Hockey East seems likely new home for Notre Dame, but who else?

The NCHC announced on Sunday that it will begin play in 2013 as an eight-team conference and, in doing so, consequently may have announced Notre Dame’s hockey future.

Last week, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson told the South Bend Tribune that the school’s decision for a future conference was down to the NCHC and Hockey East. If that’s true, it appears that Hockey East is the intended destination for the Irish.

While the NCHC has seemingly stolen Notre Dame’s thunder of announcing its new home, it also makes for interesting debate on what, if any, team will join Notre Dame in Hockey East.

Though the league is remaining tight-lipped on anything to do with expansion, commissioner Joe Bertagna was pretty clear when I spoke with him back in the summer that if the league is to expand, it’s much more desirable to move to from 10 to 12 teams, not 11. That, though, was when rumors of Miami and Notre Dame coming to Hockey East were floating around. Miami, of course, was one of the founding members when the NCHC announced its formation this summer. So it is conceivable that Hockey East could accept Notre Dame and no one else.

But assuming Hockey East wants a partner for Notre Dame, which teams seems most likely?

Rumors are floating and the one I continue to hear most often is Rensselaer. RPI has been a long-time member of the ECAC, but might be an excellent fit for Hockey East. Geographically, RPI is within a four-hour drive of every current Hockey East team except Maine. The program under Seth Appert has been on an upswing, making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. That certainly has to be appealing if you’re Bertagna.

Other clubs that I have heard as potentials for Hockey East include Cornell and Quinnipiac, but neither of these teams seem as sensible for the league or the teams themselves. I can’t imagine Cornell ever breaking apart from their fellow Ivy League schools. And though Quinnipiac since its first day as a Division I program has always had the highest aspirations, it lack of a proven track record doesn’t align with the success and history of the other Hockey East teams.

There are still plenty of questions that need to be answered, but keep your ears open. Those answers seem like they will be coming very soon.