Next season when Connecticut leaves Atlantic Hockey for Hockey East, the AHA will have an odd number of teams. Despite having just 11 programs going forward, there is a strong desire on behalf of the league to get back to an even dozen to ease scheduling. However, two of the three rumored frontrunners for possible Atlantic Hockey expansion candidates -- St. Anselm and Navy -- are now off the table, according to College Hockey News.
St. Anselm, a small Benedictine liberal arts college in Goffstown, New Hampshire, was showing interest in moving up from Division III, but the school's leadership decided against the move. One of the school's biggest proponents of making the jump, athletic director Kelly Higgins, resigned in October, likely scuttling any plans of joining Division I hockey. Higgins was formerly the AD at Alaska-Fairbanks, helping the Nanooks move to the CCHA.
On an interesting historical note, BC and St. Anselm have previously met 13 times but none as recently as the 1982-83 season. The Eagles won every one of those games; a perfect 13-0-0 vs. the Hawks in a series that dates back to 1933-34.
Atlantic Hockey is already home to two of the three services academies that participate in Division I - Army and Air Force - so it would make some sense to complete the trifecta and add Navy. According to a Navy athletics department source, however, the service academy has no plans of adding another varsity sport at this time. At 33 varsity programs, Navy is among one of the largest athletic departments in the nation.
The remaining AHA expansion candidate, Rhode Island, doesn't offer a varsity team but has a long history of success at the club level. URI is the only flagship state university in New England without a varsity hockey team. There is some support from students and alumni to elevate the program to varsity, but school leadership has shown no indications that they are planning a move.
What this means for BC is that the Eagles likely won't be getting another Northeast college hockey program to kick around any time soon. Even if a school like URI elevates it's program, the Eagles have very little history playing Atlantic Hockey schools. Of course, that might change with the added non-conference games going forward, but BC shouldn't want for scheduling quality non-conference opponents and the local teams that they do face generally have some history with the program (think: Holy Cross, Army).
More broadly, Atlantic Hockey's difficulties in finding a replacement for UConn speaks to the inertia that schools face in starting up a varsity college hockey program. Even if a school can get past the substantial funding and Title IX barriers to entry, the current conference alignment back east is yet another hurdle schools need to cross. With both the ECAC and Hockey East at an even dozen, the east is one UConn AHA replacement away from having no more room at the inn. If there's to be any future expansion of the sport, it's much more likely to come out of the Big Ten or out west with the NCHC or WCHA.