Diversity in women’s college hockey is ‘growing for sure’

Charles Hallman/MSR News Nikki Nightengale on the ice

Nikki Nightengale got tangled up against the boards with an opposing player, but the Augsburg University senior is used to it. Her mother not so much.

“My biggest concern was when she started [playing hockey],” Cyndi Nightengale admitted of her 5’-6” daughter, the youngest of her three children. “Every once in a while, when you see them go into the boards, I go ‘ah,’ but I’m kind of over that now.”

After last Friday’s Augsburg-Hamline contest, the MSR talked to both mother and daughter. Nightengale is the MIAC’s only Black women’s hockey player.

The biopsychology major, according to her mom, had her choice of schools—Ohio State and Penn State were among several programs that recruited Nikki while she was at Bloomington Jefferson High School. After watching her play for the first time, this longtime hockey reporter left impressed. She definitely has Division I talent, but she opted instead for the smaller confines of Division III.

 “I think the chemistry with the coaches has superseded everything [else],” Cyndi noted. “That’s why she came here. I like her being here because I get to see her play all the time.”

Cyndi said that Nikki started playing hockey at age five, a couple of years after she put her in figure skating. “I put her in a camp in the summer… It was her and a couple of girls and a bunch of boys. She’s thinking figure skating and not hockey.”

But that soon changed. “She wanted to play because her brother played before her. I let her play, and she’s been happy ever since,” Cyndi recalled.

After five varsity seasons at Jefferson, Nightengale has starred at Augsburg. Last season was her breakout year as she became only the fourth Auggie named All-American since 2000 and the first since 2003-04.

Though she plays defense, Nightengale led Augsburg in goals (13), power-play goals (five), short-handed goals (one) and game-winning goals (three). She also finished as the 10th player in school history to receive national post-season honors (second team CCM/AHCA All-American and USCHO All-American third team).

Charles Hallman/MSR News Nikki Nightengale

“Everything for me seemed to click in the right place,” Nightengale said of last season. “Like my shots, when I would hit the net, they end up going in, and my teammates helped me out, getting lines open for me.

“Looking back at it, I was more shocked than anything I really expected,” she continued. “I never expected to have these accomplishments, and I am grateful for it.”

“It was a breakout year for her,” Nikki’s mother said proudly. “She likes to get to the top. She always has.”

Being the only POC or among the few Black females in college hockey, especially in this State of Hockey, hasn’t been lost on either Nightengale. Cyndi’s son D.J. played hockey both at Jefferson and Gustavus, but she also remembers, “It was issues with my son a couple of times when [he] was playing, when a kid would drop the N-word.” 

But she doesn’t recall any such negative behavior toward Nikki. “She always was one of the top players, so color never impacted it,” her mother said. But she still draws the occasional double-take at ice arenas mostly filled by Whites.

“When I walk into a rink, people are turning their heads trying to figure out which kid was my kid,” Cyndi said. 

Nikki surmised, “I think in general we know growing up there never was that many. I’m helping out Bloomington hockey, and there are a lot [more] girls of color than I had growing up. It was just me and another [girl]. I think it’s growing for sure.”