Derek Schooley: Leading RMU Hockey back with thanks

Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics

“Excited, grateful,it’s almost difficult to put into words the emotional rollercoaster this has been for everyone who has been involved with this since May 26.”

Head Coach of Robert Morris Hockey Derek Schooley gave his thoughts above on the trip to get Robert Morris Hockey to where it is now, saved from banishment, and where it is going moving forward as well.

Heading into the meeting with his players Schooley gave his thoughts on how they felt with all the news “they were excited that the program was back but everybody was asking questions on how that would affect them.” He expects to work to build a new program, 18 years after he built the Colonials from the ground up the first time, he gets the same honor to lead the Colonials back to the national stage once more.

Schooley has reached out to remaining players, and will work to get those that want to stay a chance to do so, but more importantly he is working with each player still enrolled at Robert Morris to find the best path for them. As Schooley said of the opportunity to move forward “I’m looking forward to restarting our program.”

On the process of what comes next to build the program Schooley was straight forward. He said “Right now we are taking it one day at a time … now we are starting to take it one day at a time.” Campus visits and planning next steps are a big part of where the team is right now.

“I don’t think anybody was anticipating two years off…We’re going to look at all options to put these team back together as quick as possible.” Schooley is moving fast to get things figured out, with conference affiliation for both teams being the first priority, with the CHA and Atlantic Hockey getting pitches from their former and hopefully future legacy member of both conferences.

As Schooley said “We’ve got to figure out the questions with Atlantic Hockey and CHA.” Before moving ahead with coaching searches for the women’s job. “I’m sure there will be questions that they want answered.” Schooley expects this as part of any presentation to get back in the league in regular order. He was upbeat and ready for them to move forward saying. “All of the talks with Atlantic Hockey and CHA have been positive. I just really believe that we are in a good location and a good spot. The league has been really positive since our announcement of coming back. I’m focused on getting Robert Morris back to where we’ve been.”

On the extra year leading to the Colonials coming back starting in the 23-24 campaign he said, “ I think it was just to make sure that all the ducks were in a line for both teams moving forward. It comes down to giving us as much possible time to recruit.”

On the process he talked of his positive relationship with Alaska Anchorage Head Coach Matt Shasby who is rebuilding the Seawolves to start back up next season as an independent. Shasby has four signees, a dedicated board supporting him, and an NHL team in the Seattle Kraken helping grow the visibility of the Seawolves. As Schooley said “I’ve had a couple of talks with Matt Shasby and we’ve exchanged texts, our conversations have been positive, we’ve joked that we should write a book together and that the funds could fund our programs and some other ones, we’re very appreciative of the support of college hockey and all its coaches.”

On starting over “ we’re starting over but it’s a different landscape. The biggest change is in recruiting, I think that this is a completely different landscape of where it is now to where it was. We’ve got to come up with a plan and execute it to get where we want to be. There’s so much to do and there’s a long time to do it but we’ve got to get things moving pretty quickly.” Getting in the leagues then getting a women’s coach are the next two steps for the program, in that order. From there building the programs player by player with solid people and good humans amongst all selections is the next thing.

“Our campaign was hockey is the goal and we’ve just scored.” Schooley ended things succinctly with the result of the campaign to bring the teams back

The first of many goals and boxes checked for the Colonials. Now the goal is for these teams to get back to the level they were at and to points far beyond it. Both programs have produced great alums and pros in all walks of life. Now they have the chance to begin that work again anew, in the rapidly changing landscape of college hockey.

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

Opinion: Why saving Robert Morris Hockey matters more than you think

Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics

If we had told you that the host of the Frozen Four put together during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic would receive rave reviews yet be in danger of not having any hockey two years from that weekend, you would have called us crazy.

That is now the reality that Derek Schooley, Logan Bittle, and so many find themselves in, that is the reality both hockey teams of Robert Morris find themselves in. Schooley is now in the position of helping to raise about 300000 more dollars to save both the Men’s team, who last took the ice as Western Pod Champions in Atlantic Hockey at home on a weekend in March and the women’s team who won the CHA tournament and represented their school with honor and dignity in the 2021 NCAA tournament.

