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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Atlantic Hockey commissioner not worried about CCHA

Possibility of conference jump dwindling for Canisius, Niagara

ROCHESTER — Canisius College and Niagara University were two of four Atlantic Hockey schools that met with Central Collegiate Hockey Association executives in July about the possibility of switching conferences, but with the stability of the CCHA in question, that move is seeming less and less likely.

AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio said Tuesday that he isn’t worried the teams will leave his conference.

Athletic directors from all 12 Atlantic Hockey schools completed a thorough review of the league’s strategic plan during a lengthy directors meeting at Bentley University last week, DeGregorio said.

“Based on what I heard there… I think that everybody’s going to stay right where they are. … I have the confidence that the issues the league has to deal with will be addressed by the directors as we move forward. I think that we will stay at 12 teams and continue to be a very strong conference and get better as we move down the line.”

The main perk of moving to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association is the increase in scholarship players allowed on the roster — CCHA teams may award up to 18 scholarships while Atlantic Hockey limits its members to 12.

Frank Serratore, head coach of reigning champion Air Force who flew in from Colorado for Atlantic Hockey Media Day, said he understands the competitive aspect of schools who look into switching conferences and has no problem with it.

“You’ve got to do what you feel is in your best interest. Those programs have operated up front and the league knows that they’re talking to different people. They’ve ultimately got to make a decision like everybody will.

“I don’t care what anybody says: Nobody’s making decisions out of the goodness of their heart. They’re making decisions based on what they feel is in their best interest. If those four teams feel it’s in their best interest to look elsewhere, then that’s what they have to do.”

The CCHA currently has 11 members that include national powerhouses like Michigan and Notre Dame, both Frozen Four teams a year ago. However, when the new Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey conferences rock the landscape of college hockey in 2013-14, the CCHA looks to be the hardest hit — at least seven members will be defecting for the greener pastures of the new leagues and the mighty Western Collegiate Hockey Conference, with even more departures likely.

It’s the shaky foundation of the league that is keeping the prospective teams — Canisius, Niagara, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris — at a distance from the once-prestigious conference.

“As of today, only two teams currently in the CCHA – Notre Dame and Bowling Green – have committed to league membership past 2014 and BGSU has been extended an invite to the WCHA. To that end, we are not considering any move to a league that may disband,” Niagara Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin said via email.

Canisius Athletic Director Bill Maher chose not to comment further for this story, only reiterating the blanket statement the four schools jointly released following their July meetings with the CCHA.

If the four teams were to leave Atlantic Hockey, DeGregorio said the league would not immediately look to add replacement teams, but it wouldn’t be out of the question.

“What I would urge the directors to do is always keep the door open,” DeGregorio said, adding that the league would take interest if schools like Rhode Island, Navy or even the University at Buffalo added Division I programs. “If they were to leave, we’d be at eight, [a] very workable number. … My urge to the directors would be to take the eight, redo the schedule, redo the playoff format.”

The vastly depleted CCHA would then add the four AHA teams to its remaining two schools, just meeting the NCAA’s minimum requirement of six teams for a conference to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For the four Atlantic Hockey schools, that would mean 60 percent of their “new” conference schedules would be against teams they already compete with.

Further complicating matters is the commitment Atlantic Hockey teams have to the conference. Per league rules, teams would have until June 30, 2012 to give notification that they plan to leave. But that is a two-year notice, DeGregoiro said. The soonest any team could leave the AHA would be for the 2014-15 season.

If a team wanted to leave sooner — say, for the 2013-14 season when the NCHC and Big Ten start playing — it would need to pay the Atlantic Hockey Association a cash buyout. DeGregorio couldn’t say how much the buyout would cost because it is determined by a formula, but if schools hopping leagues for football give any indication, the cost could very well be in the millions.

If either Canisius or Niagara chooses to stay, it is likely the other will do the same. At least for right now, it appears that Niagara is leaning toward remaining a member of Atlantic Hockey.

“Any chance to improve our program is attractive but we like the rivalries we have in Atlantic Hockey,” McLaughlin said. “We look forward to helping Atlantic Hockey grow.”

