Is Division I hockey coming to Manchester, New Hampshire? Talking to the athletic directors of the city’s two Division II schools — Southern New Hampshire University and St. Anselm College — the forecast is mixed.
According to SNHU athletic director Chip Polak, Division I hockey is not on the radar screen for the Penmen.
“We’re not looking at Division I,” Polak said. “We honestly wish there was Division II. There was up until a few years ago, but that’s just a game of numbers.
“There was only five schools left. Now I think Minnesota-Crookston’s there and Franklin Pierce added a varsity, so there’s seven,” Polak added. “But that’s not enough to have a championship.”
Polak cited the lack of an on-campus rink, the prohibitive cost of scholarships for an institution of 1,200-plus students, and the notion of competing with a pretty good team down in Durham as the primary factors in remaining at their current level.
“We couldn’t compete at the Division I level,” Polak said. “We’re in New Hampshire, so how could we compete against UNH? And if we can’t, then why are we Division I? The only bad thing about where we are now is that we can’t compete for a national championship.”
Meanwhile, across town, the St. Anselm Hawks fall into the category of a definite maybe for moving up to Division I.
— St. Anselm athletic director Ed Cannon
“We’re going to be making a study with regard to that question,” St. Anselm athletic director Ed Cannon said. “It’s very simple: Nothing has been determined at this point, but a study will be made. We don’t have a timetable yet.”
In college hockey circles, there has been speculation about the Hawks possibly joining the MAAC at some point. Without a doubt, these rumors have been fueled by the recent groundbreaking for a new rink on campus.
“We just started construction,” Cannon said. “It should be completed by the end of April 2003. The maximum number of seats for hockey will be in the area of 2,400 to 3,000, somewhere in there depending on the final selection of the type of seating. So for hockey, say, less than 3,000, and for other types of events up to 4,500.
For St. Anselm, university administrators will weigh the financial feasibility as well as how being in Division I fits the school.
“Anything we do must agree with our overall academic philosophy,” Cannon said. “Everything we do has got to feed off of that.”
Unlike his counterpart across town, Cannon doesn’t view UNH as a yardstick in making the decision.
“We’re very different institutions, I’m not sure that that would be part of our decision making at all,” Cannon said. “We’re building a brand new arena; we’re in Manchester, and we have a 10,000-seat Civic Center downtown.”
However, at SNHU, Polak raised the question of whether the presence of the AHL Manchester Monarchs would hinder a school looking to draw appropriate attendance for the Division I level.
“Hockey in Manchester is big now with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL,” Polak said. “I don’t think it would feed off that; I think it would compete with that.”
In lieu of that scenario, Polak prefers the prospect of fielding a highly competitive Division II team.
“We’ve had great success in men’s basketball and men’s soccer, and every now and then someone says ‘Why don’t you go Divison I [in hockey]?'” acknowledged Polak. “We want to be the best where we are: Division II.
“Or, in hockey,” said Polak, chuckling over the nebulous nature of Division II hockey, “somewhere.
“If we keep score, I want to win. I’m competitive: In Division I, that competitiveness wouldn’t be there. I’m not saying that winning is the only thing, but we would have to have a chance to win.”
In all probability, SNHU will set their sights on competing in the Northeast Ten, a new league for hockey but an existing one in other sports. In the short term, the league could include SNHU, Franklin Pierce, Stonehill, St. Michael’s, Assumption and, yes, St. Anselm.
Conversely, the construction of a new rink over at St. Anselm gives the Hawks a little more opportunity to dream of the future.
“It’s an exciting time,” added Cannon. “We’ve had a hockey program since 1969, and we’ve never played a game on our campus, so we’re excited for our hockey program and what it might bring.
“The other questions are just questions about that may create more interest in our program. We hope we find what is the best thing for St. Anselm College and who we are.”