Maine’s women’s hockey coach Rick Filighera talked with NEWS reporter Deirdre Fleming about the first half of the Bears’ inaugural varsity season and the future of women’s hockey at Maine.
Did you expect that you would do better or worse (the first half of the season)?
I think if I look at this we should be one game different. We should be 3-2-1 instead of 2-3-1. I feel that the Amherst game was a game we should have won. Actually, we probably could be at best 4-2 because the tie. They tied us with a minute, 16 left, but, then again, it was our third game of the season and it was after a tough game with Middlebury that we played very well even though the score didn’t indicate it. So I think we’re right around where I thought we’d be.
Off of that, where do you hope to see the team at the end of the season?
Hopefully, in that fourth playoff spot, I think that’s our goal. Right now, I feel that Middlebury and RIT are the two best teams in the league and I think everybody else is in a dogfight. I think our problem is going to be, we’re going to be dogfighting with Bowdoin and Wesleyan in our half. If we play well enough, we can get that fourth playoff spot. That is very achievable. I think we’re going to be over .500.
How many fans are you averaging now at each game and what do you need to do to attract more?
Well, I think, first of all, in the Alliance League our crowd at our first home game was the biggest by far, 250 people showed up. By far the biggest crowd for any Alliance League game, that’s Division III. You don’t get crowds like that for other sports in Division III. How should I put that? You don’t get crowds for women’s ice hockey. At RIT, we use to draw about 150 to200 depending on who we were playing. What do we need to do? Well, first of all, keep promoting it. Make sure people realize that a year from now you will have players on this ice hockey rink who played in the Olympics.
At Maine or coming to compete against Maine?
Hopefully, hopefully both. Not maybe in a year, but down the road we’re definitely going to shoot for the Olympic-type athlete. But next year you will see girls coming in from other schools who played on the Olympics. And, I mean, that is a huge change in the caliber of play. I think right away that will bring people in. I think people also need to realize, to enjoy it for what it is right now. Right now, it is the first varsity team that was unrecruited. There are players on this hockey team that played a long time. And they do put on a good show. But again, in a year, you’re going to see players that will put on even a better show, that could be in comparison to the women’s basketball team, for say. …
Our ultimate goal for the first couple of years is to try to get 1,500 people in there. If we can do better than that, that’s great. …
When do you see pulling in that many fans? A year from now did you say?
I would say it’s going to take longer than that. It’s going to take, for us to have some player that someone’s going to want to come out and watch for them to draw. And that’s one of my goals. I want to bring in a player that is a star quality here. That people can relate to and want to come and see because they are exciting to watch.
How would they relate to that player? Would they necessarily be from New England?
Yes. Hopefully, the best players in Maine will decide to come to Maine. Right now, because women’s hockey in Maine is so young, I don’t see that star athlete from Maine right now. Down the road I do. I mean, there are some young freshman girls that are good hockey players in Maine that hopefully four years from now will be the best and want to come here. Also, a girl who would come in here and be a hard worker, you know, somebody that I guess that they can relate to – like a Cindy Blodgett. Somebody that stands out above everybody else but is a hard worker and is very classy, and that’s what we want to sell here. I think if we can get a player like that, that’s what’s going to start us.
You said women’s hockey is growing around the country, where do you see the sport in five years?
Well, first of all you already see a change in the collegiate ranks. The talk on the Alliance League is to form up four Division I 16-team leagues now with all the teams wanting to enter. … There are a lot of teams coming up in Minnesota. Four or five years from now I think you’re going to see more than one Division I women’s hockey league. … I also see the Alliance League being changed over to Division III women’s hockey, just like with the men’s. … I see more and more girls starting to play at 5 and 6 years old when they see the women playing in the Olympics. I see more parents that have sons that play hockey and daughters that always wanted to now realize they can play and give them that opportunity. So, five years from now you’re talking about quite a few girls that are going to be in the sport. … So, I just see enormous growth.