This Week in the SUNYAC

SUNYAC Expansion Plans

The SUNYAC hockey league has been set at eight teams since 1993-94 when Buffalo State joined as a provisional member moving up the next year to a full-fledged participant.

That number will change in a few years as the SUNYAC as a whole will be welcoming in a new member-Morrisville-who has a hockey team.

“We’re very excited about it because it will give us 12 members,” SUNYAC Commissioner Pat Damore said. “All of our conference sports that we have, they have the sport. It helps balance our schedule for sports like basketball where maybe we do divisions.”

“I think it’s great,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “Personally, I’m really excited that we can expand our league.”

“All the coaches are welcome to the idea of Morrisville coming in,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “It gives us more conference games which is great. Any time we can hold more games within our league adds excitement to the schedule.”

Unlike Buffalo State’s relatively quick entry due to the school already being a member of SUNYAC in other sports, Morrisville will have a much longer road to tread as they move their program from an NJCAA institution to NCAA Division III. Beginning in the 2006-7 academic year, Morrisville will begin the first four years as a provisional Division III member.

The first two years, the NCAA expects a new program to need the time to slowly learn and understand their policies and regulations. For that reason, the NCAA gives provisional schools some degree of leeway in meeting these regulations. However, afterwards, the college is expected to be abiding by all NCAA regulation in years three and four.

Upon successful completion of this four year period, the school then becomes a candidate for full accreditation as a member of the NCAA. As long as those four years go well and they meet the necessary criteria along the way, full accreditation will not be a problem.

“There is a fast track,” Morrisville’s Athletic Director Greg Carroll said. “If years one and two go well, three and four can be combined into a single year.”

Thus, three years is the soonest that Morrisville can start competing for the NCAA playoffs. But, what about the SUNYAC? Morrisville has every intention of entering all their appropriate sports into that conference.

“Everything is moving in the right direction,” Carroll said. “They need to know when they can handle adding a member. SUNYAC ideally wants to wait till we clear years one and two of provisional period. I’m hoping they bring us into the conference as sort of a corresponding member for scheduling purposes.”

Morrisville cannot officially enter the SUNYAC (or any other conference) until after the first two years of the provisional period. However, even after that time, Morrisville will not be allowed to compete in the SUNYAC playoffs in their second two year provisional period (but their games may count in the standings for the other schools) because they
cannot be the SUNYAC representative in the NCAA playoffs. Whether Morrisville will be allowed to compete in the standings for any regular season honors has not yet been decided.

The biggest problem with any new school trying to fill out their schedule is that during the provisional period, the other teams’ stats and records don’t count when playing Morrisville. However, the NCAA is trying to help out as much as possible.

“Games against us don’t count in the primary criteria,” Carroll said about the selection process. “But they do have an effect on the secondary criteria. This was a bone thrown to provisional members to help scheduling.”

“Our conference is scheduling them as much as possible,” Damore said.

Thanks to the close knit community that is college hockey, that is one program that Morrisville is having an easier time with their schedule.

“It’s working out very well,” Morrisville coach Earl Utter said. “Everything happens for a reason. Over the past eight years, we’ve been able to put a lot of players on SUNYAC teams, so I have developed a very good working relationship with the coaches.”

“We all believe let’s lead the way to getting them games,” Meredith said. “If we don’t schedule them, nobody else will.”

Already, four schools (Brockport, Buffalo State, Fredonia, and Potsdam) have committed to two games against Morrisville next season with the other four schools committing to one. The following season, every team will play Morrisville twice.

“But we realize that even though they are helping us out, we also have to help them out by making sure the SUNYAC remains very competitive,” Utter said.

The addition of Morrisville may give most SUNYAC sports a nice even dozen teams, but it means an odd number of hockey schools. The travel partners works so well now, what do you do with Morrisville?

“We’ll keep our travel partners,” Emery explains. “One year we’ll play at Morrisville for two games and the next year they will come to Plattsburgh for two games.”

That’s the way it will work for all the schools. Though they could arrange home-and-home series on the same weekend for the closer schools, don’t expect to see that since it will make the overall SUNYAC schedule uneven in number of home and away contests.

Just how well will Morrisville do on the Division III level? The Mustangs have been very successful in the junior college ranks where they started playing hockey in the 1997-98 season, winning three national championships in the past four years including the previous two, essentially taking over from Canton as the top New York State
junior college. For a comparison to common opponents, earlier in the year, Morrisville played Carleton University from Ottawa, tying the first game, 3-3, and losing the second, 5-2.

However, Utter is under no illusions the task will be easy. “The SUNYAC is an outstanding league,” Utter said. “Last time I looked, we had three teams in the top 15 in the nation. Obstacles we face are excellent schools, new arenas, and long established programs.”

