USA Hockey Magazine

February 2019

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12 // FEBRUARY 2019 USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM n the world of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, referring to its 500-plus mem- ber teams as "club hockey" is viewed as a four-letter word. That colloquialism falls short of acknowl- edging the ACHA's role in providing oppor- tunities for men and women to play competi- tive hockey while getting a college education. These are not pickup games between stu- dents played at a local rink. The organization provides structure and regulations that pro- mote the quality of play, including national awards and championship tournaments. "The ACHA has much more to offer than w h a t p e o p l e t h i n k ," s a i d L i n d e nw o o d - Belleville (Ill.) coach Katherine Hannah. "People do not know the opportunities at the ACHA level and certainly grossly misun- derstand the level of talent that is hosted on many top teams. "The fact that the tag "club hockey" comes along with it doesn't help. Certainly, there are many teams that are club run and governed by the students, but there are also many teams that are fully funded and modeled after the NCAA and what USPORT (Canada) have to offer." Founded in 1991, the ACHA now supports five divisions (men's Division I, II and III and women's Division I and II) totaling more than 500 men's teams in the United States and Canada. On the women's sides, there are 23 Div. I programs and 49 Div. II teams. And with the continued growth of girls' hockey programs around the country, more opportunities are available for talented female players to con- tinue playing the game as more schools are added to the ACHA ranks. "We've received at least three applications for ACHA membership for next season at the Div. I level alone," said Molly Mahoney, the women's Div. I commissioner. "That is up from years past, and there are teams that have inquired but haven't filled out the application yet." Not only has the number of ACHA programs expanded, the quality of those players compet- ing has continued to improve, thanks in large part to a greater emphasis on player develop- ment under the guidance of USA Hockey. According to Arizona State coach Lindsey Ellis, the gap in talent between the non-schol- arship NCAA Div. III and ACHA Div. I pro- grams has shrunk in recent years. "The gap has significantly decreased over the years and the top-tier ACHA Div. I teams are beating NCAA Div. III teams on a regular basis," she said. " While every league still has room to grow, the ACHA is growing at a rapid pace. "Collegiate women's hockey has seen the most growth in the Western states in the past few years, with teams in Arizona, Utah and Colorado," she added. "Five years ago, this would have been unheard of." That expansion shows no sign of slowing down as more youth hockey players consider the ACHA as a viable option to stay in the game even if they do not end up in an NCAA Div. I (scholarship) program. "I truly believe the ACHA has created more interest and growth for those players at the youth level," Ellis said, citing examples in Arizona, Georgia and Kentucky. "There are teams around the league that have created a loyal fan base in places where you wouldn't exactly expect there to be a I The Expansion Of ACHA Women's Programs Keeps More Players In The Game By Joe Paisley "Collegiate women's hockey has seen the most growth in the Western states in the past few years, with teams in Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Five years ago, this would have been unheard of." —Lindsey Ellis, Arizona State coach PHOTOS COURTESY OF American Collegiate Hockey Association

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