Maryna Macdonald leads a group of young girls in a stick-handling drill at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Thursday, Aug. 20. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Harvard hockey player returns to hometown rink in Port Alberni

Maryna Macdonald coaches at summer camps at Alberni Valley Multiplex

A former Port Alberni hockey player has returned to her hometown rink—this time as a coach, instead of a player.

Maryna Macdonald is currently a defender for the Harvard Crimson women’s ice hockey team, but has spent much of her summer in her hometown rink in Port Alberni, coaching at a number of summer camps. In mid-August, she helped out with an all-girls camp at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.

“It’s pretty surreal,” said Macdonald during a break between on-ice sessions on Thursday, Aug. 20. “I definitely did not think I was going to be coaching this early. It’s pretty great to be giving back to the community I grew up in and that taught me a love of hockey.”

Macdonald’s first experience with an all-girls hockey camp took place shortly after she started playing hockey. She attended a camp coached by fellow Alberni alum Carly Haggard, as well as some Team Canada athletes.

“That sort of put the seed in my brain that there were girls that age playing hockey, and playing for Team Canada,” said Macdonald. “Before that, I didn’t know. That shifted my interest—my goal since I was eight was to play for Team Canada.”

Macdonald first gained a love for the game of hockey when she lived hours away from the nearest rink. A member of Ditidaht First Nation, Macdonald grew up in Bamfield watching her older cousin, Connor Logan, play hockey. She and Logan—who now plays at the University of Windsor—are still close.

Macdonald and her family moved to the “big city” of Port Alberni when she was just eight years old.

“Two days after we moved in, we were already at the rink to sign up [for hockey],” Macdonald laughed.

Macdonald is now two years into her studies at Harvard, where she is majoring in environmental science and public policy. She still remembers her very first game with the Crimson, against McGill University.

“I still remember how crazy nervous I was,” said Macdonald. “Everything up until that point had been getting to Harvard. When I stepped on that ice for the first time with that jersey, it kind of solidified…’I’m here.’”

One of her favourite freshman experiences was travelling to Wisconsin to play the Badgers, one of the top teams in NCAA Div. 1 hockey. Although the Crimson lost in overtime both games, Macdonald said it still stands out as a good memory.

“There were 4,000 fans in that arena,” said Macdonald. “It was crazy loud in there. I’d never played in front of a crowd that big.”

During her sophomore season with the Crimson, Macdonald scored three goals and added nine assists in 33 games. The Crimson’s season had just come to an end when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the evacuation of the university and classes moved online.

At this point, Macdonald is not sure when she will be returning to campus, but plans to spend at least a few months in Port Alberni. While back in her hometown, she has been helping out by coaching at the local arena.

Her ultimate goal is to create a community for young female hockey players.

“I wasn’t able to have that kind of community,” she said. “I was only able to go to a handful of girls’ camps. When you’re the only girl on the team, you always feel like you’re a bit of an outcast. I want girls to know that they can shoot for the Olympics, or whatever they want.”

Mike Doucette, the president of the Alberni Valley Minor Hockey Association, coached Macdonald through her minor hockey years. Now, they’re both working together on the ice as coaches.

“It’s amazing to go full circle, to be coaching with her on the same level,” said Doucette. “I’ve been coaching for 20 years, and Maryna is the hardest working player I’ve ever worked with, on and off the ice. Oftentimes she was the only girl on the team, but she outworked the boys. Maryna wasn’t just good for a girl—Maryna was a good hockey player.”

Last week’s camp was the first all-girls camp that the multiplex has hosted in nearly a decade, said Doucette. Although COVID-19 limited the number of participants, Doucette said it was still a popular event.

“It filled up right away,” he said. “Within a couple days of advertising it, we were full.”

Macdonald believes the opportunities are growing for young women who want to play hockey at a higher level.

“It’s changing every year,” she said. “Many of the girls will play with the guys, but there are other options, too.”

In her teen years, Macdonald elected to join the Vancouver Island Seals out of the five-team BC Female Midget AAA League, where she was the top-scoring defender in 2015-16 and 2016-17. She then played in Shawnigan Lake in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL). Macdonald was scouted while playing with the Seals at a tournament in Washington, D.C.

“I ended up getting two offers at that tournament,” said Macdonald.

After visiting the Harvard campus for the first time, Macdonald knew it was where she wanted to end up.

After Harvard, Macdonald hopes take a couple years off from school, possibly heading to Europe to play pro hockey. Her eventual plan is to attend law school.

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Maryna Macdonald leads a group of young girls in a stick-handling drill at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Thursday, Aug. 20. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Maryna Macdonald and Mike Doucette speak to a group of young hockey players at the Alberni Valley Multiplex. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

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