College hockey is a lot like the weather in New England. If you do not like it, just wait a short while and it is bound to change. Last season the college hockey world saw the demise of the MAAC, the league which Quinnipiac was a member of.
As a result, nine members from the MAAC (Fairfield and Iona dropped their men’s ice hockey programs) combined to form Atlantic Hockey.
Although still in the deep freeze of winter, the action is already heating up this year with the announcement that ECAC member Vermont will be joining Hockey East for the 2005-06 season. In addition, CHA member Findlay announced that it will eliminate its men’s and women’s varsity ice hockey programs. With the loss of Findlay, the CHA will fall one team short of the NCAA-required six teams to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA championships.
So how does all of this affect Quinnipiac? In the meantime, it does not. With Vermont deciding to remain in the ECAC for next season, the Bobcats are expected to remain in Atlantic Hockey for another year. After that, however, a move to the ECAC is not out of the question for Quinnipiac.
“At this point, Quinnipiac fans are talking about the ECAC, and the ECAC fans have Quinnipiac on their list of potential members,” said Jack McDonald, Quinnipiac Director of Athletics and Recreation.
The Quinnipiac ice hockey teams play their home games at the Northford Ice Pavilion, which seats around 1,000 people, but plans are underway for a new athletic facility, which is crucial if the Bobcats are to switch conferences and join the ECAC. All of the ECAC teams play in facilities with a seating capacity of greater than 2,000.
“We would not be a candidate for any league in [the Northford Ice Pavilion],” McDonald said. “If we are going to take the next level, in basketball or ice hockey, we need an athletic facility equal to the conferences that we’re in.”
McDonald said he hopes that the new athletic facility would be completed in the next four-year cycle, but the time table is not complete yet. The new facility would likely have a seating capacity of around 3,000 according to McDonald.
“There’s a fine line in trying to make sure we have enough seats to be a major Division I facility, but not so many seats that you don’t have a quality home court/home ice advantage,” McDonald said.
Without question, the ECAC is a more difficult conference than Atlantic Hockey. The Bobcats have been very successful in the MAAC and Atlantic Hockey since making the jump from Division II in 1998-99. In fact, the Bobcats have never finished below .500 in Division I hockey and played in the MAAC championship game in the last three years, going to the NCAA championships in 2002.
McDonald is confident that the Bobcats will remain successful if they were to join the ECAC, which is comprised of all private schools (with the exception of departing Vermont) and includes Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Princeton, Brown and Yale.
“I would think we’d be very competitive in the ECAC,” McDonald said. “We’ve played them a lot and we’ve beaten some ECAC teams before, so we would be competitive, although the league is significantly more talented than Atlantic Hockey.”
Next season, the Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team will join the CHA women’s conference.
The women’s team, which started playing Division I hockey in 2001-02, is an independent for the second consecutive season. With the exception of ice hockey and men’s lacrosse, which is a member of the America East Conference, all of Quinnipiac’s sports compete in the Northeast Conference.
“The best thing for Quinnipiac would be, like all the other sports, to have our men and women’s ice hockey in the same league,” McDonald said. “So we might work on, if we’re accepted to the ECAC, [having] our women go too. If we were to stay in Atlantic Hockey, then we might try to develop a women’s league within that league.”
One major advantage of playing in the ECAC, or even the CHA, over Atlantic Hockey is that those conferences allow the NCAA cap of 18 scholarships annually. Atlantic Hockey only allows 11, although Quinnipiac has always budgeted for the 18.
For certain, there will be more changes in the college hockey landscape. Whether Quinnipiac will play a role in those changes remains uncertain, though.