University of New England building its program

The 2012-13 season marks the debut of three new teams to the Division II/III hockey scene: Stevenson (Maryland), along with Franklin Pierce and the University of New England.

Stevenson split on the road with Buffalo State last weekend, while the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine (not to be confused with New England College in Henniker, N.H.) opened up its brand-new Harold Alfond Forum facility last Friday with a resounding 14-0 win over the Endicott club team.

With the men’s program now in its fourth season as a varsity squad, the UNE women are looking to make their mark with a head coach holding an impressive resume as she embarks on her first year at the helm of the Nor’Easters program.

Erin Hamlen takes the reins of the UNE program after serving for 10 years as an associate head coach/assistant coach at the University of New Hampshire. She most recently spent the last two seasons as an adviser and head coach for the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

“It’s a little different being involved in a program that doesn’t have a lot of tradition established yet,” Hamlen said. “It’s a good different though. There are a lot of really positive things going on here. We’ve got a good group that is willing to learn.”

Hamlen also was the starting goaltender for the United States Women’s Hockey National Team from 1992-1997 after a standout playing career at UNH.

“It’s very exciting,” Hamlen said of taking over a brand new program. “This is something I can build on my own, and it’s not something I have to reinvent. We can start from scratch with a blank slate.”

Starting from scratch though with a brand-new on-campus 900-seat state-of-the-art arena isn’t a bad place to begin though, and Hamlen is confident that the new digs will help sell the program and school quickly to potential recruits.

“We’ve got a gorgeous brand-new facility that’s been very helpful,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll fill the building at some point in my time here. Bringing a kid on campus, we have an on-campus rink, which doesn’t always happen at the D-III level. There are a lot of really great things happening here, and I think anyone that comes onto our campus will see that.”

While Stevenson has had a coaching staff in place since summer 2011, Hamlen wasn’t brought on board until March 2012, which put her behind the eight-ball on recruiting compared to the Mustangs and head coach Shera Vis, who had a full year to recruit.

“I got a little bit of a late start, so we’re coming in with low numbers,” Hamlen said. “We’re working on trying to get a lot of players up to speed. This is kind of our feel-out year to get our feet wet and get better as the year goes on.”

Because of the late start and the possibility of not going varsity for this season, UNE was only able to fill a reduced schedule of 16 games for 2012-13.

“We have a number of games this year against club teams,” Hamlen said. “A schedule was in place, but some teams were let go because we weren’t 100 percent sure if we were going to go varsity or not this season. We tried to do some patchwork when I came on in March. It worked out okay, because I wanted to play a reduced schedule this year.”

Five of UNE’s 16 games will come against fellow varsity newcomers, with three scheduled against Franklin Pierce and two against Stevenson. UNE will also face Nichols, Williams, and Trinity (twice) for other varsity competition.

“I know once we start playing the varsity programs, our world might be a bit different, but it’s nice to get our feet with a victory,” Hamlen said on the Nor’Easters opening night win over Endicott. “Our kids did well and came out on fire. Our men also opened the same night, so it was a really big deal here. I think we have a competitive schedule for us, but it will allow us some breaks and get our feet back underneath us by playing some club teams.”

This season, UNE is independent just like Stevenson, but the Nor’Easters have applied for membership to the ECAC East.

“We have applied for the ECAC East and now it’s in the hands of the athletic directors and the other coaches to vote on,” Hamlen said. “I think there are two proposals out there, with the possibility of having a 21-game league schedule for one.

“I’m hoping that we hear very soon that we’ve been accepted. I would expect that with our facility and our school’s commitment to the program that it shouldn’t be a question. I understand the league is big as it is right now though, so we’ll see what happens. Ultimately though, I think we’ll get accepted.”

This weekend, UNE will hit the road for the first time for a pair of exhibition games at Massachusetts on Friday and Saturday. UNE will face its first Division III varsity squad on Saturday, Nov. 10, when it hosts Nichols.

“We’re anxious to get into later in the season when we face some competition to see where we’re at against varsity Division III competition so we know where we need to get to,” said Hamlen.