In reference to the May 2010 trip to London, Brussels and Paris.

Date: Tue, 1 Jun 2010 22:49:45 -0600 From: [email protected] To: [email protected]
Subject: Pandas Hockey

I want to thank you for putting together an enjoyable and very educational tour for us. I have gone through my 550 pictures a few times now showing friends and family and it is amazing how much I saw in the 17 days we were gone. I don't know how you picked the accommodations but I thought they were very nice and every one was super clean. 
Equipment manager  Alberta U Pandas 

Press release:  University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; 
                          Home of the Golden Bears and the Pandas

Pandas Hockey: European Vacation  Canada West Communications (July 5, 2010) 

As seven-time CIS women’s hockey champions, the University of Alberta Pandas are used to traveling and even winning, but this was one journey unlike any other in the team’s vaunted history. 

Howie Draper, the only head coach the Pandas have ever known since joining CIS in 1997, recently embarked on an 18-day overseas mission to explore new culture, face unknown opponents and gain experience that went far beyond ice hockey. Accompanying the squad were 23 players, six of his staff and nine family members who decided to join in on the fun. 

But that was just the final reward in a process that began much, much earlier. 

“Roger Bastien contacted us to see if we’d be interested in touring Europe to play some hockey,” said Draper, thrice named CIS Coach of the Year. “We started the planning process, probably in about February or March of 2009. The travel, accommodations and competition were all planned by Roger. We planned the fundraising, essentially, and co-ordinated the travel party on our end.” 

On the ice the team met with instant success, against the London-based Slough Phantoms during a four-day stop in London, England after flying in to town on May 4th. Trips through towns large and small in Belgium and France followed, with Canada’s favourite past time taking less of a role than it usually would for such a historically successful franchise. 

“We won all eight of our games, all pretty one-sided. Hounslow, outside London, had two NCAA grads playing as well as an ACAC graduate, so they were likely one of the strongest teams that we played,” Draper commented. 

The final days were spent at a whirlwind four-day, six-game tournament in Cergy-Pontoise, near Paris. Billeting with local families allowed the Pandas to learn about true French culture and saved a few dollars for post-secondary student-athletes who did all they could saving, fundraising and sacrificing to make the trip happen. 

Draper remarked, “I think the opportunity for our players to live with French families was an incredible experience. The bond that they built with the families was pretty cool to see.” 

So, really… how did it all happen? 

The idea was just that to start, somewhat of a long shot dream, if you will. Making a 38-member, 6,800 km overseas trip happen for a post-secondary hockey team is probably about as daunting a task as Draper has ever faced, dating back to his playing days with the Alberta Golden Bears in the late 1980s. But once the seed was planted those involved went to work along with the school’s Athletics Department, the team’s Alumni Association and several student-athletes to start exploring possibilities. 

“Our alumni organization funded half of the trip, $30 000, which was instrumental in making it all possible and affordable,” Draper noted. “The girls raised funds through the Adopt-an-Athlete program, hockey pools, 50/50s and then had to pay some money out of pocket as well, mainly for food and entertainment while there. 

Draper himself did have prior worldly hockey experience, winning a bronze medal with the Golden Bears at the 1987 World Student Games (FISU) in Poprad, Czechoslovakia, which is now part of Slovakia. He was also named MVP of the New South Wales Super League in 1992, when he acted as player-coach for a team based in Sydney, Australia. 

Like any new experience, Draper planned things the best he could and had hoped his players would be more challenged by the competition. That part simply never developed. Draper said the difference in ability is still quite vast, but noted that the gap would close if only players were challenged to do so. 

“There was definitely a drop in skill as compared to hockey at the CIS level. Having said that, I felt that all of the teams were a little surprised at the speed and level at which we play. I don’t really think any of them would have had a chance to experience women’s hockey being played at that level. Many of the spectators and teams commented on how amazed they were that females could play the game at the level that we were playing.” 

