WCHA commissioner Jennifer Flowers resigns for athletic director job at SMSU
Jennifer Flowers helped navigate the WCHA through the COVID-19 pandemic, expansion and the end of the men's WCHA. She also continued the league's winning tradition with back-to-back national championships, and worked to elevate the profiles of the league's student-athletes.
BLOOMINGTON — Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Jennifer Flowers has resigned after three seasons with the league to become the director of athletics at Southwest Minnesota State. SMSU announced its hiring of Flowers on Wednesday.
Flowers took over as WCHA commissioner in July 2019 and has spent the much of her tenure guiding the league through the COVID-19 pandemic. Her first season of 2019-20 saw the coronavirus cancel the NCAA Tournament, her second season started late while going through stoppages and restarts due to spikes in cases, and COVID outbreaks continued to hang over her third season as head of the league.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the WCHA thrived competitively on the ice as the first league back in 2020-21.
Under Flowers, the WCHA has won back-to-back national championships and secured five of the eight NCAA Frozen Four spots the last two years. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth made the Frozen Four in 2021 in Erie, Pa., with the Badgers winning the NCAA title. Ohio State and UMD were back again in 2022 at Penn State, where the Buckeyes topped in the Bulldogs in the national championship game.
“We won two national championships and probably would have won a third with how our teams were playing going into that COVID stoppage,” Flowers said. “We navigated COVID and we did it together. We achieved the season for our student-athletes that ended with a trophy, and I don’t think you can understand how difficult that was unless you were going through it.”
To cap off Flowers’ final season with the league, the top three finalists for the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award — UMD’s Gabbie Hughes, OSU’s Sophie Jacques and, the winner, Minnesota’s Taylor Heise — were all from the WCHA.
I wish our sport could’ve had you longer, Jen, but I’m so happy that you came to the @WCHA_WHockey and into my life for the last 3 years. You have made a positive impact on so many of us and I wish you the absolute best as the new @SMSUMustangs AD. They are lucky to have you! https://t.co/KivFXTJykY— Maura Crowell (@MauraCrowell) May 11, 2022
Off the ice, she oversaw the WCHA’s transformation from a co-ed conference into a women’s-only hockey league following the end of the men’s WCHA. She also made it an eight-team league again for the first time since North Dakota folded its program following the 2016-17 season. The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul was added in 2021-22.
"Commissioner Flowers has impressively moved the WCHA forward during her tenure," UMD athletic director Josh Berlo said. "She has improved league operations, enhanced media partnerships and coverage while sustaining elite level competitive achievement and prioritizing the impressive young women in our league. The Bulldogs will miss her in this role, but look forward to collaborating with her as an Athletic Director in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Enhancing the league's exposure and expanding its reach is something Flowers said she was particularly proud of. She negotiated a streaming partnership with the Big Ten Network’s online B1G+ platform, which made viewing WCHA games more accessible and brought in more viewers than ever before for the WCHA, she said.
Putting the league’s student-athletes front and center was always a top priority, Flowers said, whether it was through television, streaming or her “Commissioner’s Corner” features with student-athletes the last two seasons.
“I’m so proud of the elevation of our student-athletes and their voices,” Flowers said. “It was one of my favorite things to do every week, to have conversations with them and to be able to showcase them — the best women’s hockey players in the world. We see them every weekend. How lucky are we?”
Southwest Minnesota State is an NCAA Division II school and a member of the NSIC, a league that Flowers worked for as assistant commissioner for membership services from 2016-19. Bemidji State, UMD, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State are also NSIC members for their Division II sports.
Having previously worked at NSIC member Winona State, Flowers said she was looking for an opportunity to get back onto a college campus full time where she can have a more direct ability to impact student-athletes.
Flowers said she would be “remiss” if she didn’t thank the WCHA membership for the opportunity she was given the last three seasons to lead the league, especially since she didn’t have a hockey background.
“It was such a challenge for me. I wasn’t a hockey person. That was an interesting space for me,” said Flowers, who took over as head of the women's WCHA after Katie Million left for USA Hockey. “As I told our membership yesterday, I give them so much credit for embracing me the way that they did. They didn’t let that scare them, it didn’t scare me, and together we did a lot of great things. I hope it opens the eyes of other great, talented administrators that you don’t have to be a hockey person to succeed in a hockey role. That’s a little bit of a misnomer. I hope I disproved that.”