February 5, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Q&A: Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley speaks, as Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio looks on.

Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley speaks, as Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio looks on.

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Last week, Robert Morris and Niagara were voted into Atlantic Hockey, starting with the 2010-11 season. This gives those teams a home, something that has been in doubt since it became apparently that College Hockey America would dissolve after next season.

We spoke to Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley about the move.

Schooley: This has been a long process. Ever since Wayne State dropped their program (last year), it's been no secret the four remaining schools were looking for a home. There are no new teams on the horizon. Going on as a four-team league or playing independent is not a good situation at all. It's OK short term but not long term. Atlantic Hockey has been very accommodating. We went through a whole process. They did site visits in October.

At the end of the day, Atlantic Hockey is the conference we wanted to be in. It makes sense for us in numerous ways. From geographical, to schools we compete with in other conferences, to schools we've competed well and poorly against in the past. This is a no brainer. We could have 25 games either at home or within 4 1/2 hours of campus.

CHN: This is the way it was originally going to be. (Atlantic Hockey rejected Robert Morris when the program started, in hopes of preserving the CHA.)

DS: We replaced Findlay in College Hockey America to keep the CHA going with six teams, and little by little it's worked its way down to four. And we play six of our final 12 games this season against Bemidji State, and that's before the postseason. I don't think that's something we want.

I don't think we had a choice (then). Atlantic Hockey was growing, getting stronger, and they were happy with where they were. It wasn't a slight on our program at all. It actually helped. We could have more scholarships at the start. So at end of the day, everything works out for the best."

CHN: How many scholarships have you been playing with now?

DS: Between the Atlantic limit (12) and the maximum 18. We have been hoping and planning that this would work out, and we've been working towards in two years, or even next year, being at 12 scholarships. So I don't foresee it being a major issue at 12.

CHN: Are you hopeful that in the future Atlantic Hockey would bump up the limit?

DS: I'm very happy being a member of Atlantic hockey, and happy to have a stable home. If that's their limits, that's their limits. It's fine.

CHN: What were the players' reactions when the news came out?

DS: I've kept my players somewhat in the loop the whole time, regarding the Atlantic Hockey visit in October. They trusted the fact that we're going to have a place to play. Never once has our program wavered from hockey, from the athletic director to the university, they've been a big supporter of the hockey program. I don't think it's ever been a concern. Players, coaches, recruits just wanted to know where we're going."

CHN: Was it hurting recruiting?

DS: I can't say why kids go somewhere and why they don't. Did it hurt? Maybe. But everyone you talk to, the first question, as it should be, is, "Where you going to be?" The nice thing is, we've answered the question. I can't say it enough ... Atlantic Hockey is where we want to be.

CHN: How do you see things being next year?

DS: We're going to stay together as the CHA and play the same schedule. We'll appeal to the NCAA hockey committee again as far as retaining our automatic bid again. Hopefully, with homes for all these schools, and being in the last year, hopefully they'll grant that again. But that's not for me to decide.

CHN: What was the plan B if this didn't work out?

DS: We were focusing all our efforts on being in Atlantic Hockey. If not, we'd have had to go back to the drawing board. And what that included, I had no idea.

That's the nice thing about this — I don't have to worry. Until you get the answer, obviously you're concerned, because you want to see your program be in the best scenario you can be. I was extremely happy once we got the word. Seeing our president, our AD and support of the community at the press conference, everyone is ecstatic.

CHN: Obviously you are happy for yourselves, but what about the others — Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville? I'm sure there's a brotherhood there that makes you concerned for them.

DS: Obviously we have been partners with Alabama-Huntsville and Bemidji for the last five years. Hopefully with Atlantic Hockey's vision of allowing us in, hopefully it will force the other leagues to look at accepting Bemidji and Alabama-Huntsville. Hopefully this is just step one in the process of seeing them taken care of. These are very good hockey programs with very good histories, and they've done a lot of good things in their time as D-II schools and D-I schools. And you want to see them with the same excitement in going to new conferences as we had.

CHN: There is obvious resistance from the big conferences.

DS: These are very good hockey programs, and the last thing our sport needs is to turn their back on these programs. They have good coaching staffs, good tradition. Atlantic Hockey took the first step, now we need other steps. It would be a shame if they were not taken care of.

CHN: The biggest problem with the demise of the CHA, is that there's no place for any new team to go. The only option now for adding programs to college hockey, would be a multi-sport conference adding a bunch of teams at once. Nothing you can do, though.

DS: At the end of the day, I don't think there was any other options. We went through every possible scenario.

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