Conference realignment shakes up men's hockey

Realignment is becoming too common place in college sports. Usually, there are a number of teams looking to move conferences. This time, there is one school to blame, Penn State.

One year ago, Mercyhurst was just taking in its options on moving conferences when the Penn State program was still a club team.

Now, Penn State is officially a Division I men’s hockey program, and they are causing problems.

With the Penn State move, there are now six Big Ten schools with Division I men’s hockey teams. According to the Big Ten bylaws, once there are six teams, they are forced to make a Big Ten conference because of television rights and the Big Ten Network.

The other Big Ten schools: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota now have to leave their respective conferences to join the Big Ten.

After the move, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) lost three teams and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) lost two teams.

Once the move was complete, others teams are shuffling around as well.

Aside from the Big Ten, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will also be a new conference beginning in the 2013-14 season. The NCHC has eight teams committed, which means six losses for the WCHA and two from the CCHA.

So where does all this shuffling leave Mercyhurst?

“We are just doing our due diligence,” Coach Rick Gotkin said. “Not much has changed since last year for us; there are a lot of moving parts.”

The Lakers will happily stay in the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA).

“We like where we are at, and we love being in Atlantic Hockey,” Gotkin added.

Despite meeting with Canisius, Robert Morris and Niagara over the summer about a possible move to the CCHA, all teams appear to be staying put for the time being.

Of all the conferences, the AHA is one of three that remain untouched.

That is a good thing for Mercyhurst. They are in a competitive conference, where the top team is only separated by three games from the seventh place team. Aside from the tough conference schedule, the out-of-conference schedule is no picnic.

“Regardless of the moves, we just try to put together the best out-of-conference schedule possible,” Gotkin said.

It would appear that Gotkin did that this season with trips to Cornell, Wisconsin and Alaska to face both Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage.

Gotkin remains focused on the season at hand and isn’t worried about the conference shake-ups.

“Our guys are in great shape and are working super hard for this season, and that’s all we can worry about,” Gotkin said.

The Lakers open the regular season with four road games, the first against Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 7. The first home game will be Oct. 28 against RIT.