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COMMENTARY: Arizona State is more proof college hockey realignment works

Remember the day college hockey died?

It was a sunny, July afternoon in 2011 when the news broke that UND and five others would leave their conferences and join a new, startup league, marking a gigantic shift in the college hockey landscape.

One by one, the eulogies rolled in.

Yahoo Sports called it, “unequivocally horrible for college hockey.”

Another popular blog said it was, “a very bad day” for the sport.

One school proclaimed that dark clouds were hanging over college hockey and media types abound predicted the demise of several teams.

That’s hardly been the case. Three years later, the sport has never been healthier, and realignment can be thanked for that.

Arizona State announced Tuesday that it will start a Division I men’s hockey program next season. The Sun Devils will play a hodge-podge schedule in 2015-16 and a full D-I slate in 2016-17. The following year, they expect to join a conference.

There are options, too. Both the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association have room and are interested. Prior to realignment, no leagues were looking to add.

With the addition of the Sun Devils, college hockey will reach a record amount of teams with 60. Only one other year has the sport fielded 60 teams — 2002-03. Since, it has lost Iona, Findlay, Fairfield and Wayne State, while adding much healthier and more viable programs in Penn State, Robert Morris, RIT and now Arizona State.

The Sun Devils are the first PAC-12 team to add men’s hockey, but they believe that they are not the last.

Sun Devils athletic director Ray Anderson said Tuesday there are schools with much larger endowments than Arizona State that can make Division I hockey happen. The Sun Devils believe that there’s a possibility of one day having a PAC-12 hockey conference.

There’s also word that the University of Buffalo and the University of Rhode Island are studying the viability of adding men’s hockey programs. Thanks to realignment, there also are places for those programs to land. Same goes for any Big Ten school that wants to add.

Prior to realignment, nobody was willing to take on Alabama Huntsville and the school announced it would fold its hockey program. Since, room opened up in the WCHA and the Chargers were able to save their program.

Instead of wiping out college hockey programs, the sport is now plus-three since the Big Ten and NCHC were announced.

Perhaps the primary concern was for the “leftovers” in the WCHA and Central Collegiate Hockey Association — the nine schools who weren’t going to the Big Ten or NCHC.

One of those schools is Minnesota State-Mankato.

In the first year of realignment, the Mavericks won their first conference title in D-I history, the WCHA’s Broadmoor Trophy, and it made the NCAA tournament for the second time in a decade.

Another one of those schools is Bowling Green.

The Falcons are ranked this week in the national poll for the first time in seven years.

Another one of those is Michigan Tech.

The Huskies are 10-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally for the first time in program history. After taking beatings from the bigger schools like UND, Minnesota and Wisconsin for years, Tech is now in a league where it can compete regularly and it’s paying off.

A few weeks ago, Tech had its largest home crowd since 1978. It may now reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 34 years.

Yes, realignment did ruin some old rivalries and the Final Five, which so many adored.

But the death of college hockey?

No, it has been quite the opposite.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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