Despite Continued Success, the UMass Women’s Ice Hockey Team
Struggles Not to Break the Ice
Twelve hours before the University of Massachusetts Amherst women’s ice hockey team was to settle in for their eleven hour bus ride to Ohio for Nationals, team president, Samantha Gouin, and treasurer, Chelsea Corell, frantically checked last second finances to be sure the team could even afford to make the trip.
“We were 12 hours from not being able to compete for a national championship,” Corell said.
Having made it to Nationals six consecutive years means working hard enough to place among the eight best teams in the country. Hard work is nothing to the UMass women’s ice hockey team, though; it’s what happens off the ice that fuels their passion.
For 20-year-old Gouin, ice hockey runs through her, “I started playing when I was four, my dad has been playing since he was four so he kind of got me into it, and I’ve played ever since.”
Her father, Chris Gouin, coaches the Rhode Island College’s club hockey team, 2010-2011 back to back club hockey national champions.
Both the UMass women’s and RIC men’s ice hockey teams are members of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA,) the governing body of all club hockey teams in the United States. Without the status of varsity sport, the teams are ineligible to become members of the NCAA, however since their formation in 1991 and the women’s division formation in 2001, they have developed into a governing body of over 450 men’s and women’s club ice hockey teams nationally.
Growing up both Gouin and Corell lived in places where women’s ice hockey was not even offered until either their teenage years or even high school. Playing among the boys, often as the only girl on the team, they learned to develop a thick skin. For Gouin, it wasn’t until she attended an all-girls Catholic high school, St. Mary Academy Bay View in Riverside, R.I., that she first played on a women’s team.
The UMass women’s hockey team is considered a ‘club’ at UMass as opposed to a varsity level sports team. Because of this classification, the team is allocated a $30,000 budget in part from both the Student Government Association (SGA) and the university’s athletic association. While that may be a large sum of money, the number quickly diminishes when you factor in the cost of their ice time alone.
“A big chunk of our funding goes right to our ice bill because Mullins isn’t owned by the school,” Gouin says referring to the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., home to almost all of UMass’s sports teams and events, “They outsource the management which means we have to now pay for ice. I mean we’re not the only ones, varsity men’s also need to pay for ice, so their ice bill is huge, but I mean, it doesn’t matter for them because they’re funded, but like $12,000?”
“We paid $12,800 on ice alone,” Corell cuts her off with the definitive figure as the two laugh to themselves about the ridiculous cost.
But the funding issues don’t stop with home ice. The rest and majority of the team’s budget comes from the dues paid by each of the 25 team members. A $1,200 per season sum is paid by each girl to contribute to the growing costs of ice, travel, and equipment alone. While there may not be any girls who have allowed the excessive fees to prevent her from joining the team, there have been occasions when the entire team has suffered due to lack of funding.
“To save money on hotels, when we have like a long bus ride,” Corell says, “to save money on hotels, because it’s $100 a night, eight rooms because we have to pay for the bus driver’s room too, so it’s $800 every night, to save that for at least one night, we would travel overnight on the bus. So we would leave at ten or eleven at night, sleep on the bus, and then check into the hotel at like eleven or twelve the next morning.”
The talent on the UMass women’s ice hockey team is so abundantly clear that even through less than stellar conditions, one may begin to wonder just how much better their performance would be if they could afford that extra night sleep off the bus and in a hotel room instead. Once the team is on the road they still cannot focus entirely on the task at hand as they must allocate their own money for hearty enough meals to fuel them for games.
“Our coach even said he was a little like upset that Chelsea and I had to put in all this work for us to even get there and then it wasn’t fair that like maybe our play like on the ice once we got there, because we were so just drained from everything we did before that, that we that got there and we were just like ahhh,” Gouin lets out a sigh of relief describing how exhausting the process of getting to Nationals was by game time.
During the 2011 season, the team flew to St. Louis for a tournament. As freshmen at the time, Gouin and Corell were not even aware of the struggles the officers were dealing with.
“I couldn’t imagine how much that cost…” Corell says under her breath.
Gouin giggles and responds, “I don’t think I would have slept the week before.”
