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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Tufts club hockey skates in historical women’s game

Female-identifying ice hockey players emphasize the importance of women’s sports at Tufts.

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On Feb. 10, the Tufts club hockey team met UMass Lowell’s Women’s Club Ice Hockey on the ice of Medford’s Flynn Rink for a historical matchup: the Women's Game for the Tufts’ all-gender organization. Despite losing 5–3, the female-identifying members of the Tufts team still had a blast during the first-of-its-kind match.

Tufts Club Hockey is a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association in the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association division. Captained by juniors Tom Lyons, Harrison Sweet and Max Oulundsen, the 30-member team has thrived in the 202324 season.

The team consists of multiple female-identifying players, including first-years Jackie Brand and Amber Banks. After years of playing competitive club hockey in their respective hometowns, the two wanted to continue playing the sport that they love in college.

However, women’s hockey does not receive the same amount of respect as its male counterpart at Tufts. Tufts does not have a Division III Women’s Ice Hockey team, marking the university as one of only two institutions in the NESCAC  without the program, the other university being Bates College. Consequently, female players like Banks and Brand must play on all-gender club teams in order to continue pursuing their passion for the sport.

“I found that I actually didn’t mind playing with guys, but at the same time, I also wanted to put together some sort of way that we can have our own girls team,” Banks said.

In order to give the female-identifying ice hockey players at Tufts a chance to shine on their own, Banks and Brand took the initiative to organize the Women’s Game.

“We realized we had at least like seven or eight of us who consistently showed up … so [Jackie and I] took on the role a little bit of just reaching out to [the UMass Lowell Women’s Club Ice Hockey team],” Banks said.

Most of the games this season featured only 3 to 4 girls playing; furthermore, most of the games were against men’s teams, with only a few recreational or scrimmage games against teams of all genders. In order to rectify this disparity, Lyons — one of the team’s three captains — worked with the women in booking the rink, hiring referees and taking care of other logistics of the game. Lyons emphasized how developing a strong female presence is essential in maintaining a welcoming environment.

“No matter how you identify, you're welcome to come,” Lyons said. “We want to have you play on the team.

The team seeks to be welcoming to everyone, including all identities and skill levels. Lyons emphasized that no prior experience with the sport is required to join the team. The team even includes members who have never ice skated before joining.

The Women’s Game featured nine Tufts players, four of whom had never played competitively before. In the game, Brand was not only able to score two goals, but she was also able to reconnect with a friend from high school who goes to UMass Lowell.

“[My friend is] two years older than I am, so I played with her my freshman and sophomore year of high school,” Brand said. “We were [defensive] partners. … It’s cool being on opposite ends of the ice now.”

Practicing three times a week and a game almost every weekend, the team has grown tremendously in just the last year. Sophomore Layla Shaffer, another team member who played in the Women’s Game, emphasized the inclusive atmosphere of the team for female-identifying players.

 “The atmosphere is just so fun,” Shaffer said. “We're truly part of a team and — especially this year — we have become a lot closer. I don't really notice that big of a gender divide.”

Sophomore Noah Whitney, who assisted in coaching the Women’s Game, shared a similar sentiment.

“​​It was just a great atmosphere [to be able] to support [women] on our team because sometimes it’s hard because usually when we play against men’s teams, it's kind of hard to fit all of them in,” Whitney said.“I want the sport to grow and this is the way to do it, [to] make it inclusive for everybody … [because] it just creates a better atmosphere for everyone.

The Women’s Game adhered to the rules of the United States women’s national ice hockey team, including no direct body checking; therefore, this game marked an opportunity for the female players to return to the rulebook they grew up with.

“It’s just a different game,” Shaffer said. “It allowed us to play the game that we’re more used to. The rules are a little different.”

Shaffer emphasized that although there is no varsity women’s program at Tufts, the club team is a great outlet for her to play her favorite sport. She loves the competitive atmosphere of the club team; however, she expressed a desire to expand the program in order to provide more opportunities to female players.

“Ideally, it would be incredible for us to have an all-women’s team and join an all women’s league … just so we can have more time when we play,” Shaffer said. “[Division] III women’s hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in the NCAA, so there’s definitely a need for it, especially with the proportion of women’s hockey players in the Northeast.”

The future transitions for the team remain uncertain; however, there is continuous discussion about the future of more women’s games for future seasons. Lyons emphasized that scheduling more girls’ games is something that the team is looking forward to.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a critical mass where we have enough women to create an all-women’s game, which is super exciting,” Lyons said.

While the result of the game may have been a loss for Tufts, the excitement felt by the female players cannot be understated, highlighting the importance of creating spaces for women’s sports.

“It was literally the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Banks said. “It was really just a bunch of people doing something just for the sake of having so much fun.”

The team’s next match is against Brown University on Sunday. Further information can be found on the Tufts Recreation website.