Donate to save the programs, if for some reason hockey is not brought back you will be refunded all of your money: https://www.givecampus.com/schools/RobertMorrisUniversity/rmu-hockey-is-the-goal

Here is why you, if you are a fan of any college sport, but especially college hockey should share this article explaining why donating here is so important and donate at the link in the paragraph above.

The whole world is watching.

The line from the Hamilton musical “History has its eyes on you” rings powerfully true here. In men’s college hockey alone, supporters will have a chance to have had, for at least one season, reinstated three programs. Between Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage, and hopefully the Colonials, this will send a message that this sport, and all of its teams fundamentally matter. College hockey at all levels is the sport with some of the least amount of chances for advancement and play at the next level at the NCAA level relative to the talent produced in the pipeline. When manufacturing plants have bottlenecks because they don’t have enough equipment to meet demand for their goods, they buy mite equipment. Fundamentally , since this sport does not have enough space for players with talent to play at the divisions, as coaches like Frank Serratore have acknowledged, this sport needs to support adding more teams, and keeping its valued members. College Hockey is an expensive sport for sure, but we sincerely hope that reinstatement of the Colonials can show administrations on the fence about keeping their teams the value of supporting them. For most schools outside of say power five schools, in this sport, Division One College Hockey is how their program will win a championship and bring its school the most most sustained visibility, exposure, and increased interest which leads to more money and applications to join your school.

The leadership in place knows how to win, and talent is there

Colonials’ roster, assuming their incoming recruits all come to Moon Township, combined with their returners, were set to compete for an Atlantic Hockey Championship this season. Many of their players who had to transfer are playing big roles elsewhere. Had the Colonials not run into a Niagara team that nearly knocked AIC out of a tournament spot in the Atlantic Hockey Semifinals, the team of last year could easily have been in the NCAA tournament. People in Pittsburgh are used to seeing winners. Schooley and the staff working to save this program all are winners and they know what it will take not to have a slow on ramp back to national relevance, but a quick takeoff to it. Oh and the transfer portal, where all Colonials looked for and many found new homes last spring will be a quick source of veteran leadership with skill ready to compete from day one as well.

“We wanted to take our disappointment and sadness and make something of it.” Logan Bittle on the drive to save Robert Morris Hockey

Pittsburgh College Hockey Foundation and Rombert Morris Hockey Leader, Logan Bittle is optimistic.

Why?

Well, as he said of their efforts to help save the Colonials’ Hockey Programs

“We’re a lot better off than we were a week an a half a go.“

On why he started the foundation designed to help save Colonials College Hockey, he said ” we wanted to take our disappointment and sadness (around the initial way the programs were cut) and make something of it.

But, he cautioned of the early commitments “ it’s significant but we still need more significant money.”

This entire foundation stated out of an innate desire for people to help. Bittle was getting pledges to his email account. This model was not sustainable, and required some quick adjustments. As he said of why he started the foundation,” “ one of the main reasons we stated this foundation was the people we’ve met along the way.“

The goal is to help all those involved in working with saving Colonials Hockey. So far, the group is getting pledges from a wide variety of folks, both in a private, and business capacity, and as things get finalized, Bittle is excited to share more news when he can. While it is unclear what the official number of funds raised is, it is also clear that his group has put a big dent in that number.

His foundation has one week left to help raise enough funds to show long term viability for both teams to justify reinstatement. For the Colonials to be back on the ice, Bittle’s group, in conjunction with the university need to show not a specific number, but a sense of progress towards seven million dollars raised in total over the next five years.

While the hard number needed by the administration is vague, their willingness to help Bittle’s group is not, and very much real according to Bittle. Logically it then follows, if the support was not concrete it was not, this last-chance offering by the school would not have happened.

As to the logistics of running the teams next year, he left that up to the hockey staff left with each program. Bittle praised the efforts of Robert Morris in working together with them to be a part of a solution. On the support the teams have seen, Bittle said of the RMU community that, “it’s resilient and willing to help it’s own.“

As this effort progresses, we hope to have more on the hockey plans of the Colonials, should this drive hopefully get the back on the ice.

 

Pledge Form: Here is a link (click the word “link” to the pledge form Bittle’s Foundation is using to gather one time, and multi year contributions. The university needs to see long term viability financially for both programs. While more can be discussed on the hockey ramifications should reinnstatement happen, it is a reality that fundraising, for these teams, for the next week, is all that matters. If you are able to, please consider helping give two programs with a legacy of success at preparing men and women for life both on and off the rink a chance to continue that positive legacy moving forward.

