Meet the New Panthers on the Ice
by Kent Cherrington
Kelly Williams remembers the early days. Williams, a senior physical science education major, recalls her first year at Plymouth State University, when she helped organize a meeting for women who wanted to play ice hockey. Today Williams is the senior captain of the Panther varsity women’s ice hockey team for its first official season: 2006–2007.
“We just kind of got together, put up some signs, and asked people if they were interested,” said Williams. “We had an introductory meeting in the HUB. There were some people there who had never played, and some who had played in high school on the boys’ team.”
Williams and her friends Laura Scala ’06, Angela Potvin ’06, and Sarah Giroux ’06 gathered enough interest and rented some ice time. They practiced and scrimmaged among themselves at first, having fun and learning.
They approached PSU’s then-club sports advisor Mark Wojcinski—a former hockey player himself—about the possibility of making their group an official club team. He became their first coach.
“Wojo helped get the ball rolling,” Williams said. “Before we knew it, we had some official practices and then some games, and it’s gone from there.”
Williams laughs now when she thinks about that first year, recalling a road trip to the University of Rhode Island. “We didn’t have our own uniforms, so we used some old Plymouth State lacrosse jerseys,” she said. “We got onto the ice and the ref wouldn’t let us wear them. They didn’t cover enough of our protective gear. So we had to go back into the locker room and change into our practice jerseys. Our shirts and socks were all different colors. We put the lacrosse jerseys over our practice jerseys so that we sort of looked like a team.”
That was three years ago. Since then, PSU women’s hockey has grown from an upstart club team to an affiliate in the athletics department to an official varsity team in 2006–2007, and will be a full-fledged member of the ECAC Women’s East Conference in 2007–2008.
Athletic Director John P. Clark explains that to be in compliance with Title IX, new sports can only be added if there has been a demonstrated interest. “We clearly had that with women’s ice hockey,” Clark said, adding that women’s ice hockey is the fastest growing sport in the Northeast.
Clark said it was the students who were most instrumental in elevating the program to the varsity level. “The students were the driving force,” he said. “I’m thankful to the administration for its support, but most of all it was the Student Senate that supported and funded women’s ice hockey. We didn’t have to make any cuts to any other sports.”
PSU hired its first varsity coach last spring: Heather Hoffay, a former student athlete at Hamilton College and assistant coach at Trinity College and Wesleyan University. It was Hoffay who helped PSU earn a spot in the ECAC Women’s East for next year. She’s looking forward to the program’s growth.
“The skill level in women’s hockey gets better every year,” Hoffay noted. “Some of our juniors and seniors just started playing when they got here, but the girls coming into college now have been playing since they were kids. Girls have opportunities now that they didn’t have 10 years ago.”
Like the men’s team, the Panther women practice and play home games at Waterville Valley and Laconia ice arenas for now, with an eye on a new ice arena on campus in the future.
In the meantime, student athletes like Williams are just happy to be playing hockey. “The support from everyone, especially in the athletics department, has been great,” she said. “We have practice every day instead of a couple times a week. An athletic trainer is there every day now. We all got new sticks, a stick bag, new gloves, new socks, new white jerseys. Now we look like a team. It’s so amazing.”
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