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College Hockey Notebook: Conference Musical Chairs May Impact Hockey East; Northeastern's Coaching Turmoil

In the most impactful off-season in college hockey history, new conferences have tried to poach two of Hockey East's top teams. Will Hockey East stay the same, or will they add highly coveted Notre Dame to their ranks?

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The brand spanking new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) has caused chaos throughout college hockey, and could change the makeup of Hockey East.

The NCHC announced its formation last Wednesday, as a response to the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. With the addition of Penn State’s Division I hockey program, the Big Ten Conference entered the hockey realm, and took a chunk of heavyweights, such as Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin out of the WCHA and CCHA conferences. The Big Ten will begin men's hockey play in the 2013-14 season.

A few of the larger and recently successful teams that were left behind with the addition of the Big Ten - North Dakota, Miami of Ohio and defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, among others, schemed together to create their own conference. In their Wednesday press conference, questions remained about how long the six teams had been talking about putting together their own conference, as a few had recently reupped with the WCHA and CCHA mere months before. The move has left the WCHA and CCHA questioning their stability and their ability to secure NCAA Tournament automatic bids once both new conference's begin play in two years.

So what does the formation of new conferences and destruction of old conferences, most of whom are out in the Western part of the country, have to do with hockey in New England? Notre Dame, one of the few powerhouses now left in the CCHA, is left evaluating their options. These options reportedly include jumping to Hockey East or the ECAC. Tom Nevala, the associate athletic director for men’s hockey at Notre Dame, laid out all of the team’s possible moves in the South Bend Tribune last week:

"Nevala said the new conference is among Notre Dame’s possibilities, as is Hockey East, ECAC Hockey, staying in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association or going independent."  

Going independent seems to be the least likely of these options for the Fighting Irish, given that their existence in a league sweetens any possible television coverage deals for that league. Notre Dame has made the Frozen Four twice in the last four years, including this past April. Rumors have surfaced that if Notre Dame takes on with the NCHC, the league will secure a deal with Versus, which would be a milestone television deal for college hockey.

In its quick formation, the NCHC also attempted to poach teams from Hockey East. The Daily News of Iron Mountain, MI reported last week that the new conference invited Hockey East’s two most recent national champions, Boston College and Boston University, to join their ranks. The two teams declined. Travel would have been a major issue, given that the other NCAC teams are centralised in the western part of the country. But loyalty also played a role in the decision - BU and BC were catalysts for their own conference shakeup 25 years ago, when they left the ECAC to becoming founding members of Hockey East. Why would two of the league’s founding and most successful members jump ship again? 

Troubles at Northeastern

Lost in the conference musical chairs has been the plight of Northeastern. Greg Cronin, the head coach who put one of Boston’s Beanpot teams on the map, left to take an assistant coaching position with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The move was rumored for months prior to its announcement, especially in the light of Cronin’s suspension by Northeastern over recruiting violations tied to excessive text messaging of recruits. Though Cronin had been reinstated, it was thought that bad blood still remained between the athletic administration and Cronin.

Cronin’s departure has thrown a wrench into future hockey plans along Huntington Avenue. Garrett Haar and John Gaudreau, highly reguarded and NHL drafted recruits, decommitted from Northeastern after the June draft. Jamie Oleksiak, one of the Huskies’ strongest skaters last season, was drafted 14th overall by the Dallas Stars and is considering making the jump to the pros or major junior. His loyalty to the Huskies may be tested by the departure of Cronin. 

Cronin’s departure also has eroded his assistant coaching staff at Northeastern. Harvard announced Friday that they retained the services of Albie O’Connell, who served as Cronin’s assistant last year.

With it being mid-July and Northeastern still without a coach, one has to wonder how far a program that was making a national splash just two years ago, might fall this upcoming season.