The formation of a Hockey East women’s conference, expected to occur by 2004-05, could potentially be created in time for the upcoming 2002-03 season, USCHO has learned.
The idea picked up momentum at the recent AHCA coach’s convention in Naples, Fla. It would require approval by the athletic directors and presidents at the five schools that currently play in the men’s conference which also have Division I women’s hockey programs. According to a league spokesperson, the athletic directors from those schools — New Hampshire, Boston College, Northeastern, Providence and Maine — will discuss the matter June 10.
“We’re hoping within a week or two, we can make an announcement of something,” said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna.
The ECAC is currently the only Eastern Division I conference. Two years ago, it reorganized its member teams into two affiliate divisions, the ECAC Northern and ECAC Eastern; the latter of which was made up of the five Hockey East schools, plus Niagara, Quinnipiac and Connecticut.
“This is not the equivalent of the ECAC/Hockey East split in ’84,” Bertagna said, referring to the acrimonious secession of five schools from the ECAC to form a new men’s conference. “The ECAC has already created a de facto division.
“The issue to watch for, is some teams could be left without a home.”
It appears likely that Niagara — the ECAC Eastern division champion last season with a 19-2 record — and Quinnipiac would not be asked to participate in the new conference.
“Not in so many words, but yeah,” said Niagara head coach Margot Page about whether she was told her team would be excluded. “I don’t think [our inclusion] will happen. And I think it’s mostly because of travel, and that’s a legitimate concern.
“I hope they’d see that a program like ours will strengthen their conference, but I understand.”
On the other hand, sources say the inclusion of UConn is very possible. That is a matter well worth noting, since it could have longer-term implications, perhaps opening the door for UConn’s eventual inclusion in the men’s conference.
“It’s fair to say it’s worth keeping an eye on,” said a source.
Niagara and Quinnipiac assumed this day would come eventually, but might not be prepared for it to come this soon.
“We enjoy our association and being in competition with those schools, but we know the women’s hockey landscape will continue to change,” said Niagara athletic director Mike Hermann. “We have contingency plans.”
Page hopes the Hockey East schools will recognize the plight of the excluded programs, and keep the schedules intact.
“We asked them to keep us for one year as a non-voting member,” said Page, who remains hopeful programs like hers won’t just be left out to dry.
“[Hockey East has] to look out for themselves because everyone else does, but hopefully, people like Joe [Bertagna], who care about women’s hockey, will do what’s right. Time will tell.”
Said Hermann, “I think the hockey community is a fairly collegial group, and I have confident they will not just take into account individual needs, but those of all of college hockey.”
Meanwhile, the push to create another conference, with the likes of perhaps Niagara, Quinnipiac, Mercyhurst, Findlay and Wayne State, will pick up steam.
“We need a year to put something together,” Page said.
Page was philosophical about her program’s impending fate, but says steps need to be taken to ensure the long-term good for all women’s hockey.
“It’s part of the growing pains all over women’s hockey, but until we have a game plan …,” Page said. “What I’d like to see is the commissioners get together and come up with a [national] five-year plan.”