“Every time we played each other someone would say ‘we should start a league’. So we did.” – League Commissioner Rick Traugott
Around the turn of the millennium many North American independent schools were searching for new ways to enhance their female hockey programs. To supplement or substitute for league-play, coaches scheduled exhibition games and tournaments against other prep schools. The games were always fast-paced and competitive, but scheduling was a constant struggle and victories held little meaning.
Creating a league seemed like the logical next-step – if all of the teams were playing each other annually anyway, why not standardize the rules and crown a champion at the end of each year?
Because the league was geographically-challenged (even Calgary’s Edge School was, at one time, slated to join), coaches agreed to play 2 tournament weekends for the majority of league games, and a third weekend for the play-offs. Some teams were able to meet for a home-and-home series outside of these weekends, and others had to count one game for two since distance and timing got in the way.
To compensate for any unfairness created by scheduling conflicts and to keep with the league’s spirit of facilitating large amounts of high-quality women’s hockey, the coaches agreed that every team would make the play-offs. In late-February each year the teams meet for a ‘double-pennant’ tournament to come up with final rankings and crown a new league champion.
Acknowledging the Past, Building for the Future
“Coach MacLeod, one of the winningest coaches in NCAA women’s hockey, was flattered when told of the plans to have his name on top of one of the divisions.” – NAPHA website, October 23, 2005
Since the beginning, one of the league’s main goals has been to provide young women with an exciting and fulfilling place to play hockey, and to prepare them for a career in university or college. With a spot on the Canadian or American national team as the ultimate goal for many of these girls, it made sense to acknowledge the history of those teams in NAPHA’s division names. And so the league’s founders settled on McLeod and MacMaster.
Don MacLeod and Dave McMaster were the coaches of the American and Canadian teams the first time women’s hockey was put on the world stage – at the international championships in 1990. MacLeod was head coach at Northeastern University from 1982-1992, and coached the American national team in 1990. McMaster coached at the University of Toronto for 22 seasons, and led the Canadian Women’s team to gold at the inaugural tournament in 1990. Choosing their names to title the league’s two divisions was an excellent way to acknowledge the international flavour of the league and honour female hockey’s rich history. Western teams compete for the MacLeod Division title each year, while the Eastern division battles for the top spot in the McMaster Division.
In the inaugural season in 2005/06 the league’s eight teams were Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario; Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, Ohio; Nichols School in Buffalo, New York; National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, New York; North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vermont; Northwood School in Lake Placid, New York; Ridley College in St. Catherines, Ontario; and Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario. NAHA beat Ridley 4-1 in the championship final to take first place overall.
In 2006/07, NAHA repeated as league champions, defeating NSA 3-1 in the final. For 2007/08 the league expanded to ten teams, adding King’s Edgehill in Windsor, Nova Scotia and Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pennsylvania. At the end of that season NAHA again reined supreme, edging NSA by the same 3-1 score for the title.
For the fourth season, the league shrunk to 8 teams, with NAHA and NSA moving to a league more suited to their needs, and NAPHA refined to include only independent schools. The future looks bright though, with interest spreading throughout the continent.
The goals of this league were simple: play large amounts of high-quality hockey, attract top talent from across the continent, and prepare girls for a life of hockey in university and beyond. Under those parameters, NAPHA has been a resounding success. With over 60 games played each season, players from IIHF Under-18 national teams in Canada, U.S.A and the Czech Republic, and alumni at Yale, Mount Allison, McGill, Syracuse, Mercyhurst, Dalhousie, UConn, Quinnipiac, UPEI, York, Maine and a host of other NCAA and CIS schools, these goals are being met well.