Normally referees don’t laugh at your hockey team. Normally your hockey team isn’t dancing on the bench to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” either.
The University of Minnesota’s women’s club hockey does things their own way. We have red, blue, yellow, maroon, and black helmets with black or green breezers, but lack of matching equipment doesn’t mean we are any less a team. Sometimes we are successful and other times we aren’t, but we all get along and always have fun in the process.
This year, we made it to the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament for the fourth year in a row. Now in its eighth year, this year’s tournament was held March 6-9 in Bensenville, IL.
Club hockey at the U of M is quite different from varsity sports. This article by U of M club hockey player and team president Heidi Hanse offers an inside view of hockey played hard, played well, and played for fun.
“Nationals is a place to be competitive, but also a place where the best memories are formed,” said Senior Kelli Mattson.
Going into the tournament, we were seeded number seven. Liberty University was unable to attend the tournament, which bumped us up to number six. That is the highest seed our team has ever had. In past tournaments, we were either number nine or ten out of the top 12 teams.
Only one player on our squad was listed under any of the four categories of statistical leaders in the program. Most of the leaders come from teams that play double the number of games we play. Our team does not have the time and money for more games.
Even though we wear the Minnesota “M” on our jerseys, we don’t get the same benefits as Division I athletes. We don’t get proctored tests or special due dates for assignments. If anything, we have to hand things in early. The team doesn’t offer scholarships and recruit because our school has a Division I team.
We were one of three teams that were in the national tournament who have an NCAA varsity team. That is one of the problems of the ACHA league. Teams that have a large budget play against teams like us who pay for everything out of their own pockets or attempt to fundraise.
Since we all know we aren’t going to be playing hockey professionally, we know getting a degree will be the best route. About two-thirds of our team have jobs in order to help pay for school and hockey. School and homework takes up a lot of time. Many members agree that hockey is a stress-reliever.
We get about $3100 from our school. The rest of the money comes from the $300/year dues we pay and fundraising. On the road, each player pays $15 per night for a shared hotel room, and pays for her own food. Other teams have budgets larger than what some of our parents make in a year. Some recruit players from other states and countries. Some even fly to their games and take chartered buses wherever they go.
We, on the other hand, take two 15-passenger vans, driven by members of our team. In order to drive the van, one must have a clear record for one year, no more than one speeding ticket, no alcohol or drug related offenses, be at least 19 years of age, and take a two-hour driver training class. The first time most drivers operate the vans is on the way to a game, because there is no actual training in the vans.
On to the tournament
We met at Mariucci Arena a little after noon on March 5 and loaded up the two vans. We recognized one because there was a yellow scrape on the side of it from hitting a pole on a previous team trip to Madison.
As we were pulling out, I remembered my first away trip last year. I was in the passenger seat, finding some music to play, as the van stalled in the middle of the road, blocking two lanes of traffic. After many phone calls and a lot of teamwork, we got another van and continued. I was relieved when this didn’t happen again.
During the long van rides, many try to catch up on homework or sleep. Veterans tell rookies stories about past trips, such as the time the team went sledding down stairs on trays. Since we had to make it to the welcome banquet, we made fewer stops. After our first bathroom break, one team member had to pee so she peed in a bucket instead of making everyone take another stop.
We arrived at the banquet in true Minnesota fashion—right as the food was being served. During the post-dinner coaches’ meeting, most teams were quiet. Not ours—one player did magic tricks, and the rest chanted loud, obnoxious cheers. The coaches’ meeting was the opposite. It was a presentation of information previously sent out while most coaches didn’t crack a smile during the 45-minute long lecture.
Our assistant coach, Kate Weber, is a former player and was at the team’s first national tournament four years ago. Head coach Jay Weber is her brother, and assistant coach Trevor Kvarnlov is Jay’s childhood friend. Our all-volunteer coaching team is much appreciated! They report that the job has mixed benefits. Jay reports acting as an older brother, but also hearing parts of conversations that make him uncomfortable.
“I understand college-age women way more than I need to,” Jay says.
We lost our first game 6-0 to Robert Morris College. (Read the details in the tournament game report.
To shake off the loss, some of us went into Chicago to explore the city. Two team members who are from the Chicago area accompanied us and served as tour guides. After meeting some creepy German ballet dancers at the silver, reflecting “Bean” in Grant Park, we headed back to our hotel to get some rest for our 8:15 a.m. game against tenth-ranked Western Michigan University.
