McKendree University director of athletics Chuck Brueggemann has announced that women’s hockey will become the newest intercollegiate sport to be offered by the University. Women’s hockey will the 30th sport to be offered by McKendree.
The McKendree women’s hockey program will become one of the prime tenants in the new McKendree Metro Rec Plex, which will be located in nearby O’Fallon. Construction of the new facility will begin later this month, with the project expected to be completed in time for the 2016-17 academic year. The McKendree Metro Rec Plex will be a state-of-the-art facility that will serve as the centerpiece of a 45-acre complex. It will house two National Hockey League (NHL)-size sheets of ice, an aquatic center, fitness area and other amenities. The new McKendree women’s hockey program (as well as the existing Bearcat men’s hockey squad) will have dedicated locker room space, as well as offices for coaches and other essential staff.
“We’re excited to introduce another popular sport at McKendree,” said Brueggemann. “The growth and success of the United States women’s hockey program over the last decade has spurred increased interest in the sport across the nation. We have seen that explosion occur in our region within local youth programs and throughout the high schools. With the introduction of the McKendree Metro Rec Plex and the continued popularity of women’s hockey, it was a natural for the University to offer this sport to prospective student-athletes along with fans and boosters of McKendree University.”
Along with the introduction of women’s hockey at McKendree, Brueggemann announced that Craig Buntenbach has been hired as the head coach for the Bearcats’ newly-formed program.
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Buntenbach makes the move to McKendree after serving as the director of hockey operations and head coach for the women’s hockey team at Lindenwood University-Belleville since December 2013. Under his leadership, the Lynx compiled 21 victories during their inaugural season in 2014-15 and a national ranking in American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division 1.
“We are extremely pleased to have Craig join the Bearcat family,” said Brueggemann. “Women’s hockey is a sport that has grown significantly in the world of collegiate athletics and Craig is the perfect choice to lead this new endeavor at McKendree. He is a veteran coach who has helped develop talented players at every level throughout his career. Craig has a proven record of building successful hockey programs from the ground up, and we have no doubt he will accomplish the same here at McKendree.”
At Lindenwood-Belleville, Buntenbach managed all aspects of hockey operations on- and off-ice for both men’s and women’s teams. As the women’s coach, he recruited players for the Lady Lynx squad, which made its debut in 2014-15. With Buntenbach at the helm, Lindenwood-Belleville posted a 21-14-1 overall record and also qualified for the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League (WWCHL) playoffs. The Lady Lynx won a pair of games on their way to the WWCHL tournament semifinals.
A native of Alton, Buntenbach brings more than two decades of coaching experience of both men’s and women’s programs. For three years he guided Team Central, a girls’ program associated with USA Hockey. Buntenbach guided the Central District team that competed at America’s Showcase in Pittsburgh, Pa., each of the last three years. He was also a co-head coach for the Keystone Select Girls U19 team in August 2013. That squad consisted of players from Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and competed in the Hockey Night in Boston showcase.
Other girls’ programs that Buntenbach has coached include the Hershey Junior Bears U19, Arrowhead High School, Milwaukee West Girls U19, and the Ozaukee Ice Dogs U12 Girls squad. Locally, he has assisted with the Twin Bridges Lady Lightning U14 girls based in St. Louis. In addition to his work at Lindenwood-Belleville, Buntenbach has served as a collegiate head coach at the University of Iowa, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Southwestern Illinois College.
Buntenbach has also served on the Board of Directors for the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association (MACHA) as secretary and ACHA liaison. He was also on the ACHA Ranking Committee for the Central Division of Division 2, and a member of the Board of Directors for Twin Bridges Lightning Youth Hockey.
In addition, Buntenbach has been a certified as a USA Hockey Master’s level 5 coach since 2003. He has also served as an evaluator at the USA Hockey Central District and National Camp tryouts for the past two years.
“I am looking forward to building the McKendree University women’s hockey program,” said Buntenbach. “We went through a similar process at Lindenwood-Belleville and it went really well. With the time we have been allotted here to recruit and get things in order, I see no reason why we cannot go out and compete for a national tournament spot in our first year of competition. This process is like making a good soup. You bring in all the right ingredients – from student-athletes, coaches and support staff – and mix them together and we can put out a really good recipe here at McKendree.”
Buntenbach will spend the 2015-16 academic year recruiting players and building the program for the McKendree women’s hockey team. The Bearcats will begin competition in 2016-17 as members of ACHA Women’s Division 2.