Women's college hockey took another positive step Monday when Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, announced that it's adding a women's varsity team.
The school, located approximately 30 miles south of Boston, will have a Division I program and play its first season in the New England Women's Hockey Alliance in 2021-22.
"Hockey has a pretty strong history and strong following in the Northeast, and we'll be the first [conference] member from greater Boston and state of Massachusetts. That's a flag we're happy to carry," Stonehill athletic director Dean O'Keefe said. "It's obviously great for the growth [of women's hockey] -- and selfishly for the college, it's great to start a new varsity sport. The unique thing is we'll have ability to compete at very highest level of hockey in the country. That's pretty exciting."
Stonehill will also keep its club program, which began in 2015.
NHL vice president of hockey development and strategic collaboration Kevin Westgarth said Stonehill's decision to add women's hockey is, "part of a greater story of our goal to help grow college hockey across the United States for both men and women.
"We've been working with College Hockey Inc. on a project to fund feasibility studies for schools looking to explore adding, particularly, Division I hockey," Westgarth said. "But any time there's varsity hockey added it's great to give the opportunities, not only to those elite student athletes, but also to create role models for young boys and girls and fans for the next generation."
NEWHA, comprised of NCAA Division I and II institutions in the northeastern United States, was established in 2018 and was approved as an NCAA Division I conference on Aug. 1. The NEWHA champion will be eligible for a bid to the National Collegiate Women's Ice Hockey (Division I) Championship beginning in 2022. Saint Anselm College, Franklin Pierce University, Sacred Heart University, Long Island University, Saint Michael's College and Post University are already in the NEWHA.
Stonehill starting a varsity program is another encouraging step for the growth of women's college hockey.
"It's one school at a time, and this is another school doing it," College Hockey Inc. executive director Mike Snee said. "It provides another member of a new conference, all of which is a great thing. It further blazes the trail for the next school that perhaps is considering it now and sees another school adding. It's good in many different ways."
O'Keefe said Stonehill hopes to have a coach in place during the spring semester. The team will train and compete at Bridgewater Ice Arena, approximately 15 miles southeast of Stonehill's campus.
"Any time the sport of hockey can grow, and the sport of women's hockey can grow at a high level, folks who are fans of the game are excited about that," O'Keefe said. "In a time where you don't see teams added every day at a college level, for a school to add a varsity program, and commit to that, from a hockey community standpoint, there's some excitement. And hopefully that will translate into getting some interest as we go about our coaching search and try to find the first leader of this program, and as we look to identify some of the best women, not just in the country but around the globe who want to come to Stonehill and want to play."