As originally reported by USCHO, the Hockey East Women’s League will begin play in the fall of 2002, two years earlier than originally planned.
Six schools will comprise the inaugural lineup of the new conference. Five charter members come from the current Hockey East men’s contingent: Boston College, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Providence. Connecticut has also accepted an invitation to become the sixth member of the league for its first season.
“We are extremely excited to make this announcement and even more anxious to watch this conference take shape,” said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. “Our goal is to quickly see the Hockey East Women’s League enjoy the success and national respect that the men’s league currently has. Given the strength of our lineup of institutions, we expect this to happen immediately.”
All six schools competed in the ECAC Eastern Division last season. Two other members of the Eastern Division, Niagara and Quinnipiac, were not extended invitations to join the new conference, but games that the new Hockey East schools had already scheduled with them for 2002-03 will be honored as non-conference games.
Niagara finished first in the ECAC Eastern League last season and captured third in the NCAA tournament, while Providence took the postseason tournament title.
The league schedule for the inaugural Hockey East season has been announced and begins with Boston College hosting Providence on November 1. The schools will play a 15-game league schedule next year, three games against each opponent. In 2003-04, the league schedule increases to 20 games with four games against each opponent.
There are four schools with men’s teams in Hockey East that are not members of the women’s league as it kicks off this fall. Boston University, UMass.-Amherst, and UMass.-Lowell all have women’s club teams, while Merrimack does not currently have a women’s team.
Invitations will be extended to other schools with a men’s team in Hockey East if and when their women’s programs achieve varsity status.
Boston University and Merrimack are two schools that have indicated plans to have programs ready to go when new facilities allow. BU hopes to break ground this summer on a new 6,100-seat arena that could open as early as the fall of 2004. Merrimack is in the middle of a renovation of its Volpe Center ice rink, but although work that has already been done includes a locker room earmarked for a future women’s team, the completion date of the overall project is still several years away.
Both of the two UMass schools have declined to give direction on any future varsity plans for their women’s hockey programs. Budget cuts in the UMass university system have already forced the elimination of several varsity sports, and economics could play a role in deciding whether one or both schools elevate women’s hockey to varsity status in the near future.
The future of the two ECAC Eastern schools left out, Niagara and Quinnipiac, is unclear at this time. The other half of the ECAC women’s Division I from last season, the Northern League, remains intact with nine members, six from the Ivy League.
Rumors of a new MAAC women’s hockey league have been growing, however, and such a league could be a landing place for Niagara and Quinnipiac in the future, as well as Sacred Heart and Holy Cross moving up from the ECAC Division III East League.