Easily one of the most exciting games in the tournament, this one went back and forth with both teams getting chances until the end of the second period. During the last 15 minutes, we rode an intense emotional roller coaster, first winning 2-0, then tied 2-2, then losing 3-2, then tied 3-3 and winning 4-3.
Jackie Cameron scores the winning goal for Minnesota against Western Michigan University. (Photo by Dan Larsen)
The “commission,” seniors Kelli Mattson and Anne Cascalenda, sparked our victory as they scored the first two goals of the third period. Sophomore Jackie Cameron scored the winning goal. We won 5-3, with goals by five different players on the team showing that we work as a team and don’t have one superstar. This was the first U of M win ever in pool play at nationals! The full game report is online.
In the locker room before the next game, the upperclassmen explained the history of rivalry with the Rhode Island team. We lost to them twice in overtime two years in a row but losing to this team always stings because of the way they treat us. This time, we lost 6-2, but the score didn’t reflect the effort given by Minnesota or the referees. (See full game report here.) Before the game, we were told that all hitting would be watched, since there is no checking in women’s hockey. In the first period there were many hits thrown that could be argued as penalty worthy. When Captain Leah Moore brought this up to the head referee, the referee replied, “If you can’t take a hit, you shouldn’t be playing hockey.”
If the referee only knew that most players on our team started playing hockey when before they were in middle school, she would know we can take a hit. The four players that aren’t from Minnesota knew about the club team before they came to college. They applied to Minnesota because of the opportunity to continue to play school as well as the academics.
“I applied to five colleges with strong architecture programs, but only one has a club hockey team,” said junior Kelly Bradley. “Minnesota was the most expensive choice of school for me but I chose it because of hockey.”
As we got in our the vans to head back to the hotel, Leona Lewis’ song “Bleeding Love” came on the radio. We had played this song in vans and locker rooms continuously during the trip. Now we turned the volume up to the maximum, sang at the top of our lungs, and danced in a large circle. Despite the heartbreaking, season-ending loss, we were together.
All of this happened in front of Rhode Island’s coach bus. Many of their players, listening to their Ipods™, stared at us with confused looks. Even though they just won, many of their players walked out of the arena with sad looks on their faces. Not one of the winners was smiling, but here we were, singing and dancing.
We went out to eat that night and debated whether or not to go home the following day. We didn’t have any more games to play and midterms were coming up, but we decided to spend a couple more days with some of our best friends.
Although nationals is a time to compete, it is also a great bonding experience when we spend half a week together, said junior Shannon Breen. Part of the bonding usually comes at the coaches’ game, where players dress up and heckle the coaches. This year we were prepared with “Team USA” costumes, but there was no coaches’ game, so we dressed up and went to the final game.
Team USA dressed up. (Photo by Callie Larsen)
Piling out of our van, the Statue of Liberty landed next to Britney Spears, Davy Crockett, Sacajawea, Miss America, Hulk Hogan, a hippie, two G.I Janes and others draped in American flags. Chanting “U-S-A,” we cheered our way into the Robert Morris and Rhode Island game, unsure of who to cheer for because we lost to both teams.
Eventually, we cheered for Robert Morris, Minnesota, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Colorado. We made a tunnel for the Colorado team as they came in and out of their locker room between periods. The Colorado players said our cheering was actually really encouraging and it was nice to have such loud support.
“It personally made me feel like we were noticed for the first time that weekend by someone other than us,” said Colorado coach Rick Morris. Morris said several of his team members chased him down, excited that we had shown up, exclaiming “You should see them! They are all dressed up in costumes! This is so cool!”
After the game, we went back to the hotel to spend our last night together and the seniors shared their thoughts on their last game.
“We usually not very heartfelt; we usually joke around.” Senior Anne Cascalenda said. “I can’t imagine anyone else I would want to be here with me. I couldn’t pick anyone better that I would want to share my last hockey game with. I have never been a part of a team that I liked this much or been this close with. I will never be able to fill that void.”
When we arrived home the next evening, everyone was sad that hockey was done for another season. That feeling was made easier when Sophomore Lauren Haverly made the Second Team All-Tournament, the first player ever from the University of Minnesota, and Senior Anne Cascalenda made the Honorable Mention list, for her second year in a row.
“I have never had so much fun before, it was truly one of the best times of my life,” said Freshman Tori Nelson. “Playing hockey and being surrounded by the best people I could ask for. What could be better?”
Heidi Hanse is a journalism student at the University of Minnesot and an intern at the TC Daily Planet — when she is not playing hockey.