Navy, St. Anselm Out of AHA Expansion Consideration
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
When Connecticut leaves the Atlantic Hockey Association for Hockey East next season, it leaves its former conference in the undesirable position of an odd number of teams. League sources tell College Hockey News that the conference wants to remain a 12-team league, but two of its rumored frontrunners for replacing the Huskies are now off the table.
While conferences have operated with an odd number in the past – Hockey East housed nine teams until Vermont joined in 2005 – scheduling, for one thing, is easier with an even number.
The off-and-on rumors of Atlantic Hockey expansion have generally centered around three schools: Navy, St. Anselm and the University of Rhode Island.
Atlantic Hockey is already home to two service academies – Army and Air Force – and would surely jump at the chance of adding a third. And Navy has no Title IX issues to deal with, and has shown at least token interest in hockey in the past. But according to a Navy athletic department source, the academy has no plans of expanding its current offering of varsity sports, which at 33 programs is one of the largest offerings in the nation.
St. Anselm, once considered a favorite because of interest it was showing behind the scenes in moving up from Division III, is now off the table. Atlantic Hockey had been researching St. Anselm as late as this past summer as a possible candidate for the conference, according to a source.
"After consideration of the opportunity to participate in Division I ice hockey, the leadership of Saint Anselm College determined that this step is not aligned with the college’s goals or strategic direction," Dr. Joe Horton, Vice President for Student Affairs at St. Anselm, said in a statement to College Hockey News. Athletics at St. Anselm reports to Horton.
Kelly Higgins resigned as athletic director at St. Anselm in October after just 14 months on the job. Higgins, according to a source, was a proponent of elevating St. Anselm’s hockey programs to Division I status. Higgins was formerly the director of athletics and recreation at Alaska-Fairbanks, where he helped the Nanooks program join the CCHA.
An agreement between Atlantic Hockey and St. Anselm seemed likely until Higgins' resignation this past October. Now, according to multiple sources, St. Anselm — a Division II program in general — is looking to move its entire athletic department to Division III.
Rhode Island currently doesn’t offer a varsity team, but its club team has a long history of success dating back to its formation in 1955. It is the only New England state school without a hockey team. There has been a groundswell of support among students and alumni for the university to elevate its hockey program to Division I, but the school has yet to show any real interest in doing so.
URI did not return a request for comment for this story.
According to an Atlantic Hockey source, the league is expected to remain at 11 teams for at least next season, and possibly longer into the future.