Penn State and Arizona State are two big-name schools that have jumped from club-level hockey to Division 1 recently. But thanks to grassroots hockey’s explosion in the U.S., we have more candidates for promotion.
Ever since Arizona State announced that its successful ACHA club team would be making the leap to Division 1 hockey, coach Greg Powers has been fighting a war against his inbox. See, every time the Sun Devils bench boss finishes reading an email, five or six more pop up. Powers has received about 600 emails in the past day from potential recruits, family advisors (ie agents) and other ACHA coaches who want to know how his school did it.
“We expected it was going to be big news,” Powers said. “I’ve been pushing Arizona State as the most unique college hockey experience in the country for four years.”
Arizona State has national name recognition thanks to it affiliation in other sports with the Pac-12 conference, it’s a huge school (80,000 students) and it has that great Southwestern climate to boast. The Sun Devils also had a nice model in Penn State, a similar school (minus the weather) that went from the ACHA to Division 1 just a few years ago and is already thriving in the newly-formed Big Ten conference.
“Penn State is awesome,” Powers said. “Their blueprint for success has worked. It’s real, you can do it. We did it.”
In fact, when the Nittany Lions were in their transition season, they hosted Powers’ Arizona State team and the Sun Devils came away with a win. The victory put the school on the map and that’s when the rumblings began in the greater Phoenix area.
So if other club-level schools are calling Powers, we may not be done yet with college expansion in the near future. But which schools would bring the most buzz with them? Here’s a top 10 based on national prominence, geographical uniqueness (so if your state already has a team, too bad) and conference links, if any. As a bonus, I’ve included young local players from each area.
10. University of Iowa Hawkeyes
A Big Ten school in a state with several United States League teams. Locals include Christian Evers (2015 draft, North Dakota commit) of the NTDP.
9. University of Utah Utes
The state has supported hockey for decades at the minor pro level and it’s a Pac-12 school to boot. Locals include Harvard’s David Valek. Would also be a good destination for increasing number of players from Idaho.
8. N.C. State Wolfpack
Based out of Raleigh, the Wolfpack could draw off the successful Carolina Jr. Hurricanes program, whose alum include Canes pick Josh Wesley.
7. University of Maryland Terrapins
Another Big Ten school that also has the benefit of the fan base cultivated by the Washington Capitals in recent years. Locals include Montreal’s Jarred Tinordi, 2015 prospect Michael Lackey and 2016 prospect Graham McPhee (George’s son).
6. University of Miami Hurricanes
And not just because I want to see a Miami-Miami national title game one day (Canes vs. RedHawks). Florida is producing a lot of players and location-wise, it’s tough to beat Southern Florida. Locals include Brady Vail and 2016 prospects Jakob Chychrun and Nick Pastujov.
5. University of Missouri Tigers
The Saint Louis Billikens actually had a D1 team in the 1970s, but Mizzou is a bigger name school and that wins out. Grassroots has really been great in St. Louis lately. Locals include Arizona pick Ryan MacInnis, 2015 prospect Luke Opilka and 2016 prospect Matthew Tkachuk.
4. University of Texas Longhorns
The Dallas Stars have been huge in growing the game in Texas and the Longhorns are so big they have their own cable TV network. Locals include Nashville’s Seth Jones and his younger brother Caleb (2015 draft), plus Buffalo prospect Colin Jacobs.
3. Stanford Cardinal or Cal Golden Bears
Either one works. Both are Pac-12 schools in Northern California, which would benefit from the San Jose Sharks’ presence. Locals include 2015 prospect Robby Jackson and 2017 hopeful Patrick Khodorenko.
2. University of Illinois Fighting Illini or Northwestern Wildcats
Because HOW CAN ILLINOIS NOT HAVE A TEAM RIGHT NOW? THAT’S INSANE! THE BLACKHAWKS ARE PERENNIAL STANLEY CUP CONTENDERS AND A TON OF PLAYERS COME FROM THERE. Both are Big Ten schools. Locals include Buffalo prospect J.T. Compher, 2015 prospect Christian Fischer AND LIKE A MILLION OTHERS.
1. Southern Cal Trojans or UCLA Bruins
Home of the defending Cup champion L.A. Kings and their celebrity fans, who could also be donors for a fledgling program. Southern California produces a great amount of talent and both schools are Pac-12 mainstays. Locals include Florida’s Rocco Grimaldi, Anaheim prospect Nic Kerdiles and Vancouver pick Thatcher Demko. Hockey, Hollywood, Heat (but not too much of it). Any questions?