New Varsity Women's Hockey Team
Off to a Strong Start
he 16-person roster of student-athletes doesn't reflect any connection to Canada. Not a dram of ink is spilled spelling out Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin. Wappingers Falls, N.Y. - where it gets cold a little more often than it does in Storrs - makes the list, but that's about it.
The players on UConn's first varsity women's hockey team don't hail from hockey hotbeds. But don't tell the University of Rhode Island's womens's team - UConn beat them 15-1 on Oct. 28, starting the regular season off on the right skate.
"These girls have big hearts. They've worked extraordinarily hard to get where we are which, really, is in a pretty good spot. We're competitive. We'll be in most games," says Heather Linstad, head coach of the first-year team.
That none of these players was recruited - Linstad is converting the players on what was a club team into an NCAA Division I squad - doesn't bother the coach. Owing partly to Title IX and partly to the growth of women's sports in the past decade, Linstad says women's college hockey is booming. And that, she says, is a good thing, not only because women's hockey is an exciting game, but because it means a lot of teams are in the same situation as the Huskies.
"A few years ago, the good teams would have four good, solid lines. Last year you could only put together two lines. There's a lot more competition for recruits today," she says.
Linstad should know: she's been there, compiling a record of 161-71-27 during the past eight years as head coach of Northeastern University's women's hockey team. She played hockey - as well as soccer and softball - as an undergraduate at Providence College, captaining the team for three of her four years. In 1989, she was named ECAC Player of the Year and, in 1994, was named ECAC Coach of the Year after leading Northeastern to the league title.
This year, she wants the team to win more of their 22 regular season games than they lose. And she wants to beat Boston University because, she says, she has never lost to the Terriers, as a player or coach. Mostly, though, she wants to help her 16 players improve, and to enjoy it while they do.
"I want to teach the game to them and hope they enjoy it, that they come away from the season saying 'This was a fun year. I'm glad I did it, even if it was a lot of work,'" she says.
That work was evident during a recent practice session. After running the team through a handful of drills, laps around the rink and sprints, the pace of play dropped off noticeably.
"C'mon girls, let's put a little effort into it. You know the drills. Let's see some effort!" she yelled to the team.
Linstad works the phones in her not yet unpacked, almost poster-free, white-walled office as hard as she works the players on the rink less than 25 yards away. She is striving to bring recruits to UConn, hoping to expand the roster to 25 players. Besides improving the team, this will solidify UConn's position as one of the few large public universities in the nation to be in compliance with Title IX. The 1972 federal regulations require colleges to offer male and female student-athletes opportunities, scholarships and amenities roughly equivalent to their proportion in a school's enrollment.
Linstad thinks UConn's reputation - academically and athletically - will go a long way toward helping her recruit some of the best female hockey players in North America.
"What we have for resources - the new arena, our academics, the rural setting - all those positives are points I make when I'm recruiting, and they're key points. Also, we're strong in the health sciences and education," academic areas Linstad says are of interest to many of her recruits.
"What you'll see next year is a team that is stronger, bigger, and faster" than today's team, she says - which is not meant to demean the current pucksters.
"I've always taught my teams that you don't have to be the fastest to win, you just have to get to the puck first, work the angles, know where you're going. We work a lot on passing and clogging the passing lanes," Linstad says. She notes that the women's game, in which body checking is not allowed, is more like the wide open European game than what the men's team plays, where taking the body is a key to success.
The wide open game can take a toll, though, a toll Linstad says was clear in the team's 5-3 loss in an exhibition game a week before they smothered Rhode Island.
"We were up 3-1 going into the third period, and we just died, especially during the last five minutes," Linstad says. "But the team kept going. They've got a lot of heart."
And, if Linstad has anything to say about it, they'll have a lot of fun, too.