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How to Build a Hockey Team

WVU women's club hockey team.

Written by Diana Mazzella
Photographs Provided

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Where Ashley Osborne grew up in Winchester, Mass., there were a dozen ice rinks within easy driving distance. Almost everyone played ice hockey. In Morgantown, where Osborne transferred to West Virginia University mid-college career, there’s one rink and another an hour away. But she would learn how much people who had never even been on the ice before would come to love the sport.

Her first semester, she looked through the list of club sports and noticed men’s ice hockey Division 1 and Division 2 teams, but didn’t see a women’s ice hockey team.

 

Osborne, a senior majoring in multidisciplinary studies, attended class with Teaching Assistant Professor Cheyenne Luzynski, who introduced herself, discussing her college experience running a volleyball club.

 

Osborne knew she wanted to start a women’s ice hockey club and she thought Luzynski could be the adviser.

 

Luzynski quickly agreed.

 

It would be a little more than a year before the team saw the puck drop at their first game. At the moment, there was no team, no money, no equipment, just a driven woman and a supportive professor.

 

Osborne acknowledges that it’s the most expensive sport she could have chosen. But she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t on skates, and she wanted to rekindle how she felt when she learned at every practice on town and club teams, before coaches became angry in high school, before the drive to win at all cost separated teammates. It had been three years since she played, but she felt the tug to try again.

 

“I just want to play. And getting all the steps with Cheyenne was hard, but it is motivating. ’Cause like, this is going to be fun. I just want it to be fun again.”

 

Other women thought it might be fun, too. The first barely publicized informational session attracted a dozen attendees, enough for a team.


The team had to raise funds and recruit students. Front, left to right: Ashley Osborne and Chloe Chipman.

 The team had to raise funds and recruit students. Front, left to right: Ashley Osborne and Chloe Chipman.

As the team recruited players, Osborne wanted both experienced players and those who had never been on the ice or picked up a hockey stick, because part of the point for her was bringing hockey to people who had never played.

 

Chloe Chipman, a sophomore from Leonardtown, Md., had never used ice skates before. She heard about the team forming, borrowed a friend’s equipment and showed up.

 

“Learning hockey definitely would’ve been much easier if I could already skate,” said Chipman, who is majoring in immunology and medical microbiology. “Luckily, I’ve played a lot of sports in my life, so mentally it’s been easy to grasp. Physically, though, I can’t always be where I need to be or do what I need to do because of my poor skating skills.

 

“So many people on my team, and on the teams we play against, have years of experience so no matter how much I improve, I always feel behind. It’s still fun though, and I still plan to work hard.”


First WVU women's ice hockey team practice.

The team’s first practice. Students gathered gear from their closets, teammates, friends and the WVU men’s teams in order to play.

It turns out the other women didn’t care that she was a novice. There was extra satisfaction in teaching the newbies.

 

“My team has always been so supportive of me. From the start, they weren’t worried about the fact that I hadn’t played before. They actually seemed to enjoy watching me learn and improve, and every now and then they would tell me how cool it was that I was picking it up well. They always wanted me to do well, and wouldn't let me get down on myself when there was something I couldn’t grasp yet. If I ever didn’t understand something, they were happy to help me. They made it so easy to want to keep trying, because I knew they were always there for me.”

 

Hitting the Ice

 

The paperwork was never-ending for Osborne. The team was accepted into the American Collegiate Hockey Association and the Delaware Valley College Hockey Conference. They received $400 from the University’s Club Sports Federation and had to raise the rest or pay out of their own pockets. Women who had extra gear gave it to those who didn’t have any. The men’s teams gave what they could spare and offered advice. Teammates wrote letters, and sold T-shirts and stickers. The team started a GoFundMe campaign, raising about $2,000 of a $10,000 goal.

 

Practice times were at 6 a.m. on Wednesdays, a time the team chose but was hard for them to maintain.


Kadyrose Newman at 6 a.m. practice.

Kadyrose Newman at a 6 a.m. team practice.

“You get towards the end of the season – It was cold and no one wants to get up before the sun’s rising, and it’s dark when you get out still,” Osborne said. So the team would get breakfast after.

 

“We try to entice people, like almost reward them for waking up so early.”

 

The team had an official coach but Osborne was basically the manager and helped coach and motivate her teammates. A few of the members were seasoned hockey players. Half were beginners and some had never been on the ice before. There was the task of building an organization, and then there was teaching players how to turn while pushing the puck without seeing it.

 

Going into the first game in the fall of 2019, which was an away match against Rowan University, the Lady Mountaineers had a roster of 11. The goalie, Alexa Rummel, had never been a goalie before, and there were just two other players on defense.

 

They lost, 0-11. 

 

“We just kind of laugh about it,” Osborne said.

 

They lost the next game (7-9) at West Chester University and the next two (5-14 and 3-10) at home against the University of Maryland.

 

Then they won, beating George Washington University 13-2 and 15-2. By the end of the season in early 2020, they had almost as many wins as losses, 6-7, and a conference record of 4-4.


