Washington welcomes women’s NCAA hockey

The D1 in DC tournament brought thrilling college hockey games to a new audience.

Immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, four Division I teams met at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. — just outside Washington, D.C. — for the D1 in DC tournament. If the crowd size and reaction are any indicator, this could be a new tradition for women’s college hockey.

On Friday, Nov. 24, Boston University “hosted” Minnesota State-Mankato, and then Northeastern hosted Wisconsin. On Saturday, Nov. 25, Boston University was the home team vs. Wisconsin, and the tournament concluded when Northeastern hosted Minnesota State.

The event was organized by the Pride Hockey Association of the JWHL. Washington Pride director and head coach Kush Sidhu notes that more than 100 girls from the D.C. area have gone on to play in NCAA programs, including Northeastern’s Veronika Pettey.

A shocking upset

Knowing that those were the four teams in the mix, would you have predicted that it would be Northeastern University that would finish the weekend undefeated? Maybe Maryland native Pettey wanted to come up big in front of her former coach and program. Maybe the Thanksgiving dinner that her family hosted for the team provided the energy they needed. Maybe the Huskies just had an alertness that the other three teams were missing during the weekend — Northeastern jumped unhesitatingly on the opportunities that arose, such as when an opposing goaltender misplayed the puck or an opponent’s pass failed to connect.

Whatever the reason, Northeastern beat No. 1 Wisconsin in a very tight game on Friday, winning 3–2 and ending Wisconsin’s 16-game unbeaten streak, thanks mostly to a sparkling performance by freshman goaltender Aerin Frankel.

Boston University had easily overpowered Minnesota State in Friday’s first game, winning 5–2 due largely to the offensive efforts of linemates Victoria Bach (who scored her second hat trick in two weeks) and Rebecca Leslie.

Wisconsin bounced back from Friday’s surprise loss to beat Boston University 4–2 on Saturday. Bach tallied another two goals, but Wisconsin — particularly Abby Roque — showed off the talents that have kept the Badgers at the top of the rankings.

NU closed out the tournament by defeating Minnesota State 6–1 in a game that featured a Denisa Křížová hat trick and a Pettey goal. The team then held an open skate with fans.

Growing the game

Official attendance was close to 950 for each game. The crowd included a mix of parents and boosters from each school — many of whom traveled from the Boston area for the weekend — and young hockey players and fans from the D.C. area.

Sidhu noted the importance of showing his players what they might have to look forward to. As he told The Ice Garden’s Joe Barbito ahead of the weekend, “We have a lot of girls that play hockey in Washington, but it’s rare that our kids can see a college game.”

There isn’t a women’s college hockey team in the region — the closest DI programs are at Penn State and Princeton; both are about a 3-1/2 hour drive away. Stevenson University in Baltimore has a DIII women’s team. “Bringing the game here gives our market a chance to experience the game,” continued Sidhu.

After the tournament, Sidhu reiterated how important it was for the high school players to be able see these games. “It’s great to watch [the NHL’s Washington Capitals], but that’s not reality for these girls. This is reality.”

The college players also seemed to appreciate playing in a new venue and reaching a new audience. In spite of the travel and unfamiliar location, NU's Tori Sullivan said, “This was great. We were happy to be here.”