August 17, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

CHN Mailbag #1: URI? Options For Hockey East? Did RPI Make The Right Move?

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

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When is the University of Rhode Island going to get with the program and field a varsity Division I hockey program? It's the only flagship state school in New England without a team — let alone a team in Hockey East. — Jake (Providence, R.I.)

URI has been on the fence for what feels like forever. There's a segment of alumni that have wanted the university to start a program for years, About three years ago, URI athletic director Thorr Bjorn said that the university wasn't looking to add hockey; he had made the statement in response to Atlantic Hockey admitting that URI was the most attractive candidate for a 12th team in that league.

I'd guess that Hockey East would scoop up URI in a minute if the university decided to fully support a program. With Notre Dame's exit, the league is waiting, strategically, before adding a 12th team. URI would make perfect sense if they were willing to invest the way UConn has.

Any guesses on Hockey East's 12th team? I don't get why they don't just add Quinnipiac and get it over with? That seems like the best choice to me. They have stolen teams from the ECAC in the past, so just add Q-Pac. — Sam (parts unknown)

It takes two in order to tango, and I'm not sure why Quinnipiac would have any reason to leave the ECAC. Back when Vermont made the jump in 2005, there was a bigger gap between the ECAC and Hockey East, but that doesn't exist anymore.

Quinnipiac has made Frozen Fours coming from the ECAC and the Bobcats continue to be a dominant program in that league. Competitively, they have no reason to leave. They can be one of the top teams in the ECAC almost every year, and make the NCAA Tournament.

Academically, they are rubbing elbows with the Ivies, which it sounds like folks in the administration are big fans of.

Economically, Hockey East doesn't offer Quinnipiac anything it doesn't have already. Does Hockey East have a television deal that offers more exposure?

While I agree that Hockey East would probably welcome the Bobcats, if given the opportunity, I don't see any reason for them to leave where they are (and I don't think they will).

As for who Hockey East could add ... there has been talk of Holy Cross, and the Crusaders have been discussed by league members, but there are issues with the DCU Center in downtown Worcester. The new ECHL team that is moving in as a tenant isn't excited about sharing the building with another hockey team, I'm told. While it's possible that Hockey East adds Holy Cross at some point, I think it's at least a few years away. For now, I expect Hockey East to remain at 11 teams and see what else happens with realignment.

Moreover, with the recent announcement that the NHL is going to sponsor feasibility studies at five schools, it would be wise for Hockey East to sit at 11 and see which five teams take advantage of those studies, and if any of them are in Hockey East's footprint. There are several candidates, including URI, Rutgers, the long-rumored Syracuse startup, and more.

Who is in your preseason Hobey Hat Trick? Who do you think wins it? — Paul (Minnesota)

Dylan Sikura (Northeastern), Tyler Sheehy (Minnesota) and Troy Terry (Denver).

I might be biased, because I see Sikura in person more than Sheehy or Terry, but going into the season I'd peg Sikura as my favorite.

Is it Denver's national title to lose? Also, who do you have picked to win each league this season? Do you think Notre Dame wins the Big Ten? — Tiffany

Denver has to be the favorite to win the national title, really not losing much off a team that won the title this past April.

If Anders Bjork and Cal Petersen returned, I would have had Notre Dame as the favorites to win the Big Ten, and maybe even win a national championship.

As for picks in each league, it's all a guessing game, but here it goes ...

Hockey East - Providence
NCHC - Denver
Atlantic Hockey - Air Force
WCHA - Minnesota State
Big Ten - Penn State
ECAC - Quinnipiac

I feel like RPI made a mistake with Dave Smith. There are a lot of alumni who would have preferred another hire even though I am slightly impressed with what I have seen so far. I am interested, from a national perspective, what are your thoughts on Dave Smith and if he can have success at RPI? — Unsigned

Dave Smith had a lot of success at Canisius with a lot of handcuffs placed on him and his program up until a few years ago. I think people look at the new HarborCenter in Buffalo and think that life has always been easy for Canisius. It hasn't been. For a long time, Smith was recruiting for a Division I team that was a tenant in a Division III rink at Buffalo State.

The question is going to be how much support RPI, as a university, gives the hockey program. Seth Appert is not a bad coach, either. Since 1995, the Engineers have been to the NCAA Tournament exactly once, and it was Appert that brought them there.

Last season was a massive disappointment, there's no question, but one NCAA appearance in 22 years isn't all on the coach. At some point, you need to ask if the institution is providing enough support.

Smith has said publicly he believes he has what he needs to be successful, and he wouldn't have taken the job otherwise. Oftentimes, when a program goes as far as to make a coaching change, there are many institutional things that change also. Look at the improvements Lowell has made since hiring Norm Bazin. There was talk of dropping that program and going with just one Massachusetts-sponsored Division I team. Not anymore. There have also been big improvements to the Tsongas Center.

Look at AIC just last year, hiring Eric Lang, moving their games to the MassMutual Center in Springfield and, as it seems, investing more in the program which has allowed the coaching staff to get out in front more on recruiting.

Smith is a good coach, and he'll do well for RPI. Hopefully, the RPI administration follows through and provides the support necessary.

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