Jennifer Flowers grew up in Manson, Iowa, and she admits her home state isn’t known as hockey country. But on Monday, Flowers promised that she’ll embrace the sport.
“I’ve lived in Minnesota for more than half my life, so I’m very comfortable with what hockey means to the state of Minnesota,’’ said Flowers, who was named WCHA vice president and women’s league commissioner. “I will quickly learn to be a very avid hockey fan.’’
Flowers spent the past three years as the NSIC’s assistant commissioner for member services. A 2003 Winona State graduate and four-year starter on the Warriors’ volleyball team, Flowers succeeds Katie Million, who left to become USA Hockey's director of women's national team programs following the 2018-19 season.
“She’s a just rising star in college athletics,’’ said Minnesota Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo, a member of the selection committee that hired Flowers.
In her introductory news conference in Bloomington, Flowers quickly identified membership as atop her to-do list. The WCHA women’s league is down to seven teams after North Dakota dropped its program following the 2016-17 season.
“It was pretty evident through the interview process that membership is a hot topic for us right now. … We’re really digging in, evaluating what options are out there for us,’’ Flowers said. “It’s really important in that process to make sure that our stakeholders are involved and that we understand that we don’t have to add someone, we need to add someone who brings value to us.’’
A possible, if not probable, fit in the league would be Northern Michigan, which is considering adding women’s hockey.
“I had a chance to meet with their president today,’’ Flowers said. “They’re definitely considering it and it’s something they’re working towards. I don’t think anything is imminent, meaning in the next year, but I think we might be closer than others think.’’
Another potential fit for the WCHA could be St. Thomas, which is being forced out of the MIAC. If St. Thomas opts to move up from NCAA Division III to Division II, its men’s and women’s hockey teams would have to play in Division I, since the NCAA doesn’t have Division II hockey and D-II teams cannot drop down to play D-III squads. The Tommies, based in St. Paul, are right in the heart of WCHA territory.
Flowers didn’t know if there has been any interest between St. Thomas and the WCHA.
“It’s only Day One [in her new job], so give me a week and we can have that conversation,’’ she said. “Clearly, it’s a hot topic around the Twin Cities. I have a great relationship with [St. Thomas athletic director] Phil Esten, and I look forward to having that conversation with him, but no news on that front just yet.’’
Flowers, who also worked as associate athletic director and senior woman administrator at Winona State from 2012-15 and spent the 2004-05 school year on Minnesota’s administrative staff, was encouraged to explore the WCHA job by friend and mentor Heather Weems, St. Cloud State’s AD.
“It definitely wasn’t something that was necessarily on my radar,’’ she said. “Heather Weems reached out, and we started having conversations about what the job looked like, if it was something that fit something I’m looking for. Heather and I are very similar in our desire to elevate women through sports.’’