San Jose weekend sparks NCAA women’s interest
What does the head coach of the women’s hockey program at Providence College think about the viability of NCAA Division I puck in California?
The same thing as many influential hockey minds, as it turns out.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Bob Deraney said following a weekend series between his Friars and the University of Wisconsin at Sharks Ice-San Jose on Oct. 2-3 that also featured the two teams combining to put on a pair of hockey clinics on Oct. 4.
“It’s not if; it’s when. The support out here is definitely growing by leaps and bounds, and I think someone is going to do the right thing and help these local players stay out west.”
There’s no need to sell Deraney’s captain, San Jose native Lexi Romanchuk, on the merits of Division I hockey in California. The loudest cheers of the weekend from a raucous capacity crowd of 600 at Sharks Ice were reserved for Romanchuk, who says seeing so many people out to watch Division I hockey is a sign that the Golden State is ready for a few teams of its own.
“I wish there were games out here when I was younger,” said Romanchuk, now a senior at Providence. “We’re role models for these girls – not just in California, but for girls everywhere. They come up to us and tell us this is what they want to do and who they want to be.
“When that happens in California where there isn’t any college hockey, it really means a lot. For them to be able to watch college hockey and see what it is and what it’s all about, I think it’s awesome for them and it’ll help grow the game even more.”
The weekend in San Jose wasn’t the first time Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson has elected to schedule games in markets outside the NCAA women’s hockey footprint.
“I think having done it numerous times in the past – being down in Fort Myers, Florida, having done it out in Vail, Colorado, and Southern California – the situation presented itself (in Northern California),” said Johnson.
“It’s a tribute to the hockey community. The (San Jose) Sharks advertised it, so a lot of people showed up. For a lot of the fans, it’s the first time they’ve seen a Division I women’s hockey game live. I think a lot of them were very impressed with the level of play.”
However, just because the desire is there for Division I hockey in California doesn’t mean there aren’t questions.
“I got a call recently from an athletic director out west who asked about the viability of women’s hockey,” said Deraney, who’s named three players from California as team captain in his 17 years at the helm of the Friars.
“I said, ‘It’d be great, but who are you going to play?’ There’s no question there’s an intense interest in the sport and it’s growing by leaps and bounds, and I think the fact that Arizona State (University) has a men’s (NCAA) Division I program now – and I don’t think women’s is too far behind – is going to start a domino effect here.”
It’s not just people associated with the NCAA rooting for a westward expansion into California, as proponents from all corners of the hockey world will continue patiently waiting for the right school to follow the lead of Arizona State and take the plunge.
“I’d certainly like to think California can support NCAA hockey,” said Doug Wilson, executive vice president and general manager of the Sharks. “It’s in Arizona now, and certainly there’s complexities to making things like this happen in a place like California, but I’m of the mindset that there should be no limitations on where this game can go.”
– John B. Spigott