Thursday, October 06, 2011

Notre Dame to Hockey East

BC and Notre Dame will now be rivals on the ice, not just the gridiron. The Fighting Irish have announced that they'll be leaving the CCHA and joining Hockey East starting in the 2013-14 season. Notre Dame will be the 11th member of the conference, joining BC, BU, UNH, Maine, Vermont, Northeastern, Merrimack, UMass, UMass-Lowell, and Providence.

This isn't much of a surprise, as Notre Dame's current home - the Central Collegiate Hockey Association - has been under siege since the Big Ten decided to form its own hockey conference. The Big Ten will take 3 teams from CCHA for the 2013-14 season.

Also in 2013-14, the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference will start play. This group took Miami (OH) from the CCHA. While the CCHA still had 7 teams remaining after the Big Ten and NCHA made their moves, Notre Dame was the only big program left. The Irish would have been playing against schools like Ferris State, Alaska, and Northern Michigan.

And with the influx of TV money (thanks to there being 100,000 channels these days), Notre Dame would have been left in the dust.

Now the Irish are part of an elite conference (Hockey East teams have 11 NCAA titles and 67 Frozen Four appearances), they'll be playing perennially ranked teams like BU, BC, and UNH. Hockey East already has a TV deal with NESN, and with CBS College Sports Network.

The move is good for Hockey East, as the Irish are an up and coming program. And obviously Notre Dame has a lot of fans all over the country. Even though South Bend is a long way from Orono, Maine, the Irish should be well-supported on their road trips. And of course, Notre Dame will help encourage more televised games. There's even a rumor that NBC (or one of its partners) will be interested in broadcasting Irish hockey.

I wouldn't be shocked if Hockey East went after a 12th team, or even more. ECAC schools like Union and RPI are candidates. And if UConn ever invested scholarships into its men's program, they'd be the most likely to join. UConn's women's team is already a Hockey East member.

But even with just 11 teams, Hockey East remains one of the premier leagues in a sport that is changing much like college football is changing.

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