Where Are They Now: Shwetz a rising coaching star four years after graduating from Griffins

Former MacEwan Griffins women's hockey player Shanya Shwetz has risen up the ranks in the Edmonton Pandas organization and will be head coach of their U18AAA program in 2022-23 (Photo supplied).
Former MacEwan Griffins women's hockey player Shanya Shwetz has risen up the ranks in the Edmonton Pandas organization and will be head coach of their U18AAA program in 2022-23 (Photo supplied).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Things happen quickly when you throw yourself headlong into your passions.

Just four years ago, Shanya Shwetz celebrated her second Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship at Red Deer's Enmax Centrium in the final act of a distinguished five-year career with the MacEwan Griffins women's hockey team.

Now, she's been named head coach of the Edmonton Pandas U18AAA program, has already become a go-to bench boss in Hockey Alberta's rolodex and is a rising star among female hockey leaders in the province.

It's a stunning and rapid rise to prominence at such a young age for the 2018 MacEwan Bachelor of Science graduate.

"It just started happening and I wasn't expecting it to happen this fast, but this is my passion," said Shwetz. "This is what I want to be doing. I got involved with it and more opportunities arose with summer programs, spring programs and Hockey Alberta.

"I always found myself so eager to do it, always saying yes," she continued. "I realized that this is where I want to be. I love being at the rink, I love seeing these girls develop. So, when this opportunity arose to head coach the AAA Pandas, I'm so excited. This is my dream to be able to do that and I'm so excited that I get to do it with an association that's supported me all the way through."

Shwetz's dream nearly came crashing down before it started when she was involved in a major motor vehicle accident in the fall of 2018. At the time, she was in her first few months of coaching as a volunteer assistant with the U15AA Pandas.

"I was on my way to MacEwan to watch some of the women's game and then head over to coach with the Pandas when I was in a head-on collision with a driver that came into my lane," she explained. "I ended up with a few injuries that have taken a while to recover from and I'm currently still recovering from."

While she fortunately walked away from the crash that night, Shwetz had a number of thoughts flash through her mind.

Among them: "I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to come back coaching or not."


As a teen hockey player growing up in Waskatenau, Alta. – a tiny village of less than 200 people about 90 km northeast of Edmonton – Shwetz agreed to coach the initiation age level in nearby Smoky Lake.

A spark was lit.

"When I went off to university and played for MacEwan (starting in 2013), I was heartbroken because I wasn't able to continue that," said Shwetz. "So, I reached out to Lindsay (McAlpine – Griffins head coach) to see if she had any opportunities for me to get back involved coaching and she, of course, did."

Shanya Shwetz played for the Griffins women's hockey team for five seasons from 2013-18, taking time to coach in addition her own training, games, practices and academics (Matthew Jacula photo).

As owner of High Tempo Hockey – a development program for girls in the Edmonton area – McAlpine gave Shwetz an opportunity with camps there, as well as through Grow Girls Hockey with the Edmonton Girls Hockey Association – a program that several Griffins players have volunteered with.

"I think Shan was somebody who always showed a passion and interest to be in that role even as a student-athlete," said McAlpine. "It was an easy fit for me. We had multiple opportunities throughout her time with the Griffins.

"At High Tempo Hockey, she became a lead instructor for me really quickly," she continued.

"She was always just a leader, whether it was coaching, or anything else we did in the community with youth. Shan always was front and centre during her five years with us."


Hockey Alberta's Future Leaders program aims to mentor potential future coaches at the post-secondary level and become a feeder system for hockey throughout the province.

"I think at the beginning when you get a new group of coaches in what you want to end up giving them is the excitement and passion about wanting to be a coach," Hockey Alberta High Performance Coach Mentor Barry Medori explained in a video on the organization's website. "I think they need to have that spark, otherwise they're never going to continue it."

Shwetz already had that spark, she just needed an opportunity. As she graduated from Hockey Alberta's Future Leaders program, she just kept getting opportunity after opportunity.

Shanya Shwetz (wih lanyard) has earned multiple coaching opportunities with Hockey Alberta over the past few years, including with the provincial female U18 program. Next weekend, she will be one of six head coaches guiding the best 2007- and 2008-born female players in the province at the 2022 Alberta Challenge in Red Deer (Photo supplied by Shanya Shwetz).

After initially serving as an assistant coach at the 2019 Alberta Challenge for the best U16 players in Alberta, she has been offered (and accepted) the role of video coach role for Team Alberta's U18 squad at nationals, a U16 Alberta Winter Games head coach position, a U18 assistant coach job at Westerns last fall (where they won silver) and another big upcoming U16 opportunity.

From May 5-8, Shwetz is head coach for Team North Yellow – one of six teams of elite 2007- and 2008-born female players going head to head at the 2022 Alberta Challenge in Red Deer.