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.

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

Atlantic Hockey: What could come next

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.

Opinion: College Hockey is a positive image driver-We wish RMU’s leaders understood that

Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics

What do we want this sport to be?

While we are not privy to the internal discussions the upper echelon of Robert Morris University management had about indiscriminately putting the future of everyone involved with two successful hockey programs up in a state of purgatory through immediate cessation of them, we hope to learn more in the coming days about those discussions. When multiple players speak of the university doing no more than a 10 minute Zoom chat with no opportunity for transparency or questions of any sort, with a bout an hour of notice of this wretched announcement to be made ahead of time, we are left wanting more answers.

One thing that many other national writers have touched on is the cruel way this horrid, wretched, no good to do at any time announcement was done.

First off, if the administration of Chris Howard believed that Hockey was not in the long term plans for Robert Morris, they owed everyone involved with both programs more notice than the mere minutes some players were given before this went public. A legacy program of Atlantic Hockey, and a CHA program fresh off pushing the number one team in the country to the brink in the NCAA Tournament were thrown aside for goals of the university, that no one seems to get.

It seems rather callous to anyone with this program to read a banner ad on the side of this reductive, overly simplified press release to have an banner ad on the side showing the philosophy of the school. ” Big enough to matter, small enough to care.” Tell that phrase to anyone associated with this program, and they will rightly be disgusted with you for bringing up a slogan that after this week, rings painfully hollow.

If hockey was not in the long term strategic interests of the school, that should have been announced far sooner, perhaps before the start of the season, or contingent upon private donations being secured to build an on campus arena, if the program was to fold due to a sport that has brought it international acclaim, it should have been announced as soon as possible to allow people to find employment and places to play for next year.

An already crowded transfer portal and late struggle to recruit players with 2000 birth years just got more crowded.

Functionally, for a school that, again, for some reason, touted its fundraising sucess in the same callous release where it ended so many hopes, dreams, jobs, and aspirations of all of those involved in it, the world of college hockey wonders.

Why not one more season?

What harm would there have been in allowing transfers, and playing the season out?

The broader scope of things

While the tragic choice to end Robert Morris Hockey was made by an administration without much reasoning beyond not wanting the sport on its campus, the release included this quote from President Howard that was, well interesting to us.

“We are saddened for the student-athletes who will be unable to continue in their sport at Robert Morris University and are committed to assisting them during this difficult time,” said RMU President Chris Howard. “However, this is the best course of action to leverage our strategic assets and position us for future growth.”

If this was the course of action, why it took until a leadership retreat last weekend is hard to justify.

In the grander scheme of this sport, while college hockey is expensive to run, the image and opportunity for brand building is unlike many other things at the Division One level. Instead of being a part of two growing sports in the men and women’s game ( 61 teams, and 41 teams respectively), the school has chosen to focus on football and basketball only with its new arena plans.

The rational person wonders?

Why cant this school where the money and desire to play the game is there not support it in its mission. Unlike Alabama Huntsville, no clear mandate for the program exists, no conference issues for either the men or women were ever present, and the money was there.

College Hockey gives the opportunity to a diverse (and hopefully soon to be growing again) group of schools around the country the opportunity to compete for a national championship, send players around the world, and on to the NHL. This sport has so much talent that has not been given the chance to play at its highest level that many aspire to, and for a sport that produces 33 percent of NHL rosters, it was thrown away at Robert Morris, not even worthy of its own press release, earlier announcement, opportunity for the players and program to say goodbye, or fundraise to save it (we hope the programs are given an opportunity by Howard to earn reinstatement).

To other interested schools

If you read this wondering about what schools like Tennessee State (conducting a feasibility study), Liberty, Lindenwood, Navy, and hopefully more, should do, we would encourage them to look at the amount of support not that the administration has, but at how the hockey community has rallied around Alabama Huntsville (reinstated last year after a massive fundraising campaign, and waiting for a new conference home), Alaska Anchorage (getting closer to playing as an independent once they hit the three million dollars raised), and now Robert Morris with over 15000 people interested in demanding answers from Howard on why the program was cut, and a chance to show long term strategic value to the school itself.

