Every few weeks I’ll be publishing a College Hockey Roundup, taking a look at some of the big news off the ice involving NCAA hockey.
Bowling Green and… Buffalo?
More drama in college hockey? You don’t say.
It appeared that the Bowling Green State University’s men’s hockey team was short of options in this latest realignment. After being granted an extension by the WCHA to mull that league’s invitation, there was plenty of speculation as to why, including right here on this blog.
Later Friday, Duluth radio man, college hockey blogger and all-around good chap, Bruce Ciskie broke the news that BGSU was in talks with five schools to start a new conference. Those five schools included four from Atlantic Hockey, Robert Morris, Niagara, Canisus and Mercyhurst, and then Ciskie dropped a bomb. The fifth school in talks with BG? The University at Buffalo.
UB doesn’t have a Division I men’s ice hockey team, but the school confirmed its interest in forming one to Kevin Gordon of the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune.
If nothing else, this proves that Bowling Green is going to do everything within its power to keep its hockey team alive. That’s good news. Secondly, this new league, or maybe this is the CCHA reincarnated, would result in the addition of a Division I school to the college hockey landscape. Expansion means more opportunities for players to play NCAA Division I and widens college hockey’s overall footprint. That’s also good news.
However, do those positives outweigh the negatives they could potentially create? And are the tall hurdles this new conference would have to overcome worth it?
Here’s potentially the biggest hurdle: Buffalo, a school that no one had been talking about regarding college hockey expansion, has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to add the sport. It doesn’t need the same financial gift Penn State received, but we’re talking millions and millions to get a program off the ground.
Currently, Atlantic Hockey allows a max of 12 scholarships per team, the maximum in other conferences is 18. Each of the four Atlantic Hockey schools in talks with BGSU and Buffalo have to ensure that getting six more scholarships per season is a good enough reason to leave a stable conference.
That’s the key. Atlantic Hockey is an already stable conference. It makes sense for Robert Morris, Canisius, Niagara and Mercyhurst to want the option to dole out more scholarships. Those schools likely feel more scholarships would allow them to compete on the national stage. They also might be fed up with taking a backseat to Air Force and RIT pretty much every year.
That said, there is no guarantee of stability with this new conference. Bowling Green was hanging by a thread just a few years ago. Now they want to start a new conference with teams that have no more in common with Bowling Green than geography? I can’t see how forming a new six-team conference that brings up images of the now defunct College Hockey America is a good idea in the long term. It might be a decent short-term solution, but this conference would probably have a tough time remaining viable over a longer period of time (SEE: College Hockey America… again).
Also, some food for thought: This is another potential new conference that is being formed without a hint of Alabama Huntsville in the discussion. A program that desperately needs a home has not been given much thought by anyone, except the folks in Huntsville that are fighting tooth and nail to keep the program alive.
Without a permanent home, there is little cause for the UAH interim administration to keep the sport alive. A school that is in the red probably can’t afford an athletics program that’s way in the red. Donations from alumni and other boosters will help, but it’s going to take a lot. The longer the Chargers remain homeless, the less viable they become.
The movement in college hockey is not done and Alabama-Huntsville’s dreams aren’t completely dashed, but it appears to be a program the rest of Division I hockey feels it can discard.
The Power of Notre Dame
You want MORE drama? Here ya go, pals…
At today’s Notre Dame media day, head coach Jeff Jackson said the University is deciding between joining Hockey East or the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference, stating that going independent is not an option for the Irish.
Up until that report, many had assumed Notre Dame to Hockey East was done like dinner. However, as McMahon reports…
Last month, I reported that sources close to Hockey East considered the Irish to be headed to the NCHC. That changed in recent weeks for undetermined reasons, but something heightened Notre Dame’s interest in Hockey East, according to three sources familiar with the situation.
If this doesn’t make the folks at the NCHC (If one more person calls this league “The National,” I’m going to flip) nervous, it should. There is no bidding war for Notre Dame, but it is a war of concessions. Which conference is willing to give Notre Dame more freedom and which will make them more money.
There’s no question, Notre Dame would make both Hockey East and the NCHC better. It is a program on the rise with one of the richest athletic departments in all of college sports.
From where I sit, the NCHC needs Notre Dame more than Hockey East does. The eight teams within the NCHC do not possess the national recognition required to garner a lucrative television deal, which presumably was a reason for forming the new league. Hockey East at the very least has the Boston media market pinned down, to go along with nationally known Boston College.
So, as tough a pill as it would be to swallow for perennial hockey powers at North Dakota and Denver, conceding some to Notre Dame is not the worst thing in the world. Without Notre Dame, was it worth breaking up the WCHA? Will the NCHC reach it’s full potential as it currently stands?
If the Irish get what they want from Hockey East, it’s by no means a fatal blow to the NCHC, but it’s a stiff slap in the face and a stumble out of the gates for the new league.
Michigan Lands Blue-Chipper Trouba
The most prized college hockey recruit in all the land this season has to be Jacob Trouba. A strong, physical defenseman with a canon shot out of the National Team Development Program, Trouba is likely a top-15 pick at the NHL Draft come June.
On Monday night, Trouba broke his own news, announcing his verbal commitment to the University of Michigan on Twitter. It’s a gigantic win for Red Berenson and the Wolverines, but the commitment does not come without some concern.
Just as news broke that Trouba had committed to Michigan, conversations sprouted up across Twitter snickering about whether he would actually keep that commitment. Based on this past summer, that was bound to be a hot topic.
Trouba’s OHL draft rights are held by the Kitchener Rangers, a club that has a history of getting their man. Also, it’s a club that was able to lure away goaltender John Gibson from his Michigan commitment.
No question, Michigan has won the first recruiting battle with its fellow NCAA schools, but the tougher battle remains. While Michigan has lost each of its last two goaltender commits to Major Junior, the school has a better track record of holding on to position players. Regardless, given the landscape of broken commitments and false promises in this CHL/NCAA battle, everything will be taken with a grain of salt.
“My family and I have always been like that — my parents have always told me that if I make a commitment, that I have to stick with it, at least until the end of the year and then I can do whatever,” said the 6-foot-2, 193-pound blueliner. “So, I’m going to wait until I know for sure what I want to do and then I’m going to choose.”
Granted, those are just words. Things change. People change. And just because Trouba said that doesn’t mean Kitchener will back off. Expect the full-court press the rest of the way. As soon as Trouba gets drafted in June, bank on that pressure intensifying.
Now that he’s made his decision, Jacob Trouba could become this year’s great case study for the CHL/NCAA recruitment battle. Buckle your seat belts.