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Hockey: Notre Dame moves to Hockey East, announces TV deal

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, October 6, 2011

The ice of the Compton Family Ice Arena was busy Wednesday afternoon — but not with skates, sticks and pucks. Microphones, cameras and reporters instead filled the ice to hear Notre Dame’s big announcement: The Irish are heading east.

Beginning in the 2013-14 season, Notre Dame will play in the Hockey East conference, leaving the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).

“The addition of Notre Dame signals a significant change in the reach of our conference,” Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said. “When Notre Dame ended the seasons of [Hockey East members] New Hampshire and Merrimack, it was been decided that when we couldn’t beat them, we should join them.”

Preseason No. 1 Notre Dame will join perennial powers Boston College and Boston University in a league that has produced three of the last four national champions and seven overall. UMass-Lowell, Massachusetts, Vermont, Northeastern, Maine and Providence comprise the rest of Hockey East.

“We have been looking to expand Hockey East for quite some time, but with the right partner,” Boston University Director of Athletics Mike Lynch said. “We believe firmly that we have found that partner. We are thrilled to welcome Notre Dame to Hockey East and look forward to many great years together in our conference.”

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame considered two other options — hockey independence and the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) — before ultimately landing in Hockey East.

“We had to make sure to consider all of the options available to us and make the right choice for our student-athletes and our coaches and the University,” Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick cited many reasons for joining the conference, including the student-athlete experience in which missed class time and travel factored into the decision.

“[We want] to use sports to promote the University and we believe our affiliation with Hockey East sets the platform for us to do that with hockey the way we have been able to do it with football in the past,” Swarbrick said.

Notre Dame will once again partner with NBC, but this time, to broadcast hockey games.

“Our relationship with Notre Dame is one of our most important partnerships,” President of Programming for NBC Sports and Versus Jon Miller said. “The opportunity to broadcast Notre Dame hockey games as well as Hockey East games was very exciting for us as we rebrand the NBC Sports Network. We’re excited about what the future holds.”

Details of the deal have not been finalized although televising all of Notre Dame’s home games is a possibility.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson believes that the move to Hockey East — along with the scheduling flexibility and the new television deal ­— will help Notre Dame recruit on a more national basis.

“We’ll probably be going east five times and probably west five times,” Jackson said. “I think it will create a more national schedule for us and potentially open up new recruiting opportunities.”

The Hockey East conference schedule is smaller and allows the Irish to play more non-conference games against traditional rivals Michigan, Michigan State and, potentially, Minnesota.

The Irish leave behind a lasting legacy in the CCHA, winning two regular-season and postseason tournament titles (2007 and 2009) during their 13 years in the conference. Jackson has spent his entire collegiate coaching career in the CCHA and said it is sad to see it disband.

“It will be very disappointing for me, as a lifetime member of the CCHA, to see it no longer existing,” Jackson said. “It’s a disappointment but we still have work to do in the CCHA.”

Hockey East, with the addition of Jackson and Notre Dame, now houses five of the top-10 winningest coaches in collegiate hockey. Boston College’s Jerry York, Boston University’s Jack Parker, New Hampshire’s Dick Umile and UMass’ Don Cahoon all rank ahead of Jackson in the wins list.

“We look forward to a very bright future with a conference we have great admiration for that has its core in a part of the country where we have great strength and passion,” Swarbrick said. “We hope we bring to Hockey East as much as we know it will bring to us.”

The Irish open their season on the road against Minnesota-Duluth, the defending national champions, on Friday at 8:07 p.m. The two will also play Saturday at 8:07 p.m.