Rachel Flanagan Looking to Make Championship Dreams Come True for Gryphons

Mark StaffieriContributor IIJanuary 7, 2013

Photo obtained from http://guelphmercury.blogs.com/big_man_on_campus/page/3/
Photo obtained from http://guelphmercury.blogs.com/big_man_on_campus/page/3/

As the head coach of the Guelph Gryphons, Rachel Flanagan leads one of the most dynamic squads in Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey. As the Gryphons participate in the OUA Conference, they have seen their rivalry with the conference juggernaut Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks develop into one of the most visceral in the nation.

One of the key recruits in the ever improving Guelph roster this season has been fantastic, freshman forward Amanda Parkins. In adding a new dimension to the Gryphons offense, Parkins sits second overall in CIS scoring behind Melodie Daoust of McGill. Parkins and Daoust were the only CIS skaters with at least 30 points in the first half of the season.

Along with Parkins, head coach Flanagan can boast at least two more skaters in the top 10 in CIS scoring—Jessica Pinkerton and Christine Grant. In addition, Kaitlyn Mora is ranked number 16 in the CIS scoring race with 18 points. Having won a silver medal with Canada at the World Inline Hockey championships in 2011, the 26 year old Parkins came to Guelph with great credentials.

“[We were] Impressed but not surprised. We knew Amanda was going to be a dynamic player for us this season. She has a hard shot and very good accuracy. She is willing to play through almost any injury and is a good teammate, despite being older than many of our girls,” noted Flanagan.

With Guelph near the top of the OUA standings, (only two points separate them from first place Laurier), their 65 goals lead all teams in the OUA. With such a potent offense, there is great reason to believe that the Gryphons can have a breakthrough second half and qualify for the elusive CIS National Tournament.

“I firmly believe we have an excellent chance of qualifying for Nationals. We have a fairly senior group who are tired of finishing second. We have a lot of playoff experience and our OUA 2nd team All-Star goalie (Stephanie Nehring) is finally healthy and about to start playing!”

Flanagan was behind the bench for the longest game in North American collegiate hockey history. It was a 167:14 minute postseason struggle on March 3, 2011, vs. the Queen’s Golden Gaels that ended in the sixth overtime period. Ironically, the game winning goal was scored by a native of Guelph, Morgan McHaffie. Of note, Flanagan was over 8 months pregnant at the time. In an interview with the Guelph Mercury, McHaffie noted Flanagan’s mental toughness during such a challenging contest: “She’s a great coach, and I think that was a huge challenge for her in itself.”   

Prior to joining the Guelph Gryphons, Flanagan actually competed for the British national women’s team, and also worked as a coach in the UK.

“I played for Britain at a time when their program was just getting some young talent coming up. The women's game is well behind where we are here in Canada, but their players are extremely passionate and want to learn from the nations that have had success.” Flanagan continued, “I feel very fortunate that I was able to play (there), and I continue to follow their success. They have a great core group, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get better!”

She has also served on the coaching staff of the Canadian Under-22/Developmental women’s team.

“I actually served on the coaching staff of the U22 team in 2010 and 2011. I also attended the Senior National team camp in September 2011 while I was on my maternity leave.”

Some of the players that she had the opportunity to work with at the U22 level included Amanda Mazzotta (who played in the longest NCAA Frozen Four championship game in history), Christine Bestland, Melodie Daoust and Brianne Jenner, to name a few.

The opportunity to work with Hockey Canada was very beneficial to her coaching career. “Working with Hockey Canada is an unbelievable experience. Everything and everyone is professional. I was able to work with several different coaches with different philosophies and it makes you think about and update your own philosophy. It also made me a better coach, because I had the opportunity to be an assistant with someone else.  This was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed, having not had a lot of assistant coaching opportunities.”

In 2011, she would have the opportunity to work with Laura Schuler, a member of the first Canadian contingent that participated at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

In having had the opportunity from many at the top echelons, Flanagan has been able to share her knowledge to help make her players at Guelph better prepared. “Nutrition and training at the national level are superb and are a very big aspect of the game—I have brought much of this knowledge home and implemented it into our program here at Guelph. I am extremely grateful that Hockey Canada continues to develop their young coaches, and I hope they continue to work with CIS coaches to make our programs stronger down the road.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”