That, and convincing potential recruits to come to a school that has no way of making the playoffs for four years. “Trying to put that out of my mind,” Utter said. “Every school has its strengths. We are going to have to find the right type of kid who wants to come here. You have to tell them you are going to be coming in to build a college hockey program.”

The other coaches think Morrisville handle these problems with ease.

“They have a great coach already in hand,” Emery said. “Earl is an established coach on the junior college level. He’s a hard worker. He’s everywhere recruiting. I think it will be easier for Morrisville to make the transition than just any school who is building their program up.”

Meredith agrees: “Anybody who knows Earl knows he’s a tireless worker. He built that program from nothing to a national championship contender year after year. I think he’ll make that transition very easily.”

“Morrisville is on the right path,” Damore said. “Greg Carroll is doing a great job there. He has an excellent staff.”

Morrisville does have nice facilities to attract players. The on-campus IcePlex contains two sheets of ice, a fitness center, classrooms, and plenty of locker rooms. Seating capacity is smaller than other SUNYAC rinks at 1,200, but it offers the close, spirited atmosphere of a small rink.

“Its good enough to compete with the other schools,” Utter said. “I’m really happy to be getting into the SUNYAC.”

So are we, as college hockey expansion is always a good thing, especially a strong hockey presence like Morrisville in the SUNYAC. Even though it could take up to four years before Morrisville is playing a full fledged conference schedule, fighting for position, and battling for a playoff spot, we will include Morrisville in the SUNYAC column so you can follow their exploits as they look to make the SUNYAC hockey league grow to nine teams.

Anything Else On The Horizon?

Now that there are plans for the SUNYAC to expand by adding Morrisville, are there any other growth plans in the future?

Probably not. At least not for a very long time.

Recently, many schools were moving Division II programs down to Division III, NAIA schools wanted to move into the NCAA, and a number of two-year schools, like Morrisville, are changing over to four-year institutions. For this reason, the NCAA has put a cap on Division III membership, making it very difficult for any new school to join.

Morrisville started their process early enough to get in before this cap was imposed. “They started early, so they are okay with the NCAA,” Damore said.

Morrisville is the second two-year SUNY technology school to become a
four-year school and join the SUNYAC. The first was SUNYIT, formerly
known as Utica Tech.

Over the years, there has been lots of talk at Canton Tech of doing the same thing, but so far nothing has happened, and it appears many of those plans have been put aside. The only other school that has shown signs of making this move is Delhi, but not only do they do not have a hockey team, they along with Canton will now be faced with the NCAA cap.

Thus, it looks like Morrisville is it for now, and we’ll have to settle for nine hockey teams in the SUNYAC for many years to come.

SUNYAC Short Shots

Fredonia outshot Johnson and Wales, 52-20, in their 7-1 victory. Then, the next night the Blue Devils outshot the Wildcats, 61-18, for a 5-1 win … Neal Sheehan got four assists as well as one goal in that first win … Fredonia scored their first two goals in the first game in a 14-second span … The next night, Fredonia scored two goals in a 27-second span to take a 3-0 lead … Fredonia went 5 for 12 on the power play in those two games … Oswego jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Hobart in the first 4:08 and held on for a 5-2 victory … Brockport jumped out to a 3-0 lead, including a goal seven seconds into the second period, in their game against Hobart but were unable to hold on letting up four
power play goals in a 5-3 loss … Against Hobart, Brockport got just four shots off in the first period and three shots in the third, but fired 22 shots in the middle period … Cortland scored two goals in a 16-second span late in the third to break a 3-3 tie and defeat Lebanon Valley, 6-3 … Kris Heeres scored the overtime winner in Geneseo’s 2-1
victory over Curry … There is a common nickname theme in Morrisville. The college varsity teams are called the Mustangs. They also have a club hockey team that is named the Broncos. And the local youth hockey program which uses the IcePlex as their home base calls themselves the Stampede.

Game of the Week

One of the great match ups to look forward to coming out of the midyear break is the home-and-home series between Oswego and RIT. Sometimes, they are the same weekend, sometimes they are spread over a week. They always display great hockey, especially in recent years when both programs have produced excellent teams.

This year, the series is just a home. And, that one game will be played at RIT this Saturday evening. This will be the 77th meeting and most likely the last time these schools square off as RIT makes their transition to Division I. Oswego won the first 22 games and holds the all-time series lead at 37-35-4.

RIT enters this game after a strong weekend despite losing at Division I powers, Clarkson and Cornell. I’m sure Oswego coach Ed Gosek took advantage of his friendship with former Lakers coach, George Roll, who is now coaching at Clarkson. Gosek probably gave his former mentor a call this week to get a scouting report.

Oswego-RIT. Always a non-conference game to look forward to. Don’t miss potentially the last one to take place between these two great hockey schools.

Life Is Good

The IcePlex has a fully functional eatery called Stix. Thus, the most important question of all is does Morrisville have a good hot soft pretzel?