Hockey East representatives visited the University of Connecticut on Thursday and met with Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, according to a report in the Hartford Courant.
The 10-team league will add the University of Notre Dame beginning in the 2013-2014 season and commissioner Joe Bertagna has been a proponent of having an even number of teams.
UConn has been one of the many schools listed in publications as a possible 12th Hockey East team along with Holy Cross, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Quinnipiac.
UConn and Holy Cross play in Atlantic Hockey while RPI and Quinnipiac are members of the ECAC Hockey League.
“Clearly, the University of Connecticut is contemplating whether they would want to join Hockey East and Hockey East is contemplating whether they would want UConn to join it. They’re on a fact-finding mission to understand how serious UConn may be,” said Malloy at a press conference.
Reportedly UConn is the only school in Atlantic Hockey that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.
NCAA Division I hockey programs are allowed to offer 18 athletic scholarships and thus UConn would need to allocate funds for scholarships in order to be competitive in Hockey East.
Atlantic Hockey has a 12-scholarship limit.
Another obstacle to UConn joining Hockey East could be the arena.
The Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum on the UConn campus holds only 2,000. It opened in the fall of 1998.
Merrimack College’s Lawler Arena has Hockey East’s lowest capacity facility at 2,489.
The Huskies could play at the XL Center in Hartford but that’s 22 miles from the Storrs campus. It holds 15,635.
UConn hired a sports consulting firm in December to evaluate the men’s hockey program and the level of administrative and financial support compared with other Atlantic Hockey programs and teams in the area.
The UConn women’s program is already in Hockey East.
Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said his school could throw its hat in the ring if UConn decides against Hockey East.
Holy Cross is located in Worcester, Mass., where the NCAA Tournament’s Northeast Regional was held at the 12,239-seat DCU Center a week ago.
“UConn is obviously going to be the front-runner. Their women’s team is already in Hockey East,” said Pearl. “But if they don’t end up going in, I think our school would explore it. I think we would have significant interest as would the city of Worcester.”
Holy Cross has 12 scholarships and has made two NCAA Tournament appearances, in 2005-2006 and 2003-2004. The Crusaders stunned Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in the first round of the 2005-2006 regional in Grand Forks, N.D.
Pearl said travel by Holy Cross would be greatly reduced in Hockey East.
Holy Cross’s 37-year-old Hart Center holds just 1,400 but the Crusaders could use the DCU Center just a mile and a half from campus. Pearl also said they could look at building a new on-campus facility.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said it is extremely important to add a 12th team and also said, “I’d be thrilled to have either UConn or Holy Cross join the league. They’re two great New England schools. They would be tremendous additions to our league.”
Having 11 teams would be problematic, according to Whitehead.
“The playoff format would be a mess; it would create an awkward situation down the stretch [because one team wouldn’t be playing league games] and we’d have just a 20-game league schedule [with everyone playing each other twice]. It would be very difficult to find 14 nonleague games,” said Whitehead.
NCAA Division I teams are allowed to play just 34 regular season games.
Whitehead said having a 12th team means they would have at least two more league games and could branch out into two six-team divisions and add an extra conference game against the teams within their division, giving them 27 league games like they now have.
They’d play the five teams within their division three times and the six teams in the other division twice.
He said they also could include everyone in the league playoffs. Hockey East is the only one of the five conferences that doesn’t allow everyone make the league tournament. Just the top eight make it.
“I didn’t used to be a proponent of everyone making it but I am now,” said Whitehead. “It has worked very well in the ECAC and in Atlantic Hockey and it would create a lot of interest on campus. Plus it would increase the chances of us getting more teams in the NCAA Tournament, particularly our fourth- and fifth-place teams.”