New potential hockey conference for Canisius, Niagara and… UB?

Air Force rumor in opposition to coach’s decree

With the future of the once-prestigious Central Collegiate Hockey Association in jeopardy, reports have a new potential suitor for the Canisius and Niagara hockey programs: the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Bruce Ciskie from KQDS-FM radio in Duluth, Minn. reported Friday that Bowling Green, currently a CCHA team with an invitation to join the WCHA, had a meeting this week with the four Atlantic Hockey schools who previously met with the CCHA — Canisius, Niagara, Robert Morris and Meryhurst.

The WCHA had originally given BGSU a deadline of Sept. 22 to accept the invitation, but that date was extended to Oct. 7 late this week.

Kevin Gordon of the (Bowling Green, Ohio) Sentinel-Tribute wrote that “The extension further fueled speculation Atlantic Hockey members Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and Robert Morris are being considered for WCHA membership.

“Those four schools have expressed an interest in leaving their present league because it offers only 12 scholarships, six below the NCAA maximum. The CCHA and the WCHA use the NCAA maximum.”

The WCHA currently has 12 teams. It will shrink to eight in 2013-14, losing eight teams to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten while poaching four from the CCHA.

“Adding those four schools would help balance the revamped WCHA geographically,” Gordon continued. “If BG[SU] and the four Atlantic Hockey schools joined the WCHA, the league would have 13 schools — six in the south/east; and seven in the north/west.”

The league could actually get up to 14: Ciskie’s source said there was one more school involved in the meeting, one that doesn’t currently have a Division I program but is interested in adding one — the University at Buffalo.

Gordon wrote more about UB and said the athletic department member he contacted hadn’t responded to an email seeking comment at the time he published.

The Canisius athletic department would not confirm or deny any details about the new meetings and issued the following statement:

“With the current landscape of college hockey, a number of discussions have taken place and continue to take place. Because of the sensitive nature of these conversations, and out of respect to the schools and conferences, we feel that it is in the best interest to show consideration for the ongoing process and not discuss these conversations through the media.”

Ciskie also reported that Air Force and RIT were invited to the meeting, though neither attended. Air Force, he said, was interested but couldn’t get someone to the meeting; RIT was not.

Air Force’s supposed interest in a conference jump is directly opposed to statements its head coach Frank Serratore made Tuesday at Atlantic Hockey Media Day.

“All these programs in football and in hockey, they’re changing conferences like they change their underwear,” Serratore said in his closing remarks at the podium.

“I would like to go on record as saying the Air Force Academy is a proud member of Atlantic Hockey. This is our league, this is where we are and we ain’t looking anywhere.”

Niagara’s Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin also recently backed the AHA, saying his school is “not considering any move to a league that may disband,” referring to the CCHA, and that it “look[s] forward to helping Atlantic Hockey grow.”

Spin:

I see UB’s involvement in a meeting like this as more of a let’s-show-up-and-see-what-they-say type of deal. The school isn’t going to announce tomorrow that it’s starting a new program.

With all the conference moving going on, this might seem like a good time to get into the action, but building a program takes time. The 2013-14 season is still a while off, but even that would probably be too soon for a new team to jump in.

All I’ve ever heard about UB’s hockey program is that it probably won’t get one. Stranger things have happened, but there are a lot of things to take into account. Hockey programs are extremely expensive to run, and the Bulls would almost certainly have to add a women’s program as well to comply with Title IX.

UB has a club team that competes in the ACHA. Everyone seems to love mentioning that fact, but I’m not sure why. It’s not like those players could just go into a D-1 league and be competitive. I play in the ACHA — there’s no way.

Google Maps shot of the Northtowns Center, located at the bottom-left corner. The back lot and baseball diamond and at the arena's immediate right. UB Stadium and Alumni Arena are also listed. Maple Road is cut out from the bottom of the image.

The only other reason I could think of is to see where the club team plays — if there is a rink on campus. Technically there isn’t, but the Northtowns Center (formerly Pepsi Center) might as well be. UB baseball’s home field lies on the Northtowns Center’s grounds and the rink’s back parking lot is the same one you would use for a ballgame.

The Northtowns Center is great for youth hockey, but for a Division I team? I’m not so sure.

The Feature Rink is really the only one of the four pads a D-1 team would use. It (generously) says it can seat 1,800 (no individual seats, all bench seating), smaller than a D-1 team would like. There is limited press seating, if any.

Plus, the thing looks like it was built for roller hockey. The boards have a concrete base all the way around, dangerous because it has no give to it. You always see the boards shaking at NHL games… that’s for safety. Why be crushed between a shoulder and a hard place when you could be hit into something that gives? Plus, the benches (and penalty boxes) are small. Really small. We disliked playing there in high school for that reason; it’d be even worse with big college guys.

So where would the team play? Not only would UB have to fund two programs, it would also have to build a rink, unless it rented time out somewhere or threw a lot of money into renovating the Northtowns Center.

The largest college in one of the country’s most hockey-crazy cities really should have a D-1 team, but there are a ton of obstacles. I wouldn’t get too exited.

Air Force was the Atlantic Hockey champion last year, but the school is better suited to remain in its current league, despite the geological difference.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore.

Especially when it can make use of military flights, Serratore said the travel back-and-forth from Colorado really isn’t that bad.

Air Force would be more competitive in the 12-scholarship Atlantic Hockey Association than in any of the other major conferences, which allow the NCAA-maximum 18.

As a military academy, Air Force can’t give athletic scholarships. Plus, upon graduation, athletes can’t really try to enter hockey’s professional ranks like former Golden Griffin Cory Conacher is doing. All graduates owe the country five years of service, Serratore said. Even Jacques Lamoureux, the best player ever to come out of Air Force, is only playing part-time for the ECHL’s Alaska Aces while stationed in Seward’s Folly

There’s nothing formal that says the two schools must remain together, but the Air Force enjoys playing in the same league as Army, too.

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One thought on “New potential hockey conference for Canisius, Niagara and… UB?

  1. Pingback: The dismantling of the CCHA | Griffs Hockey

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