CCHA commissioner meets with prospective schools

Central Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Fred Pletsch and other league executives had an informative discussion today in Erie, Pa. with representatives from the four Atlantic Hockey schools the league is courting.

Athletic departments from the four schools — Canisius, Niagara, Robert Morris and Mercyhurst — released a joint statement regarding Tuesday’s discussion.

“We had a very frank and open discussion with Commissioner Pletsch and members of his executive committee about joining the CCHA. The CCHA offers several exciting opportunities for our institutions, however each of us feels the need to bring the information we discussed back to campus and discuss it with our school president and our hockey staff.

“In addition, we will need to have discussions with Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio and his executive committee. Once we have completed our due diligence, we have agreed to meet at a future date to continue to explore our opportunities. At this point in time, no decisions have been made about leaving Atlantic Hockey or joining the CCHA.”

The following members were in attendance from the four schools:

— Canisius: Athletic Director Bill Maher and Associate Athletic Director John Maddock.
— Niagara: Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin.
— Robert Morris: Athletic Director Craig Coleman.
— Mercyhurst: Athletic Director Joe Kimball and Senior Associate Athletic Director Aaron Kemp.

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UPDATE: Representing the CCHA at the meeting along with Pletsch were Ferris State Athletic Director Perk Weisenburger and Bowling Green Associate Athletic Director Jim Elsasser, according to UpperMichigansSource.com.

“We are committed to having further dialogue in the future to potentially accommodate those schools, while representing the interests of our member schools that are committed to staying in the CCHA for the 2013-14 season and beyond,” Pletsch said, according to the report.
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McLaughlin is the only one of the six who appears to have an active Twitter account (@NiagaraPurpsAD), though not surprisingly, he has not tweeted anything about the hockey team.

All four schools are set to compete in Atlantic Hockey next season. Any potential conference switch is likely to going into effect starting in the 2013-2014 season, when several current CCHA schools will leave to enter new conferences.

 

Canisius, Niagara to meet with CCHA tomorrow

Representatives from the Canisius College hockey team, as well as those from Niagara, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris, will meet tomorrow with Central Collegiate Hockey Association executives in Erie, Pa. to further discuss the possibility of joining the league.

Attending the meeting for Canisius will be Athletic Director Bill Maher and Associate Athletic Director John Maddock, the athletic department said today. No formal agreements are likely to be made, rather the schools are going to “explore opportunities” presented to them by the CCHA.

All four schools currently play in the 12-team Atlantic Hockey Association, with Niagara and RMU joining last season after their previous league, College Hockey America, folded.

The CCHA is likely looking to add member schools starting in the 2013-2014 season, when three of its current members (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State) will leave to join the new Big Ten hockey conference and Miami (Ohio) University leaves for the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

The biggest selling point to joining the CCHA, aside from the prestige, is the increase in scholarships schools are allowed to award. Schools in Atlantic Hockey are limited to 12, while the CCHA allows 18 scholarship players.

Administrators from the four schools have been in contact with each other about the possibility of moving conferences. Canisius said it is still a ways off from announcing anything formal, but the prospect of playing in the CCHA is “very interesting to the college.”

As for the rumors regarding Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula funding a hockey arena on the Canisius campus, the athletic department said the Sabres have “had conversations” with the school, though discussions are still in the beginning phase.

There is still no plan at this point where the rink would be placed. Several sites on the Canisius campus, such as the Demske Sports Complex and the Health Science building and its surrounding lots, are off-limits for a hockey rink because water extending from Forest Lawn Cemetery flows beneath them.

The athletic department did not say whether it was Pegula personally who has been in contact with the school or just front office members, but offered this prepared statement from Maher:

“We have had discussions with the Buffalo Sabres front office concerning a practice site for the Sabres on the Canisius campus, and we are very excited about the possibility of developing a partnership. The partnership being discussed would not only benefit the Sabres and our NCAA Division I hockey program, it would also have a significant impact on amateur hockey in Western New York. Canisius College is carefully studying this opportunity with the goal of putting together a plan that benefits both organizations.”

The last CCHA school to win a national title was Michigan State in 2007. The conference’s 11 current members (in order of last season’s standings) are: Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami, Western Michigan, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alaska, Lake Superior, Ohio State, Michigan State and Bowling Green.