It is difficult for the men and women who play hockey at Clarkson University to steer clear of each other — not that they would want to.
The two teams play at the same 3,000-seat arena, at a college with an enrollment of 3,268 in Potsdam, New York, a town of about 17,000.
The male and female players often sit with one other in classes. They tend to socialize, and sometimes even go out on dates. Hockey tends to be a common topic of conversation, of course, and they usually attend the other team’s games when their schedules allow.
This season, Clarkson was among three universities whose men’s and women’s Division I hockey teams both qualified for the NCAA Tournament, joining Ohio State (enrollment: 52,517) and Northeastern (17,506).
Despite being the smallest of those universities, Clarkson is the one with a national championship this year. The women’s team won its second straight NCAA title and its third in five years Sunday with a 2-1 overtime victory over Colgate in Minneapolis.
Now it is the men’s turn. The Golden Knights (23-10-6), seeded third in the East Region, face No. 2 seed Providence (23-11-4) on Friday in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with the winner advancing to play Notre Dame or Michigan Tech for a berth in the Frozen Four in St. Paul.
Clarkson has had a men’s hockey program since 1921, but the men are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years. The women’s hockey program started in 2003 and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2010, winning a national championship four years later.
“Academics come first here, but hockey is the one time where we can play the Notre Dames and Minnesotas of the world,” said Steve Yianoukos, director of athletics and recreation at Clarkson. “But when we popped out in women’s hockey, they didn’t have a clue who we were.”
Now they do. Hockey is the only sport in which Clarkson competes at the Division I level; its other programs are Division III. The university, which sits only 30 miles from the Canadian border, is a true hockey hotbed.
“It’s one of our selling points — we’re a great hockey school,” said Matt Desrosiers, who finished his 10th season as the women’s coach.
When asked if the women might have inspired the men with their recent success, Savannah Harmon, who was a captain and played defense for the women’s team, laughed. “I don’t know that I’d go that far with it,” she said.
But the hockey atmosphere is contagious, she said, and the teams tend to feed off each other’s successes without being competitive about it.
“We all get along really well,” she said. “I know that me and my friends from the men’s teams will all sit together in class, and we’ll all talk about our games. The coaches’ rooms are on each side of a hall, so we see each other all the time.”
They share notes. Before Clarkson played in the Women’s Frozen Four in Minneapolis last week, Desrosiers said, he asked a men’s assistant, Josh Hauge, to study some video of opponents to help him with a tactic.
“Everybody is really supportive; the coaching staffs go to each other’s games,” Desrosiers said. “We get feedback from them. We’ve got to coordinate ice times and practice times and go to different events together. It’s very much a collaborative effort.”
The Clarkson men’s program has made 20 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including nine berths in the 1990s, but has not been there since 2008. When Casey Jones took over as the men’s coach in 2011, the Golden Knights were in the middle of a run of five consecutive losing seasons.
“We just needed to get the right type of players,” said Jones, who was formerly an associate coach at Cornell. “We feel like this is a culmination.”
The Clarkson men posted winning seasons in each of the past two years. The Golden Knights have been nationally ranked this season, twice beating Providence, their opponent Friday. They lost to Princeton in the ECAC championship game at Lake Placid, New York, but earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“The relationships we have on this team have been really strong — it’s an outstanding locker room,” said Nic Pierog, a junior forward. “It’s like we’ve taken it a step farther this year.”
Jones would rather steer clear of comparisons to the women’s program, saying: “From our perspective, we’re different animals. It’s a real dog-eat-dog world in this sport, but I think we’re viewed as a program as where we need to be.”
He added, “I actually think we’re both successful because of the impact the university has had on the program.”
It is spring break on the Clarkson campus, and some of the players on the women’s team have scattered. But Harmon said she planned to drive with her friends to Bridgeport to watch the men’s team, and Desrosiers said he would have a “viewing party” at his house.
Pierog said the men’s team was happy for the women’s team, “but, coming into the season, we had our own goals and what we wanted to accomplish.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.