Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna recently spoke with College Hockey News' Mike McMahon on the topic of possible Hockey East expansion. Here's what Bertagna had to say on the subject of expansion opportunities:
"I think we've always been open to (potentially expanding the league). The last time it happened was when Vermont came to us and they had a new president and wanted to talk to us and that was a seamless process as both sides saw value in the other. We're always looking to make our league even more than what it is but there is an awful lot that would have to happen in this current conversation. There are programs in the northeast, if we got to a point where we wanted to talk to other programs, but we've never approached anyone in another league, that's not appropriate, certainly not to initiate that conversation, but we're always open to improving what we already are."
Hockey East last expanded for the 2005-06 season with the addition of Vermont as the league's tenth member, but has maintained a steady, ten program association for the last six seasons. However, with the new Big Ten Hockey Conference plucking teams from both the WCHA and the CCHA in a few years, there will likely be some conference realignment that takes place with the remaining WCHA and CCHA programs.
So while the Commissioner shot down any notion that the conference would be proactive in any college hockey conference realignment talks, it's fun to play a game of 'what if' and think about which programs Hockey East should go after.
Below is a top five wish list of programs the HEA should take a long, hard look at if they ever wanted to expand to 12 teams:
[NOTE: The first teams that come to mind are traditionally strong ECAC programs like Dartmouth, Yale and Cornell, but the six Ivy League ECAC programs aren't going to leave each other's side, and a 16 team college hockey conference seems a bit untenable. Besides, the whole reason the Hockey East Association was created was to distance themselves from those programs in the first place.]
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Sure, you might say that Notre Dame hardly qualifies as "East," but the Irish do play in the Big East for all other sports. And if there is any college sports conference that has broken from the conventions of its directional namesake, it's the Big East (which now calls locales such as Louisville, Milwaukee and Fort Worth home). Notre Dame may very well be in the market for a new conference depending on what comes of the CCHA in the coming years, and the conference prides itself on its football independence and national following. Instead of aligning itself with the remaining WCHA programs, why not come East and align themselves with college hockey's premier Eastern conference?
The Irish find themselves back East multiple times a year, anyhow, between trips to Storrs, Providence, Syracuse and the NY/NJ area. Notre Dame is a college hockey program on the rise and will be breaking in a brand new ice arena this season. I'm sure ND will be able many more tickets for games against BC, BU, New Hampshire and Maine than against Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Western Michigan. Plus Notre Dame would be joining more a conference with more 'like' programs like BC, Providence and Merrimack (private, Catholic universities).
Added bonus: all future Notre Dame hockey games to be broadcast nationally on NBC?
2. Miami RedHawks. Sticking with the geographical outlier theme, if Hockey East can successfully lure the Irish East, a big selling point could be providing them with a dancing partner in the Midwest portion of the country. Miami has been the best CCHA program for several years now and adding the RedHawks to the conference would give a significant boost to the conference's overall strength and cache. Besides, I'm sure Miami wants more cracks at Hockey East teams considering that the RedHawks have been bounced from the NCAAs by a Hockey East program for five consecutive years running, including an overtime heartbreaker to BU in the 2009 Title game.
If the MAC can extend all the way East to Philadelphia and Amherst, then why couldn't (shouldn't?) Hockey East expand to Oxford?
3. UConn Huskies. Notre Dame and Miami are the only two programs that I think Hockey East would make an exception for in terms of expanding the geographical footprint of the conference. Coming back to New England and a little closer to home, why not invite UConn to join the party? Now I have no idea whether UConn would ever consider elevating its hockey program and adding the additional scholarships needed to join Hockey East. But wouldn't it be fun to kick UConn around in another sport?
The UConn women are already a member of Hockey East so the transition would be fairly seamless.
4. Quinnipiac Bobcats. Quinnipiac has been an interesting program to watch over the past few years. Ten years ago, QU was playing in the now defunct MAAC. They've since jumped to Atlantic Hockey and now to the ECAC (replacing Vermont, who jumped to HEA), where the program is doing fairly well. QU was added to the ECAC in part due to their promise of building a new, multipurpose sports arena, which they delivered on when the school opened the new, 3,386-seat TD Bank Sports Center in 2007. While some might think that adding QU would water down the strength of Hockey East, I'm sure the Bobcats wouldn't fare any worse than Lowell or Providence have over the past ten years.
Also, if Hockey East wants a better television deal, adding QU would help the conference secure the Connecticut TV market and extend the conference's reach into the sixth and final New England state. Besides, Yale won't leave the ECAC, Sacred Heart is pretty 'meh' and again, not sure whether UConn is serious about fielding a competitive men's ice hockey team, so why not QU?
5. Holy Cross Crusaders. Maybe a pipe dream, but if Holy Cross decided to once again prioritize fielding winning sports programs, it would be cool to see regular BC-Holy Cross rivalry games in hockey. I think this would be a great way of rekindling what seems to be a lost rivalry between two Jesuit schools located just 40 miles apart.
6. Alabama-Huntsville Chargers. No, sorry. Just kidding, UAH. Didn't mean to get your hopes up.