RIT to go D-I, play full CHA schedule in 2012-13

Rochester Institute of Technology has announced that it is moving its women’s hockey team to Division I, and has been accepted as a full member of the College Hockey America conference, effective for the 2012-13 season.

“This is a momentous event in the history of RIT women’s ice hockey,” said RIT Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Lou Spiotti. “We are very proud to be accepted into such an elite grouping of colleges and universities in College Hockey America. A debt of gratitude goes out to all those who have helped to make this happen, including our president and his leadership team, our trustees, our coaches, fans, and the many hockey alumni who have contributed to our program.”

CHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio said that the move to admit RIT immediately was due to Niagara dropping its women’s hockey program, announced Monday. The original plan had been for RIT to play an independent schedule next season before joining the CHA in 2013-14.

“We need to play as a group for two seasons before applying for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament,” said DeGregorio, who is also the commissioner of Atlantic Hockey, where the Tigers’ men’s program plays. “RIT is a very welcome addition, as it was to Atlantic Hockey.”

With Lindenwood and Penn State set to join the league next season, the CHA would have had its six teams (the conference also includes Mercyhurst, Syracuse and Robert Morris). But the sudden announcement by Niagara meant waiting a year for RIT to join would have extended the wait for an AQ for an additional season.

The Tigers, who won the NCAA Division III championship on Saturday, will play a 20-game conference schedule and be eligible for the league playoffs immediately.

“I’m shocked and thrilled about being eligible for the playoffs right away,” said RIT coach Scott MacDonald. “This was unexpected.”

“We’re going to be able to be in the playoffs right away,” said sophomore forward Kourtney Kunichika, RIT’s leading scorer this season. “That’s great. We’re really looking forward to the challenge.”

RIT was 54-3-3 in its final two seasons of Division III play.

“The time is right,” said RIT President Bill Destler. “We’ve achieved so much success at the Division III level, and we know that we’ll continue to be successful as we build our new rink and attract even more fans.”

RIT has announced it will build a new on-campus hockey arena, the Gene Polisseni Center, which will be the home of both the men’s and women’s teams.

“We hope to put a shovel in the ground in the fall,” said Destler.