Who would have thought that this would be a matchup in the top college hockey conference in America? (via Merrimack College)
As the resident Connecticut... er, resident... here at BCI, I felt it was time to let loose my thoughts on UConn joining Hockey East.
First, full disclosure: I really, really hate UConn. They are probably second only to the Terriers on my list of most hated sports entities. Growing up in Connecticut, the Huskies are pretty much rammed down your throat. Everyone just loves UConn basketball. I remember growing up not really knowing what the big deal was, partially because I didn't really like basketball. Going to BC only solidified my dislike because of the recent history between the two administrations.
But here's the kicker: I'm not as against UConn's move to Hockey East as most BC fans seem to be. I don't absolutely love it, but it doesn't disgust me like it does some people. I would have much, much preferred that Hockey East stay the way it was at 10 teams, without Notre Dame. The biggest reason was Hockey East's status as a bus league. I, as a fan, could hop in a car any weekend and go to literally any league game without really any trouble. Yeah, getting to Orono was a bit of a PITA, but it was still a reasonable trip.
Getting Notre Dame did strengthen the conference from a competition standpoint. They are going to be a strong team for years to come. Their new facilities are just gorgeous and recruits are going to take notice. But did Hockey East really need to change, at all? Winning four out of the last five national titles wasn't competitive enough?
But this article isn't about adding Notre Dame to the premier collegiate hockey conference in North America.
This is about the fallout from that decision. Adding Notre Dame really necessitated adding a 12th team. I know some people disagree with that, but I think for competitive balance, you really need 12.
So, agree or disagree with adding Notre Dame, it's in the rearview mirror. Who to add? Quinnipiac was a possibility. Their beautiful new arena and solid program would have been a comfortable fit. Quinnipiac may be in a rather weak conference, but they haven't been below .500 since Clinton's first term. But they are at a kind of plateau I think... they may not have many down years, but they don't have very many excellent years either. They would have been, I think, a "safe" choice. I wouldn't have hated it.
How about Holy Cross? They are a similar story to UConn, really, but in a better location for the conference. But what they lack relative to UConn is upside. More on that later.
RPI is the school that most people pointed to as having the best shot early on. They have the most history of the teams in the hunt, having won two national titles, including a historic 35-2-1 run in 1985. But they have had a rough go of it lately, being above .500 just once in the last 8 years.
UConn was an interesting animal relative to these choices. First, I'm obviously happy to be able to take a short drive to see BC hockey once a year. But that's just me being selfish.
I think deep down, I like the idea of having another team to hate. Yes, I hate UConn. I'm not a Notre Dame fan with some inferiority complex toward BC that I can't admit to hating them. We're better than UConn, we will always be better than UConn, and I hate them. I relish the opportunity to curb-stump the Huskies as much as I enjoy the thought of curb-stomping the Terriers.
Okay, maybe not totally as much. But a lot.
UConn does have the potential to be at least moderately successful. Let's be clear: I do not think the Huskies will win a Hockey East title in their first ten years after joining the conference. There is just too much talent at the top of this conference for them to have any serious chance of rising to the top without some kind of major surprise.
And anyone who even wants to throw around national title hopes is living in a complete and utter dream world. It would take a complete and monumental shift in the college hockey landscape for this to even be a pipe dream.
But UConn will not be a perpetual bottom-feeder. They will be fine, competition-wise, once they've finally rolled in all 18 of their new scholarships. Hockey East always has an absolutely abysmal team, every year. This year it was Vermont. In 2011 it was UMass. There isn't much difference between these teams and the worst teams in college hockey in a given season.
Keep in mind that UConn plays in a state that is surprisingly deep in hockey talent. Will they steal top-end recruits from BC? No, they will not. Probably ever. But will some very good Connecticut players choose UConn over BC with, especially early on, a virtual guarantee to have four full years of starting time? Yeah, probably. And that's fine. The Huskies don't have Quinnipiac to compete with for such talent. The Bobcats have just one Connecticut native on a roster heavy in Canadians. So yes, UConn should be able to build a respectable team. I don't think that will be an issue for them. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that UConn can pull an upset over BC in the first three years... especially if they are fortunate enough to get us scheduled during our annual January funk. Hockey is pretty volatile.
What really bothers me, however, is UConn's arena situation. UConn absolutely must have some kind of long-term plan to bring all of their games on campus. Playing league games at the XL Center in Hartford is fine, but only as a stopgap to something permanent on campus. It worries me that there doesn't appear to be anything in the works to make this happen.
The argument is that the hockey fans in Connecticut aren't in Storrs. They're in Hartford and the rest of the state. I buy that to a certain extent. The Connecticut Whale draw reasonably well. Can UConn draw a little better? With cheaper ticket prices and a state brainwashed to drool over the Huskies at every opportunity, yeah, probably. But even with attendance okay at best, one important fact remains: This isn't AHL hockey.
This is college hockey. College hockey is all about the atmosphere, and there is no atmosphere without students. UConn is a party school of drunken idiots if there ever was one, and I can promise you no meaningful number of UConn students will give up prime party hours of Friday and Saturday nights to hop on a bus for a half-hour trip to Hartford to watch an okay at best hockey team. I don't even think BC or BU students would do that unless we were playing each other.
So that worries me. I believe the UConn community will get behind a Husky hockey team, if they saw what real college hockey was all about. But they won't get that seeing games in Hartford. And if that lasts too long, and fans get bored of just another hockey game in downtown Hartford, they will really have blown their chance, not just for themselves, but for the rest of Hockey East, to have something good.
So welcome, Huskies. I hope that in ten years, I'm looking forward to going up to your sparkling new arena in Storrs to spit vitriol at your fans and mock your worthless degrees and remind your goalie that he is a sieve and ask that your players please leave my laptop locked safely in my car, thank you very much.
I really hope that. Because it will mean that you have made it.