Women’s Ice Hockey Joins Elite Hockey East

The team is finding top-tier competition and more opportunities in its first Division I season
January 7th, 2019 by 

Members of the Women's Ice Hockey Team stand on the ice prior to starting a game
The newest members of hockey's toughest conference prepare to take the ice at the team's Hockey East home opener vs. Boston College in October. Photo courtesy of Holy Cross Athletics

Life is a lot different for head coach Peter Van Buskirk and the Holy Cross women’s ice hockey team this season. One day they’re facing the sixth-ranked team in the country, and the following week they’re right back at it, battling another top 10 squad filled with some of the nation’s best players.

It’s quite the change of pace for the team, one that just last year was playing in Division III. Now they’re a member of the toughest division in the sport: Hockey East.

The heralded 10-team conference is home to teams that regularly appear in the weekly national rankings. (Hockey East members include Northeastern University, Boston College, Merrimack College, Providence College, the University of Maine, the University of Connecticut, Boston University, the University of Vermont and the University of New Hampshire.) Last year, the Crusaders started the transition, playing a schedule that included a mix of Division I and non-Division I teams while increasing the number of games from its previous 27 to 32. This season, the team is slated to play a full 34-game Division I schedule.

The transition to Division I is a hallmark moment. “This move puts the team on the level of all other sports teams at Holy Cross,” Van Buskirk says. “This puts us at the top level of college hockey.”

According to Holy Cross Director of Athletics Nathan Pine, the move to Division I and Hockey East has been in the works for years. The process began with a look at the team’s options; Hockey East was an appealing choice based on the level of competition. Pine knew that having an association with the elite league would have numerous benefits for the program. “We wanted to elevate the women’s program and this was the first step,” he says.

The move was announced in 2016, and in order to become a member of the conference, the College had to meet a number of requirements, including increasing its scholarship limits, Van Buskirk says. Though the transition has been a lot of work, he notes it will pay off in a variety of ways, such as increased exposure, which will help with recruiting.

For veteran players, the jump holds special meaning. “Personally, it has always been a dream of mine to play Division I hockey, especially Hockey East,” says Sam Girard, a senior forward from Dedham, Massachusetts, and one of the team captains. “Being on the team during the move from DIII to DI has been an amazing time. It was great to see the major steps being taken by our coaching staff and our entire Athletics department to make our chances of getting into the league as high as possible.”

 Three pucks from the Hockey East opening game, held at Holy Cross

Game pucks from the Hockey East opening game, held at Holy Cross. Photo courtesy of Holy Cross Athletics

The evolution has been one Girard feels the team has been ready to make for years. “I think our team deserves to be in this new division and league; we work hard and we have been so successful in our last few years,” she says. “I think that this program was ready to take this next step, and I am so thankful to be a part of it.”

Antonia Matzka, a sophomore defenseman who is also a member of Austria’s U18 and Senior Women’s National Team, says this season has required more work. “It’s super exciting, but we know we have to work really hard,” she says. “The practices are hard, and we have to put our best work in.”

“The speed of the game is definitely a lot faster than the previous years I’ve been here,” says Hannah Gillis, a junior defenseman from Northborough, Massachusetts. “The talent is a lot better, and it takes a lot to keep up with it.”

The Crusaders’ inaugural Hockey East season has been — and will remain — challenging. But amid those challenges also came a moment of greatness. On Nov. 30, in front of a home crowd inside the Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex, the Crusaders found the upset they were looking for — and it came against one of the nation’s best. Holy Cross upset No. 5 Northeastern with a 5-3 win that shocked the college hockey world.

The Crusaders rushed the ice in celebration of their biggest win in program history — also their first in Hockey East and first against a top 5 team. Van Buskirk notes this season is and will continue to be a learning process. Yet moments like this show the progress that is being made, and the coaching staff is elated for the opportunity the players have to compete against the best teams in the country.

“I’m so happy that they were able to feel this moment,” says Katie Lachapelle, associate head coach. “Every Monday, we come back after the games that we played and the tough road we’re on, and we are ready to go. Our team is ready to go every time; they come back and just give it their all.”

 

Written by Andrew Clark for the Winter 2019 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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