Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said Wednesday was a very historic day with the announcement that Notre Dame will join the conference in 2013.
It turned out to be another day where realignment rumors were confirmed, but is this it for how Division I college hockey conferences, at least Hockey East, will look two years down the road?
“People will also speculate and write things on the Internet, but right now, nothing else is in progress,” said Bertagna. “It’s been a long summer and even with Notre Dame coming to our conference in 2013, there are still some minor details to be worked out. I can’t say much now, other than everything will be official in a few weeks’ time.
“From a logistics standpoint, we’d like to have an even number of teams and it’s not our goal to have a contrived number of teams,” said Bertagna. “That’s our guiding principle.”
And while it appears on the surface that the Irish moving to Hockey East was an idea that seemingly gained legs in just the past few weeks, Bertagna said it’s actually been bandied about longer than that.
“We had casual conversations in the spring and we were nothing more than passive partners,” Bertagna said. “We knew Notre Dame had three options for ’13 and that was to play as an independent, go to that national league or come join Hockey East. Notre Dame viewed an interest in coming here and we started talking more. It ended up being a seamless conversation.”
Notre Dame will be the 11th team in Hockey East, and that in itself will lead to talk that another team will be joining Hockey East or one may be on the move. Bertagna wouldn’t comment on speculation, but did say why Notre Dame was chosen to be the westernmost member of Hockey East.
“This sport will look significantly different in two years,” Bertagna said. “It’s safe to say that not a whole lot of schools would consider the move [to Hockey East]. It’s big for our conference any time we can grow. This is the first time we’ve ever had a school out of New England, but I think that we’re combining two strengths that will benefit both sides.”
That said, even with a TV deal with NBC Sports starting in 2013, Notre Dame did have some concerns before hooking up with Hockey East.
“Notre Dame wanted to make sure that scheduling wouldn’t compromise any of their student-athletes’ academics,” Bertagna said. “We ensured them that the scheduling would meet their needs. They’ll only make five trips a year.”
Speaking of road trips, Bertagna said that while it should be exciting for Notre Dame to venture East for away games, it will also be a thrill for Hockey East schools to make the trip to the Midwest.
“If you look at our recruiting 25 years ago and you look at past Hockey East rosters, we had predominantly New England and Massachusetts players,” said Bertagna. “Nowadays, we recruit across the country in places like California, Texas, Missouri, everywhere, and even get players from the U.S. national program. A lot of our schools have newer buildings and I think it will be a great experience when our schools go to Notre Dame and play in that amazing building [Compton Family Arena] I saw today.”
Still, amid all the excitement of the past few months, Bertagna has to take a step back now and then to realize what is in fact happening.
“A few years ago, I was at the coaches’ meetings down in Naples and we started hearing rumors of a ‘super league,’” said Bertagna. “Personally, I didn’t see the benefits and thought it was more of an overreaction to what would potentially happen with the Big Ten. Now that it’s happened, I want to see how it all plays out. Penn State joining Division I is great for our sport as it is any time you can add a team, but I just hope everyone has a place to play. It looks like Alabama-Huntsville is the only one without a home, and I hope they find a place to play soon.”
Bertagna added that he and other commissioners are heading to Grand Forks this weekend for the Ice Breaker to scout new Michigan State coach Tom Anastos, the former CCHA commissioner.
“We want to see how Tom does,” said Bertagna, perhaps tongue-in-cheek. “We want to see if he’ll give hope to more commissioners leaving their jobs to be head coaches.”
Should that come to fruition, that, too, would be a historic day in college hockey.