Long Island University shocked the college hockey world on Thursday when they announced the formation of a new men’s Division I college hockey program that is set to begin play this fall. While the announcement is very exciting for college hockey, there are still a lot of major questions that need to be answered before the Sharks can take the ice.
Here are some of the big things LIU will have to figure out very quickly as they make their transition to Division I college hockey.
Who is going to coach the team?
Noticeably absent in LIU’s announcement on Thursday was the presence of a head coach to lead the program. The school’s statement said a national search will begin immediately, and in an article for Newsday, LIU’s athletic director said the search is nearing a conclusion and that they have some “top candidates”. Those candidates seem unlikely to be anyone currently connected to D-I hockey, since many coaches in the sport seemed to be caught off guard by the news(though nobody being inside a rink for the past month and a half has slowed the speed of news considerably).
That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. Arizona State’s Greg Powers had no connections to D-1 hockey when he was hired by the Sun Devils, and that has worked out about as well as could be hoped. Someone with strong local connections may be the right fit for LIU.
Regardless, whoever they hire will be critical, as they will set the tone for the program.
Who is going to play for the team?
In order to play this upcoming season, Long Island will have to go from their current roster situation, which is nobody, to a full roster of 23+ players when their fall semester starts in just 130 days. Whoever is hired on as head coach will have to move quickly to line up the right players to put together a team.
There are certainly plenty of good young players in junior hockey looking for an NCAA scholarship. But it’s not quite that simple when starting from scratch. Obviously LIU doesn’t want to take the ice with all freshman and a 20+-person recruiting class. They’ll have to comb the Transfer Portal and search for anyone that has already used some college eligibility to help fill out there roster. Even taking as many of those players as possible, they’re still likely to have a huge freshman class next season that will take some time to even out to a normal size.
That said, the long-term potential for them to recruit well is there. I’m not sure how organic it was, but it was cool to see some notable college hockey greats from Long Island like Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy, and Steve Ruggiero voice their support on Twitter yesterday. It’s a talent-rich area that now has a local college presence.
Where are they going to play?
There is no rink on LIU’s campus, so the school will have to contract out somewhere. LIU’s athletic director told Newsday that the school is in discussion with three venues right now, though didn’t he didn’t name which ones. The arenas used by the women’s program, Islanders Iceworks and Northwell Health Ice Center, both have limited capacity of only a couple hundred seats. That may be a stop-gap solution, but likely not a long-term one. The school’s working relationship with Nassau Coliseum was mentioned as a possibility, though with a capacity of over 13,000, that’s likely way too big for an east coast college hockey program even under the most optimistic projections.
Most likely is that they will go the Arizona State route of playing in the too-small rink most of the time, with a few big games each year played at Nassau Coliseum. They’ll likely have to figure out something else for the long-term though.
Who are they going to play?
With non-conference games in college hockey being scarce, and often worked out a couple years in advance, it’s hard to imagine LIU would be able to find enough teams to fill out a full schedule for next season.
There is, of course, the added twist that conferences are currently working on various contingency plans because no one knows if the college hockey season will even begin in October. If teams are unable to start until January, there may be no non-conference games whatsoever, or at best, a very select few, most of which would likely be local, which would leave an independent team like LIU out in the cold.
What conference will they play in?
This is perhaps farther down the line than some of the more immediate things that will need to addressed by LIU, but they’ll likely eventually need to find a conference to play in.
Atlantic Hockey might be the most logical. LIU makes geographical sense, their budgets may be more in line with Atlantic Hockey schools in the early going, and with 11 teams already in the conference, adding a 12th potentially makes sense.
That said, if Long Island can show on-ice and financial success in their early years as an independent school, there may be the possibility a few years down the road of trying to join Hockey East, or some future version of Hockey East.
Hockey East is also at 11 teams and could potentially add a 12th, though some other Atlantic Hockey schools like Holy Cross, which is already a member of the women’s conference, or Sacred Heart, which is investing heavily in their hockey program, including a new facility, may be a couple steps ahead in filling that spot.
Another possibility, first mentioned this past January by USCHO, was Hockey East schools moving away from a hockey-only conference to an all-sport conference. Should college hockey in the east move in that direction, LIU is the fourth member of the Northeast Conference that sponsors D-I hockey, joining Merrimack, Robert Morris, and Sacred Heart, so they may have natural allies if the east undergoes a scramble like the west did in 2011.