Players practice in new gear.

Ashley Osborne (right) laughs with teammates as they practice with new equipment. 

They didn’t have money for travel so they would carpool, book an Airbnb or stay with friends in the area. For one game in New Jersey, they drove six hours, played the game and drove six hours back that night.

 

Osborne says it was these times, pushing hard and making do, where the team cemented.

 

“Half of the bonding was all of the crazy travels,” she said.

 

And then there were the personal joys, win or lose, that felt like team wins.

 

“I'll never forget the time I scored my first goal,” Chipman said. “Everyone was so excited!”

 

At the end of the season, they went to the playoffs, which Osborne did not see coming.

 

But not all of the team members could make the games, so the team missed part of the playoffs. At the last game, there were only two defensive players, one of which was Osborne, who played the whole game. “We were dead afterwards. I’ve never done that in my life,” Osborne said. They were defeated in the playoffs and lost to the University of Maryland in the consolation game.

 

The Next Chapter

 

This team was echoing the first informal and short-lived WVU Women’s hockey team from the 1990s.

 

Students from the local Morgantown high school USA hockey team who had been coached by their parents wanted to keep playing in college. These students and others formed an unaffiliated WVU women’s hockey team, said Dr. Roger Toffle, who helped advise the group.

 

That team lasted about a year, recalls Toffle, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology.


A women's ice hockey team that played for WVU unofficially in the 1990s. 11 players are posing in uniform on an ice rink with hockey sticks.

A photo of the WVU women’s hockey team in the 1990s. They played for about a year. 

“We practiced at 6 a.m., which was difficult for the obvious reasons,” he said. “The teams of that era did not join any organized leagues since the American Collegiate Hockey Association did not have a women’s division. 

 

“We did play a group of women from Ohio State and played against a women’s team from the Washington, D.C. area but I have no independent recollection of other games other than against the local girls’ USA hockey team.”

 

Both with 6 a.m. practices. Both with high schoolers who didn’t want to give up the sport they loved. But this time, the dream will last longer, pandemic or not.

 

Osborne says cobbling together funds and equipment was enough to make it through the first year.

 

“It was survival, really, making sure we could get this first season to work and retain players and just stay afloat. And we did, and it gave us new life going into this season.” 

 

The team now has about 30 interested players. But they haven’t been able to play yet because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has halted sports in many places. Aside from the health crisis, this was Osborne’s first and last season as a player at WVU, but she will be back in the spring, maybe as an official coach, but certainly to help the team continue. If the team can exist for five years, she believes they’ll be a permanent fixture.

 

There are already signs that the team will stick around. When word got out about the existence of a women’s ice hockey team, students as young as high school juniors would write to Osborne, sometimes in formal letters, expressing their interest in the club team before they applied to college.


WVU women's ice hockey team makes Horns Down sign outside of rink. 

The team goofing around with the “horns down” symbol.

One of those emails read: “I play forward on my high school’s varsity team. My friends and I founded our girls hockey team as a club sport as sophomores, and this year it was finally varsity. I would love to continue playing in college, and I think I would be a great addition to the team. If it is possible, it would be great to talk to a coach or player about the tryouts, schedules, and what would be involved in being a part of the team. Go Mountaineers!” 

 

This story happens across the country with club sports, but is particularly common for women’s teams, Luzynski said.

 

Luzynski, who has worked as a college volleyball coach and assistant athletic director, received her PhD in educational leadership, with a dissertation on women’s emergence in intercollegiate athletics.

 

Like Osborne, she grew her potential in club sports.

 

“I played for five years and was president for the last two and was on the executive board since my sophomore year,” Luzynski said. “I learned so much about how to manage budgets and how to coordinate with personalities and how to inspire folks.”

 

“And that is a very meaningful experience to me and has even contributed to my profession and teaching leadership, because I identified so much in being in that leadership role.”

 

In her research, Luzynski has seen a difference in how women’s sports in higher education has evolved through cobbling together resources and surviving on enthusiasm.

 

“The club sports model really mirrors more of the historically women’s values in sport,” Luzynski said. “Yeah, winning is fun, but that’s not the whole point of it. The point of it is to get people to be more passionate about the sport, which is so counter to more of a men's model and how the men’s athletics model has been ingrained.”

 

“Certainly it’s fun to compete. I’m not discounting competition or success. It’s just that the emphasis and the values are different.”

 

The team is waiting to be able to practice some day when COVID-19 precautions allow. Osborne dreams of an improved ice rink with four WVU hockey teams, two women’s teams in addition to the two men’s teams. She sees more work though less of an uphill climb, but mostly, she sees lots of hockey.

 

“My goal is to compete at the highest level we can, but also still keeping those first goals in mind,” Osborne said.

 

“I want people to fall in love with this sport,” she said. “Yeah, it’s a weird and awkward sport if you've never played before, but I think that’s what makes it unique.”