Rylind MacKinnon has achieved immense success over the past five years while committing to playing on UBC’s women's hockey team. Serving as T-Birds’ reigning captain for the past two years and earning recognition from the likes of Canada West, the Vancouver Canucks and Hockey Canada, MacKinnon has undoubtedly made a name for herself.
MacKinnon recalls playing hockey with her older brother on their backyard pond during winters in Cranbrook, fostering her love of the sport.
“My brother started [playing] before me, so I think I just wanted to be like him, and I just kept playing,” she recalled. But watching the Canadian women’s team triumph in the 2010 Olympic Games was the turning point for MacKinnon. Hayley Wickenheiser, the team’s captain, was notably a source of inspiration for MacKinnon.
“I fell in love with it then and thought that the women’s game was awesome and so much fun to watch,” she said.
Spreading her Thunderbird wings
MacKinnon arrived at UBC in 2018, eager and ready to prove herself a competitor and asset to a team she had revered for some time. Despite the team not making it far into playoffs during MacKinnon’s first season, her hard work placed her as the top rookie defenseman in the league, achieving 15 points out of 28 games that season.
In the spring of 2019, MacKinnon was invited to the Hockey Canada Summer Showcase, where she later played against international teams like Japan and France for the first time.
“Sometimes there is lots of pressure in those big-time games, but you just try to tackle it the same way as any other game,” MacKinnon recalled.
Later that summer, MacKinnon participated in an 11-day selection camp with 140 other players, which led to her earning a spot on Canada’s National Women’s Development Team. Beyond the resilient and competitive nature MacKinnon exemplified early on with UBC, her ability to connect with her teammates later earned her the title of team captain.
“It’s a lot of fun with 25 of your best friends, so it’s really enjoyable,” she said.
“I’m very competitive, pretty determined, and very passionate about the game.”
Going into the 2021/22 season, MacKinnon suffered an injury just as she and the team began to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic and gain momentum again. But MacKinnon persevered with the guidance of strength and conditioning coaches, self-discipline and cross-training through running and weight training.
“I did lots of running and field sessions, and I’ve come a long way, which I am happy to see,” Mackinnon said. “I should probably be doing more yoga too.”
Last season, MacKinnon earned the 2022 Canada West Defenceman of the Year title and was awarded UBC’s Female Athlete of the Year award. By the start of her fifth season, MacKinnon had established herself as a dynamic defenceman and a force to be reckoned with.
During her two years as captain, MacKinnon led the team to back-to-back victories at the Canada West championship in the 2022 and 2023 seasons. This past March, she was also among five women to be featured in the puck drop during the Vancouver Canucks’ Women Empowerment Night held at Rogers Arena.
In September, MacKinnon was invited to the National Women’s Team Selection Camp held in Thorold, Ontario. She was the only U Sports player to attend. Here, she had the opportunity to connect with 46 other highly skilled players, including Olympians Marie Philip-Poulin and Jamie Lee Rattray.
“The defensemen, like Claire Thompson, are fast and so good,” she said. “It's kind of surreal, but then you have to turn it on in practice and those games. You just want to show up and try to display as best you can.”
Reflecting on her hockey career thus far at UBC, this recent camp stands as MacKinnon’s proudest moment. “Anytime you get the honour, you know, if it’s a practice jersey, to put on that Canada flag [it feels like] you're part of that,” she said.
After UBC, MacKinnon is open to joining the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), which will have its inaugural season in 2024, although all teams are on the East Coast.
“I hope maybe they put some Western teams in, but I know it's a good opportunity, and women's hockey is growing, so [my future] could be there,” she said. “[But] I think it's a bit soon to say.”
When she’s not actively playing hockey and leading the T-Birds to victory, MacKinnon is immersed in her studies as a master’s of kinesiology student. “I want to get into medicine after hockey,” she said. “Sports medicine sounds cool, or orthopedics is also very interesting.”
MacKinnon is excited for her future with hockey and all that lies ahead, both for her team and her final year as captain. With how things are shaping up thus far with the T-Birds’ current 10–0–1 record, a third championship win for this talented woman seems accomplishable.
“I just want to keep leading by example. So just being that kind of role model, leading with respect and humility,” said MacKinnon. “Hopefully, put some pieces together that we didn't have the last couple of years to get to where we want to be and to get to that end goal this year.”