It is not every day that a Division I college hockey program plays at a National Hockey League venue seating more than 14,000 people. It is even rarer for a program only three matches into its history.
On Saturday evening, Long Island’s first ever Division I hockey team--men's or women's--did just that. The Long Island University Sharks showcased their first-year women’s team on the Islanders' home ice at the Nassau Coliseum against the Wisconsin Badgers, the nation's top-ranked women's team.
“It takes a lot to go out on the ice and play against a team like that,” LIU head coach Rob Morgan said. “You have to have courage. They certainly are the best college team in the nation right now. That’s why they’re number one.”
Wisconsin showed why, controlling the game from start to finish. Senior center Abby Roque scored the first goal within the first two minutes. Fifty-four minutes later, blue liner and Long Island native Grace Bowlby wrapped up the scoring.
The final: 12-0, Wisconsin.
It was a game that emphasized the long road to become an established program, but Wisconsin provides the map to success that Morgan and his team are willing to travel.
“When [Wisconsin] first started, they didn’t have a home. They were playing at three or four different rinks. They didn’t win overnight,” said Morgan. “We know that we’re not going to get there overnight but, we’ll eventually get there. It’s just going to take some time.”
Meanwhile, playing a team as notable as Wisconsin undoubtedly turned heads within the college hockey landscape.
“All of a sudden, people are paying attention to us because Wisconsin is coming to play LIU,” said Morgan. “They helped us out big time with getting the word out. I think our social media following doubled after that.
“For us to come here and experience playing in this amazing place that has so much history is a memory they’ll take with them forever and for me too as a coach,” said Morgan. “And then to take all those lessons learned by playing against Wisconsin. That’s only going to help us.”
Morgan understands the importance of establishing a culture and identity. To him, it comes down to the five C's.
“Ultimately you need to have the right character in the locker room and collectively together we’ve been creating our identity,” he said. “At the end of the season, if [the team] can say, I’m courageous, I’m confident, I’m committed, I compete and I’m consistent. That’s powerful stuff."
“We believe that we can position ourselves to have a run at winning a conference championship. I know it’s a lofty goal,” said Morgan. “You don’t play just to play, we play to win. So, we’ll take all these lessons that we learned along the way in our non-conference play to see if we can hang a banner at the end of the year in our arena.”
Time will tell. To Morgan and his team, it’s not a question of if. It is a question of when.