ERIE, Pa. – The history of women’s college hockey is rich with the accomplishments of Hockey East schools.

The formative years of the sport at the college level were dominated by schools like Providence, New Hampshire and Northeastern, and players like the Friars’ Cammi Granato, New Hampshire’s Colleen Coyne and the Huskies’ Shelley Looney and Vicky Sunohara. When the inaugural Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award was presented in 1998, it was a New Hampshire player, Brandy Fisher, who first hoisted the trophy, and when a national championship was first awarded in 1998 (by the American Women’s College Hockey Association), it was New Hampshire that won the title.

However, since the NCAA started sponsoring a championship in women’s hockey in 2001, the WCHA has ruled the roost, with Minnesota, Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth winning championships, often defeating opponents from ECAC Hockey like Brown, Harvard and St. Lawrence.

Now, as the hours tick away towards the championship game at the 2011 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, a Hockey East school is set to play for the NCAA Championship for the first time since its inception. However, the school that will represent the conference is not one of the storied programs that helped define the sport. Rather, it’s a program that first hit the ice just six years ago: Boston University, a 4-1 winner over Cornell on Sunday and the team that will face Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Tullio Arena.

“It is unbelievably humbling,” Terriers head coach Brian Durocher said, “and it makes me proud to be the coach of that team.”

Still, as he prepares to take BU into what had previously been uncharted territory for Hockey East, Durocher knows he owes a debt to the conference, not just for the schools that started it all, but the ones who have joined BU in devoting more resources to the sport and making sure that whoever represents Hockey East on the national stage is battle-tested.

“There has been great growth in Hockey East,” Durocher said Saturday, “and we are greatly appreciative of the competition we face every single day in our league and we are also appreciative that the administrative people decided to make women’s hockey important and allow it to grow. I use Vermont and BC as two great examples, they were programs that had women’s teams but didn’t have the resources and all of a sudden the resources are there and BC is here with us, Vermont is on the way up and our program has been given the resources when we started six years ago to be a good team.”

After battling hard all season to get to this point – and suffering setbacks to Boston College in the Beanpot and Northeastern in the Hockey East semifinals – the Terriers know that the conference they’ll represent on Sunday is a big part of why they’re on the cusp of a national championship after just six years.

“We had great competition this year and we have to thank all the teams we have played against,” said defenseman Catherine Ward, a graduate student who came to BU after graduating from McGill University. “They have worked hard and they made us work even harder so in a way, yes we want to represent Hockey East.”

“Every game is a tough game for us,” said Terriers captain Holly Lorms. “There are no easy walk-throughs. We aren’t beating teams 6-0. We are beating teams 2-1 or 3-2, those types of games and to be playing [Sunday] as a representative from the East coast as well as from Hockey East is a tremendous honor and just to show other people it is a tough conference and it is a tough game every time.”

Still, the Terriers will likely play their toughest game of the season on Sunday, against a Wisconsin team that is looking for it’s third national championship in five seasons, and features both Patty Kazmaier Award winner Meghan Duggan and national goal-scoring leader Hilary Knight. As he prepares his team to face the nation’s top scoring offense (5.20 goals per game), Durocher is looking to his veteran defensive corps to lead the effort to keep the Badgers at bay.

“I believe we have six defensemen who can play top players 1-on-1,” Durocher said. “A 2-on-2 with Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight coming down the ice can be a pretty odd-man situation for Wisconsin in a lot of games and I think we have 6 people who can play those people 1-on-1. Nobody is perfect, but twice we have had shutouts against Boston College. Not many people found a way to keep Stack off the board or that team off the board and that is where we are going to win.”

One way or another, BU’s season will end Sunday. However, the truth is that both the Terriers and the conference they represent are just getting started.