Gouin and Corell are passionate about their officer positions within the team, yet both admit a real motivating factor behind their initial candidacy was the prospect of reduced dues. Because of the incredible amount of dedication, time, and devotion to the team, officers are only required to pay half the price of the dues the rest of the team pays.
UMass makes about $36,000 annually from each out of state student, yet there is a team full of All Americans, Academic All Americans, hard working, talented women who dedicate themselves as much to their studies as they do to the success of their team. Yet they still cannot be given varsity standing to receive the funding and resources necessary for their success and that they rightly deserve?
The difference between a varsity and a club team, is that a varsity team is given funding from the school’s athletic department for everything from practice space to equipment to travel, while a club is thrown in the same category with the Quidditch team, the archery club, the anime and manga club, (not to discredit any RSO’s by any means,) and any other Registered Student Organization (RSO) that has at least fifteen members and registers for school recognition.
Several of the teams in the UMass women’s ice hockey team’s conference are considered of varsity status by their universities. The girls note that some teams have their own bus, receive new equipment on a regular basis, and have the luxury of flying to far destination, bypassing the overnight bus rides.
Gouin even recalls one of their Frozen Four competitor’s team trainer at Nationals, “We would love to have our own trainer that travels with us, but obviously we can’t do that.”
With such an emphasis on the safety of athletes today from the professional level down to the youngest leagues, it seems essential for an ice hockey team to have a medical professional on hand at all times. While all games and tournaments have medical staff present, it would add a level of security and comfort to have a trainer specifically for the UMass women’s ice hockey team, who knows and understands the needs and histories of the players.
In addition to their studies, practices, games, and travel time, the UMass women’s ice hockey team finds time to fundraise for expenses like the $10,000 needed just to physically get them to Nationals. Efforts began with applying for grants through various organizations and have included everything from writing letters to the My Sports Dreams organization to sponsoring a ‘Give Back’ night at the local Chili’s. The team has even gone so far as to go door-to-door looking for any kind of support from the surrounding community.
As president and treasurer Gouin and Corell have a ton of ideas between the two of them alone and with officer terms that last either until graduation or a vote takes place to remove you from your office, it’s a good thing that they are only sophomores.
The annual Regional tournament held between UMass, University of Rhode Island, Vermont, Buffalo, and Northeastern is held on the home ice of the previous year’s champion. With the UMass women’s ice hockey team falling in overtime of the final game two years in a row, the girls are convinced that bringing Regionals to Amherst is inevitable and that the publicity it would create could bring the town and the team a necessary boost of energy.
“The university likes to make note of the surrounding community, being really supportive of the surrounding community, and that would boost the surrounding area because families would come,” Gouin explains of the business hosting Regionals could bring the to town, “they’re going to come watch, they’re going to need somewhere to eat, they’re going to need somewhere to stay, we’ve also pitched that to [the University] but…”
“Nothing,” Gouin and Corell say in unison as they chuckle, almost discounting their own passionate efforts.
“There’s so much opportunity there, all they’d have to do is throw like $3,000 dollars at it, but [the university] won’t do it,” Corell says.
The frustration is evident in their voices, their mannerism, but both Gouin and Corell are completely devoted to their work and their team. As sophomores, the pair have an abundance of plans for themselves and the team between now and the time they finish their UMass careers.
As for their efforts to fundraise, the team has already received their 2012-2013 budget, which remains eerily similar to what they’ve seen the past few years. With no allocation for travel and accommodations for major tournaments including Nationals, the UMass women’s ice hockey team will continue to fundraise and hope that last stitch efforts pay off again, and they arrive back in the Frozen Four.
“You just have to laugh about it,” Gouin says half chuckling while pulling at her bracelet, “it’s lucky for the two of us that we live in the same building, and she lives two floors above me. I don’t know how many times we’ve just sit in my room and wanna cry because there’s nothing you can do about it. But you have to just laugh because if you don’t it’s…”
“You’ll want to kill yourself,” Chelsea says out of the corner of her mouth. Her dry humor is contagious and brings a giggle instantly from Sam who’s sentence she’s just finished.