Men’s ice hockey will be added to the athletic programs at the University of New England, with the team reaching varsity status as an NCAA D-III program in 2010. The school will field a club team until then.
The announcement was made Monday by University of New England president Danielle Ripich, and director of athletics Kim Allen.
In the 1970s and early ’80s the former St. Francis College won three consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) District 5 championships from 1976 to 1979. Coached by Bob Riley, St. Francis made one appearance at the NAIA National Tournament in Superior, Wis. and twice qualified for the NAIA National Tournament in St. Paul, Minn. Two players from those teams — Jack Lowry and Randy Van Voorhies — signed contracts with professional hockey teams.
Allen said, “This is an incredible opportunity to bring back a program that accomplished so much. Ice hockey is a sport with great Maine traditions with a lot of support and interest in the greater Portland and Biddeford areas. The return of ice hockey to our University will energize our campus and our alumni, and contribute to building an athletics program that is regionally and nationally prominent. It will foster support for, and pride in, the University. There has been so much change at the University over the past several years, and we are thriving and poised to pursue excellence in all areas, including athletics.”
Riley, head coach of the St. Francis hockey team from 1974 until 1979, echoed Allen’s sentiments. “Adding ice hockey to athletics at UNE is a wonderful move,” Riley said. “I have great affection for UNE. Those five years our team did some amazing things. Lessons that those players learned on the ice made them successful back then, and have led to their success where they are now. That’s the part of hockey that is the best.”
Allen has already met with officials at the Biddeford Ice Arena, the venue the team will use for practices and home contests. She expects the program will be able to secure ice time without displacing local high schools and other programs already using the facility.
A search will start immediately for a head coach. Adding a men’s hockey team will also fulfill UNE’s NCAA Division III requirements for adding another male sport by the year 2010.