With a fresh season just around the corner, the Ohio State women’s ice hockey team is set to play in a new-look conference this year.
Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Aaron Kemp and OSU coach Nate Handrahan convened at the Ohio State Ice Rink on Wednesday to discuss the future of the WCHA and the Buckeyes’ plans for next season.
Making changes to the WCHA’s Final Face-Off and improving the conference’s marketability are projects on Kemp’s agenda, he said.
“We’ve got a good tradition of excellence and I don’t want to do too much to change that,” Kemp said. “I think we’re going to really put a focus on social media and trying to increase attendance at our championship.”
Kemp, who joined the WCHA in June, spent the previous six years at Mercyhurst University where he was promoted to senior associate athletic director in 2011.
“I think I’m bringing with me a hockey background as a coach, as a player and as an administrator,” Kemp said. “I want to really just help grow not only what we’re doing within the WCHA but also the larger picture, growing the game of women’s hockey.”
The commissioner’s visit to OSU is part of what he called his “goodwill tour” of WCHA member schools. He met with the Buckeyes on Wednesday and said he plans to be a familiar face around the organization.
“You’re going to see my face at a lot of the rinks this season,” Kemp said. “I want people to know who I am. I want them to know that I value and solicit feedback on how to better the league.”
In his meeting with the OSU women’s hockey team, Kemp mentioned his plans to bring live entertainment to the WCHA Final Face-Off, the conference’s postseason tournament to be held in Grand Forks, N.D., junior defenseman Cara Zubko said.
“I think it just got the girls really excited about this year and what’s able to happen” Zubko said. “I think (the Final Face-Off) really sparks for excitement on our team.”
The WCHA has already moved its tournament from a Friday-Saturday schedule to a Saturday-Sunday schedule with hopes of increasing attendance, Kemp said.
In addition to changing the format of the Final Face-Off, the WCHA may also introduce auxiliary events outside the games such as youth clinics, Kemp said.
Kemp has experience working with postseason tournaments as he assisted with the organization of the 2003 men’s Frozen Four and direction of the 2011 women’s Frozen Four.
While airing the Final Face-Off is not in this season’s plans, Kemp said he has contacted regional television networks about airing WCHA games in the future.
Since the conference’s inception in 1999, WCHA teams have combined to make 24 appearances in the Frozen Four, the most among Division I women’s hockey conferences.
“The WCHA is the best league in the country,” Handrahan said. “Every single night poses a new challenge for you.”
In his fourth season with the Buckeyes, Handrahan is still searching for the Buckeyes’ first NCAA tournament berth.
OSU went 15-17-5 last season, posting a 10-16-5 mark in conference play.
“I’m pretty excited about the group as we come back,” Handrahan said. “We have to be prepared to play a pretty consistent game throughout the entire season just because of the quality of competition we have in our conference.”
Handrahan said he hopes last season’s finish is an indication of his team’s direction. OSU went on a 9-4-3 stretch following winter break.
The Buckeyes are set to open their regular season Oct. 3 against New Hampshire at the OSU Ice Rink.