Chasing the Dream of Women’s Pro Hockey: Draft Day Success

As seen on The Epoch Times on July 27, 2011.

Melissa prepares for a game with her men's league team at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, Ontario. (Courtesy of Amy Baillie)

Part 3 of a series in which Melissa Boufounos, a 22-year-old from Montreal, Canada talks about her journey to play women’s professional hockey.

I had been waiting months for this moment and in the blink of an eye it was over. The 2011 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) draft took place on July 21 (exactly two months after my birthday) in Mississauga, Ontario, and in less than an hour I had realized the first step to my dream.

As the ninth round was nearing a close, the Burlington coach/general manager was making his selection. After stumbling over my last name (who can blame him, most people do) he realized I was in the room. He turned to me and asked for proper pronunciation and then said, “Yeah, I choose her.”

I was drafted in the ninth round—52nd overall—by the Burlington Barracudas. Happy (late) birthday to me.

It was the most surreal moment of my life. I didn’t want to look overly excited, but I know my face was glowing when all the coaches turned to congratulate me. Then I got right to my phone to send out text messages to my boyfriend and closest friends before updating my social networking feeds.

Within minutes my phone was buzzing with messages of congratulations. It was so exciting; my hands were shaking!

The Burlington coach, Ray Baumgaertner, came to introduce himself to me when they took a break in the draft selection. He asked me what position I play (centre or right wing) and we discussed some of my stats. (He seemed pretty happy when I told him my face-off percentage was well over 50 percent and probably closer to 75.)

The draft was not mandatory for players to attend and was not open to the public. I decided to check it out anyway out of pure interest in the process.

Aside from me, only one other hopeful was in attendance. I actually knew her, and she ended up being drafted to the same team as me. Samantha Agius, was drafted in the 10th round, 57th overall. Most recently Samantha played in the same senior league as me—The Golden Blades Hockey League. She also has experience playing Midget AA growing up.

Top picks

Meghan Agosta, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada, was drafted first overall to the Montreal Stars. The 24-year-old currently plays for Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, in NCAA Division I hockey.

Drafted second overall, by Boston, was U.S. national team goaltender Molly Schaus. While she did not play in the 2010 Olympic final against Canada, she played in the opening game (a 12–1 blowout) over China.

Meghan Mikkelson, a defenceman for the Wisconsin Badgers in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hockey, was selected third by the new Alberta team. Mikkelson has been a Team Canada national women’s team member since 2007 and was on the gold medal-winning team at the 2010 Olympics.

Also a member of the Mercyhurst College Lakers, Vicki Bendus was chosen fourth overall by the Brampton Thunder. The 22-year-old from Wasaga Beach, Ontario, was the winner of the 2010 Patty Kazmaier Award, awarded to the top player in women’s NCAA hockey.

I noticed the first nine players who were selected all played NCAA hockey and were mostly all under the age of 23. Along with playing for NCAA hockey teams, most of the players also had national team experience with under-18, or under-22 teams.

Growing up, going to university in the U.S. was never something I wanted to do, so playing NCAA hockey is something I missed out on. Having gone the college route for my education, there weren’t many options in women’s hockey.

I played for the men’s team my first year at Seneca College, but even then we only competed in a few intercollegiate tournaments. There was no league.

If I had chosen to pursue post-secondary education in the U.S. or even at the university level here in Canada, I would have gained more exposure and probably would have been selected higher in the 2011 CWHL Draft.

But, since most of the coaches and general managers had never even heard of me, I did not expect to get chosen that early.

Unlike in the NHL, the CWHL does not have scouts for every team. There is one head scout in the league, Darryl Giancola, who identifies players for the league (in some cases, players who have approached him) and then gives a list of all draftees to the coaches.

It is then up to the coach of each team to research the players and contact those they think fit their team dynamic.

Training camp

Melissa aims to get in the best shape of her life prior to the start of training camp. (Courtesy of Caitlin Weaver)

There are still two months remaining for me to train and get into the best shape of my life before training camp starts at the end of September. The team will be on the ice Sept. 23, 24, and 30 for inter-squad games.

There will also be an exhibition game against the University of Guelph team on Sept. 25.

“There will be no drills. I need to evaluate your game skills and discipline on the ice and bench,” wrote coach Baumgaertner in an email to his draftees. “Anyone can shine in a practice with no pressure.”

There will be 25 women at training camp: 13 draftees and 12 returning players. When coach Baumgaertner introduced himself to me at the draft he said he was looking for four lines of forwards and four defencemen. He will be looking to create a roster of about 21 players.

No one will be released from the team until after the third session on Sept. 30. The players who are released will still have the opportunity to practice with the team throughout the season.

As much as I have my eye on the prize of making that final roster, I also have a backup plan in case I am released. If I am cut, I will continue to play in the Golden Blades Hockey League for a Senior AA team and attend practices with the Burlington Barracudas to ensure my skill level gets where it needs to be to make the final roster the following season.

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