UB women's hockey: goal to goal
Women’s hockey gets first national tournament bid, now looks to gain exposure
When colleges are given the choice to either make a switch to Division II or stay in Division I, most would choose the latter.
Not the UB women’s ice hockey team.
The team – who made the switch to Division II at the beginning of the year– saw this season as a “rebuilding year.” Buffalo lost six seniors to graduation and wasn’t able to recruit a sufficient amount of players to put together a competitive Division I team.
But the switch to D-II did more than give the team a chance to be competitive. The switch also gave the team a legitimate opportunity to play in a national tournament for the first time.
It paid off.
For the first time in program history, the women’s ice hockey team clinched a spot in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) D-II National Tournament after solidifying the No. 4 seed in the College Hockey East (CHE) Division. Buffalo hopes the bid to the tournament will help gain national exposure for the program.
“Not a lot of people even know that [Buffalo] has a women’s hockey team and we are trying to build it up,” said head coach Melissa Jeckovich. “We didn’t have the numbers to compete in D-I. All of those teams have 20-25 skaters on the team. Eventually, we’ll go back to Division I, but we made the switch to drop down so it would be more competitive.”
The coaches in the league determine the selection process for the tournament. The league consists of 24 teams, separated by two regions – East and West. Each region has 12 teams. The top four teams in each region advance to the national tournament.
Entering final rankings last week, Buffalo was tied for fourth with University of Connecticut. After the final rankings came out on Feb. 19, the team was notified via email and text messages that it edged out the Huskies for the final slot from the Eastern division.
“We were all absolutely terrified, excited [and] nervous,” said sophomore forward Courtney Miller. “We thought we were finding out on Tuesday, so we were sitting on-edge all day and waiting for the email from our coach to see if we were going or not. We found out we were going and everyone was freaking out.”
The switch to a lower division gave the team room to build on a young squad that “has the core of a D-I team,” according to Miller. The team said it knew it would not be able to compete with Division I schools due to its numbers and player conditioning compared to other programs.
Miller said the move was best for the team.
“We dropped down to D-II because we had a chance to go to the national tournament,” Miller said. “It was a chance to get our name out there and let people know, ‘Hey, UB has a competitive hockey team. Let me check that out.’”
Recruitment has been one of the biggest problems for Buffalo. The team welcomed three freshmen to the team this season, but it wasn’t sufficient to comfortably stay in D-I. Sophomore defenseman Courtney Thornton said in order to get more players, the team needs more recognition.
“More than half of the school doesn’t even know we exist,” Thornton said. “We’re looking for players that have more than skating skills. It’s about getting your name out there.”
Currently, the team consists of only 14 players – three upperclassmen, eight sophomores and three freshmen. In Division I last season, the team consisted of nearly 20 players, but a lack of recruitment left Buffalo with inadequate numbers to compete at a higher level this year.
Jeckovich, however, is content with the small numbers. A smaller number of players gave the team an opportunity to create bonds and relationships with one another.
She also thinks it’s the key to the team’s success this season and for future seasons.
“Because we have such a young team with a strong drive that wants to succeed, it’s only going to build us up,” Jeckovich said. “For freshmen coming in, they’re going to see the passion that [the team] has. The fact that we just made nationals, they’re going to want to go back every year. It will only build our program up.”
Unlike the men’s club hockey team – which also made the national tournament – the women are guaranteed to play at least three games. The women’s tournament is a double-elimination structure and Buffalo would advance even if it loses a game.
The team departs for the York City Ice Arena in York, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, March 3 and will play its first game on Wednesday against No. 1 seed California University of Pennsylvania. Buffalo will play Rainy River Community College the following Thursday and will round out the first round against Michigan State on that Friday.
The puck drops on Thursday, March 5 at 10:30 a.m.
Jordan Grossman is senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com