Saturday, July 28, 2012

PSU to Sponsor ACHA Women's D2 Team

Katie Vaughan might finally have a place in Penn State hockey.

Following rumors that scarce ice time was putting PSU's women's ACHA team in jeopardy for this coming season, the plan is apparently moving forward, according to a brief article posted to the ACHA's site:
As part of the on going NCAA advancement of the Ice Hockey program the Penn State Womens program will be moving into the Division 2 starting this upcoming year.
No details beyond that are known at this time, but they are expected soon.

That's certainly welcome news for the numerous players from last year's Lady Icers who did not make the NCAA roster, notably star goalie Katie Vaughan, along with Allie Rothman and Cara Mendelson on defense and Katie Murphy and Katharine Gausseres up front (I can't verify any participation - I'm simply naming significant players from last season who weren't seniors and aren't now on the NCAA team).

The "demotion" from D1 to D2 is probably a smart move, given the increasing wherewithal required to assemble a competitive D1 team on both the men's and women's sides, particularly in terms of travel and recruiting. It's largely axiomatic that a D2 team is the best way to go for a men's program seeking to co-exist with the NCAA. In fact, men's D1-NCAA setups are prohibited by an ACHA rule, although one that's never enforced. With the women, the evidence is a little less clear. NCAA DI schools Connecticut and Minnesota-Duluth have ACHA D2 teams, while Northeastern, Minnesota, Ohio State, Massachusetts, Vermont and Wisconsin were in D1 last year.

The differences between women's D1 and D2 include:
  • Lower membership dues ($1050 vs. $1250)
  • Lower games played requirements for tournament eligibility (six against three other D2 teams vs. 12 against six other D1 teams)
  • D2 players do not need to be degree-seeking students, although all must pass at least six credits to be eligible
  • Up to six years of total eligibility for players (D1 has a maximum of five)
  • Shorter periods (17 minutes vs. 20 minutes)

D2 competition - introduced for women in the 2006-2007 season - would potentially give Penn State a much tighter geography than the Lady Icers' New England trips of seemingly every other weekend. Pennsylvania schools Slippery Rock, West Chester, California (a frequent Lady Icers opponent), Villanova and barely-out-of-state Delaware all played in women's D2 last year. Wisconsin-Stout defeated Alaska for the 2012 national championship, culminating a tournament featuring six of 23 teams.

Last season's Lady Icers, of course, went 12-7-1-0 against ACHA competition, part of a 13-14-3-1 overall record that included a historic upset of NCAA DI team Sacred Heart and the ECWHL regular season championship. Women's hockey at Penn State began for the 1996-1997 season and joined the ACHA in 2000 when it first added a women's division. Since then, it's enjoyed a highly-successful history that includes six national championship tournament appearances and a trip to the semifinals in 2002.

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