Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
The Atlantic Hockey Association is in an interesting situation. Because of the terribly short sighted descision of Robert Morris’s two leaders, their president and head of the board, one of the legacy members of the conference, as of today, will not play ice hockey at the division one level. As such, the conference’s remaining teams have a lot to discuss at their ongoing director’s meetings taking place over the month .
From this past March, Comissioner Bob Degregorio said of expanding from 11 teams, “We’ll see what progress will be made. The directors have to look at a lot of things. We know that we want to get back to 12 teams, but what’s the right number? Is it 12? Is it 13? Or is it 14? How big do we want to be? Do we want to stay at 12? They have a lot to talk about in regards to expansion. Nothing has been pre-determined. ”
Right now, if all three pitches of Alabama Huntsville, Long Island, and the other team the Comissioner discussed came to pass, the conference would then have 13 teams, in the realm of possibility.
Since the University of Conneticut Huskies left to Hockey East, there are more than a few quotes from the comissioner on getting the conference back to 12 teams at least. At one point, the Chargers pitched Atlantic Hockey before aceptnce into the WCHA in their last round of potential expansion.
With all of the shifting dynamics of this conference, let’s go through options facing the 10 teams left.
Stay at 10
Every publicly available comment from the comissioner shows that the members of Atlantic Hockey value being at least a 12 team league. In addition, because of how late Dr. Chris Howard decided to go ahead with his descision to elminate one of the most sucessful teams in the history of the confernence, the remaining ten members could find themselves in a bind. In a league where money is always part of the discussion, to give some teams extra conference games without travel compensation would not seem fair. For example, if Air Force was traveling to Robert Morris for two games, where do you then send them? Take another school like AIC, should they have to travel to another school in Pennsylvania, Mercyhurst, for a weekend and have two less home games (if the Colonials were coming to Springfield). Cash flow is a vital part of keepng all of these programs healthy, and staying at 10 members, with a schedule bound to harm the bottom line of every school losing a home series against the Colonials, does not seem ideal in the short run.
In addition, you cannot have teams add non conference games uniformly, as many members already have their non conference schedules decided, and many members of the other five conferences don’t have games available to be played. So, you are left with a choice of stasis which does not help anyone in the conference. Had the Colonials made their fateful announcement a few months ago, perhaps teams outside of Atlantic Hockey could have more easily filled the void for this year on the non conference side, and the league could have seen how ten looked for a year. Now, it is not clear if that result produces the best outcome.
Option Two: Replace, and add
Alabama Huntsville can play this year, based on info from sources in or around the hockey program, if granted admission into a conference, the puck is on the stick of Atlantic Hockey Athletic Directors in that regard. The Chargers could be handed the schedule to be given to the Colonials, and play it. The league could even make the Chargers travel for more games in the first year, or perhaps propose a higher subsidy than what Huntsville is offering (25000 dollars per series to all visiting AHA teams in the regular season, and in the postseason as well). Any counter offer could be for one year to help offset the financial loss of the Colonials to the other 10 members in the conference. In subsequent years, the initial parameters of the pitch could hold form, or the directors could propose something else.
As for adding, in two years, if the league wanted to get to 12 teams (we say two years because every indication given, and the reason the Chargers suspended their efforts for the 2021-22 campaign was due to AHA not looking to expand from 11 at all). The Sharks are a program on the rise, with strong financial backing, a demonstrated season of tough competition as an independent, and lead by Brett Riley. He knows how to compete, build programs, and has a strong pipeline of players coming to Long Island. As the Sharks have most of their games figured out for this season, canceling a bunch of games for conference admission this year does not seem prudent. In future years, they could join the conference, and expand the reach of the conference with a like minded institution looking to grow its presence.
Option Three: Replace and add two more
If three teams are on the expansion docket for Atlantic Hockey this summer, well the league could play an unbalanced schedule at 13 in 2-3 years with a school like Navy as the third team. That grows the game of college hockey, and if done right could grow the financial budget of each participating school. Having Navy be the southernmost school would give Mercyhurst, Huntsville, and everyone else in the conference another good place to play, an instant service academy rivalry in another field, and national eyes on the sport.
Regardless of the choice, it is clear that the Athletic Directors in this great league have a lot to consider. Consider one final quote from the Commissioner (while keeping in mind that he is not the decision maker on allowing any of these teams in to the league) on Huntsville’s last pitch to the league before they got into the WCHA (work credit to Chris Lerch of USCHO) (he thought that the WCHA was a good fit for them at the time) ” It’s important to college hockey that this program continue.” Well, now we get to see that quote put to its test this month, and see what expansion chances bring the other schools in need of a conference home, from programs formed, and yet to be formed.