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When you think of Michigan Hockey, you think of Marty Turco, Max Pacioretty and Red Berenson…but you probably do not think of women’s hockey.
Yet, with the massive wave of popularity, and a fresh set of eyes on the sport, players on the biggest stage say it is time for that to change.
There are numerous members of the new Professional Women’s Hockey League that either grew up or, at some point, played in the Mitten. Unfortunately, they could only go as far as the travel hockey ranks before moving elsewhere.
PWHL New York forward Madison Packer, of Detroit, is one of the veterans in the new league, entering her ninth year of pro hockey. She came up through the Little Caesars AAA system, and when it was time to go to college in 2010, Packer wanted to stay close to home but had to choose the University of Wisconsin.
Emma Woods, Madison Packer (PWHL)
“It’s a huge swing-and-a-miss,” Packer says. “To not have a next-level Division I option in Michigan. Point blank, if the University of Michigan had a women’s hockey team when I was being recruited, I wouldn’t have thought twice about going there…I would’ve loved to have the opportunity to go to Michigan.”
One of Packer’s teammates at Little Caesars was Shiann Darkangelo. The Brighton native had to branch out a little further, going to Syracuse University before heading to Quinnipiac to finish out her college career.
Darkangelo is on a stacked Boston team with fellow Michiganders Megan Keller and Taylor Girard. She agrees this is the perfect time for a D-I team in her home state.
Shiann Darkangelo (PWHL)
“The time is now,” Darkangelo said. “I feel like we’re so behind in that aspect. It would be absolutely awesome to see it happen. [UM] is such an attractive place. If they would’ve had a team, it would’ve been pretty hard to pass up for myself to go there.”
Minnesota defender Mellissa Channell played one season with Darkangelo at Little Caesars, while getting to play with Packer at Wisconsin during her freshman 2013-14 season. While she loved her time in Madison, the 29-year-old admits she would have loved to have stayed close to home.
“Growing up in Detroit,” Channell recalled. “I was a big fan of Michigan. I went to Yost Ice Arena and I was like, ‘This would be so fun to play in.’”
Channell also believes that if the Wolverines were to get a team, the dominos would begin to fall.
“That would drive Michigan State to get a team. I think that would drive Ferris State, Western Michigan, all the schools that have men’s programs, they would see the success the Michigan team would have, and then they would have [women’s] teams too. It just takes one. Once one cracks, more will follow suit..”
Macomb native, and Boston forward, Taylor Girard spent time with Honeybaked before embarking on a five-year college career. Even though she enjoyed her experiences at Lindenwood and Quinnipiac, Girard did not get to play in front of her family, a reality that many players from around Michigan face.
Taylor Girard, Gigi Marvin (PWHL)
“It does suck,” Girard said. “Guys get to do that. As a girl…it’s kind of scary, because then you have to move far away [to play in college].”
With such an amount of raw talent across the state, and in southern Ontario, a team in Michigan would be competitive right off the hop.
“As soon as [Michigan] takes the plunge, and invest in a women’s hockey team, they’ll have a top-five program within two years,” Packer said.
“The university kind of recruits itself,” Darkangelo agreed. “I think that makes it a lot easier for a coach.”
“Say Michigan was in D-I competition,” Girard stated. “They would be another team competing for a national championship, not like a squad that’s on the lower-end.”
The state of Michigan has seven men’s D-I teams, the third-most in any single state. However, the only NCAA varsity women’s team in The Mitten is a D-III squad at Adrian College.
For comparison, Minnesota possesses six men’s programs, each of which has a women’s team. New York has nine women’s programs, while Massachusetts has seven. Both New York and Massachusetts and 11 men’s teams.
There was a D-I team at Wayne State University, a D-II school in the Motor City, that played from 1999 to 2011. However, it was cut due to a lack of funding from the state.
There have been multiple attempts at putting a women’s team on the ice in Ann Arbor, but bids in 1997 and 2011 both fell through, with former Athletic Director Dave Brandon citing financial and facility restraints as the reason to move on with other plans.
Sadie Lundquist, the first Director of Women’s Hockey for College Hockey Inc., is one of many from around the country who are surprised Michigan does not have high-end college hockey.
