As many of you know, this past summer the entire Division III college hockey community suffered a tragic loss. Arguably the greatest player to ever play Division III hockey, Laura Hurd, was the victim of a fatal car accident on an early June morning just outside of Watkins Glen, New York. I unfortunately was never able to meet Ms. Hurd. However, I have heard stories from countless numbers of people, all of which describe her as one of the best people they had ever met. As we discovered over her four year career, her greatness off the ice paralleled her accomplishments on it.
She was a four-time All American amassing 120 goals and 117 assists in just 110 games for the Elmira College Soaring Eagles. Those numbers rank her second all-time in Division III with 237 points. During her four years at Elmira, she was instrumental in leading the Eagles to four ECAC West championships, two NCAA championships and an overall record of 91-17-5. In 2004-2005, she won the National Player of the Year award which is annually handed out by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Just short of seven months after her death, the AHCA has voted to honor Hurd for her achievements both on and off the ice. They have announced that from now on, every player voted as the Division III women’s hockey National Player of the Year will receive the Hurd Award in memory of Laura. The decision to rename the award in honor of Ms. Hurd is not only justified, it is necessary. College hockey may never again see a player succeed so greatly each and every year. Her legacy will never be forgotten by her family, teammates, coaches, and fans. Now, with this honor, it will live on forever in Division III hockey.
This past week, Potsdam State officially announced their plans for a women’s hockey team starting next season. The Bears will play as a club team for the 2007-2008 season and become a full-fledged member of Division III the following year. It will be the first women’s hockey team at Potsdam since 1984.
The addition of Potsdam raises the number of SUNY schools fielding a women’s hockey program to five. The other schools are Plattsburgh, Oswego, Cortland, and Buffalo State. With five schools having teams, one has to wonder if the formation of a SUNYAC conference is on the horizon. In order for a conference to attain an automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament, the minimum number of teams must be seven. In other words, do not expect the four existing schools to leave the ECAC West, a conference currently with an automatic qualifier, for a SUNYAC conference with only five teams. However, with rumors of two more SUNY schools looking to tap into the Division III women’s hockey market, a SUNYAC conference may not be as far off as some may think.
The potential formation of a SUNYAC conference will mean that the ECAC West would lose its automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. If all four SUNY schools were to join the SUNYAC, that would leave Elmira, Utica, Neumann, Chatham, and RIT, who will join the league next season. Two more teams would have to join the ECAC West in order for them to keep their league at seven teams. One would think that at least two teams from the ECAC East would have no problem swapping from east to west. The only team that really makes sense geographically is Manhattanville. The Valiant men’s hockey team competes in the ECAC West which makes it even more sensible for the women to do the same. On the surface this would seem like an easy decision, however the ECAC West is loaded with nationally ranked programs in Elmira, Utica, and eventually RIT. Would Manhattanville really jump at the opportunity to join the ECAC West when they are the top dog year in and year out in the ECAC East? Not to mention, one more team would still be needed for an automatic qualifier. Of course, all of this is mute until a SUNYAC conference is formed.
Tigers earn their stripes
Two weeks ago I wrote in my column that I felt RIT deserved to be ranked in the USCHO weekly poll based solely on the fact that they were the only team in all of Division III to get through the first semester with a perfect record. The argument against the Tigers was that they had not played or beaten a quality opponent all season. Well, that can’t be said anymore. On Saturday, the Tigers handed Division II St. Anselm, a team who had already defeated No. 7 Manhattanville, their first loss of the season. The Tigers suffered a setback the following day as they received their first loss of the year with St. Anselm returning the favor. Despite the loss the Tigers showed they could play with the great teams, and the split weekend earned them a spot in this week’s poll at No. 10.
The Tigers next match was Wednesday night as they looked to get back on track against No. 5 Elmira. This marked their first test against a top tier Division III opponent. The Tigers were not only able to compete with the Soaring Eagles, they walked out with a victory and stand 12-1-0 entering this weekends showdown with No. 3 Middlebury. As far as I am concerned, the Tigers have already proven themselves as a threat on the National level. A win against the three-time defending National Champion Panthers however will get the entire country to notice what has been brewing in western New York since early November.