(Photo credit: PWHL)

Championships and cherished memories

Kaitlin Willoughby (BSN’19) was a star on the first Huskie women’s hockey team in program history to win the Canada West Championship in 2014, en route to winning the bronze medal at the national championship. The nursing grad’s hockey journey has brought her to Toronto of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) in a historic season for the women’s pro game.


How rewarding has it been part of the PWHL inaugural season?

Going into this season, I had no idea how much support we would be getting from fans. Right before the season started, we heard that all our home games were sold out in Toronto, and that’s when it hit me that this new league would be bigger than anything I had ever experienced. The support has been overwhelming in the best way. We have spent the last four years in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) showcasing women's hockey to the public in the hopes that a professional women's league would be successful, and to see this unfolding this season is the most rewarding feeling. I am aware that this has also been years in the making, long before I played professional hockey, women have been fighting for a league to get paid to play hockey as a full-time job. I feel grateful to be one of the players to experience the inaugural season.  

How has it been getting to know your new teammates in Toronto?

I am lucky to have known a few teammates before coming into Toronto for training camp. It has been fun getting to know the girls that I hadn’t met before. Everyone has their own unique background and skillset, and I love learning from my teammates.  This group is very special, and they feel like a family already! 

(Photo credit: PWHL)

You were Huskie All-Academic while studying nursing at USask. How has your education helped you since graduating?

I have worked as a nurse for five years since graduating. I have experience in labour and delivery, as well as further education in operating room nursing. I love my profession as a nurse, and I look forward to continuing it one day, but for now I am grateful to be playing hockey as a full-time job.  

What was your proudest moment/accomplishment as a Huskie student-athlete? 

Winning the Canada West Championship in my rookie season, as well as competing at the national championship that season and in my final season. The Huskie women’s hockey team had never made it to nationals, and it felt special to have done that twice in my career and bring back a bronze medal.  

As part of that team that made nationals and won bronze in 2014, what memories stand out to you?

Winning the Canada West Championship that year was one of my favorite sports memories! Competing against the best teams in Canada at the university level was an experience I'll never forget. Our team was ranked lower in the seedings, I remember coming in as the underdog and ending up with a medal! This made me feel extremely proud of the group we had and all we accomplished that season.

You scored the game-winning goal to win that Canada West final. How often do you think about that moment and what it means in Huskie hockey history?

That's one of my favourite moments as a Huskie athlete and in my hockey memories. It was a double overtime game, and it was game three. It was an exhausting series, and I just remember being on the point and just shooting it at the net, there was a bunch of traffic at the net, and it just went in—the whole place erupted! It's honestly one of the best memories I have. It means a lot that I was a part of that goal and just celebrating with my teammates. 

(Photo credit: PWHL)

What is the bond like with your Huskie teammates since graduation? Do you still stay in touch? 

The friends I made playing hockey at USask will always be lifelong friends. I have friends that are older and younger than me, in different graduating classes. Even though I don’t live in the same cities as them, we get together at major life events (weddings) and Huskie alumni events. The bonds I made with teammates will be lasting, and I plan to always stay in touch with all of them.  

As a Huskie hockey alumna, how does it feel to have the U SPORTS Women's Hockey National Championship hosted at USask? 

I love to see USask host a national championship. Although I didn’t get to play at Merlis Belsher Place, I couldn’t be happier for the program to play at an amazing facility and be able to host a National Championship at it. I am also hoping it generates more fans to come watch a high level of women's hockey in their community. 

What's your message for our Huskies who will be competing for the national championship?

Take it one game at a time, focus on the task at hand. Even though you didn’t win Canada West, the national championship is anyone's to take. Believe in your abilities and know you have the upper hand in having home ice advantage...Merlis Belsher Place is your barn! Lastly, soak it all up, it will go by fast. Sometimes these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, so take advantage of what you have been given.  

The Green for Life U SPORTS Women's Hockey Championship presented by Connect Energy is March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place. Buy tickets