“There are so many young girls playing hockey in Michigan, and it’s unfortunate that they have to leave the state to play at the DI level. College Hockey Inc. is excited to continue growing women’s hockey nationally and we hope that includes Michigan. There is great momentum in women’s hockey right now, especially with the announcement from the University of Delaware and the PWHL season in full stride.”
Jenna Trubiano is the head coach of the club women’s hockey program at Michigan, a position she has held since 2021. The team is a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the country’s highest governing body of club college hockey, competing at the Division 1 level.
The 28-year-old has been on the bench in Ann Arbor since 2018, right after finishing up a five-year career playing for the Maize and Blue.
Jenna Trubiano (Jaime Crawford)
Last spring, the Wolverines made it to the ACHA National Tournament for the first time since 2016. Trubiano’s work with the program goes beyond on-ice success. Since she has taken over, the team’s social media following has grown exponentially.
As a non-varsity program, the Wolverines must pay for ice time to practice and play. The team put out a post in December of last year, asking for financial help to afford the bill to play the remainder of the 2022-23 season at Yost Ice Arena. The story spread like wildfire, leading to a certain social media influencer, and a former Michigan graduate, paying the fee.
“Our visibility on campus…has grown tremendously. A lot of people know we exist now, something that wasn’t the case five or 10 years ago.”
Even the biggest figure at the university is a fan of the team. As the 2023-24 season gets underway, the Office of President Santa Ono is helping foot the bill for the Wolverines to play at Yost. Ono, the former president of the University of British Columbia, appeared at multiple games during his tenure, even supporting the club on his personal X/Twitter account.
The Vancouver native is expected to attend another game on Feb. 18. President Ono was unable to be reached for an interview, but a message from his office said:
“The President attends various U-M events and takes immense pride in supporting the entire U-M community, attending as many events as possible – including the women’s ice hockey.”
University of Michigan President Santa Ono (center) in the locker room with the Michigan Wolverines women’s club hockey team (Jenna Trubiano)
Even Jordan Acker, who is on the school’s board of regents, believes it is time for something new in Ann Arbor.
Trubiano and her team’s work is also getting noticed by those playing at the highest level.
“I know Jenna’s been doing such a great job,” Channell said. “Whether it’s getting support from outside sponsors, or whatever it might be…she’s building that program up [so] girls from Michigan have a chance to play college hockey.”
“They’re definitely trying to make a push,” Darkangelo agreed. “It really seems like they’re doing a great job to try and push the needle. I’m sure they are hoping for a D-I team with their efforts.”
Trubiano believes the club team’s success can lead to something bigger.
“Winning solves a lot of problems,” Trubiano said. “A lot of the momentum we have gotten the last two seasons is because we are winning, and it is easy to promote and easy to support.”
The rise of popularity for the club team on campus coincides with the massive wave of momentum women’s hockey is on, including that of the PWHL, which has kicked off its inaugural season to big crowds and rave reviews.
While there are good travel programs around Detroit – Michigan does not have a great amateur hockey system. Girls’ high school hockey is not a varsity-sanctioned sport, due to few schools possessing teams. Adding an NCAA team at Michigan could make a significant impact, growing the game in leaps and bounds.
“The girls in Minnesota, who go to [the University of Minnesota],” Channell explained. “They were born and raised in the state, and that’s what their dream is to play for that school. I think if Michigan were to that…those girls would have dreams of, ‘I want to play for Michigan.’ ”
Mellissa Channell (PWHL)
“It’s about visibility,” Girard added. “If there’s more programs, like a college program…you get that younger girl hooked on the game. That grows the game.”
Former senior writer for ESPN Eric Adelson, is another big supporter of women’s sports. An Ann Arbor native, he agrees that a top-tier college program would pay dividends in the long run.
“It would mean an enormous and permanent, positive difference for the university,” Adelson stated. “For the state, and for the sport. There are so many girls that deserve a chance to play at the top level in the state of Michigan. It’s not just for the sport now, as it is for the sport and the girls yet to come.”
With the exponential interest in the women’s game, paired with the influx of notoriety around the University of Michigan following the football winning the national championship, it is the perfect storm for a new program on campus.
“No better time than now,” Channell confirmed. “In a sense of all the eyes on the university and on women’s hockey.”