As I promised a few weeks ago when the Notre Dame to Hockey East news became official, here are my thoughts on a potential additional program which would bring the total to twelve. While having an even number of teams isn’t absolutely necessary, after all there were only nine teams between when UMass joined in 1994 until Vermont was added in 2005, it does make scheduling easier and more exciting. One of great things right now in Hockey East is that during the months of February and March every team is playing every night as they battle for the championship. If Notre Dame joins as an 11th team by itself someone will be sitting on the sidelines every Friday and Saturday during that time. Plus a 12th team will allow for all teams in Hockey East to participate in the playoffs, with the top four seeds getting an opening round bye as the bottom eight fight to move on.
Of course a program shouldn’t be added just for the sake of getting to twelve teams. That school should bring value to the conference and its members. While I wasn’t on board with the Notre Dame decision due purely to geographic reasons, the profile of the school and competitiveness of the program is a benefit to Hockey East. But what other schools would do the same? Here are my thoughts on the pros, cons, and (since this is a FTT post) the road trip/pre-gaming possibilities of each one. Speaking of which, did you know South Bend, Indiana is only 80 miles from Bell’s Brewery?
Looks Good On Paper, But…
Pros – UConn fits well into the current geographic footprint of the conference. Four of the other flagship schools from New England are already in the conference in UMass, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Though not for hockey, they’re a high profile school in general college athletics, specifically for basketball and more recently football. They’re from an area with a decent hockey tradition and could potentially tap into that (beyond just playing Brass Bonanza after goals).
Cons – Their hockey history sucks. Despite beating Lowell just last night, it’s unknown if they’d be able to make leap from perennial Atlantic Hockey also ran to Hockey East. Their facility is frankly, awful. It’s essentially a building right out of an industrial park with a rink inside surrounded by metal football bleachers. The really sad part is it’s a relatively new building right out an industrial park with a rink inside surrounded by metal football bleachers. UConn would have to build something new if they want to meet Hockey East standards. That’s major hurdle number one. Major hurdle number two is the fact that they don’t currently fund scholarships, or if they do it’s just a fraction of the full allotment that HEA schools do. They’d have to fund all the way up to the max to become a Hockey East program and then of course find money for to offset such increases on the women’s side of their sports, due to Title IX. Considering the school has shown exactly zero interest in doing what it takes to have a successful program even at the AHA level, I don’t see this happening.
Road Trip – Storrs is a pretty barren place in terms of anything to do. The first time I went there I had to pregame at the Hooters all the way in Manchester. Luckily the last time UMass played there I came across Willimantic Brewing company, a great brewpub located in an old post office with garlic fries that are so good they should be illegal.
Pros – It wasn’t long ago that Quinnipiac was in Atlantic Hockey themselves, but a large investment in the program has allowed them to elevate to the ECAC and still be somewhat successful. The school built a decently sized, impressive facility right near campus that would work for Hockey East. The school also demonstrated their willingness to improve the profile of the program by paying for some games to be televised on NESN. While the team hasn’t made the NCAAs since 2002, it has enjoyed 20 win seasons in 5 of the last 8 years. Specifically from a UMass perspective these teams have played each other for the last few seasons and enjoyed some memorable games during that time.
Cons – Not a lot here to tell you the truth, other than the fact that while they’ve shown they can compete in the ECAC, they haven’t demonstrated they can reach the NCAAs in a more competitive league. It’s also an unknown whether they could attract a casual fan following to their games. Although it’s interesting that the small private school offers more than the state’s flagship.
Road Trip – This one is actually a con. Last time UMass played at Quinnipiac we pregamed at Southport Brewing Company which is a chain in the area. Meh. Mediocre craft beer. Think Northampton Brewery without the deck. Decent pregaming would have to take place down the road in New Haven, where Prime 16 is one of my favorites.
Pros – Holy Cross would be the best geographic fit for the current Hockey East schools, just a short bus ride for both UMass and the Boston area schools. Unlike UConn, Holy Cross has actually won something in Atlantic Hockey, with a couple conference titles to their credit. They also have one of the more storybook wins in NCAA tournament history when they topped #1 seed Minnesota in 2006. The fact that Holy Cross has the support of the city if they decide to move to Hockey East is a plus.
Cons – While Holy Cross’ rink is nice by AHA standards, it’s not good enough for Hockey East. The good news is the city would allow them to play at the DCU Center. The bad news is they’d have to play at the DCU Center. Now, DCU is one of the few area hockey arenas I haven’t been to, but I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about it during those times when NCAA regionals are held there. Is that the best place to showcase Hockey East? Also it’s an unknown how much support Crusader hockey would get from its administration and student population. For these reasons Holy Cross is probably a longshot.
Road Trip – Though it’s on the far side of Worcester from campus, Peppercorn’s, the home of Wormtown Brewing, would be a great addition to Hockey East, as I found out when I pregamed the pregame before football played Holy Cross this fall. Wormtown’s owner and head brewer is a UMass alum.
