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May 22. 2013 9:45PM

St. Anselm hockey eyes Division I

St. Anselm College, which has long competed successfully in NCAA Division II hockey on both the men's and women's side, is considering moving its programs up to Division I.

The school is currently exploring all of its options regarding hockey, including the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA), said St. Anselm director of athletics Kelly Higgins in a statement released through the school's media relations department.

Higgins declined to comment further.

The issue has risen to the surface in part because the AHA, a league that the St. Anselm men would fit into nicely, is looking for another team.

One of the prime reasons St. Anselm is interested in moving up is that it is in a kind of no man's land with hockey.

It competes primarily against Division III teams during the regular season because there are only a handful of Division II hockey schools in the country. As a result, opportunities to play in the post-season are very limited.

The University of Rhode Island, which has a high-powered club program, and St. Anselm are the two schools interested in the spot, according to league commissioner Bob DeGregorio, formerly director of athletics at Merrimack College and commissioner of Hockey East.

The opening came about because the University of Connecticut, a charter member, is leaving after the 2013-14 season for Hockey East.

The UConn move will leave Atlantic Hockey with 11 teams and the league's directors want to get back to 12, a number more manageable for scheduling and tournaments.

Those directors had their Atlantic Hockey meetings last week in Waltham, Mass., and encouraged DeGregorio to move forward with expansion plans.

"They're in favor of both institutions," DeGregorio said. "It's a matter of who steps up first."

He said there is no deadline for the school's to apply to get into the league, but there likely is only room for one and the first team to officially move the process forward will be at the forefront.

"It will be very difficult not to be first," he said.

Once a school applies, an expansion process that includes an official visit to the campus and making sure the school is ready to make a commitment to Division I begins.

He thinks it likely a new team would not join the league until the 2015-16 season.

DeGregorio indicated that St. Anselm seems to have a step up on URI.

"Based on the enthusiasm of the people who have called about it, I would say St. Anselm is ahead of where URI is at this point," he said.

St. Anselm already plays in the Northeast-10 in basketball against Atlantic Hockey teams AIC and Bentley. Holy Cross is also in Atlantic Hockey along with Sacred Heart of Fairfield, Conn. The other teams in the league are Niagara, Canisius, RIT and Army out of New York, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris out of Pennsylvania and the Air Force Academy out of Colorado.

St. Anselm has the Thomas F. Sullivan Arena, which opened in 2003, ready to go.

The school would need to add athletic scholarships for hockey and upgrade travel and officiating budgets. Atlantic Hockey allows a maximum of 12 scholarships, but those numbers are going to 13 and then 14 the next two years and most teams approach those limits.

The Hawk women's team, which would compete in the College Hockey America league that DeGregorio also administers, adds to the St. Anselm appeal.

The CHA currently includes Mercyhurst, RIT, Robert Morris, Syracuse, Penn State and Lindenwood and DeGregorio is striving to make it stronger.

The St. Anselm women were 19-4-4 in the 2012-13 season and are 178-51-11 in their nine seasons in Division II.

The men were 16-8-3 last season and have had winning seasons the last four years and nine of the last 10.


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