We spoke in depth with two Atlantic Hockey coaches about their application for acceptance into the ECAC. Five schools — Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Niagara, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart — are making proposals today, and the ECAC will decide whether to add a school, and which one or ones, by July 1.
(Also see full story: ECAC Mulls Applicants’ Pros and Cons)
Holy Cross Coach Paul Pearl
Q: General thoughts?
A: It would be a great thing for us, but staying in our league would be a great thing for us. I think that Atlantic Hockey has made some incredible strides, but the league in front of us presents us with the opportunity to play the same sports teams our other schools play.
I like Holy Cross’ chances. I think we have a good school, a good program and a good administration. That’s why they’re taking a look at us. How we stack up against other programs is for them to decide.
Q: Does Holy Cross’ women’s program factor into the equation?
A: We have a vastly improving Division III program that the school would put every resource behind if we got into the ECAC. Like the men’s program, we’d have some work to do, but I think we line up pretty good [on a women’s perspective].
Q: What additional commitments would you have to make if chosen?
A: We’re getting a full-time assistant coach this summer. But we have a Division I plan in place. These things will be done regardless of whether we get into the ECAC. We’re going to need to do things just to stay competitive in Atlantic Hockey. The increase in funding is going to happen as a natural progression.
Q: Would Holy Cross need to update its facility?
A: I think our facility is small fan-wise, but at the same time, once we can get to the point that we can fill those seats, the next logical step is to play games at the Centrum. That’s already in the works. The Centrum would like to have us down there, so I think it’s a natural.
Whether we do construction to this rink, I don’t know. I do know that we’re renovating our whole athletic complex up here. But I don’t think the ECAC wants to base anything we’re doing on a maybe.
There will never be a problem with facilities, be that here or at the Centrum. We’ll always put up a first-class show.
Q: What gives Holy Cross a competitive edge in this?
A: Nothing. We’re not at an advantage or a disadvantage. I think that the ADs and commissioners are going to look at a school that is already competitive with their teams in other sports and in that regard we’d make a good fit for the league.
Our school is committed to having a really good hockey program. We’ve proven in the last six years that we got caught from a competitive nature in the second and third years in the league and we did things to correct that.
We know how to win at Holy Cross. The administration and the powers that be know what they’re doing and they’ll put our student-athletes in a situation that they’ll have fun no matter where we’re competing.
Q: Will Holy Cross need to make more of a financial commitment in terms of scholarships?
A: We’re doing okay now, without scholarships. Holy Cross is, by principle, not going to give athletic-based aid. The amount of need-based aid has been sufficient for the players and if it took more of that, we’d give it. We wouldn’t be looking at this league unless we thought we could be competitive.
Q: Does geography give you an edge?
A: I think that if the league wants to keep travel partners, our geographic location does give us an edge. They’re not going to base the future of the league on where a school is located. These guys are worried about their conference RPI and how competitive they are as a league. A couple of miles on a bus aren’t that much when it comes down to getting the team that can compete well.
Mercyhurst Coach Rick Gotkin
Q: If rejected, is Atlantic Hockey the right fit as well?
A: We’ve very much enjoyed the relationship with Atlantic Hockey and the teams that make up Atlantic hockey. We just think that the ECAC has opened up the window of opportunity to apply.
We’ve thought a little selfishly to put in the application, but that said, it we don’t get into the ECAC we’re a great fit still for Atlantic Hockey.
I still say that some day Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America can be one and that would be great.
My feeling is that if things keep going the way they are and ECAC takes somebody or some bodies, then AH and CHA have to come together and you’ll have a great league with 10, 12 or 14 teams in there.
The only downside is that you give up an automatic berth but I think the hockey would be great.
Q: What gives Mercyhurst a competitive edge in the selection process?
A: One of the things we like is that both our men’s and women’s program our competitive. Our women’s program last year was 7th in the country, so we think that we can bring competitiveness to both sides and I know, from what they say, that the ECAC wants a competitive men’s and women’s programs.
We think our facility is fine as it is now. We’re in the process of building new varsity locker rooms to be ready for September. If we got the good news that we want, that we got into the ECAC, I think they’d start making upgrades to the rink. We want to do it right.
If we had ECAC schools coming to Erie, we’d sell this place out. This is a hockey town.
Q: Can Mercyhurst be competitive in the ECAC?
A: We’ve been fortunate to play a lot of ECAC teams over the years and we think that we can compete. We don’t know if we can jump in and just be ECAC champs, but we think we can compete. We’ve proven that we can recruit and cultivate our players.
It would help us to play an ECAC schedule all year. It’s tough on AH teams to go from league play to out of conference play back to league play. Playing these teams all year long would help us.
Q: Does Mercyhurst depend on Niagara’s admittance or can the bid stand on its own?
A: I think the bid can stand on its own. Niagara has a great program and has done some great things, but we’ve enjoyed as much success as anybody.
We played 36 games last year and only 12 at home. Still we had a competitive record. We believe that our program could stand on its own easily.