When asked the obvious question, Coach Draper made did not hesitate for a second, saying he felt that the time and money to make it all happen were well worth it for everyone involved. 

“It was a phenomenal experience. Although the level of hockey was relatively low, it was a unique experience playing against teams that approach the game in a slightly different way than we do. It was fantastic to experience the European cultures and meet people from a variety of different countries,” he said, adding, “I remember my European trips with the Bears with great fondness and my memories of those experiences remain the most vivid to this day. I wanted the players to have the same sort of opportunity.” 

Asked if the team will take on this kind of adventure again in the future, Draper noted that enthusiasm must be tempered somewhat because of the shear commitment and costs involved. “Ultimately, if we can do something of a similar nature every two or three years, that would be ideal,” he stated, pointing out that the U of A is not the first CIS women’s team to go on such a trek. “Concordia did similar trips in the past and a number of years ago Guelph traveled to Europe. We’ve had a few Canada West teams express an interest in doing something similar.” 

When prompted to find a single highlight of the 18-day journey, Draper struggled to narrow it down, but ultimately decided that learning some important history stood out most. “I really enjoyed visiting some of the historically significant destinations there, particularly from World War I at Vimy Ridge and World War II at Juno Beach. 
I think a strong nod can be made for the trip that three of us made to Abby Road in New Westminster as well.” 

The Pandas bench boss was somewhat surprised how outside sources can influence perception, as he relayed thoughts about French people and culture. “We always hear that people in France are arrogant, but I found it to be quite the opposite. The people that I experienced were very friendly, welcoming and happy to assist tourists, particularly when trying to speak in the broken form of French that some of us were trying to speak.” 

* * * * * * * * 

Trip QickFacts 

- May 4-21, 2010 
- 38 team staff, student-athletes, family    members 
- 6,812 km Edmonton to London, England 
- visited England, Belgium, France 
- 8-0-0 record 
- cost: estimated $60,000 
- Memories: Priceless 

* * * * * * * * 

The Student-Athlete overseas experience… 

Leah Copeland, a member of the Pandas since 2006-07, has been a part of two CIS championship teams, including this past March in Antigonish, N.S., and even had the privilege of traveling to Harbin, China with Canada’s 2009 Universiade women’s ice hockey team, but this trip was different altogether. 

“It was something that will never leave me. It was pretty cool being able to spend time not only with my teammates, but also my best friends,” said Copeland, who donned her familiar No. 14 jersey for all eight games during the excursion. “I think my favourite part would have to be Belgium. We spent four days there in a couple of different towns and it wasn’t as fast-paced as the rest of Europe. The architecture there, like most of Europe, was amazing, but the deep history that the country has was really cool to learn about. 

“If I was to highlight any one part I think going to see the war monument at Vimy Ridge was amazing. The Canadian history books can only teach you so much, but when you get to feel the battle fields it put everything into perspective.” 

Like Draper, the Pandas alternate captain found the temporary integration into French society a fulfilling time. 

“One of the most interesting parts of the trip was spending eight days with a French billet family. All the girls on the team got paired up and sent with a family. It was like I was a kid again with the family making me meals and taking me to the games… it was very cool to see how things work in a household there. 

“One of the biggest differences was eating dinner on average for about two hours every night. The food was so good. My family treated me so well and it was nice because the oldest son and the father spoke English well.” 

This unique opportunity is one of many ways in which playing university hockey has contributed to Copeland’s life in recent years. A European vacation certainly enhances the student-athlete experience, though there is much more to it than playing sports. 

“Being a member of the Pandas has helped me learn time management and to be diligent with my studies. This hard work that I have put in for the past four years has taught me that nothing comes easy and it is important to stay on top of things,” said Copeland, whop went on to say, “It has granted me the gift of amazing friendships… the teammates I have are like no other. It has taught me patience for other people and about working together. After school I hope to be teaching somewhere.” 

Also entering her senior year in 2010-11 is Lindsie Fairfield, a forward with one year of studies left in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. 

For the Calgary native it was a road trip like no other. 

