Baby steps become giant leaps for women's club hockey

The Spectrum

When Jody Rosen took over as head coach of the women's club hockey team five years ago, the team featured three figure skaters and no goalie. The team was used to losing every one of its games year after year.

Rosen's team finished the 2012-13 season with 10 wins.

The women's club hockey team, the Lady Ice Bulls, competes in Division I of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), which is a league comparable to NCAA Division III in skill level, according to Kasey Seidlinger, a freshman forward. The squad is aligned within the East Coast Women's Hockey League (ECWHL) division.

The transformation into a winning team was not an easy process.

"The program was about to fold so I knew it was a long shot to try and save it. We were able to save it, get it going," Rosen said. "By the end of the first semester, we had a full roster of 25 players. They weren't the best players. They weren't even very good players, but we were able to fill out the roster to field a team."

After Rosen's second year, he was able to start recruiting players for the Lady Ice Bulls and the team began to enter competitions. Seidlinger did not originally plan on joining the team, but after visiting a practice, she realized it was much more serious than she thought. Now, members wake up at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for practices lasting over an hour. The practices include conditioning, drills and game-like situations.

For some Lady Ice Bulls, balancing hockey with school and a social life is difficult, but the balancing act has culminated into a historic season.

The team plays multiple games almost every weekend, sometimes doing so at other universities such as the University of Rhode Island, the University of Vermont and Northeastern University.

Seidlinger admits the early practices mess with her sleep schedule and away games have the potential to get in the way of classes. Because it's a club sport, not all teachers accept these trips as an excuse to miss classes or tests.

For Seidlinger and many of her teammates, the most memorable moment of this season was the opening weekend game against the University of Vermont in early October. After the first period, the Lady Ice Bulls were losing 4-2.

"We weren't playing to the best of our abilities the first period and we decided to turn it around and score some goals," Seidlinger said.

With a renewed mindset, the team pulled together and entered the third period aggressive for goals and completed the largest comeback in team history with a 5-4 win.

Although Rosen considers this season as a good year for the program's advancement, the team encountered many obstacles, including multiple injuries.

In the final game of the fall semester, team captain defensemen Katelyn Bothwell broke her wrist and could not continue playing.

"After that, it was almost like the team was cursed with a voodoo doll," Rosen said. "We ended up losing seven [out of 20] players to season-ending injuries. By the end of the season, we had one true defensemen left on the team. We had forwards playing defense to try to plug all the holes. I've been involved with hockey for 37 years and I've never seen anything like it."

The Lady Ice Bulls continued to have a respectable season in the spring semester, racking up five wins, until the team ended the playoffs with two losses, ultimately falling 3-2 against SUNY Canton this past weekend.

According to Rosen, it was one of those games where the team ran into the "hot goalie" to get the puck into the net.

With 30 seconds left in the game, Canton scored to beat UB.

Still, Rosen considers it the best game the team has played in the five years he has been with the program. He believes it shows how far the Lady Ice Bulls have progressed.

Although this season is over, Rosen and the Lady Ice Bulls continue to look to the future.

Rosen plans to hoist an ACHA National Championship trophy by his 10th year as head coach.

The program also held a letter-of-intent signing day on Tuesday afternoon, in which five future players toured the Northtown Center in Amherst, the location of practice and home games for the team.

Katie Wrona, a junior pharmacy major and forward, has great expectations for next season.

"We are still a building team and we have a lot to work on, but we should have many new players coming in that will add numbers and strength to help our team," Wrona said. "We will also continue to fundraise more in order to keep up with league expectations."

In a short time, with Rosen at the helm, the women's club hockey team has made tremendous strides and hopes to continue the team's progress.