Opinion: Men’s College Hockey needs more conferences-Here’s Why

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

To put it nicely, to grow the game with consistency, the Men’s College hockey game at the Division One level needs more conferences. While it is true that Atlantic Hockey is entertaining expansion pitches this month, the truth of all of the growth of this sport is simple.

Atlantic Hockey cannot, nor should not be asked to shoulder the sole burden of adding new members to the game.

For this sport to grow, in the long run, we need more schools willing to form conferences with new members.

Why?

Well, as more members come in from different parts of the country, especially in the south and pacific northwest, travel costs for the incumbents in this sport will skyrocket. In addition, fans in this sport often are rivals with schools closest to them, regardless of conference, if they are at the same level.

In addition, take a look at the rebirth of the CCHA under its current iteration. That conference formed in part because its members wanted to consolidate their footprint, and keep costs down to some level. We would argue that Atlantic Hockey has some of that cost containment at its core, and as the league gets more members wanting to join, over time the members of a conference that grows beyond 12 conferences could be served to bring back another conference, College Hockey America.

Why?

Well, that conference with six or seven members could work in concert with Atlantic Hockey to do a couple of things. First, they could create a scheduling alliance to occupy some non conference games every year, and ensure robust competition, giving both members of the new conference more opportunities to boost their pairwise standing than they have now ( eight to ten non conference games in total, compared to a maximum of six non exempt games now).

In addition, bringing back the CHA would drive down costs for members of Atlantic Hockey who may not want to take longer bus trips, or plane trips any more. If we posited that Navy (the Midshipmen have been in talks to join the Division One game for years) would join this conference with the Army and Air Force, that gives us three schools with a rich history. Now, add in Lindenwood, who is planning to join the Division One scene in two years, and we find ourselves at four with a conference already starting with a strong foundation. You could then add in Alabama Huntsville for five, and, should their feasibility study go well, and the school back it, Tennessee State could join to make a six team conference. You could also extend invites to Liberty, who has a win over a Division One program, an ESPN deal, and a beautiful facility already, Long Island as well, given that the Sharks are expanding their Division One footprint rapidly and gaining notoriety for how well they support the growth of opportunities for their student athletes. This would allow other members in Atlantic Hockey more cost control over their own budget, and provide room for that conference, should more teams want to join it, a seventh conference with an automatic bid to guarantee at least two schools Air Force Academy Hockey Head Coach Frank Serratore referred to as ” have nots” to join as well. In addition, the success of the reborn CHA could spark the ideas of forming other new conferences throughout the game.

Take the west coast. If we know that Arizona State would be a part of any Pac-12 conference (we do), we could then look to Las Vegas. UNLV produced the first line center for the three time Atlantic Hockey Regular Season champs (AIC) in Elijah Barriga, and has a big foot print in the area already. That gives us two schools, and an impasse once again. If this Pac 12 worked with the Kraken and Golden Knights to form programs in their areas (UNLV, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State) and work with ones already in their areas (Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage) then you get another strong conference with regional viability pretty fast. Now, if you look at what we have already, there are always opportunities for schools to move around, where it makes sense for both new school and conference alike. The dynamic of forming new conferences like these two would create a framework for members looking to join, and for ones like Augustana who have announced intentions, more options to join a conference best for them, compared to one that will have them. It gives more power and viability to new programs to compete right away, and a lasting infrastructure that will support them, and do the thing we all want to do, grow the game, while hopefully providing administrators with the money and encouragement to do so.

Remember, there are about eight or nine teams of players in the transfer portal right now, and a lot more uncommitted players about to age out of junior hockey with Division One talent, but no home. For a sport that has a myriad of junior hockey lockers, and interest in the game, it is incumbent on those looking to grow the game to continue to search for new ways to do that both inside and outside of the framework they currently have. It cannot be on one conference or school to figure things out, it is on all members of this great game, and on all of us to continue to support schools looking to get into this game that is one of the best parts of sport in North America, not just at the college level.

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The Misfits Return: How Mitch’s Misfits are planning to return to in person cheering this fall

The first time we saw the power of Mitch’s Misfits as a student cheering section, they were at the Hall of Fame game in the 2019-2020 campaign at Ralph Engelstad Arena. That very same game had in attendance the new leader of the Misfits for the 2021-2022 season, Olivia Wery.

