More than wins During UAlberta Alumni Week and National Coaches Week, we take a look at the impact of two of the most successful coaches in Canadian University history, Laurie Eisler and Howie Draper.

By Connor Hood, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics

1,435 wins. 15 National Championships. 25 Canada West titles. The combined resume of Pandas Hockey head coach Howie Draper and Pandas Volleyball head coach Laurie Eisler is staggering.

You can also add ‘winningest coach in University of Alberta history’ to Eisler’s resume, and ‘winningest coach in university women’s hockey history’ to Drapers.

However, if you ask any of the student-athletes who have come through those two programs over the past 25 years, it’s how those two coaches have shaped their lives that means more than any stat, record, or championship ring.

Draper has led the Pandas since their inception in 1997

Since Eisler took over the PVB program in 1991, and Draper with Pandas Hockey in 1997, over 300 student-athletes have gone through those two programs. Not only have a vast majority of those women become champions, but they also began their journeys towards becoming doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, professionals in their field, and community leaders.

“She gets to work with athletes during a very unique period of their lives. It’s a very important developmental period, and Laurie acknowledges that, and how important it is. She is aware of her role and responsibility as a coach, but also as a mentor in these young women’s lives. Obviously we want strong students and strong student-athletes in these programs, but ultimately we want good human beings who are happy and successful in their lives, and contribute to society.”

- Shandra Doran, Pandas Volleyball alumni (1993-98) and Emergency Room Doctor

Eisler with the CIAU Champion 1996 Pandas Volleyball team

Both Draper and Eisler have flourished in that role. Not only pushing their student-athletes to be the best they can on the ice or the court, but also helping mentor them, and bringing the best out of every individual in their respective programs.

“Looking back on this, I realize how hard of a job it was for Howie to pull off. He was able to communicate how much he wanted to win, but it never felt like it was at all costs. He wasn’t ever willing to do things that didn’t fall under his values of the team and the coaching staff. And I always felt like it was really important to Howie that I was a good person, beyond being a hockey player.”

- Former Pandas captain, and four-time national champion Kaye Burrows

2007 CIS Champion Pandas Hockey Team

Draper and Eisler have also had to walk the fine line of being not only a coach and leader, but a mentor, and at times, a friend. Not an easy thing to do, knowing coaches are the ones tasked with making the toughest choices for a team.

“Laurie walks that line so well, and she is able to cultivate confidence in these young women that she is coaching,” continued Doran, who was inducted into the Sports Wall of Fame this summer. “You know that she has your back, and therefore you are willing to go to the wall for her. She is very good at letting her athletes be who they are, and express who they are in playing the game, yet still guiding and mentoring that.”

Eisler (middle) and Doran (top right) pictured with 1998 CIAU Champion Pandas Volleyball team

And that’s what makes the career accomplishments that much more impressive for Draper and Eisler. Both have led their programs for over 20 years, winning titles, awards, and other accolades.

Trying to balance their desire and passion to win, with their aspiration of turning every student-athlete that goes through their program into outstanding alumni when they graduate. Not an easy job, and not an easy one to do at a consistently high level for over two decades.

“It takes a special person to be able to manage 25 young female hockey players. And we were competitive, we played with fire. At times he was kind, and at times he pushed us, and there were times you didn’t like him. But we always respected him. I think I was a better hockey player when I left the Pandas, but I sure as heck know I was a better person when I left. And that would be the legacy of Howie.”

- Former Pandas goalie (2002-07), and four-time CIS Champion Holly Tarleton

2005/06 Pandas Hockey Team

“He showed a genuine interest in our lives,” said Burrows, who spent five seasons with the Pandas (2002-07). “And I think because he holds himself to a certain set of values, it was evident to the rest of us, and that it mattered to him and everyone to be a good person, not just a good player.”

Created By
Connor Hood