Women’s club hockey enters new division

Loyola's women's club hockey team holds up their championship sign after winning the division last season.
Loyola’s women’s club hockey team hold up their championship sign after winning the division last season

While most Rambler teams play other colleges and schools in the Midwest region, the women’s hockey club is a bit different. Instead of playing other colleges, they play teams in the Women’s Central Hockey League (WCHL), which consists of teams with players of every age group.

Most of the teams the Ramblers play aren’t the same age as them, but it doesn’t mean they won’t have a chance to play other college teams in the postseason.

“Last year we played Northwestern, they were in our league,” said sophomore Kristen Sutera, 19. “We can play U of I and Wisconsin, but we don’t play them until the playoffs. We only play teams with older and some younger girls. … It’s definitely an interesting experience.”

When they do get to play fellow college teams, however, the Ramblers savor the experience.

“Schools fun to play are UIC and U of I because we’re all in the same situation,” said senior Madeline Barrett, 21. “Other teams we play, it’s like a hobby [for their players]. They have jobs, a life and play hockey on the side.”

Coach Sonya Malinowski calls her team “small” compared to other teams in their league, but with only nine skaters (five skaters are on the ice at a time) and two goalies, the team’s roster is limited compared to just about any other hockey team. The team will gain one more player next semester when she returns from studying abroad.

The team only has three defensive players on the roster. Two defensemen are on the ice almost all of the time in hockey, so one player has to stay out on the ice for two consecutive shifts.

“It’s a little confusing,” Barrett said. “ You’re always playing too long of shifts. If we had 10 to 13 girls it wouldn’t be a problem, but if someone wants to miss a game, you can’t do that.”

But the team isn’t suffering much because of it. In fact, last season, by winning the WCHL Grey Division, the team was moved up to the white division this year. The White Division is only one step away from the Red Division, the highest one in the league.

The new division is more challenging for the team, but it’s a challenge they’re enjoying.

“It’s a faster pace,” Malinowski said. “We need to keep working hard, and the girls enjoy the faster pace. I keep telling them ‘work hard, and the goals and wins will follow.’”

The players agree with their coach that this division and its high competition level is more fun to play at.

“I’ve played hockey both years [I’ve been a Loyola student],” Sutera said. “I like it better than the league last year. There aren’t beginner players, everyone has been playing the game and [is] more experienced.”

The team still believes they have the ability to make it all the way to the championship game.

“I definitely think we can make it to playoffs in Wisconsin,” Sutera said. “ We can play for the championship at University of Wisconsin and after that the season will be over. In the league above us, teams can go on to nationals.”

What are the team’s plans for the future? “I’m hoping by my senior year we get to that division and to go to nationals,” Sutera said.

The Ramblers’ team consists of players from every grade level, including one graduate student and several freshmen with prior hockey experience.

“We have a lot more sophomores and freshmen and only two seniors that are leaving after this year,” Barrett said.

This season is Malinowski’s first as head coach. She helped out last year and has played hockey with many Loyola alumni, which is how she connected with the Ramblers.

Malinowski currently plays hockey in the WCHL Red Division and skates with many of the players who were on the women’s hockey team at Loyola in its inaugural season, 2007- 2008. However, the team did not officially become a club team until the 2009-2010 season.

Malinowski currently works at the Chicago Park District at the Lincoln Park Center, where she teaches fitness classes as well as works with kids after school and preschoolers.

It’s a long season for the women.

They started practicing and playing games in September, and the season doesn’t end until March, which they can play through if the team makes it to the playoffs.

With about 17 regular season games and practice every Wednesday night, the women must prioritize their time to accommodate their hockey schedule.

“You have to prioritize your schedule right away,” Barrett said. “If you know you’re going to be gone for a weekend, you have to do stuff in advance.”

Every Wednesday night, the Ramblers travel 45 minutes to Northbrook Park District and are on the ice by 10:30 p.m. They skate until 11:30 p.m. and then head back to campus. This is the only mandatory practice of the week, but off-ice training is optional throughout the rest of the week.

Because the team play their home games in Northbrook, the women’s hockey team doesn’t get much support from their fellow Loyola students.

“We don’t get a lot of support at our games, but we understand,” Sutera said. “You can’t get to many games on the CTA, but we do have a few games coming up in Evanston.”

The team plays in Evanston in January. For their entire schedule, students can reference the team’s Facebook page titled Loyola Univer- sity Chicago Women’s Ice Hockey.

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