"Honestly, I just don't think they can get rid of me," she chuckled. "I love it so much. I love being on a bench. They just keep asking me back. I don't know whether it's I keep asking to come back or they keep asking to keep me."

With the Edmonton Pandas organization, Shwetz initially became an assistant coach at the U15AA level in 2018-19. After two more seasons as head coach of that squad – when she also enlisted her sister and fellow former Griffin Kat Shwetz as an assistant – she joined Joel Lenius' U18AAA staff for a special 2021-22 campaign that culminated in a provincial championship.

"This was a team that had so much potential and did so many great things," she said. "it was really fun to watch them develop and keep working towards mastering their side of the game."

Shanya Shwetz (front left) served as an assistant coach for the 2021-22 U18AAA Edmonton Pandas, who captured the provincial championship (Supplied by Shanya Shwetz).

Shwetz was able to impart plenty of wisdom to them after being a part of two Griffins ACAC Championship teams (2016-17 and 2017-18).

"More than anything, I think I draw on what led to those championships," she said. "I draw back to that first championship and all the shot blocks we had and the idea of sacrificing – whether it be your body in front of the puck or going to the hard, gritty areas of the ice.

"Often times you can look at the championship and say ' that was the goal.' Yes, it was the goal, but it was all the little things that led up to it that made that achievable.

"For me now, it's focusing on the little things that will lead up to the greater success. As a coach, that's become my vision of the game – not focusing so much on the end goal, but the small goals that will eventually allow us to reach our huge goal."


Shwetz's university hockey tenure wrapped up in 2018 with 114 ACAC career regular season games to her credit with the Griffins, placing her among the top-10 in that category in program history. But her memories of a special time at MacEwan as a player go beyond anything on a scoresheet or record book.

"Moreover when you look at it, wins and losses are going to come," she said. "That's a part of the game. But the best memory I have from being a Griffin is the relationships that I've built and the character that it created within me. I know I still hold a lot of the values that the team had even now.

"Yes, the wins were great. Yes, the championships were great. But it was the moments and people I've met that have helped shape me into the person I am today."

Friendships were key for Shanya Shwetz, right, during her Griffins career. Here, she poses with teammate Shyla Jans on team picture day in 2017 (Len Joudrey photo).

And when you're a coach, the most rewarding thing isn't about wins or losses, either. It's about seeing how their players turn out, where they go, what they accomplish.

Several members of the Edmonton Pandas Alberta Female Hockey League championship team are off to post-secondary institutions, including three – Shaelyn Hopkins, Kali MacDonald and Lindsey Johnson – who will suit up as U SPORTS rookies for the MacEwan Griffins in 2022-23.

To say Shwetz is proud and involved in their journey would be an understatement.

"I've helped them plan their courses for next semester," she said with a laugh about her role in helping them move on to the next level.

"It's neat to see them head off and play at the same school under the same coach I played under."

From McAlpine's perspective, she's like a proud older sister when it comes to Shwetz.

"I think my favourite part of coaching is watching my players transition into adulthood and seeing where they end up," she said.

"I love that Shan and I have a relationship now where instead of player-coach questions, she gets to ask me coach to coach. I have learned as much from Shan in those conversations. She brings a different perspective, even a different age group and connection to the players.

"I love that I get to learn from her equally. I encourage the conversations. I like to reach out and see how she's doing; I love that we've built that relationship."

The leadership group of MacEwan's 2017-18 women's hockey team - Morgan Casson (from left), Shanya Shwetz, Nikki Reimer, Raven Beazer and Sydney Thomlison - accept the banner and trophy after winning the ACAC Championship (Tony Hansen photo).

As a player, Shwetz did it all for the Griffins, attacking puck carriers with unrelenting pursuit and showing off a two-way game that was crucial to MacEwan's success.

McAlpine sees that same relentless pursuit in her coaching style.

"I think Shan's passion (stands out)," said McAlpine. "She's a strong female voice and a strong female leader. To this day, females are underrepresented in the game and I think she wanted to get in there and make an impact. Those are the things that always set her apart.

"She loves the game, she played the game hard. I think all of that translates into her wanting to give back in the coaching ranks."

Shwetz's ultimate goal is to become part of building female hockey into a more a prominent place.

"If I had to be honest, I'd love to be able to make a career out of it," said the former Griffins forward, whose day job is a local junior high/high school phys-ed teacher. "I'd love to be able to focus solely on developing the female game. That's my goal.

"My goal as a coach is to be able to start growing the female game, getting the conversation started around it, making sure when these girls graduate from U18AAA or university hockey that they actually have opportunities after that for them.

"How can we as a society not only grow female hockey but female sports?"