By Jess Myers
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The challenges were clearly laid out in front of new Western Collegiate Hockey Association women’s commissioner Jennifer Flowers on her first day on the job. And still, she offered an air of excitement about what lies ahead.
While there is currently chaos and uncertainty in professional women’s hockey, the collegiate game is in a stronger position, and Flowers has been named to this position less than three months after a pair of WCHA teams played for the NCAA title.
Still, there are questions about membership and finances that loom for the seven-team conference, and Flowers heard much about them in the interview process. After North Dakota dropped women’s hockey two years ago, an immediate question involves whether there is a logical eighth, ninth or tenth league member out there.
“I would like growth, and I would like to be a home for people who support women’s hockey. But anytime we’re taking membership, you’re a little bit leery, because you don’t want to add someone just to add someone,” Flowers said on Monday, June 3, after she was introduced at a press conference. “I think there are some schools that are potentially talking about it right now, but I don’t know if they will be the right fit, so those are some things we’ll have to navigate.”
The two schools mentioned by name on Monday were Northern Michigan University, which has been open in its exploration of adding women’s hockey, and the University of St. Thomas, which has a competitive Division III women’s program. The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference recently voted St. Thomas out, so the Tommies are looking for a sports home. Flowers said she had met with the NMU president on Monday, and said no conversations about UST have been held yet.
Flowers comes to the college hockey world from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, where she has been that 16-team league’s assistant commissioner for membership services for nearly three years. A former Winona State University volleyball player, she replaces Katie Million, who took a role with USA Hockey at the conclusion of the most recent college hockey season. Four of the seven WCHA women’s hockey schools — Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State — are also members of the NSIC, so she brings some familiarity to the position.
“We could not be more excited to have Jen become a part of the WCHA women’s hockey league,” said Minnesota Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo, who was a member of the search committee. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with her in a couple different capacities, during her time at Winona State and with the NSIC, and she’s just a rising star in collegiate athletics.”
Originally from Iowa, Flowers met her husband, Jontae, when he was a basketball star at Winona State and helped the Warriors to a pair of NCAA Division II titles in 2006 and 2008. Jontae has played basketball professionally in Europe for 10 seasons, and with their two children, the Flowers’ have lived in places like France, Italy and Croatia off and on, while making their permanent home in the Minneapolis suburbs.
“It’s been a journey,” Jennifer joked. “It’s really been an unbelievable opportunity for him and for me. It’s seemed like the right time a few times to re-focus on family, but his career is such where it’s typically a one-year contract and you don’t know what’s coming next.”
The WCHA has claimed 16 of the 19 women’s NCAA titles awarded since Minnesota Duluth won the first one in 2001. The most recent title game was an all-WCHA affair, with Wisconsin beating Minnesota for the 2019 championship.