April 10, 2012

Op-ed: Holy Cross makes more sense for Hockey East

By Mike McNamara

Editor’s note: Mike McNamara plays forward on the Holy Cross men’s hockey team. A native of Chestnut Hill, Mass., he attended Belmont Hill and just completed his freshman season at Holy Cross. McNamara, who won the Williams Book Prize at Belmont Hill in 2010, originally wrote this op-ed for his macroeconomics class. 

Freshman forward Mike McNamara (Photo courtesy of Holy Cross Athletics)

Just as hoards of people went out to buy Mega Millions lottery ticket in hopes of taking home the record-setting jackpot, colleges and universities now are jockeying for the chance to win the college hockey equivalent: becoming the 12th member of the mega-conference that is Hockey East.

Other local Division 1 conferences pale in comparison to Hockey East’s nightly attendance numbers, NHL players, national champions and emotion-fueled rivalries.

Of the schools in contention, it is Holy Cross’ ability to excel in diverse facets that make it a prime candidate over other possible suitors. Holy Cross’ geographical location, access to big-time facilities and its academic reputation provide what Hockey East is searching for in an expansion program.

Geographically, Holy Cross is in the perfect location. Outside of Maine, Vermont and (soon) Notre Dame, which are lengthy trips for every Hockey East team, Holy Cross is within 50 miles of seven of the other eight current league members. The same can’t be said for other contenders, including the University of Connecticut, which has been rumored to be the top choice for a 12th school.

UConn’s next closest game after Providence College (just more than 50 miles) would be Boston College (just less than 80 miles). Although this may seem insignificant, Holy Cross’ proximity allows its students and fans to travel to away games with ease. Graduates of Holy Cross are prominent in the city of Boston and eager to support the Crusaders at Boston-area Hockey East schools. With these regional ties, Holy Cross likely will draw a crowd and boost ticket sales.

When the Crusaders faced off against the Boston University Terriers in late October, the attendance was 5,766 (uscho.com), which is 912 above BU’s average for the season.

Let us also not forget the “student” in student-athlete either. With fewer travel demands, athletes will be able to focus more on academics while also competing in arguably the best hockey conference in the country.

On a competitive level, Holy Cross took down the formerly No. 1 team in the nation, BU, by a score of 5-4, and the Crusaders are 2-1 against Hockey East teams in the past two season. Hockey fans are still talking about the Crusaders’ upset of No. 1 Minnesota in the 2006 NCAA West Regional.

The city of Worcester, Mass., supports the idea of Holy Cross playing its Hockey East games at the DCU Center, which is located only two miles from the campus. However, Hockey East would like to see UConn play its games at the Hartford XL Center, which is more than 25 miles from the Storrs, Conn., campus. The students will not show. The students don’t attend games now at the relatively new (built 1998) Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum on their own campus. 

College Hockey News reports that Holy Cross has an average 77.8 percent capacity in its rink, compared with UConn’s insubstantial 37.5 percent.

Holy Cross is a sure thing. Reaching beyond Holy Cross to add UConn as its 12th team in the league is a gamble for Hockey East. UConn fans love their basketball. When Jim Calhoun’s or Geno Auriemma’s teams take the basketball floor for a game on the same night as a UConn hockey game, where do you think the fans will go?

Simply put, Massachusetts is a hockey mad state, and Worcester is a big part of that. Youth hockey players and, more importantly to this topic, youth fans of the game are strongly concentrated in the Worcester area. The six-rink mega-complex in the neighboring town of Marlboro is a mecca of youth hockey in New England.

Finally, the addition of Holy Cross would renew its history rivalry with its Jesuit counterpart, Boston College. However, the intriguing league matchups do not end there. New Catholic-school rivalries with Providence, Merrimack, and new member Notre Dame could be staple games. The possibility of a Beanpot-like tournament among the Catholic schools in the conference could be a highly successful Hockey East event. A four-team tournament with a five-team rotation. The consolation game now takes on a whole new meaning. Winner stays, loser of the consolation game has to sit out a year. Ticket and merchandise sales would be huge in the event-driven city of Boston. The most lasting rivalries are with the teams that are the most similar and in the closest proximity; the brotherly rivalry.

It’s advantages like that that fill seats and make Holy Cross a natural for Hockey East.