Pros – I guess this is probably the closest thing Notre Dame would have to a travel partner. While we are talking about an Atlantic Hockey team, they’re not one by choice. Niagara would love nothing more than continue to raise the profile of its program by offering close to or at the maximum for scholarships and making the team the flagship of its athletic department. Unfortunately when the CHA disbanded Niagara was forced to join the AHA to remain viable and adopt their myopic limitations on scholarships. Niagara wants out and wants big-time hockey, but has no where to achieve such dreams. The Purple Eagles have had success at the DI level with three NCAA appearances to their name.
Cons – The distance is an issue, for both teams and fans. The program would also very quickly have to invest in its facilities, scholarships, and try to make a splash in Hockey East. As UMass fans we saw the troubles of jumping right into an elite conference and the long term effects it can have. Another huge problem would be where would they play? Their current arena is inadequate and I’m not sure if the area has anything that could be used as an alternative, even if temporarily.
Road Trip – Pregame in the area best known for being the birthplace of the buffalo wing? Oh, OK. If I absolutely HAVE to..
Pros – If we’re talking about all these Atlantic Hockey teams, why not look to the current kings of that conference who went to the Frozen Four in 2010? It’s amazing to think that in 06-07, in just their 2nd year in DI and their first year in Atlantic Hockey, they won 21 games. And they haven’t looked back since. They would bring a very passionate fanbase who I personally witnessed take over the MDC rink that Bentley plays in a few years back. So we know they’ll travel. There’s talk about building a new facility on campus or as a backup is Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester, home to UMass’ biggest win.
Cons – Like Niagara, geography isn’t a perfect fit. They’d also have to invest in scholarships, facilities, and so on. It’s unknown if the school would be willing to put that much into their hockey program.
Road Trip – Dinosaur BBQ is located a slapshot away from Blue Cross Arena. I have to say I really enjoyed the time spent in and around Rochester for the NCAA tournament in 2007.
Pros – Here’s a high profile school that would fit well into the other institutions already in Hockey East. The trip to Syracuse is doable for most of the existing teams. The school just recently added DI women’s hockey.
Cons – The obvious one is that they’d have to actually start the program, fund scholarships, build a facility (unless they play in the War Memorial), etc…
Road Trip – Like Rochester, Dinosaur BBQ. Other than that I know nothing about Syracuse, having only driven through it. Beer Advocate has a number of interesting looking spots in town however.
Pros – The school itself would be a natural fit in the conference, in terms of geography and the fact that it’d be the fifth flagship school from New England. They would automatically have a bitter rival in Providence. There are rumors the Ryan Center could be retrofitted for hockey, but I’ve yet to see them confirmed. The school has long had one of the better club teams in the country. Their AD, UMass’ own Thorr Bjorn, already has a relationship with Hockey East and was involved with running the Minuteman hockey program.
Cons – Like Syracuse, they’d have to start a program. Unlike Syracuse, which is now rolling in ACC money, URI is hurting. Citing lack of success and budget problem, they’re actually cutting scholarships and dropping their football program to the Northeast Conference. Probably the only way this could work is if they cut football all together and reallocate that money to hockey.
Road Trip – Honestly, I’m not seeing much down there. Anyone?
Pros – Personally I think RPI fits best. Geographically they’re located just outside the New England footprint. Amherst to Rensselaer 100 miles. Amherst to Newton 89 miles. Beyond proximity, they have tradition. Houston Field House is a quintessential college hockey barn. It’s capacity of 5,000 fits well with Hockey East. Inhabiting HFH are some diehard fans, a great hockey band, and of course Puckman. This is a team on the rise. Seth Appert is considered one of the better coaches in college hockey and he’s brought some good talent to the capital region in his tenure. In the last three years RPI’s win total has gone from 10 to 18 to 20. Of all the schools mentioned as an addition to Hockey East, this is the only one that has national championships to its name.
Cons – It had been a long time since they found themselves in the NCAA or atop the ECAC before last season. 1994 to be specific. It’ll be interesting to see if they can maintain at that level.
Road Trip – Brown’s Brewing is a brewpub I try to hit when in the area, located just down the hill from campus. Thirsty on the way back to Amherst? Moe’s Tavern in Lee is Berkshire County’s premiere beer bar and UMass alumni owned and operated.
There you have it. Address the invite and get a stamp on this thing. I’d love for Hockey East to jump on this so both schools could enter at once.
Dick Baker takes a look at the ease Friday’s game will mean to the Shea family with both their sons playing each other. I noticed last year at the pregame at Cityside that the Sheas had taken a page from the Pereira family and constructed a half UMass-half BC jersey. Although it kind of turns my stomach to see my beloved maroon and white attached to a BC logo, I do appreciate the thrill it must mean for them to see both their sons compete at the same time on the ice at the highest level of college hockey.