Growing College Hockey: Why all fans should care

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

First, this article is not in any way critical of any conference for choosing to accept or not accept any member looking for a home. While Alabama Huntsville may still get into Atlantic Hockey for a future season, the reality is that it was too late in the game for them to get into the conference for the upcoming season. This article kind of includes the story of one of Huntsville’s natives, Nic Dowd. The former Husky watched the Chargers play on many weekends growing up and has had them to look towards as a kid. Perhaps without the Chargers, and the youth hockey structure of college hockey towns that relies on partnerships with college teams, Dowd might not have even seen what college hockey is, and the first Alabama native to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs might not have done so.

In the short run, to get Huntsville a membership this season, you would be asking schools to completely re-do schedules that have been in the works for a while, and in college athletics, schedules are assembled often one or more seasons ahead of . They have a strong pitch to be considered, and one that could see the Chargers come back in a couple of seasons, if Atlantic Hockey gets seven Athletic Directors to approve their application. The reality of that pitch is a small net positive cash flow to make a trip to Huntsville for many schools in the conference.

This conversation is about more than the Chargers, it is about what we want Division One College Hockey to look like in the next decade, for both men and women. We go back to our chat with Frank Serratore, long time leader of Air Force Hockey.. While he is not an athletic director, or one with the power to wave a magic wand, he has been on the right side of things in this sport in terms of advocating for the good of the game. He noted the value of a universal three-on-three system the year before the NCAA implemented it, and standardized it for the pairwise, has developed many a leader both in this game and in the Air Force, and more.

From our previous chat with him, we wrote around what he said

“From a development standpoint he said “there’s more good players than there are lockers out there.” Finally, he added, “we don’t want to have less opportunities, and there’s more kids that can play” at the Division One level than there are spots available for them to do so right now. ”

As is often the case in this game, Serratore is right.

Look at the transfer portal right now.

You could easily put together 9-10 teams of competitive division one talent that would make the haves in this sport sweat. While not as many transfers are in the women’s transfer portal, that truth still abides. American college hockey is the growing supplier of top NHL talent, the development engine for a growing majority of professional players around the world, and home to some of the best atmospheres anywhere in college sports.

Who does not want more of that, combined with players getting degrees and going on to lead in whatever field they choose post hockey?

To grow the game requires time, effort, energy, and a lot of money. College Hockey Inc. is full of people who bring the first three, and helps connect those with money who want to see the game grow in other places.

Who else can help?

Fans

Yes, fans can push for advocacy and the ability to improve this great sport. Even if you do not have millions of dollars somewhere in an account, you have a reason to support this game growing, especially if you are fan of a small school.

On a competitive level, the way this sport is, it is one where smaller schools can make the biggest impact. It is one where public schools, like Huntsville, can have a Division Two program in everything else, but have one sport that catapults their department to the national conversation? Why does this matter?

Well, look at schools like Lake Superior State, and Bemidji State, these two schools are underdogs compared to those around them in terms of notoriety, but when they win games to get into the NCAA Tournament, their school, their team, and their town gets time in the national spotlight.

That spotlight, as has been shown in studies of post Men’s Basketball Tournament trends, leads to more applications, and that keeps universities thriving.

Look at AIC

In just five short years, Eric Lang took a school a lot of people did not take the time to care about, or acknowledge the existence of, and turned them into a national powerhouse. They are three time Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Champions, and have two NCAA Tournament trips in that time, beating the number one overall seed the first time. The passion that fans have for that program is undeniable. He got the support and buy in from his administration to remake the program, and do the things needed to grow the game at AIC. Grow the game is more than a buzz word, it is real work done by people like Lang across the country to build their programs, start new ones, and save current ones.

Are there groups elsewhere that have that passion?

Yes, of course there are.

Look at the Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage. This is a program working to build a sustainable funding model to play as an independent in two seasons, and they are getting closer every single day. Division One Hockey means a lot to Anchorage, to the point that they even have the Seattle Kraken helping them raise funds and visibility for them.

