Akin to her fellow Huskies, Willoughby also boasts her own international experience. Competing for Canada in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan, recording a solid six points in five games. Also bestowed the privilege of serving as assistant captain, testament to the fine leadership skills cultivated in the Huskies’ green and white jersey.
Simultaneously, Willoughby’s opportunity to compete in the Universiade extended another growing legacy in Huskies lore. Worth noting, she follows in the footsteps of fellow Huskies Cara Wooster, who competed at the 2013 edition, along with Julia Flinton, part of Canada’s contingent in 2015.
While Willoughby’s strong leadership qualities certainly symbolize her legacy during a great career with the Huskies, she was also a character player. Bringing solid playmaking skills and commitment to continued improvement, she constantly set a positive example for one of the premier teams in the Canada West Conference.
Crafting her own definite legacy with the Huskies, Willoughby earned the 2014 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Rookie of the Year Award, the first player in program history to achieve the feat. In that same season, she enjoyed the privilege of playing for a Huskies roster that captured the Canada West crown, one of the defining moments in the history of the proud program.
“My favourite moment as a Huskie was winning the Canada West title in 2013-14 season. It is a moment I will never forget! When I think of what I am most proud of as a player there, I think of myself as a leader.
It was an honour to be a leader on my team, and it is something that changed me as a player and a person. I will bring those leadership skills with me in all aspects of my life.”
The milestones attained in a memorable 2013-14 season served as prologue. Leading the Huskies in scoring for three of the next four seasons, while consistently ranking in the top five for shots on net in university play, she would also garner a pair of Canada West All-Star Team nods. Such honors set the stage for a memorable senior season that saw Willoughby gain entry into the Huskies 100-point club. Reaching the century mark with a goal and assist in 2-0 win versus UBC on November 10, she finished the season ranked fourth in the Canada West scoring race with 19 points.
Also placing fourth for game-winning goals, sixth in goals scored along with a top ten finish in plus/minus rating, her final goal came in a visceral shootout loss against the defending national champion, Alberta Pandas. Scoring in the second period against Kirsten Chamberlin, the assist was credited to Emma Nutter.
Whenever Willoughby logged at least one point, the Huskies enjoyed a sparkling 11-2 mark. As a side note, the Huskies won 11 regular season games by shutout, which saw Wiloughby place her name on the scoresheet for nine of those wins. Fittingly, said season also involved the Huskies qualifying for the USPORTS National Championship Tournament in London, Ontario. Despite a podium finish eluding the Huskies, Willoughby was recognized with a spot on the Tournament All-Star team, a fitting tribute to such a talented skater.
Adding luster to such a remarkable body of work was the fact that throughout her career, she was also a four-time Huskie Athlete of the Week, also enjoying the privilege of calling her younger sister Morgan a teammate for three seasons.
Ready to compose the next chapter in her career, the Huskies influence remains strong. While Willoughby continues to place strong emphasis on the key values attained throughout her formative years of competitive play in her home province, she was named a member of the USPORTS All-Star Team, who attended Hockey Canada’s Fall Festival, marking the third consecutive year that she has been invited at a Hockey Canada event. As a side note, the USPORTS All-Stars faced off against the Japanese national women’s ice hockey team at the Festival.
Ready to compose the next chapter in her career, the Huskies influence remains strong. While Willoughby continues to place strong emphasis on the key values attained throughout her formative years of competitive play in her home province, she was named a member of the USPORTS All-Star Team, who gained the opportunity to participate at the Canadian National Women’s U22/Developmental Team selection camp in August 2018, marking the third consecutive year that she has been invited at a Hockey Canada event. Among the highlights of the event, the USPORTS All-Stars faced off against the Japanese national women’s ice hockey team.
Following said camp, Willoughby was among a group of distinguished competitors who attended Hockey Canada’s Fall Festival. With the number of participants divided into Team Red and Team White, Willoughby was named to a Team Red roster that included fellow draft pick Rebecca Leslie, along with a group of Inferno stars such as Katelyn Gosling, Rebecca Johnston, Brigitte Lacquette and Blayre Turnbull.
In the sixth and final exhibition game of the Festival, a match between Team Red and Team White saw Willoughby score the last goal of said game. A significant Inferno presence defined the win for Team Red as both Johnston and Willougby placed their names on the scoresheet in a 3-1 final. Coincidentally, the assist on Willoughby’s goal was credited to Sophie Shirley, a 2017 Inferno draft pick who garnered 2018 CWHL Rookie of the Year Award honors.
Gaining the opportunity to skate alongside Inferno competitors at the Festival, it allowed Willoughby the opportunity to gain a level of familiarity alongside her future teammates. Certainly, it was one that served to stimulate her eagerness, keen to don the Inferno’s iconic colors and reach the revered summit of becoming a professional women’s ice hockey player, one filled with Prairie pride,
“I am looking forward to meeting my new teammates and getting a feel for how everything will work in regards to practices and training. I am excited for this transition in my life and look forward to all it has in store for me!”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
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