WCHA Vice President Katie Million, NMU Athletic Director Forrest Karr, College Hockey Inc. Executive Director Mike Snee, and NHL Vice President of Business Development and International Affairs Kevin Westgarth.(Photo courtesy of College Hockey Inc.)
The National Women’s Hockey League applauds the decision of Northern Michigan University to explore adding a Division I women’s hockey program.
The state of Michigan, which the NWHL views as an essential future market for professional women’s hockey, currently does not have a Division I program for the women’s game. Northern Michigan recently announced its decision to pursue a women’s hockey program, taking advantage of a feasibility study initiative created to expand Division I opportunities. The study is funded by the Industry Growth Fund, a joint venture by the NHL and NHLPA created to help grow the game of hockey and enhance fan experience.
“If we are to continue to elevate women’s hockey to the level where it belongs, we all must rise together,” said NWHL Founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan. “The more opportunities for women to compete at the highest level, the better for our game.”
Rylan said she wholeheartedly agrees with NHL Vice President Kevin Westgarth, who said while making the Northern Michigan announcement, “Adding an NCAA Division I women’s program to the state of Michigan is long overdue.”
The NHL/NHLPA feasibility study for college hockey has now resulted in three schools publicly evaluating the potential to create Division I programs at the University of Illinois, Oakland University in Detroit and now NMU in Marquette, Michigan. Additional schools have conducted studies confidentially.
“The addition of teams in Michigan would be phenomenal,” said Metropolitan Riveters all-star forward and Isobel Cup champion Madison Packer, who was raised in Michigan and played in the Little Caesars program before attending the University of Wisconsin. “There is great women’s hockey presence in Michigan, and it would be a strong step in the right direction to get a team in Northern Michigan. I would love to see Michigan and Michigan State add teams as well. Those schools would have no problem starting teams and having them be instant competitors.”
Now that the launch of the Minnesota Whitecaps in the NWHL has been so successful, with the club packing TRIA Rink for its first four home games, the Illinois and Michigan markets would be logical targets for expansion for the NWHL.
Michigan native Madison Packer of the Metropolitan Riveters (Photo by Troy Parla)
While girls’ hockey is the second-fastest growing sport in America and there are seven schools in Michigan with men’s hockey at the Division I level, the state does not currently have a university that sponsors NCAA Division I women’s hockey. There is a similar void in Illinois, where the University of Illinois became the first school to conduct a feasibility study under the new initiative. Despite producing several top women’s and men’s college hockey players, the state of Illinois does not have a university with a Division I hockey program.
Currently, there are 36 institutions in the country that have a Division I women’s hockey program competing within four conferences.
“Northern Michigan has been a vibrant member of the men’s college hockey community and we are excited that their leadership is considering a women’s program,” said Mike Snee, executive director of College Hockey Inc. “Their addition would be particularly welcome in the state of Michigan, which has produced more than 30 Division I players this year, all of whom have to leave the state to play college hockey.”
The addition of more Division I women’s programs would be appropriate, considering the rate of growth for the game. Girls’ hockey is the second-fastest growing sport in America. Since 2015, when the NWHL was born, registration in USA Hockey girls’ programs has increased 8 percent. Yet when Holy Cross joined Hockey East this season, it became just the 36th NCAA Division I women’s program – compared to 60 men’s programs.
Michigan native Taylor Marchin, who recently signed with the Connecticut Whale.
The NWHL requires that all players complete their college eligibility prior to joining the league. Taylor Marchin, who recently signed with the Connecticut Whale, was raised in Michigan, played in the Little Caesars program and then collegiately at Yale. She shared her first-hand experience and thoughts on the possibility of Northern Michigan and Oakland adding college hockey programs:
“I personally think it is crazy that Michigan does not have a single D1 women's college hockey program,” said Marchin. “Back when I was playing for Little Caesars, Wayne State still had their program, which at the time was the only one in Michigan. Unfortunately, the team no longer exists, leaving an even bigger void for girls playing hockey in Michigan.
“There are some really well-known and successful girls' travel teams in Michigan ranging from the U10 to U19 age group, and if any of those girls aspire to play D1 college hockey, they would have to move out of their home state, which is unbelievable. However, that is something that most players from Michigan are all too used to. Personally, I knew at the age of 10 that I was going to play D1 hockey and I also knew that it meant moving away. I guess I never really gave much thought to it, and just accepted that this was the way things were. As I got older, I realized just how ridiculous it is that universities in Michigan have major powerhouse men's programs, and don't think it is important enough to create women's programs.
“Needless to say, it would be absolutely awesome if a school could add an NCAA D1 women's hockey program. Let's give these Michigan girls an option of playing in their home state!”