Skip to content

U of G's Flanagan rising up the coaching ranks

After Rivalry Series, Rachel Flanagan hopes another opportunity arises
Rachel Flanagan, head coach of the Guelph Gryphons women's hockey team, keeps her attention on the play on the ice as the Gryphons tangled with the Western Ontario Mustangs in OUA league play at the Gryphon Centre Jan. 6, 2023. Flanagan served as an assistant coach with the Canadian national team for a pair of games in the Rivalry Series with the U.S. in December.

Longtime University of Guelph Gryphons varsity women’s hockey coach received a bit of an early Christmas present when she got to be an assistant coach with the Canadian national women’s team for a pair of games against the United States in the Rivalry Series.

“It was great,” said Rachel Flanagan who’s in her 16th season as head coach of the Gryphons after being on the national team’s bench for games in Henderson, Nev., and Los Angeles the week before Christmas. Both games were televised nationally and wound up being 3-2 victories for Canada, the second one in overtime.

For Flanagan it was a bit of a progression up from her work with the national development squad.

“I've worked with a lot of those players before so I had a bit of a relationship with them, but it's been a few years since I really got to coach them in a meaningful game,” she said. “There were challenges with trying to coach and give feedback to a group that doesn't know you that well. You haven't had time to build a trusting relationship and you're learning how the program is running – the offensive zone and things like that.

“It was great and such a good learning experience. I really enjoyed working with (head coach) Troy (Ryan) and the rest of the staff that are in the group. It was a really neat opportunity and I didn't think it was something I was going to get this year.”

However, Flanagan will not be on the national team bench for the world championship tournament that is to be held in Brampton in April.

“They've named the world championship staff so it was just sort of a one-off that I got this opportunity and I was super grateful,” she said. “Hopefully there'll be other opportunities down the line.”

This opportunity for Flanagan developed relatively quickly.

“This summer at the Calgary camp that I often go to, there were four teams that were at the development level and above,” she said. “They were basically taking a team directly from there to the world championships and taking a team directly for the development series against the U.S. I got asked to be part of that development series group, but at that time (Team Canada’s director of hockey operations) Gina (Kingsbury) had asked if I was interested in being on the national team bench at some point during the Rivalry Series. I just didn't know when or where.

“That was probably last April or May that I got asked to do that, but I didn't really know details until later on. It worked out really well with timing, not necessarily having to leave the (Gryphons) or leave (associate coach) Katie (Mora) and (assistant coach) Scott (Driscoll) on the bench. It was all during exam break so it worked out really well.”

The Gryphons have won three Ontario Universities Athletics championships (2016, 2017 and 2019) during Flanagan’s tenure as well as a national U Sports title in 2019, the first for the program.

She has also been named the OUA women’s hockey coach of the year five times and was twice named the overall OUA women’s coach of the year in any sport (2017, 2019).

Born in Oshawa and raised in Pontypool (northeast of Oshawa), Flanagan had been a member of the Gryphons for five seasons while a student at the University of Guelph, the final two as their captain. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in human kinetics in 2003 and spent two seasons as a player/coach for a team in the top women’s league in England where she also played for Great Britain’s national team.

Flanagan was an assistant coach with the Canadian national women’s under-22 team in 2010 and 2011 and was an assistant coach for the Canadian women’s team that won gold in the world university games in Italy in 2013. She was also head coach of the Canadian team that won silver in the university games in Kazakhstan in 2017.

Flanagan is the first of four current Gryphons who’ll be involved in international competition. The other three – associated coach Mora and players Hannah Tait and Chihiro Suzuki – will be at this month’s university games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Mora is to be an assistant coach with the Canadian team while Tait is to play with the Canadian team and Suzuki is to play for the team representing Japan.

And Gryphon goalkeeper Martina Fedel is hoping to play for Italy in the six-team women’s world championship Division 1, Group B tournament in Korea in April. She played all five games for Italy in that tournament last year when the Italians were bronze medalists.