Carla MacLeod was 12 years old – and by her own admission a scared little kid – the first time she played for Alberta in a national championship.
It was the 1995 Canada Winter Games and the then-Grade 7 student lined up against players up to four and five years older than herself.
Intimidating, yes, but more important, enlightening.
“Those games sparked my Olympic dream,” says MacLeod. “It was there in Grande Prairie where I thought, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something I could chase.’”
Four years later MacLeod returned to the Canada Winter Games and played what proved to be the longest game of her career: Alberta prevailed over
Saskatchewan in triple overtime to win the bronze medal.
“I remember at one point – I don’t even know what overtime it was – our goalie came out to play the puck and she’s at the blue-line and you’re holding your
breath,” she says. “You don’t fully appreciate it at the time, but walking away with a medal from that event is such a huge accomplishment.”
MacLeod, of course, would realize her Olympic dream and walk away with many more medals. Over seven seasons as a defenceman with Canada’s National Women’s
Team she won gold at the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and played in four IIHF Women’s World Championships (winning gold in 2007; being named Most
Valuable Player in 2009) and five 4 Nations Cups (another three gold medals there).
After retiring from the national team in 2010, MacLeod became an assistant coach for the women’s hockey team at Mount Royal University. A year with
Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team and two with Japan’s national women’s team followed. Since 2014 she’s been the head coach of the female prep team
at the Edge School for Athletes. And after being an assistant with Alberta last year, she’s ascended to the team’s head job this year at the National
Women’s Under-18 Championship.
“Not too many people get to play on the team and coach the team, so certainly I’m lucky to have the opportunity,” says MacLeod. “I remember my coaches when
I played on those teams – 1995 was Mel Davidson; 1999 was Shirley Cameron – and those two women had a huge hand in shaping our sport.” MacLeod doesn’t take
for granted that she’s now the mentor. “Hopefully when the girls look back when they’re in their 30s, they think that was a pretty cool experience and it
was neat to be coached by Carla because that’s how I felt about Shirley and Mel.”
MacLeod has been where her players are and where they hope to one day be. The U18 nationals – which MacLeod likens to a mini-worlds – is a big stage for a
“One of the things I always try to remember is what it felt like when I was in their shoes,” says MacLeod. “Trying to always relate to the kids and
recognize the stressors.” Players must balance being a good teammate with knowing the event is also part of the evaluation process for consideration on
Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team. “I try to put my athlete cap on as often as I can and let the players know I’ve been there and that’s why we’re
doing what we’re doing. Hopefully at the end of the day it’s a positive experience for the kids.”
MacLeod suspects she always knew she’d get involved with coaching – for one, she was an undergraduate student-coach in her fourth and final season at the
University of Wisconsin – but how much she’s taken to the job, well, that’s surprised even her.
“I love this coaching gig,” she says. “I love playing hockey and it was fun. I think I actually enjoy coaching more.” That starts with her current group at
Edge School. “You’re day-to-day with them, and you’re helping them in their academics and you’re trying to help them through life.”
Her season with Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, 2011-12, allowed her to work with players she now cheers on with Canada’s National Women’s Team.
And then there were her two years with Japan’s women’s team, which had MacLeod travelling from Calgary to Tokyo once a month and ended with the team
qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games for the first time.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a group that just wanted to learn,” says MacLeod. “For me to have a front-row seat to 21 girls living their dream
was pretty special and I’m still in good contact with all those players.
“I think the relationship side of coaching and the ability to potentially have positive impact on the players you work with is a thing that I cherish most
and what’s been the coolest part of coaching so far.”
This week MacLeod will lead an Alberta team – which includes eight players from her Edge roster – looking to improve upon an eighth-place finish a year
ago. Foremost in MacLeod’s mind, though, is that her players have a positive experience and maybe, just maybe, they too will walk away with a medal of