If you are a fan of this game, we implore you not to pony up the six figure amount one needs to fund a team, but rather to simply amplify the efforts of those working to add teams, and those like Sheldon Wolitski, Taso Sofikitis, and the wonderful folks working to Save Seawolves Hockey. All of these programs are needed, more programs are needed, and more teams are needed to meet the growing talent coming from all leagues that feed the college hockey system.

Fundamentally, there is nothing quite like Division One College Hockey, and for those that want to see this game grow, while we are not asking all of you to fund a team, or give a school a new conference home, we are asking for the frame of discussion to be moved. Figuring out how to preserve programs, empower local funding, and grow this game should be on the minds of everyone involved in the sport. This game means so much to so many, and the ability to frame discussions on funding and saving, and also building new programs, is the way for this sport to grow. At a conference level, more conferences than just Atlantic Hockey have to shoulder some of the load as well, and hopefully more conferences are formed as more teams join. As more schools look to join, public support for those efforts is key to reinforcing the ideas of administrators at those schools, public support draws notoriety which draws donors, and funding for a better future for this game.

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

Opinion: Expand the NCAA Tournament to 20 teams

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Fans of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Men’s Hockey team will remember the old WCHA, the fanbase waxes poetically about it often then moving on to needle the attendance and postseason problems that the members of the current Big 10 Hockey Conference have (these problems have some grounding in truth are sometimes exaggerated). One thing in that Final Five is the chance for a team to win three games in three days to make the NCAA Tournament. If you won your first round series, and had either of the worst two remaining regular season records, you had to play an extra game to advance. Teams that were able to win those three games then got the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of their regular season success, or lack thereof. No one questioned the win of the five seed on the few times it did happen.

This past, pairwise free (it existed, but was not used as we know it due to a lack of significant interconference play) hockey and subjective selection proceedings have left fans of many eastern hockey teams, and a few western powerhouses like Denver, feeling left out.

Now, none of the teams left out did enough to make the 16 team tournament.

With that argument noted, what we are proposing is this.

In future years, when the next cycle of regionals are awarded, standardize the starting dates, and expand the tournament by four teams.

On Friday, you have opening round games between the four and five seed in each regional with the winner earning the right to face one of the four best teams in the country.

On Saturday, you have the first round staggered across the country (for maximum TV ratings of course) play out and make an already great day even better. Instead of six games (two finals, four first round games) we would have eight games take place on one day, and then play the championships on Sunday.

Why?

Well we have a few reasons.

First, for this game to grow, and get more programs in it, expanding the tournament by four teams makes attaining it slightly more reasonable, without having to dilute the value of the regular season. If the tournament expands, more fans and schools can get involved in the greatest part of this game, its postseason.

Second, after hearing arguments about top seeds getting rested enough or not, we would like to note the value of the top seed playing a team that had played the previous day. The coaching staff gets to watch that team play in person, and that team could very well be tired, and in theory should give the top seed an easier path to the regional final.

Third, it adds value to the full season for everyone. Now, teams play to move up or down in the pairwise (all of this is being written for a normal non pandemic-marred season), but the reality is, the top 12 or 13 teams are usually safe every year, while the last two or three worry about conference tournament champions stealing their spot.

This eliminates some of that concern.

If teams 1-13 are locks, the proposal ensures that teams 14-16 all will make it. It would require five teams outside of the top 20 to win their conference championship to hurt the top 16, and ensure that the bottom eight teams would all have to play in the first game. This provides more meaning to what teams 10-12 are doing as the season ends, and ensures every game has more of an impact. If you are playing to get an opening round bye, that adds stakes to your late season play.

Use 2012-2013 as an example, when Niagara finished at the number 10 spot in the pairwise, and Canisius won their postseason tournament, that meant Atlantic Hockey would earn two bids to the tournament. What it also meant was that a 19 win Western Michigan team would miss the tournament. In this system, the only team that would have missed the tournament is number 20 ranked Brown. Atlantic Hockey would have had three teams representing it, and three more programs would have had the chance to compete for a national championship.

We understand that this change would have to wait until the next round of regionals are awarded, and there needs to be buy-ins from coaches, hosts, athletics departments and more all around the country.

Our argument comes down to this.

