U SPORTS WHKY: York and Alberta Players Drafted to NWHL

Toronto,ON- The 2020 NWHL draft class is made up of 30 women’s hockey players and this year, it included two players who played their collegiate careers in Canada. Autumn MacDougall of the Alberta Pandas was selected by the Buffalo Beauts in the third round at No. 14 overall and the Toronto NWHL expansion team selected York Lion Erin Locke with the very next pick.

Autumn MacDougall, No. 14 overall, Buffalo Beauts

MacDougall is the first U SPORTS player to be drafted into the NWHL, and there’s good reason for that. The Buffalo Beauts took her at No. 14 overall. Though no contract details have been announced as of yet, MacDougall seems set on signing with the Beauts. 

MacDougall has played for the University of Alberta for the past five seasons and has played 139 total games for the Pandas, missing just a single game in her rookie year. 

She was a Canada West champion in back to back seasons (2019, 2020) and won a national championship with the Pandas in 2017. The Pandas had the No. 1 seed heading into the 2020 U Cup tournament before it was cancelled due to concerns around Covid-19.  

Listed at 5’1”, MacDougall is a small offensive powerhouse who drives play and led Canada West in goals and points this past season with 17 goals and 14 assists in 28 games, making her the only player who played the entire season to record more than a point per game. She also led the conference in power play goals and is among the least penalized players in the league, racking up just four penalty minutes despite playing top minutes in every game.

MacDougall is small, fast and offensively driven. In a statement to the NWHL, her coach described her as “a talented offensive weapon, who excels at creating chances for herself and her teammates in the offensive zone.”

The Beauts finished the 2020 regular season with an 8-15 record. Both their offense and defense needed work. They already have a scorer in Taylor Accursi, who had the fourth most goals in the league with 16 but regardless, they finished the season with a -45 goal differential. 

There are two ways to improve a bad goal differential. One is to get better goaltending, which the Beauts did by drafting Carly Jackson from the University of Maine, and the second is to score more goals, which MacDougall has spent five years doing with the Pandas. 

Though MacDougall became the first U SPORTS player to be drafted into the NWHL, she won’t be the first to play in the league, or even for the Beauts. Two former Brock Badgers, Kim Brown and Megan Delay have made themselves key contributors on the team, meaning U SPORTS talent already has a place in the Buffalo lineup. 

If MacDougall is given the space to create the offense that has carried her so far with the Pandas, there’s no reason she won’t end up a top scorer for the Beauts. Fans might be able to expect a drop in production as she adjusts to the new league and faces stiffer competition, similar to the slow start she had in her rookie season with the Pandas. However, once MacDougall learns the ropes, she’ll be dangerous. If she decides she wants to score goals, she’s going to score goals.

Erin Locke ,No. 15 overall, Toronto NWHL Team

Erin Locke with the York Lions (Jojo Qian/York Lions Athletics)

Drafted less than ten minutes after MacDougall, Locke becomes the second player in NWHL history to be drafted out of U SPORTS and the second ever draft pick by the new Toronto franchise. She’s earned academic All-Canadian honours in all five seasons she’s spent with the Lions and was named team captain in 2019-20 after spending the previous two seasons as an assistant captain. Alongside her academic accolades, Locke was awarded the OUA Marion Hilliard Award which is given annually to the student-athlete who has contributed well to her team and community.

In a statement to the NWHL, York’s head coach, Dan Church said, “Erin is one of the best forwards to lead our program, she is a tremendous hockey player, but what truly sets her apart is her character and leadership.”

Locke is exactly the kind of player that a new franchise wants, a good player and a good person who can be a positive influence in the locker room. 

Although she had just nine points in 24 games this season, Locke lead the Lions in scoring for the three seasons prior. 

Locke has an OUA silver medal from this past season where she captained the Lions on a truly incredibly journey from a team that missed the playoffs entirely in 2018-19, to a team that was challenging the powerhouse Toronto Varsity Blues for the McCaw cup in 2019-20. 

The Lions were supposed to challenge for a national title before the tournament was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Toronto team has announced a few signings since being unveiled. These signings include former CWHL player, Kristen Barbara, a defender who was a senior at York when Locke was in her first year. 

The Toronto team has also drafted strong, and were able to trade away the first overall pick and still acquire Jaycee Gebhard, a 63 point scoring centre from RMU in the NCAA. Gebhard is the kind of player to build a franchise around and Locke is the kind of player and person to help build it. 

The NWHL certainly isn’t done acquiring talent. Players from U SPORTS will still be able to sign with teams in the upcoming months. It’s unlikely that MacDougall and Locke will end up being the only U SPORTS players we see suiting up for an NWHL team next season. 

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