By Olivia Fossier & Giselle Medina
The team plays in the Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association’s Division II, and this conference is part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Almost every American university and college that does not offer ice hockey as a Varsity sport, places its teams in the ACHA.
In its first few seasons, the Loyola Women’s Hockey teams struggled to win games because they struggled to fill their roster. As a result, the small team faced big challenges and usually finished toward the bottom of the conference standings. In recent seasons more and more women with a combination of strong academic performance and solid hockey backgrounds have found the university and its hockey team to be exactly the right fit for them. This season the team is composed of 18 players who come from Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
The team has improved season after season and has been moving up the conference standings, constantly striving for a Top 4 spot and an invitation to the end-of-season CCWHA D2 Tournament. This year Loyola played close games with all of its opponents and ended the season with a 6-3-1 conference record and 3rd place in the CCWHA D2 Standings. This was a major accomplishment for the team since it had never qualified for the conference tournament before.
Over the Feb. 23-25 weekend the team traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan to the Wings West Ice Arena where the CCWHA Division I and II conference tournament was played. Loyola opened their schedule Friday night with a big 3-1 win over the previously unbeaten Adrian College Bulldogs. On Saturday morning Loyola faced off with a Notre Dame team they had beaten twice in January; but not this time as they took too many penalties and wound up on the wrong end of a 4-3 score. After this game, the team’s coaches told the women to forget about the loss when they left the locker room, and to start focusing on the next game.
The Saturday evening game against perennial conference champs Northern Michigan would be for a place in the championship. The captains and Head Coach reminded the players that while the game was important, it was also just like any other game this season; they encouraged the team to go out and play “their game” and to do all the things they had practiced all year. Clearly that strategy worked, because when the final buzzer sounded it sealed Loyola’s 3-1 win and the chance to play for the championship.
In the Sunday morning CCWHA D2 Championship Game rematch with Notre Dame, Loyola avenged its Saturday defeat and grabbed the championship with a nail-biter 2-1 win over the Irish. Julia Smith (Loyola’s Goalie) was named the tournament MVP for only allowing 7 goals over the 4 games played. Loyola’s scoring during the tournament came from 9 different players; perfectly demonstrating the team effort that led to the championship.
The prize for winning the CCWHA Championship is an automatic bid for the Loyola University Chicago team to the ACHA National Championship Tournament in Columbus, Ohio over the March 14-18 weekend. It’s been a season of big accomplishments and the team is not taking any of the other 11 teams they will meet for granted. They plan to play as well as they can, representing the university proudly at their first ever ACHA Nationals appearance. For info on their program visit lucwomenshockey.com.