If this sport is to add more programs over time, something we all want to see, expanding the tournament by four teams now is a way to encourage more schools to potentially join. In addition, for all of those teams just wishing they could have made the tournament this year, this would have let them in. In the future, it will also allow Atlantic Hockey to get at least two deserving representatives into the tournament without harming another team’s chances. Finally, it ensures that the top seeds in each region get to play an opponent who could be tired. If the game is to grow, its tournament needs to do so as well.

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Colonial support: How RMU Men’s Hockey has dealt with the pandemic

This season, Robert Morris has had to go on a Covid 19 pause, due to positive cases among their tier one personnel and played multiple games within short segments. As Head Coach Derek Schooley said, the nature of this season forced this group to divide their season into seven game segments. The Colonials won the West Pod of Atlantic Hockey, and have positioned themselves to only have to face the best of the East Pod in the Atlantic Hockey Association Final, should they get past Niagara, and their opponent in the semifinals. If the Colonials can win the conference tournament, then there is a chance that Atlantic Hockey could have two teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Part of the reason this team is rolling along is due to the great support it has received from its administration. Assistant Coach Mike Corbett detailed some of what the Colonials were given, saying, “the best thing for us has been the support of our administration through this pandemic.” Throughout the pandemic, the administration of Robert Morris has made life easier for the Colonials to, as best as they can stay healthy, and then while the program was paused the administration did even more. Corbett appreciates the continuity that the administration has provided for the Colonials during this season.

As Corbett noted about his administration more than once during this interview, money was not any object in finding solutions during their quarantine, and that money was no object in figuring things out for the administration. They went so far as to bring workout gear to players’ homes to facilitate Zoom workouts during their quarantine. As Corbett said of these efforts “that’s what they do at Robert Morris.” The group quarantined together as they went through it, and were able to minimize the effect of their pause as much as possible during this hectic year.

We will have more stories in the offseason about the work of administrations to help their hockey teams stay compliant with all of the increased rules and regulations around the pandemic, and how different programs got support during their pauses, if they had them. This pandemic has affected every team in college athletics in some form or fashion, and we will work to bring more stories of how it has affected as many teams as possible to life this offseason.

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.

Randy Hernandez: Growing and learning for the Colonials

Growing up, Robert Morris Colonial, and Miami native Randy Hernandez always knew he wanted to play the game of hockey. From the first time he went to a public skating session, through the first time he had a stick in his hands, he naturally gravitated to the game. This season for Robert Morris, Hernandez has shown his natural speed and skill with the puck for Robert Morris. For Derek Schooley’s team, he has contributed 10 goals and 12 assists playing with captain Nick Prkusic in key minutes for the Colonials. Hernandez wanted to go play at a place where he would have an opportunity contribute right away

Randy had options when coming to college, but chose to go to Robert Morris because, as he said “It’s a smaller school and for me it’s a better fit… as soon as I got here I knew it was the place for me.” He comes from the Brooks Bandits out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, a program that has produced NHL luminaries like Cale Makar and Curtis Glencross to name a few.

For Hernandez, he models his game not after Makar, but after his Colorado Avalanche teammate, Nathan McKinnon. Randy admires the way McKinnon plays and brings himself to the rink. In addition, like Randy, McKinnon is one of the fastest players at his level. He choose to wear number 29 because of McKinnon, and wants to round his game into the complete package and compete on McKinnon’s level in a few years time. While at Robert Morris, he is looking to build up the defensive side of his game, and other neutral zone skills to compliment his high speed, and hockey intelligence. One of his biggest mentors this season has been Prkusic. They both came from the Brooks program, and play two completely different styles of hockey. Hernandez noted of the Colonials’ captain that “he’s a workhorse [and is] always back checking,” Playing with Nick, and the speed of the game helped Randy understand very quickly that, as he said of the importance of attention to detail at the Division One level , “here if you make a mistake it’s going in the back of your net.”

For now, his resume from the regular season is sterling, and he is looking to help his group get to the postseason. For the Colonials, their only path, despite finishing first in their Atlantic Hockey Pod, is through winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament. The group has eight practices to get ready for the quarterfinal round, and he thinks that will help them. The staff will focus on honing the finer details of their game, and of the group Hernandez said “we each motivate each other in practice.” The Colonials will be ready to start the postseason next week, both with a wonderful group of veterans leading them, but also helped by stars of the future, like Hernandez.

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.