Montclair State University has never had a women’s ice hockey program, but a group of ten students are looking to make history by creating the first team ever.
Walking around campus you may not know Jess Coyne, Sabrina Patni, Chelsey Bush, Kim Castro, and Melissa Graziano, or Stephanie Reyes, Dominique Aponte, Cat Barnett, Jasmine Taylor, Melanie Lawrie and Jenna Verrico. But if they pull off their goal, they may go down in MSU history.
Since the fall 2013 semester these young ladies have dedicated their lives to fulfilling this dream. The task has not been easy, but the group is determined to be successful. Despite not having enough players to meet the minimum requirement of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (12 players), the group will not give up. Currently, their biggest challenge besides finding players is raising money.
“We are a bunch of like-minded girls with a passion for hockey,” said Cat Barnett, a sophomore Television and Digital Media Studies major. “This gives me the chance to play a sport I only dreamed of playing as a kid.”
To get to the necessary number of players by the ACHA deadline of March 11, the ladies put flyers around campus and try to participate in events that attract students, like the Winter Carnival. They also get some recruiting help from volunteer coaches, John Mores and David Solomon. The coaches’ agree with Burnett that there are plenty of female athletes who would like to play club hockey.
“I used to play roller hockey when I was younger but I always wanted to play on ice,” stated Sabrina Patni, a Junior Fashion Studies major. “There weren’t any teams for girls so this is a dream come true and to skate for my school would be an honor.”
It’s not like women’s hockey is a big NCAA sport. There are only 39 teams on the Division I level, and 49 on the Division III level. According to MaxPreps.com, there are over 480 high school programs, but only five in the state of New Jersey: Oradell, Ramsey, Martinsville, Lawrenceville, and Gloucester all have squads. Many of the college and high school programs exist in states such as Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, leading many players out of the state to play. Mores and Solomon know the task at hand is not simple, but all one has to do is watch one practice to forget the idea that these players are not playing.
The enthusiasm shown during their twice-a-week early morning practices is infectious. The fact the girls get up for 90-minute workouts that start at 7 a.m. at Floyd Hall Arena says a lot.
“Team bonding comes naturally,” said captain, Jess Coyne, a Senior Child Studies and Education major. “Every time I hang out with them, I have a great time. This team is my family, they’re my life.”
The players are not worried about winning or losing, as much as they are concerned with learning how to play the game. Many are inexperienced but have shown significant improvement. They can skate backwards, shift directions, and off the ice are beginning to understand the rules of the game.
“It has been very rewarding to see the level of improvement,” said Mores. “The University’s goal is to build the program on par with the very successful men’s ice hockey program which has been nationally ranked for many years.”
MSU men’s team General Manager Tim Fox acts as a liaison between the coaching staff and campus recreation department. Fox, who is also a sergeant for campus police department, sets up ice time and as the team continues to grow intends on using his resources and relationship with the ACHA to further support the young ladies.
“My goal is to see the women succeed in forming a team that can compete at the collegiate level,” Fox said. “We hope that women looking to play college hockey will see what we are trying to do and consider MSU as an option to play college hockey while attending an excellent university.”
The current players may not be around to see the final outcome, but just being a part of the beginning and grassroots efforts is enough for now.
The upperclassmen consist of one senior captain Jess Coyne and four juniors Sabrina Patni, Chelsey Bush, Kim Castro, and Melissa Graziano. Underclassmen include 4 sophomores Stephanie Reyes, Dominique Aponte, Cat Barnett, and Jasmine Taylor. There is also 1 freshman Melanie Lawrie and an incoming fall freshman Jenna Verrico. All but one student will be returning next year, making the future bright.
“How cool would it be to come back ten years later, wearing our jerseys, to watch a women’s ice hockey game?” asked Coyne. “We’ll be on the sidelines saying “Wow, we started history. We did it. We did something that no one else could.”
Montclair State | New Jersey