Holy Cross, Quinnipiac Remain in ECAC Hunt

The ECAC is down to Quinnipiac and Holy Cross for its choice of new membership to the league. Either, both or neither of the two schools will be chosen, as the ECAC’s Policy Committee makes its final considerations.

Niagara and Mercyhurst were told over the weekend by ECAC officals that they were no longer in the running, according to school officials. Sources also indicate that Sacred Heart has been told the same thing.

“We are disappointed because ECAC membership would have placed our hockey programs in a tradition-filled league,” Niagara athletic director Mike Hermann said. “We plan to continue to play many of these teams on a non-conference basis, just as we have over the history of our program. At the same time, we believe Niagara hockey would have brought measurable benefits to the ECAC. I think the length of the process indicates that it was a difficult decision for the ECAC officials.”

The ECAC has been contemplating whether to add one or more teams since Vermont announced its intention to leave the league for Hockey East starting in 2005-06. The ECAC conducted site visits to the five aforementioned schools, and held a conference call among league athletic directors last Tuesday to discuss the situation. The recommendations were then advanced to the league’s Policy Committee, which is expected to make a final decision shortly.

“I was excited we got to the point where the ECAC officials visited our campus and facilities,” third-year men’s hockey head coach Dave Burkholder said. “It was nice to receive all the positive comments from the various coaches I talked during the selection process.”

Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass., and Quinnipiac, in Hamden, Conn., are both considered within the ECAC’s traditional geographic boundaries. The decision will likely come down to factors such as facilities, commitment to hockey, and whether the school fits into the ECAC’s academic profile. Both the men’s and women’s programs are being evaluated.

Holy Cross is traditionally the stronger school academically. Last year, the Crusaders made the NCAA tournament for the first time, winning the Atlantic Hockey conference tournament. The school does not currently award athletic scholarships, and has no plans to do so. Holy Cross plays its games at a small on-campus facility, but has agreed with the Worcester Centrum to play some ECAC games there. Holy Cross’ women’s program is in the formative stages.

Quinnipiac won its conference tournament two years ago. The school currently awards the Atlantic Hockey limit of 11 hockey scholarships, and has expressed the intention to bump that to the NCAA limit of 18. The school’s women’s program is already established and is starting its first season in the CHA next fall. Quinnipiac plays its home games at a small community rink, but has plans for a 3,000-seat on-campus facility. Funds are currently being raised for the facility, with completion expected by January 2007.

“With this decision now behind us, we will work with our brethren in College Hockey America to continue to advance the sport of college hockey,” Hermann said. “We are proud of what Niagara has achieved during the eight-year history of our programs, including raising NCAA Tournament banners into the Dwyer Arena rafters after three of the last five seasons. The Niagara hockey programs have exciting futures.”