AIC announced today that it plans to play all of its hockey games at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, Mass.
That’s a big step for an AIC program that, until recently, looked like it was on life support.
In just the past few months, AIC has hired former Army assistant coach Eric Lang, an AIC alum, to lead the program after Gary Wright stepped down. Now the Yellow Jackets are moving on from the outdated Olympia Arena and into state-of-the-art facilities in a renovated arena in Springfield, where they will share the ice with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds.
Even better, the MassMutual Center is only a little more than one mile from AIC’s campus.
The new home should help AIC’s recruiting efforts immensely. In prior seasons, AIC generally went the entire season without a single commit on its list, instead recruiting mostly scraps from the rest of Division I once the season was over. The result was teams that routinely finished at or near the bottom of the RPI. AIC’s last season with a winning percentage above .500 was 1994, a mere 22 years ago.
The recruiting strategy started to change, thanks mostly to the efforts of assistant coaches Mike Towns and Stephen Wiedler, both of whom Lang has retained on his coaching staff. This season AIC had a handful of commits before the end of the season, and I suspect that Lang is going to have his staff be more active in recruiting moving forward.
In Wright’s defense, it also seems like the college is more invested in the program now than it ever was during his tenure.
At a time where RIT and Canisius have built new buildings, and Bentley has a new arena on the way, this is a necessary move for a program like AIC if it is serious about competing in Atlantic Hockey. It’s also a good move for college hockey. AIC should be able to attract more non-conference opponents for home games now that they are at an adequate facility. With many Hockey East schools in the region, there are a lot of natural non-conference opponents for AIC in what could develop into multi-year agreements.
While it’s perhaps the longest of long shots, there’s also Hockey East’s situation to consider. The league will be at 11 schools after this upcoming season when Notre Dame moves to the Big Ten. AIC has not been one of the programs discussed for possible expansion, but if AIC is willing to invest in 18 scholarships, and plays at the MassMutual Center, it’s a similar situation to UConn prior to it joining Hockey East a few years ago.
Most Hockey East fans want Quinnipiac, however most sources close to the league say that as of right now, that’s not happening. And from Quinnipiac’s standpoint, what does Hockey East have to offer them that they aren’t already receiving as part of the ECAC?
Again, it’s the longest of long shots, but there was a zero percent chance of Hockey East ever considering AIC prior to this offseason. There is still a lot of work for AIC to do, too. But now, with today’s news and what appears to be a serious investment from the college, I wonder if Hockey East would at least take a pitch meeting. Before this, AIC wouldn’t even get into the same room as Hockey East. I think now, the league might at least answer the phone if AIC called.
Before Twitter overreacts, it’s probably a 1% chance, but it’s a chance nonetheless. In college hockey the last few years, stranger things have happened.