“It was an opportunity for many different things; with the emphasis on fun, team and the ‘experience’ aspect of hockey,” Fairfield said of her first trip over the Atlantic Ocean. “It was an honour to represent the Pandas program abroad and was a really interesting experience to be exposed to European hockey.” 

While the focus on winning was still there, Fairfield concurred with others that this was not about hockey, but about new experiences after a long, tough season that saw her presented with a second career CIS gold medal. 

“The attitude towards the games was a lot more flexible in order to accommodate different facilities from those found in Canada. Overall the trip was a great way to finish off a successful year as a team and very rewarding after the hard work all of the girls put in.” 

When speaking with Fairfield it becomes clear that Draper’s team continually benefits from the basic theory and positive attitude tin which he believes. University of Alberta hockey, and Canada West Athletics in general, is about developing as a person through sports and education combined. 

“My university experience as a student-athlete has undoubtedly shaped and developed many skills that are transferable to other aspects in my life and future,” stated Fairfield. “Many of the things I have learned from being part of the Pandas I cannot necessarily learn in a classroom, simply because of the daily social interactions, team aspects and the changing responsibilities and roles you experience. The commitment, time management and educational opportunities offered to me as a result of my participation in both school and competitive sport have been great.” 

Fairfield was particularly thankful to all the generous people who helped make this a road trip to remember forever. “Everything about the trip was made much easier through the help of our tour guides, support crew, and billet families. We received wonderful hospitality from all our hosts and guides, despite the language barriers.” 

Six weeks ago the Pandas returned home from their longest journey in history, but sometimes a perfect road trip is about more than winning on the ice… it’s all about the experience. 
I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Roger Anthony Bastien from Sport Select International in order to organize a European Tour for the former College hockey team I used to coach. His experience, knowledge and networking abilities made it possible for us to have a well-run, successful trip with our group. It was a fantastic experience that was appreciated by all members of our organization.

Martin Raymond
Assistant Coach
Tamp Bay Lightning 
 Hello Marianne,

We had a great time at Chamonix. The tournament organizers were very friendly and the tournament was well organized. Not sure what competitive level your team is playing at but in relation to CIS Hockey, the teams at this tournament were recreational at best. Chamonix is a beautiful spot and well worth the visit but if you're looking for something more competitive, this wouldn't be the tournament for your team. Having said that, if your team is comprised of older women who just want to have a good time, this event would be excellent. 

If your team is playing at a high level, I'd consider the Cergy Pontoise Tournament late April early May. It's a far more competitive tournament. Cergy is only a 45 minute train ride from Paris which adds a lot to the experience obviously. 

Roger Bastien was our tour organizer for both trips. He is a trustworthy business man who will work hard to get you the best deal he can while doing his best to make the experience fun and memorable. I would recommend him if you need someone to help you through the planning stages of your trip as well as a reliable guide at your destination. When we went to Cergy, we landed in London, played a professional womens hockey team there, bussed to Belgium to play their National Team, bussed to France to play in Cergy for the tournament, then hung around for just under a week to tour Paris. It was an unforgettable experience. 

I've cc'd Roger on this message should the two of you want to connect. 

All the best!

Howie Draper

Head Coach 
Alberta U  Pandas

Hello Roger;

A sincere and genuine “Thank You” to you for your “behind the scenes” organization prior to August 22 and to your professionalism throughout the tour!!

There was just the right amount of structure within this – certainly everyone appreciated the ample down time to explore each of the venues on our own and to experience the culture of the regions.

Ray and I enjoyed every aspect of this tour and feel we got a good “bang for our buck” for the package price – airfare, land and water transportation, accommodations, breakfasts, guided walking and bus tours…

We also enjoyed meeting Andre, as well as Dan & Joyce, and Steve and Judy; – new friends and all great conversationalists!

Thank you again for all your hard work to organize what we consider a trip of a lifetime!


Ray and Myrna Keen    Parents University of Manitoba Bisons August 2016