Women’s Hockey: Moving up in the wild world of WHAM

A collection of former high school hockey players and hockey neophytes make up the 2013-14 Women’s Club Hockey team. These women, who call the Highland Ice Arena their home, are embarking on their first season playing exclusively other colleges.

Members of the the Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota (WHAM), the Scots have shifted divisions within the league several times over the past four years.

“For my first three years here we played local middle-aged women,” said co-captain Amelia Franklin ’14. However, following many complaints over the years from the adult teams over age differences and the amount of penalties committed by the team, the WHAM administrators bumped the team up to a higher division in which the Scots will play colleges only.

Leading this transition are co-captains Franklin, Sarah Birkholtz ’15 and Hannah Whitis ’15. Franklin, the team’s lone senior, played three years of high school hockey on her alma mater’s men’s team.

“I had just started and was a very ineffective player,” she said of her high school career. “(When I joined the Macalester team) I was too aggressive and ended up leading the league in penalties during my first year.”

Having played hockey since fourth grade, Whitis rose to the top immediately upon joining the Macalester team. She played four years of varsity hockey in high school and became captain her senior year.

“I looked into playing Division III hockey, but I ultimately decided academics were more important,” she said.

Though she could skate upon arriving on campus, Birkholtz had never played hockey and had no intentions to until her then softball teammate Franklin convinced her to join. Birkholtz’s story is a much more common one than Franklin or Whitis’. Birkholtz estimated that 85 percent of the team had never donned skates before joining the team.

The role of club hockey as an introduction to the sport is one that the three more experienced captains appreciate. “Hockey’s a difficult, expensive sport, and it’s great that you can start at age 18,” Franklin said.

Team practices, led by head coach Alison Sommer and assistant coach Scott Legge, are predominantly instructional, focusing on teaching the newcomers to skate. According to Franklin, the coaches “take care of the team well.” The role of the co-captains and other veterans during practices is to serves as demos. “We learn the sport itself more through games than practice,” Birkholtz said.

Franklin said that she is proud of Macalester’s willingness to support the team. “One of the best things about this program is that Mac has full sets of gear that we can loan out to girls so people that have never had a chance to play hockey in their lives can play for no cost beyond the league registration fee,” she said.

According to Birkholtz, the team maintains a careful balance between having fun and learning the sport. “It’s easier to have fun when you know what’s going on,” she said. “The women cultivate a very relaxed, not-ultra competitive atmosphere.” Despite the relaxed climate, the team’s short schedule depends upon reliability. “We don’t have time for people not to show up,” she said. “But all the girls who stick with it seem to really enjoy learning the sport.”

The women have competed four times already this year. In their first game, the team suffered a 7-0 loss to an experienced Bethel team. They followed this up with a narrow loss to their only consistent opponent from year to year, Carleton. The Scots also engaged in two inter-quad scrimmages with a St. Scholastica team that was barely short of varsity in their estimation.

If fan turnout is encouraging, the Scots promise supporters a post-game Macalester chant and some Superman slides on the ice.

“There’s an element of hilarity to watching us play, but we’re laughing on the ice too,” Franklin said.

“This a ridiculous bunch of kids,” Franklin said. “There are some big personalities.”

If you seek variety in your sports viewing, attending a Macalester Women’s Hockey game offers such an experience. “There’s such a range in skill. You’ll see someone take it the length of the ice and score, and then you’ll see someone spinning around in circles,” Whitis said.