College hockey: Ralph had some tough decisions to make (with video)

Former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute athletic director Ken Ralph was in the middle of the storm t

Former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute athletic director Ken Ralph was in the middle of the storm that ripped through college hockey during the summer.

Ralph is now the athletic director at Colorado College. The third-ranked Tigers, who visit RPI for a two-game series starting tonight at 7, are one of eight teams who will be part of the new National College Hockey Conference, which will begin play in 2013-14. The other teams are Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.

The WCHA, the league the Tigers are currently in, was going to lose two of its teams, Minnesota and Wisconsin, to the new Big Ten hockey conference. That league, which will also feature three teams from the CCHA (Michigan, Mich­igan State and Ohio State) and the new Penn State program, will also begin in 2013-14.

“The first thing was, with the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference, we were looking at the loss of two of the most luc­rative properties on our league, with Minnesota and Wisconsin leaving to become part of the Big Ten,” said Ralph, who was RPI’s AD from 2002-07 before going to Colorado College. “We were looking at what that meant for our league in terms of competitiveness, visibility, revenue generation and those kind of markers. We recognized that there was going to be a significant change in all those in the league with the loss of two of our more visible programs and the two schools with the highest enrollment.

“So, we started to talk among ourselves about what we could do to strengthen the WCHA. What do we do to ensure that the remaining schools were to increase their investment in the game of hockey, and to ensure their facilities, their staffing, their equipment budgets, recruiting budgets and everything else was above, or at least equal to, what was going to be happening in the Big Ten.”

The athletic directors and coaches met in their annual WCHA meetings in May. It didn’t go very well.

“At that point, several schools made the decision that it might be best to head out on their own to create a solid administrative structure, with sound business practices and attempt to take college hockey to that next step and really modernize the game,” Ralph said. “We were fortunate enough to be asked to be part of this group, and we accepted.”

Ralph hopes that all of the changes that took place during the tumultuous summer not only with the new leagues, but with the WCHA adding some of the CCHA teams and Notre Dame leaving the CCHA for Hockey East, will help make college hockey a stronger game by the time the 2013-14 season comes along.

“There’s some excellent programs remaining in the WCHA, and them taking on the CCHA is going to be a very positive move for college hockey,” Ralph said. “And the WCHA will still continue to be an amazing hockey conference, I really believe that. I think you’re going to see some wonderful battles with Hockey East, the Big Ten, the NCHC, the ECAC and WCHA. I’m hoping we get to see some more cross-regional, non-conference opportunities than we’ve seen in the past. I think there will be more non-conference games available because of the way the leagues are going to be reset. The percentage of conference games and a percentage of all available contests will be more indicative of what you see in other sports, such as basketball.”

Ready for visit

Ralph will be at Houston Field House this weekend, and is looking forward to the visit.

“I’m excited,” Ralph said. “I was treated very, very well by the folks at RPI. I’m hoping to get a chance to see [RPI president] Dr. [Shirley] Jackson. I owe her so much in terms of my career and getting me started. It’ll be great to see the coaches again. And I have not seen the East Campus Athletic Village. I’m excited to see that.”

UAH program to end

College hockey lost a Division I program Monday when Alabama-Huntsville announced that the program will drop to club status starting next season.

The Chargers are in their second year playing as an independent. They were forced to go that route when College Hockey America disbanded the men’s league at the end of the 2009-10 season. Three of the league’s teams were able to find new homes — Niagara and Robert Morris went to Atlantic Hockey, while Bemidji State joined the WCHA.

UAH applied to join the CCHA, but was rejected.

“It’s one less team in college hockey,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “Just being a young coach involved in it, I don’t know as much about it as the veterans do about it. But [UAH coach] Chris Luongo is a good friend. It really hurts me personally that something like that has happened because you never know when it could be you. Hopefully, we’ll all reach out and help those kids and help that program as best we possibly can.”

banner night

Union will celebrate its 2010-11 ECAC Hockey regular-season championship before Saturday’s game against American Inter­national at Messa Rink.

Banners will be unfurled to honor the Dutchmen’s Cleary Cup championship, the first in their Division I history. There will also be a banner to recognize Union’s participation in the NCAA tournament.

“I think it’s going to be tremendously exciting,” Bennett said. “I hope all the people that support Union hockey come out for it because they deserve it just as much as the players do. The banner night’s for them for supporting us all these years.”

The ceremony is expected to start at 6:45 p.m.

Local update

Here’s a look at how college hockey players from the Capital Region did over the past week.

u Union freshman goalie Colin Stevens (Niskayuna) made 27 saves in his first collegiate start last Friday as the Dutchmen skated to a 3-3 tie against Niagara.

u Boston College junior defenseman Patch Alber (Clifton Park) assisted on Bill Arnold’s goal with one minute left in overtime to give the Eagles a 4-3 Hockey East win over Northeastern last Saturday.

women start ECACH play

The Union and RPI women’s teams begin ECAC Hockey play this weekend.

The Dutchwomen host Princeton today and Quinnipiac on Saturday at Messa. Both games start at 3 p.m.

The Engineers have Quinnipiac a 3 p.m. today at Houston Field House and Princeton at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Categories: College Sports

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