The College of St. Scholastic athletic department announced the addition of women's hockey as a varsity sport in April 2009. Three months later, it named Jackie MacMillan, a native of Buffalo, Minn., and a pioneer in women's hockey in the upper Midwest, the new head coach.
"The first and most important step was to find the right coach," said St. Scholastica athletic director Don Olson. "We had a tremendous talent pool, and we feel that, without a doubt, getting Jackie MacMillan to accept our position as the women's hockey coach at the St. Scholastica is absolutely the right fit."
Having grown up in Buffalo, MacMillan had hockey in her blood.
"My dad played for [the University of Wis.-Stout], so he was playing and coaching when I grew up," MacMillan said.
But because girls hockey was just beginning to grow in popularity and Buffalo High School did not yet have a team, MacMillan had to find another team to play with -- the boys.
"I played with the boys all the way through high school," she said, "and I was the captain of the team."
Her talent at goaltender outshined her gender, and MacMillan had no problem fitting in on the boys team.
"They treated me like I was a sister, and they respected me for my ability to play," MacMillan said. "It wasn't that I was a girl. We were just playing hockey together."
The experience allowed MacMillan to become the first ever recruit to the University of Wisconsin women's team in 1999 where, once again, she found herself practicing with the men.
"In my first year there, I practiced with the men's team," MacMillan said. "My coach was doing the same thing I'm doing right now, recruiting for a new team. It was an incredible experience."
Starting the Badger program was an experience that will undoubtedly help her in establishing the Saints team.
"As a player, I went through everything that the players here at Scholastica will," she said. "Knowing that there will be some growing pains in starting a program, building traditions, and getting the name of St. Scholastica women's hockey out there, it will be easier for me to guide them."
MacMillan spent the past six years as a coach, most recently at NCAA Division-III's New England College in Henniker, N.H., where she led the Pilgrims to the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) East Championship game for the second time in program history in her last season.
"Her experience in coaching at Shattuck-St. Mary's, Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and most recently at New England College gives her a broad depth of knowledge to take on the role as the first women's hockey coach at the college," said Olson.
Olson explained that their decision to hire MacMillan was based on her strong interest in the academic side of being a student athlete.
"Most importantly, being a private, liberal arts college, understanding the value of education and the balance between academics and athletics is something that she well understands," Olson added.
For the past six seasons, St. Scholastica has had a successful women's club hockey team, but the athletic department looked outside the College for its head coaching vacancy, seeking someone with more experience.
Despite not seeing their coach retained, members of the St. Scholastica club team will have the opportunity to play in MacMillan's system.
"I certainly would be scared to have 20 freshmen the first year," MacMillan joked. "It's really exciting that the club team has been very serious about what they are doing here. They have probably been waiting to have a varsity team here and will have the opportunity to be a part of it. So, it will be interesting to integrate them with some of the players I am recruiting here."
Olson estimates that as many as 10 club team members could join the varsity team in the 2010-2011 school year.
MacMillan has high hopes for her new program and plans to be successful quickly.
"I'm an ambitious, competitive person so I'm hoping to be competitive in the first couple of years," MacMillan said. "Finding a good first couple of classes, I think we will be competitive within the conference. Before long, I think we will be a top team in the country -- that's one of my goals. Obviously, I'm taking it one step at a time."
When it came to deciding on a permanent home, St. Scholastica and Duluth seemed like an obvious choice for MacMillan.
"They were serious about starting a women's hockey program here, but on top of that, I have a lot of family from here," she explained. "To me, this is home. Coming back here was special to me."
Even if her family weren't here, MacMillan likes the atmosphere at St. Scholastica.
"It just happened to be a unique opportunity and a great fit," MacMillan said. "The school itself -- I've been part of the small school atmosphere in a private college -- was just a great fit for me."
She says recruiting has gone well so far, and not just because people are excited to be a part of the first year of a program.
"Naturally, just because of the education here, people are drawn to the school. The other part is that a lot of the recruits I bring on campus are just blown away by how beautiful the setting is," MacMillan said. "A lot of people see that this is going to be a big deal."
While MacMillan wants good student athletes, she also has high standards for talent on the ice.
"The players I am looking for will be the players that could play at the D-I level but they want to be impact players at the D-III level and have a good experience at a great institution," MacMillan said.
The puck does not drop to start the first official game of Saints women's hockey until Nov. 5, 2010, but fans have plenty of reason to be excited about the product.
"In the first two years, we will be a competitive team with any team we play against," said MacMillan. "Whether that means a win or a loss, I don't know, but we're going to be a team that has a chance to win every game we play."