Maine Hockey Journal

UNE to join CCC for men’s ice hockey in 2016 as major changes in DIII unfold

(PHOTO: UNE Athletic Dept.)

(PHOTO: UNE Athletic Dept.)

A major shakeup is taking place within the Northeast in NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s ice hockey that will have a direct effect on both the University of New England and the University of Southern Maine.

The University of New England men’s hockey program will leave the ECAC East Conference at the conclusion of this season to join the Commonwealth Coast Conference for the 2016-’17 season.

The Commonwealth Coast Conference announced Monday that it would begin sponsoring men’s ice hockey as a championship sport starting in 2016. The Commonwealth Coast Conference formed as an athletic conference in 1984.

“This exciting decision is a testament to the leadership and engagement of the CCC’s presidents, each of whom is committed to enhancing the role that athletics plays in the student-athlete experience at their institution,” said CCC Commissioner Gregg M. Kaye in a release. “By bringing men’s hockey under the CCC umbrella, our conference can ensure that an entirely new group of student-athletes will enjoy the same competitive and championship experiences as so many of their peers have enjoyed in the CCC for more than 30 years.”

Nine institutions including six current Commonwealth Coast Conference members, Curry College, Endicott College, Nichols College, Salve Regina University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Western New England University will join UNE in the formation of the newly formed league.

Those six schools in addition to Becker, Johnson & Wales and Suffolk University currently play in the ECAC Northeast Conference. Becker, Johnson & Wales and Suffolk University will become associate members in Commonwealth Coast Conference for ice hockey.

All ten schools will compete in a regular season followed by a playoff leading to a Commonwealth Coast Championship with the winner earning an automatic Pool A bid to the NCAA Division III men’s hockey tournament.

UNE joined as a full-time member in 1999 for all sports except ice hockey. Men’s ice hockey was a club sport until 2009 and women’s ice hockey was added in 2012, becoming a championship sport in 2014 as a member of ECAC East.

It’s been a struggle in the win/loss category for UNE in its attempt at becoming a relevant school in NCAA Division III ice hockey. Since becoming a full-fledged member in ECAC East in 2009, UNE posted a 38-106-7 overall record, 25-82-3 conference record. The school’s best season in men’s hockey was 2013-‘14 winning ten games.

“To be a part of the Commonwealth Coast Conference and to be branded as a Commonwealth Coast sport we’ll have instant rivalries with all of our fellow members of the league,” said Associate Vice President and Athletic Director Jack McDonald. “It’s a great statement about men’s ice hockey and the University of New England. It’s going to give our team an opportunity to play for the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament is the dream of every Division I, Division II and here in Division III. It’s going to give that sense of importance and postseason opportunity that is the best we’ve ever had.”

With Commonwealth Coast Conference adding men’s hockey as a sanctioned sport, it will further level the playing field across NCAA Division III in the northeast. UNE is poised to take advantage in the shifting landscape with its ability to recruit and showcase the school’s facilities.

“When you talk about school spirit you can’t underestimate the importance of athletics,” said UNE President Danielle Ripich. “I think it’s very exciting that our school is going to be going to the Commonwealth Coast Conference because (other schools) will come and play in our beautiful (Harold) Alfond (Forum). They’ll see our campus in a whole new way.”

The hiring of Jack McDonald in June was another investment to the school’s athletic program. McDonald was the athletic director at Quinnipiac University for 20 years, helping them transition to NCAA Division I status in 1998. He guided an athletic department with 21 varsity sports, winning 29 conference titles and reaching the 2013 men’s national championship.

Quinnipiac also hosted the 2014 women’s Frozen Four at the TD Bank Sports Center, which McDonald was instrumental in the design and construction of the 160,000-square foot facility that housed both of the school’s ice hockey and basketball programs.

McDonald oversees the Harold Alfond Forum in Biddeford, a 106,500-square foot facility that houses UNE’s men’s and women’s hockey and basketball programs.

“In my short time at the University of New England I’ve been impressed with the leadership, vision, athletic department and students,” said McDonald. It’s been everything I expected and more.”

“I am very grateful to the Commonwealth Coast Conference for extending this invitation to our men’s ice hockey program,” said McDonald. “We enthusiastically accept this invitation and look forward to our first CCC games in 2016-17. I would also like to thank the Presidents, my fellow athletic directors and Commissioner Gregg Kaye for their vision in adding the University of New England and Men’s Ice Hockey as a CCC sport.”

The men’s hockey program underwent changes over the summer as Kevin Swallow replaced Brad Holt, who was relieved of his coaching duties in May. Swallow coached at Nichols College for the past three seasons where he led the Bison to a 55-20-7 record and back-to-back ECAC Northeast Championships.

Moving to the Commonwealth Coast Conference in 2016-’17, Swallow will face many of those same school’s as they move over to the new league.

Swallow is former University of Maine alum, playing two years for the Black Bears.

“The formation of the CCC hockey conference is very exciting for all of the schools involved,” said Swallow. “Many of the programs in the conference have proven they can compete with anyone in the country. With the addition of Endicott and UNE to the strong field of teams, I think the CCC can be one of the premier conferences in the Division III hockey.”

The future of the ECAC sponsoring NCAA Division III men’s hockey after this season is very uncertain at the moment. ECAC Northeast will no longer exist following the 2015-’16 season and it’s expected that ECAC East will also fall in the coming weeks as those nine institutions including the University of Southern Maine move its men’s hockey programs to a newly formed conference known as the New England Hockey Conference.

Joining Southern Maine in the NEHC will be Norwich, Babson, University of Massachusetts-Boston, New England College, Skidmore, Castleton, Saint Michael’s and Saint Anselm.

Southern Maine skated seven seasons under the NAIA banner from 1972 til 1979. They spent the last 30 years as a member of ECAC for men’s ice hockey, and more recently women’s ice hockey.

Both Southern Maine and UNE women’s hockey will stay within the newly formed NEHC that will include school’s that sponsor women’s hockey from both Commonwealth Coast Conference and ECAC East, Norwich, University of Massachusetts-Boston, New England College, Castleton, Saint Michael’s, Saint Anselm, Plymouth State, Nichols, Manhattanville, Holy Cross, Salve Regina, and Franklin Pierce.

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  1. Pingback: ECAC hockey soon to be a thing of the past in New England | NESCAC hockey

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