RED DEER – Rachel Wiebe turned heads last year when she was named an assistant coach with the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team.
In her new role, the 23-year-old became the first female coach to join the program, continuing her progression in a coaching career that started when concussions ended her playing career as a teenager.
“I still wanted to be a part of the game,” said Rachel. “It’s a big part of who you are and I didn’t want to lose that, so I got into coaching. I started coaching on a women’s team in Grande Prairie and once I transferred to the University of Alberta for school I started coaching with the Pandas and then the Bears.”
As a player, Rachel’s goal was to play for the Pandas. When she realized she couldn’t participate as a player, she still wanted to achieve that goal in some capacity – even if that meant filling water bottles. She reached out to Howie Draper, Head Coach of the Pandas, who took her on as an assistant coach.
Ian Herbers, Head Coach of the Golden Bears, laughs as he recalls poaching Rachel from the Pandas.
“Rachel once a week, maybe every other week, would pop her head in and come say hi. We had a chance to talk and she always came in with a ton of energy, very positive, very passionate about the game and very passionate about the Bears’ program,” said Herbers. “In the summertime, we were looking and wanted to add one more person (to the coaching staff). I thought of Rachel right away just because of the passion she had.”
As the possibility of coaching with the Golden Bears began to become a reality, Rachel needed one more nod from a crucial group - the players.
“I wanted to make sure it was good with the guys first before I said yes,” said Rachel. “I wanted to make sure they were comfortable first and foremost (with a woman joining the coaching staff) because if they aren’t comfortable, I’m not going to serve a beneficial purpose.”
Herbers was confident it wouldn’t be an issue.
“I knew we had a great group of guys with the Bears and the leadership we had on the ice and in the dressing room that it wouldn’t be an issue,” said Herbers. “(T)hey were excited…. I don’t think many of them have had a female coach so it’s something different for them.”
With 11 of her 14 playing years spent as one of a few females on male teams, Rachel’s transition to the Golden Bears was seamless.
“The coaching staff has been really supportive, the players are really receptive to feedback, they’re very respectful,” said Rachel. “People always ask how the year’s gone, what it’s been like and if there are any challenges with it and other than winning a national championship, it couldn’t have been better. It was phenomenal and a great first year.”
Rachel’s passion for the Golden Bears program doesn’t fall far from the tree. Her father, Dan Wiebe, played in the program for four seasons (1987-1991). After a coaching stint in the East Coast Hockey League, Dan returned to Alberta where he has given back to the game in a minor coach and mentor capacity.
“Having the opportunity to play and then get into coaching … at a semi-professional league, I learned a lot about the game and really my knowledge of the game would come from the Golden Bear program,” said Dan, who admits to fatherly pride in seeing Rachel’s achievements. “Having seen (Rachel) have the opportunity with that tradition and that history, I can’t say enough about it…. Hopefully down the road she will have the opportunity to share that with other coaches and players and develop her own style and grow her game as well.”
Growing up, Dan coached Rachel through the minor ranks. Now as she begins her own coaching career, although her style has some of Dan’s influence, she’s starting to create her own style too, including working to complete her High Performance 1 coach certification.
“This is such an ideal situation. It’s great to bounce ideas off each other because it’s not just me going to him and asking for advice, now he comes to me too,” said Rachel.
For Herbers, Rachel has emerged as a key part of his coaching staff because she looks at the game from a different perspective.
“She’s always looking for something different than I am,” said Herbers. “I liked the way she thought the game, what she saw development wise …. I’m always looking for ways to challenge our players and our team to keep getting better and she’s done that for us.”
Hockey Alberta encourages everyone to take the time to recognize and thank a coach in their community this week for National Coaches Week. National Coaches Week runs from September 17-25, 2022.