|The Lady Ice Lions' Jordan Chiavacci is skating with an all-female men's league team this summer|
College hockey players face an interesting dilemma while staying in game shape beyond the standard dryland work during the offseason because, compared to other sports, it's much more difficult to access the playing surface or find the capable players required to get a quality game going. The solutions generally include latching on to the men's league teams of friends, hitting every available stick time at the local rinks or, if still eligible, rejoining the pre-college U19 team for the summer showcase circuit.
Women's Ice Hockey Club senior Jordan Chiavacci is doing things a little differently than most. Then again, she's used to different by now, as a player who took up the game not with a top youth program or even a high school team as most of her Penn State teammates did, but in the Wyoming Valley Ice Hockey League (WVIHL), a men's league based out of the Revolution Ice Center in Pittston, PA. The WVIHL has skill-level-based divisions called A/B, C and D Leagues.
"My first ever game of organized hockey was in D League, due to lack of female teams and girls not being allowed to play guys juniors when I was starting up hockey," Chiavacci said, before adding that part of her development included practicing and scrimmages with members of the Wilkes-Barre Miners men's junior team.
"The guys on that first team, especially Stew Hatchell, really helped me improve my game and made me a lot more comfortable playing organized hockey."
Chiavacci continued to participate heavily in the various WVIHL leagues, eventually playing in both the A/B League and the C League in order to get as much ice time as possible just before arriving in University Park following two years at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.
It was that start in the game that led to her present situation: skating with a groundbreaking all-women's team in the WVIHL this summer. Chiavacci, along with five other women dubbed the "Original Six" for their status as the six longstanding female players in the WVIHL, form the core of the 14-member squad. In true men's league fashion the team's name, Turnin' Hat Tricks, has an obvious double meaning.
And, of course, another name for men's league is "beer league," so there's plenty of that as well.
"One person on the team is assigned beer duty for the game that week so everyone has a turn buying beer," Chiavacci said. "Our bags go around the outside by the benches and the beer cooler is always in the middle of the locker room. We have a German lady on the team and she brings us German gummy bears and German chocolate candies before games. Usually we play the early games so after our game we usually drink and watch the other teams.
"It's a night full of good company, good beer, and hockey. What more could you want?"
Don't let the less-formal parts fool you though, as there's a lot of high-end experience wearing the Tricks' white and purple jerseys.
Bobbi Fedele, the WVIHL's treasurer and a former player at NCAA Division I's Sacred Heart from 1998-2000 who later skated with Penn State Berks' men's team in the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference, took a lead role in forming the team.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing that we just threw out there,” Fedele told Wilkes-Barre based paper The Citizens' Voice last month. “It all came together real fast. It was a surprise. Honestly, I thought that we were going to struggle to fill out the team."
"We also have Hannah Goyne, who plays at West Chester for their ACHA Division 2 team," Chiavacci added. "Hannah actually started playing in D League as well before she went to college, so I guess you can consider her and I 'league-born players.' Brittany Rose is our goalie and will be going into her freshman year in the fall at NCAA Division III Stevenson University."
And, of course, there's Chiavacci, who will be counted on this fall to boost a Penn State forward group that loses all three 2015-16 captains to graduation, including team all-time leading scorer Darby Kern.
"Every time I lace up to step out on the ice just makes me more and more excited for our season to start back up," she observed. "I have a lot to prove for myself coming with such an unconventional background, I do everything I can to improve my game and make myself an all around better hockey player."
After an 0-6 start, which Chiavacci blames on players needing to find their legs - several came out of retirement to be a part of the team - while learning how to work together, the Turnin' Hat Tricks have turned up of late. Following several close calls, the team finally notched its first win on June 16th, rallying from a 2-0 hole against the Hooligans for a 4-2 result. Leading the way was none other than the Penn Stater, who collected what might be her first hat trick in organized competition. That explosion has been part of what's been a productive season for the former all-league soccer goalie in high school who, in addition to the Turnin' Hat Tricks, plays for the C League's co-ed Crimson Lions.
She's scored often enough that it's led to a nickname: "Beau Bennett," after the former Pittsburgh Penguins player traded to the New Jersey Devils during June's NHL Entry Draft and also the reason Chiavacci wears number 19 on her jersey. Bennett, notably, also had an unconventional entry into the game, playing primarily inline hockey until he was 15 years old.
"After every goal I score I yell 'Beau Bennett baby!' so the nickname just stuck," she said.
The D League's regular season, which consists of ten games per team, is presently wrapping up. The top four finishers in the five-team circuit will get an additional four round robin playoff tilts in early August to try to win the title. The championship trophy, like most hockey trophies but of particular appropriateness in beer league, includes a bowl ideal for drinking on top.
Regardless of how this summer's seasons turn out, Chiavacci remains grateful for her unconventional, but highly fruitful road to playing at Penn State.
"Without the tremendous help and support from everyone in the WVIHL and all the people I have played with or against, I probably wouldn't be the hockey player I am today."
"From my first session in D League never playing organized anywhere and only getting better, then playing on Penn State's Division 1 club team is something I can really look back on and say 'wow, I really did it.' I'm one who truly lives by the statement that hard work pays off."
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