As the Old Dog and Mrs. Dog enjoy the Summer Dog House and the northern lower peninsula, there are quite a few things going on in college hockey during the pandemic that are worth a comment or two.
Item 1: Alabama-Huntville’s Short-Lived Death
The first is the resurrection of the Alabama-Huntsville program. Almost immediately after the UAH administration publicly announced that they were axing hockey due to budget problems—problems caused or made much worse by the COVID-19 pandemic—a Go Fund Me site was launched. The Chargers managed to raise more than $500,000 in just a week (the Old Dog chipped in 50 bucks—I hate to see any program fail), and two well-heeled alumni kicked in an additional $125,000 each. That funds UAH for the coming season.
As soon as that was over, coach Mike Corbett resigned (or was he asked to leave?) and a couple of the better freshmen from last year’s squad immediately transferred. They will have instant eligibility as a result of UAH’s announced-then-withdrawn withdrawal from DI hockey.
Assistant Coach Lance West has been named interim coach.
So, the Chargers have bought one more year—if there is a 2020-21 season. Can they build something that will be more enduring? They’re on the outs with the “new” Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), where the Huskies are headed, and, by the Old Dog’s reckoning, they need to start selling as many as 2,500-3,000 season tickets every year immediately to stay financially viable. In my trips to Huntsville to see the Huskies, I barely saw 3,000 fans in total in six games over the last few years—and perhaps 25% of those who were there were Tech fans. (I counted the Charger band, just to be clear.)
Will any talent want to join this situation in the coming years? I’d say it’s a long shot, but, as my 50 bucks said, I wish them well.
Item 2: LIU Sharks Swim Into the Deep Water
The next item is that Long Island University announced they will field a DI team in 2020-21 (again, if…there’s…a…season). The Sharks, starting from scratch, have hired a reasonably qualified head coach in Brett Riley, an assistant at Colgate last year. They’ve filled in an almost-complete roster, picking up overage juniors from western Canada and a couple of transfers. One of those is former Husky Mitch Meek, who will be one of the very few on the roster with any significant NCAA game experience. They’ve also started building a schedule, which isn’t terribly difficult because LIU is within a reasonably short bus ride to or from at least two dozen DI teams.
Where will they play? It looks like it will be the New York Islanders practice complex, Northwell Health Ice Center, opened in 2016 with two modern rinks and a fair amount of seating. The facility is located in East Meadow, NY about 7 miles from LIU’s Post campus and 28 miles from their Brooklyn campus.
While LIU’s budget isn’t much at this point, it does appear they have a chance to become a legitimate DI team. They’ve done a great job in a short time, and that’s encouraging. Hanging on as an independent is a tough road, though, and I would expect that the Sharks will be looking for a league to join as soon as possible.
Item 3: The New CCHA Hires A Big Name Commissioner
Another hot item is the announcement that Don Lucia—famed former coach at Alaska Fairbanks, Colorado College and Minnesota—has decided he wasn’t content with retirement and accepted the job of commissioner of the new-fangled version of the CCHA. Beyond the normal platitudes you expect to hear at a news conference for this type of announcement, two issues discussed were noteworthy.
The first is that Lucia would like to see an eight-team league. He then added to that by almost-but-not-quite endorsing the University of St. Thomas, located in St. Paul, MN (with satellite campuses in Minneapolis and, of course, Rome, Italy), as a candidate for the currently open eighth slot in the league. The Tommies (as they are called) are in the process of trying to get the NCAA to waive the normal rules and let them make a jump directly from DIII to DI in all sports, including football, basketball and hockey. Usually, this is 12-year process but St. Thomas wants to short-cut that, since they’ve been kicked out of their DIII conference because they win everything all the time (well, not quite, but almost). One thing of note is that this waiver has little to no impact on the Tommies’ ability to jump to DI hockey as long as they make the jump to DII in all sports.
Of course, this is a natural for the new CCHA—close enough for bus transport for all teams, an excellent academic profile, and (most importantly) presence in a major TV market, one that’s hockey-oriented to boot. The on-line buzz from Tech fans has been positive about this, as Minneapolis-St. Paul is a favored career spot for quite a few MTU alumni.
At the same news conference, Lucia also said he would investigate setting up a common refereeing pool among the CCHA, Big Ten (or however many numbers they have in whatever sport) and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). This sounds like a great idea, with the potential to improve the reffing, attracting more people to the job, and getting more consistent standards, at least in western hockey. No matter—fans will whine and wail about referees regardless, but this would be an improvement over the current independent setup and I hope Lucia is successful in doing this.
That’s enough for one column, but there are several more newsy bits that are emerging—we’ll catch up with those in another Old Dog in Texas post next week.