With so much uncertainty surrounding the fate of the 2020-21 college ice hockey season because of the global pandemic, there was some good news coming from the world of college athletics on Wednesday. The NCAA announced that St. Thomas University, Minnesota’s largest private college, will have Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey programs beginning in the 2021-22 season.
This was a historic move as the Tommies will jump directly from Division III to Division I in all sports. The women’s team will join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association beginning a year from now.
“Today, as much as ever, I’m proud to be a Tommie as we look to our university’s future,” said UST’s athletic director, Dr. Phil Esten, in a statement released by the school on July 15. “I thank the leadership at the NCAA, the Summit League, Pioneer Football League, WCHA and all who have supported our efforts. This decision aligns with our university’s bold vision to ever press forward.”
But what does this all mean for the women’s program? Well, for starters this gives them a bigger stage to perform on. The women’s hockey program at the University of St. Thomas is one of the best in the nation at the D-III level. Since their first season in 1998-99, the Tommies have won six Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, six playoff titles, and earned six NCAA playoff berths They have gone approximately 20 seasons without a losing season, having a record of 357-171-52. That is a winning percentage of .660.
In addition, St. Thomas went to two Division III Frozen Fours, and finished top-three in the MIAC 19 times in the last 20 seasons. That is good for any team at any division.
So the jump up will really test them to see how good they really are against some of the best programs in both the WCHA and the nation. But with a year to prepare, they should have no problem making that transition. With so much talent in the state of Minnesota, they will continue to have a successful program for years to come. However, they will have competition now that they are going up against the likes of the UMD Bulldogs, Minnesota Gophers, St. Cloud State Huskies, Minnesota State University-Mankato Mavericks and Bemidji State Beavers.
Currently, the WCHA women’s league has seven teams and the Tommies will make eight after North Dakota dropped its program at the end of 2016-17 season. When the Tommies join the conference, there will be no more bye weeks which will mean a fuller schedule for these teams. The conference had already accepted St. Thomas three months ago but had to wait until the NCAA voted on the decision.
The WCHA will be jam packed starting in 2021-22 season with St. Thomas, UMD, Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State University, Bemidji State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.