Hockey has always been incredibly popular in northwest Ohio. Close to multiple NHL teams and Canada, it has always been a place where the sport thrives. BGSU itself is no different, with hockey teams going back to the ‘60s. Although it wasn’t until 1994 when the first ice hockey team for women was established at Bowling Green.
The team competed through the end of the decade, and then around the year 2000 the club began to compete on and off as they were able. In November of 2019, BGSU student Ellen Padgett worked to revitalize the women’s club team. She found a coach, a conference, and began to find players.
One of those players was goaltender and senior journalism student Kendall Linnenkugel, who spoke to BG News about what it’s like to be a part of this team.
“It's always been such a dream of mine to play college hockey,” she said. “I've had different prospect skates with different universities throughout high school. I've been offered scholarships to play for other universities, and there were different reasons for different colleges why I couldn't go, so I came to BG.”
What Linnenkugel and other players found was a team working hard to get off the ground. Padgett, being the leader of the new club, got to work getting her and the other recruits fit to play. Starting as soon as she arrived at BGSU, Padgett worked hard with the other players to get through all the necessary steps to create a team.
“It was really because of her we were able to practice and build a solid foundation during the course of the 2019-20 school year,” Team Captain Ashley Kimmel said. “Ellen also helped us get accepted to the ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association) and the CCWHA (Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association). We were able to hold an exhibition game against the Toledo Fire Department in March of 2020 to help spread the word about our team too.”
Just as the team was gaining crucial momentum, the coronavirus pandemic struck. But that obstacle did not stop the players from working hard. Head Coach Mike Whitton expanded more on this.
“Seeing these ladies understand the time we’re in with COVID, they practiced all last year and did not have one single collegiate contest, one game at all. I gave them a ton of credit for sticking with it and practicing, with no weekend games in sight, their attitudes were fantastic, their attendance was great,” he said.
The team finally received the news that they would be competing in their first CCWHA game versus Adrian College, and nerves started to set in.
“It was intimidating for sure. Adrian is one of the best teams in the ACHA. They've won our conference multiple times in recent years and they are definitely the team to beat,” Linnenkugel said.
Of course, hockey players are notoriously tough, and Linnenkugel said that those nerves subsided when they were able to just play hockey.
“Once the puck dropped it felt like business as usual for me,” she added.
While their attitudes eventually settled, they still knew it would be an uphill battle.
“We have nine skaters plus a goalie, Adrian had I believe 19 skaters and three goalies,”
Whitton said. “I just knew from the start, that at some point in the game that our legs and lungs would give out and we would just not be able to compete anymore, because of just pure numbers.”
Of course, Whitton made sure to give credit to the team, who he says played excellent despite their numbers disadvantage.
“After the first period we were down 2-0, our goalie played phenomenally, and she faced more shots than I could probably count (74) and kept us in it,” he said. “They played like it was the Stanley Cup Final.”
The game eventually ended with the Falcons losing by a score of 9-0, but the team still held their heads high. They were thrilled to have just gotten the ball rolling and established themselves as a legitimate team.
The brand new team received much love from Falcons fans, too. An outpouring of support came to them on social media, as well as from the Bleacher Creatures who attended the debut in person along with players’ families from as far as Florida and Minnesota.
The team currently has three seniors, meaning that they certainly have a group of great leaders to guide their path forward. “It means a lot to be someone the girls look up to and trust to take charge of things. It can be somewhat stressful at times, but I would trade it for anything and I'm excited to be able to help the team grow as much as possible,” Kimmel said.
The players and coach also spoke on the future of the team, which they say has a lot in store.
“We’ve got ladies that are from Massachusetts, Iowa, Pittsburgh, a few from Cleveland, so we’ve got as many freshmen coming in as we have (players) on the team right now,” Whitton said.
“I'm hoping one day the team can move up to be an NCAA team. It would be so great to see this program take off out of the foundation we have been able to lay down,” Linnenkugel said.
While many of them are already looking to next year, there’s still plenty of hockey to play right now. The CCWHA recently announced an expanded schedule, meaning the Falcons will be able to play four more home games at Slater in March.