As she said of that experience, and many other positives in her time as a Misfit, along with her choice to run to be the leader of the group, ” the leadership team of our organization has all graduated, giving myself and several others the privilege of continuing on the legacy of Mitch’s Misfits. I feel very fortunate to have been elected president of the organization that has defined my college experience the last two years. On a whim, I decided to sign up for a trip to play the University of North Dakota with Mitch’s Misfits. To be honest, I had never been one to step outside of my comfort zone. But for some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to travel 9 hours in a van with people I had never met to watch a hockey game. I had been quickly welcomed into the tight-knit group of friends with open arms. Going on the trip is without a doubt the best decision of my college years and as president of Mitch’s Misfits, I want to give that same opportunity to others.”

If you have not heard of the Misfits, they are a tight knit group of Michigan Tech Students who travel around the country to watch their team. The Huskies are one of the legacy programs of this sport, have a fanatical following, and draw positive notoriety to the sport unlike many other student sections in this game. They have been known to chant Let’s Go Huskies from puck drop until the first whistle, no matter how long it takes, and they, on their own, competed with the volume of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, just like they do at every road locale they travel to. They also keep flags in John Macinnes Student Ice Arena for every state, province, and country that their players on that team are from. This year, they are adding the flag of Australia, as Tyrone Bronte is coming to play for the Huskies, making him the first Australian Ice Hockey player to play for the storied school.

As Wery said of their next steps,

“Upon the registration of classes for this fall, the university planned to have students attend classes in person. I am sure that this is still the plan at the moment, but we have not received word about the attendance allowed in at sporting events. I am sure that MTU is going to follow the indoor sports fan capacity limit of 25% set by the state of Michigan, but we are hoping that this percent will see an increase before the start of the season (multiple schools in the state are planning for full crowds come this fall, so as of now, things look good for a full house for the Huskies).”

As the State of Michigan lifts Covid-19 restrictions, Wery has every reason to expect her school to follow suit.

Regarding the goal for the season, Wery kept it simple

” We believe that this season our goal is to re-establish ourselves as the best student section in college hockey in addition to keeping alive as many of our traditions as possible. One of these traditions is waving the state or country flag of our starting players when they are called, in addition to waving all the flags every time the fight song is played.”

In addition, she added ” Additionally, we have purchased new cowbells(that come with a lifetime warranty) so that we can come back even louder than before.”

Wery noted the quick response of the school, adding “since the start of the pandemic, the university had been encouraging regular testing of students, staff, and members of the community. In the last few months of the school year, they were able to set up a vaccination site on campus. I had been tested several times on campus and got vaccinated as soon as it became available” As more Huskies, and Michiganders get vaccinated, the state is planning to allow full capacity at its live events, and the Huskies and its Misfits are hopeful that all of them will be able to cheer for their team, in person.

Going forward, she notes how new students can join the Misfits, saying ” We plan on having a booth at the annual student organization fair at the beginning of the school year. It is a great opportunity for students to meet organizations like ours and learn how to get involved. Our booth typically gains a lot of attention because we allow students to hit the gong and play sauce toss if they would like.”

In addition to all of that, she is most excited to have “the atmosphere that comes with having a full capacity. I feel very fortunate to have attended some of the games near the end of the season, but the atmosphere wasn’t the same.” She further went on to lament, saying ” I find it unfortunate that there are two years of new students who haven’t been able to experience the one-of-a-kind atmosphere that we are able to produce at our home games.” She added more depth to her candidacy, explaining that “the reason that I ran for president is that I wanted to introduce these students to the addictive thrill of the atmosphere, in addition to recreating the environment that our players and team staff love to play in every night. ”

Finally, Wery, like the rest of the Misfits, is excited for so many things in the 2021-2022 campaign.

She said ” There are so many things to be excited about. We got some great players through the transfer portal and we’re looking forward to seeing the familiar faces of Mark Sinclair and Justin Misiak for another season. We’re excited to be back in person to hockey games and see familiar faces from the community. We’re excited to play Wisconsin, Notre Dame, St. Thomas, Clarkson, and we always look forward to sweeping Northern! Overall, I think we’re most excited for the season to get going where we are able to attend games in person”

The Misfits are the best, and most consistent student section that we have seen across college hockey. Few rival their passion, and consistency to support of their team, and even fewer travel all around the nation to see their team play, and drown out the opposition on the road like the Misfits can. In the season of getting back to whatever a post-pandemic normal could be, having the Misfits at full strength is a good harbinger of more good things happening in this sport, amidst the challenges it always has, and will continue to face. College Hockey is better for having the Misfits, and Wery is ready for the challenge of leading the loudest student group in this sport.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.