McKendree University on Monday announced that women’s hockey will be the latest intercollegiate sport offered by the school. It will be McKendree’s 30th sport.
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 will begin in late August, with the project expected to be completed in time for the 2016-17 academic year.
The McKendree Metro Rec Plex will serve as the centerpiece of a 45-acre complex. It will house two National Hockey League-size sheets of ice, an aquatic center, fitness area and other amenities. The McKendree women’s hockey program and the existing Bearcats men’s hockey squad, will have dedicated locker room space and ffices for coaches and staff.
“We’re excited to introduce another popular sport at McKendree,” said McKendree Athletics Director Chuck 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.
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, a native of Alton, 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.
Under Buntenbach, 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.
“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.”
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.