Another overlooked historical milestone was achieved recently in college hockey. Last weekend in Duluth, three of the four Women’s Frozen Four teams featured Black players, and Sunday’s title game had Black players as well. At the same time, in St. Paul, two teams in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff each had a Black player on the ice in both the semifinals and finals.
Crystalyn Hengler from Eden Prairie came back for a sixth year at Minnesota, hoping to finally play on a national championship team. “It’s been a long time coming, with not making it because of COVID one year. So just not being able to make it in four years,” she said, was a prime reason for coming back this season.
However, the Gophers lost in overtime to Wisconsin, where Laila Edwards scored a goal and her sister Chayla recorded a block. Ohio State’s Sophie Jaques helped lead her team to last Sunday’s finals. The 5th year player from Toronto led the Buckeyes in scoring (24 goals), and all U.S. college defensemen in goals and points, and also led the nation with nine power-play goals this season.
She won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the nation’s best women’s hockey player last Saturday. Jaques earlier this season was named both 2022-23 WCHA Defender and Player of the Year.
St. Cloud State’s Micah Miller and Colorado College’s Kaidan Mbfreko faced each other in last Saturday’s NCHC finals, the only two Black players in the final four-team field. Mbfreko, a freshman goalie, stood on his head for his fourth shutout of the season, with a 1-0 victory over Denver last Friday.
Miller, a fifth-year, 5’10” forward and graduate student from Grand Rapids, Minn., assisted on the team’s second goal in the 3-0 win last Saturday over Colorado College to win the NCHC Frozen Face-off and an NCAA bid. Miller played in the NCAA Frozen Four in 2020-21.
In game one of the best-of-three quarterfinals against Minnesota Duluth, Miller provided the offensive spark in the win with his first career multi-goal performance. “It has been a great year,” Miller told us.
“This kid means the world to this program,” noted St. Cloud State Coach Brett Larson. “I’ve been here five years and he’s been here all five. He’s a leader on and off the ice. We count on him every day to lead the right way, and he does.
“[I’m] gonna miss that guy,” admitted the coach of Miller, a two-time NCHC All-Academic selection who led the nation last season with four short-handed goals. He plays on the Huskies’ No. 1 line.
Despite the success of the aforementioned Black hockey players, and their presence and influence, the sport’s diversity remains a goal.
“I’ve always been a big believer that representation matters,” said Hengler, who made this season’s WCHA All-Academic team for the fourth time and in two consecutive seasons scored Minnesota’s first goal. “Having three African American hockey players out there and [Canadian-born] Sophie Jaques at Ohio State, little girls [are] able to watch it on TV or listen to the radio, and see people of color play.”
“I feel it is growing every day,” said Miller of hockey’s diversity. “Having players like us Black people can look up to, [especially] young Black kids, to be role models for those guys. Hockey is a great sport.”
“We have a diverse locker room,” said Larson. “We have a player with Japanese heritage. We have Micah. The diversity in our locker room… I think it makes that locker room that much tighter, that much more special when guys from all different backgrounds come together for a common cause.”
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