When Arizona State University joined the ranks of Division I hockey several years ago, the Pioneers gained a new western rival. The recent addition of St. Thomas, which is making the jump from Division III to Division I in all sports, to the CCHA creates yet another potential common hockey opponent for DU in the Summit League, joining North Dakota and Omaha, fellow NCHC rivals.
The new-look 8-team CCHA, slated to restart play in the 2021-2022 season, will feature the Tommies along with Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, and Northern Michigan. The move away from the WCHA left the futures of Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks, and Alabama-Huntsville in the cold. Alaska-Anchorage announced that it is dropping hockey while Alaska-Fairbanks and Alabama-Huntsville’s futures remain in the dying WCHA after the 2020-2021 season.
St. Thomas is in a similar position as Arizona State University with a tiny hockey arena (1,000 seats) which is unsuitable for Division I level hockey. So, the Tommies will have to figure out a new venue over the long-term to remain competitive. But they do have the advantage of being located in the Twin Cities hockey hotbed while maintaining a high academic profile.
The new commissioner of the newly formed CCHA, former Colorado College and Minnesota head coach Don Lucia advised the Tommies of their selection. The move was a smart one for the CCHA which is clearly attempting to regain a similar foothold in the upper midwest that it had in the mid-2010s (remember when Miami was actually good?).
As of today, nineteen of St. Thomas’ sports are expected to be operational in the Summit League while the women’s hockey program will compete in the WCHA. The St. Thomas football team will be an FCS football program and join the Pioneer Football League, which includes Butler, Davidson, Dayton, Drake, Marist, Morehead State, San Diego, Stetson and Valparaiso. While the Tommies appear to be spreading themselves thin with so many athletic teams, they could eventually emerge as a rival, though maybe not to the level of North Dakota or even Omaha, for the Pioneers and a force in the Summit League.
Photo courtesy Twin Cities Pioneer Press