Westfield State College today announced the return of men’s ice hockey as a varsity sport for the 2008-2009 academic year.
The sport will return to varsity status after a 20-year hiatus. Westfield State had suspended the sport in 1989 because of budget constraints.
“This is an exciting opportunity for our student-athletes,” said Westfield State athletics director Richard Lenfest. “Varsity ice hockey will bring an added dimension to our department and we look forward to the challenge of building a program that the college, alumni, and community can be proud of.
“I want thank (Westfield State interim) President Barry Maloney for his support and commitment,” Lenfest continued. “His drive and vision allowed this project to come to fruition.”
“It’s satisfying to be able to add another sports opportunity for our students,” Maloney said. “Helping to revive hockey has been a labor of love for our alumni, who so enjoyed having played in the Owls’ program in the past. We hope that being on the ice will be just as memorable for students of the future.”
Westfield State alumnus Peter Laviolette — the head coach of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes — also was a major player in the project. The 1986 graduate maintains a keen interest in his college alma mater, and he worked closely with Maloney in securing funding for a men’s varsity ice hockey program.
“For over a decade, students have expressed an interest in reviving a varsity hockey program, elevating it from club status,” Maloney said. “The college has worked with alumni to create a modest endowment to reduce some of the associated costs, and fortunately, the presence of the Amelia Park rink has eliminated the costs formerly associated with team travel for practice. For the health of this program, fund-raising needs to be ongoing.”
Westfield State has fielded an established and a competitive men’s ice hockey club program since 1999, and the Owls will continue to play on the club level during their transitional 2007-2008 season.
“Currently, we are in the process of looking for a head coach so that we can get a jump on recruiting for the 2008-2009 season,” said Lenfest.
Westfield State has applied for membership in the ECAC Northeast Hockey League. The league currently fields 16 teams, including Division III colleges Fitchburg State, Worcester State, Western New England, Framingham State, Curry, U-Mass Dartmouth, Wentworth, Plymouth State, Suffolk, Johnson & Wales, Salve Regina, and Nichols.
“It is a very attractive schedule, plus we are fortunate to have a first-class facility (Amelia Park Arena) within a couple miles from campus,” said Lenfest. “This is excellent for recruiting and a big convenience for our students to be able to attend the games.”
“NCAA Division III hockey has the potential to become another great spectator sport for families in the community,” Maloney said. “I invite everyone to come to the first home game in the fall of 2008.”
With the addition of men’s ice hockey, Westfield State will field 19 varsity sports: 10 women, eight men, and coed competition cheering.