Column: There is still a lot in the way for UConn to join Hockey East
It has long been speculated, but now the idea that the UConn men's hockey program joining the Hockey East conference is starting to look more and more realistic.
College Hockey News reported earlier this week that Hockey East officials were visiting UConn this week and that the school was prepared to commit additional resources to hockey. This news came after UConn hired a consulting firm to evaluate the program late last year, following the Hockey East conference's decision to add Notre Dame as its 11th member for the 2013-14 season.
I wrote back in January that I thought UConn and the Hockey East would be a great fit, and I still feel that way now. The issue now, as it was then, was where the team would play, and if the team would get the scholarships it will need to compete against Hockey East competition.
Reports have indicated that upgrading the program would add $2 million per year to the athletic department's budget, which would include the 18 scholarships necessary for the players. It has also been suggested that school officials would prefer to build a new on-campus hockey arena to replace the Freitas Ice Forum. The XL Center could be used as a temporary solution where the team would play bigger-name opponents while Freitas would host less-marquis home matchups, similar to the way the men's basketball team splits its home games between Hartford and Gampel.
If the school is willing to foot the bill and can raise the money, I'm all for it. The only problem is, where is the money going to come from? It's not as simple as just raising the money, because right now the school is also trying to raise money to build the basketball training facility, as well as new stadiums to replace Morrone Stadium and J.O. Christian Field.
Then again, Paul Pendergast has pretty much opened the floodgates of donations since he returned to UConn last summer. I don't know how he does it, but the guy seems to have that touch that makes rich Nutmeggers want to throw millions of dollars at him. Just look at the $4-million dollar donation he got from the Werth family for the basketball facility, or the $3-million dollar pledge he got for the soccer field.
The bottom line is, there are challenges that will need to be overcome, but the interest between the school and the conference is mutual, and if it can be done, the school will be better off because of it.
Connecticut is a hotbed of hockey. We have a great athletics department and the resources to compete with the best schools in the country. Not only that, but we have great fans who have grown up with hockey and appreciate the sport. Hockey may never be as big as basketball here, but it doesn't have to be. Just look at the soccer team - that program has cultivated one of the biggest and most passionate fanbases at the school and it does it during football season.
There's no reason why hockey can't become the soccer of the winter season, all it needs to do is follow the soccer program's formula. Reach out to fans, foster a great atmosphere and win.
I think the Hockey East would be a great thing for UConn, and I'll be looking forward to hearing something more official in the coming months.
Follow Mac Cerullo on Twitter at @MacCerullo.
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