The Hockey East Association will sponsor a Division I women’s ice hockey league beginning this fall, it was announced today by Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna. Charter members of the conference include Boston College, the University of Maine, the University of New Hampshire, Northeastern University, and Providence College. In addition, an invitation has been extended to the University of Connecticut to become the sixth team in the conference and that invitation has been accepted by Director of Athletics Lew Perkins.
“We are extremely excited to make this announcement and even more anxious to watch this new conference take shape,” said Bertagna. “Our goal is to very quickly see the Hockey East Women’s League enjoy the success and national respect that our men’s league currently enjoys. Given the strength of our line-up of institutions, we expect this to happen immediately.”
The historic first league game will take place on Friday, November 1, when Boston College hosts Providence College at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, MA.
Other institutions whose men’s hockey programs reside in Hockey East will have the opportunity to join the women’s league when each has a varsity women’s program in place. Two such institutions, Boston University and Merrimack College, have indicated that their programs will be ready when new facilities allow.
The University of Connecticut, whose men’s hockey team plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), is looking forward to this new relationship.
“The University of Connecticut is very proud to be part of the Hockey East Women’s League,” said Perkins. “Our school is extremely committed to the sport of women’s ice hockey and we look forward to being part of one of the top conferences in the country. We have had a long athletic association with many of the schools in Hockey East and we look forward to our new asociations as well.”
All six of the programs launching the Hockey East Women’s League have been playing within the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), forming the ECAC Eastern Division in 2001-2002, along with Niagara University and Quinnipiac University. Games already scheduled for 2002-2003 with Niagara and Quinnipiac will be honored as non-conference contests.
Retaining the schedule that was already in place, the schools will play an imbalanced schedule next year, facing each league opponent three times (15 league games each.) Beginning with the 2003-2004 season, the schools will play each other four times (two home, two away), for a 20-game league schedule. Post-season tournament plans will be announced next month.
“We wish to acknowledge the contributions that the ECAC has made, not only for our six programs but for women’s ice hockey nationally,” said Bertagna. “This development today is the logical next step for this sport as it continues its phenomenal growth.”
New Hampshire, Northeastern and Providence have combined to win 15 of the 20 Division I women’s ice hockey championship titles that the ECAC has awarded since 1984. Among the other contributions to women’s ice hockey made by the now Hockey East programs:
• The New Hampshire Wildcats were the first-ever women’s ice hockey national title winners when they won the AWCHA’s inaugural event in 1998.
• UNH’s Brandy Fisher won the first-ever Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in women’s collegiate ice hockey that same season.
• Northeastern boasts the most recent Kazmaier winner in Brooke Whitney, who was selected for the top individual prize in March.
• Connecticut head coach Heather Linstad offers an interesting chip of her own to benefit the profile of the Hockey East Women’s League. The former Providence standout was 1988-89 ECAC Player of the Year and went on to coach Northeastern for eight seasons, culminating with an ECAC championship in 1997.