The men’s ice hockey team begins their morning grind by stretching in the middle of the ice.
Image by John Flynn

It is a quarter to six in the morning, and a van sits on North Main Street on a brisk October morning. That shuttle van transports determined women to Pittston’s Revolution Ice Centre, which the King’s ice hockey program calls home. The women on the van understand what kind of history they are making at the college.

The expectations for the team may be kept quiet, but there is a growing enthusiasm surrounding the team. Positions have been offeredfor people looking for volunteer work during gamedays.

The school has been all-in on the prospect of bringing ice hockey to a town that has an average temperature of 28 degrees during the winter.

Many of King’s winter sports could theoretically be suited for any time of the year, but ice hockey is a legitimate winter sport that should attract people not only from King’s, but from the local area. King’s will share home ice with the local amateur hockey club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights.

The men and women that skated on Pittston’s ice venue last week will play for the inaugural King’s College ice hockey teams. King’s announced in February 2016 that men’s and women’s college ice hockey would arrive in the area for the 2017-18 season.

The women’s team is in a tough situation. Their roster encompasses only 15 players, and all of them are freshman, except for one sophomore, who happens to be a transfer. Three of them are goaltenders, and just twelve are skaters. Many are from Canada and came south to Wilkes-Barre. The team must be well-conditioned to survive the season, as the Lady Monarchs embark on a long, challenging, but rewarding season that spans over four months.

That is a task for women’s ice hockey coach Jennifer Kindret, a native of Winnipeg, Canada. She spent the two seasons before she was hired as the head coach of King’s women’s hockey in the summer of 2016 at Division I Lindenwood University in Missouri. However, she does have teaching skills she can rely on to maximize the potential of the team. She worked in the last decade as a youth instructor with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team she grew up watching. She appeared to be committed to her potential with the attitude the team has shown in practice, even with a small team.

However, the men’s team has a reasonable roster of over 20 skaters, plus a couple of goaltenders. The men’s team has Stephen Mallaro on its side as its first head coach. He was an assistant in the two seasons leading up to his hire here in 2016 at The College At Brockport in upstate New York. The program’s first game Friday evening is against Mallaro’s old team. Mallaro, 30, has been looking for an influx of talent both athletically and academically. The program’s first season will focus on the fundamentals of the sport, just so they can focus on fielding a competitive team with a look to a potentially bright future.

Although the women’s roster is rather thin on paper, it reflects how the sport of ice hockey is growing in the United States. The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid, N.Y. put ice hockey on the national map when the U.S. ice hockey team, a team of amateurs, defeated a professional Soviet Union team in one of the most improbable moments in sports history. This comes decades after baseball, football, and basketball were on the map. The National Hockey League only had six teams until 1967. 50 years later, it has 31.

King’s joins 79 other Division III men’s hockey programs and 55 women’s teams for competition this season, in a sport that is has been steadily expanding since the NCAA made Division III ice hockey a championship sport in 1983.

The men’s team begins play on Oct. 27 at Pittston against Brockport at 7 p.m. The women’s program begins their program history with the Commonwealth Cup tournament in Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.

But, yet again, people should forget about the expectations for the first-year program and focus on getting things together for the future. But fans should expect the seeds of a program to grow as time goes on.