It's almost summer. Warm weather, hot breezes, the waves crashing on the beach.
What better time to talk about hockey. And based on comments in the post on future building, you folks want to talk hockey.
Let's flash back to January 30, 2016. Madison Square Garden. Michigan defeats Penn State in the nightcap of the inaugural "Super Saturday - College Hoops & Hockey" doubleheader. The Wolverines topped the Nittany Lions 6-3 in front of 13,479 fans.
13,479. Paying. Customers.
Over the past two seasons, every professional arena in and around New Jersey - MSG, Prudential Center, Barclays Center, Wells Fargo Center - has hosted college hockey. D1 varsity college hockey.
November 1, 2015. Barclays Center. A hockey doubleheader featuring Notre Dame vs. UConn and Army vs. Bentley
November 29, 2015. Wells Fargo Center. Penn State vs. Vermont
November 2, 2014. Prudential Center. Liberty Hockey Invitational. Princeton vs. Yale and UConn vs. Merrimack
The Nittany Lions in Philly has become an annual event, clearly to the benefit of PSU's recruiting. Combined with the MSG game they have bookended the state and the hockey district.
Fast forward to next January 28. Madison Square Garden. Another "Super Saturday". And Rutgers will be there, just not for hockey. Wisconsin will play Ohio State in a Big Ten hockey matchup and then the Badgers will play Rutgers in hoops.
Now, to be clear, the Super Saturday five months ago did include the Michigan and PSU basketball teams. But since a certain New Jersey Big Ten school does not have hockey, next year's pairings are mixed. Of course, it doesn't have to be that way.
The whole "Super Saturday" thing is another example of the Big Ten moving into the eastern seaboard. But it's also hockey schools realizing - and capitalizing - on the wealth of talent in the area in and around New Jersey. An area that Rutgers, if it had D1 hockey, could exploit.
Because that's exactly what Penn State is doing in Philadelphia and NYC. The Lions will face Princeton at the Wells Fargo Center next January, and will mark the fifth year that PSU will be playing there. Penn State Head Coach Guy Gadowsky coached at Princeton from 2004-2011. For the record, Princeton is the only D1 "varsity" program within 100 miles of Trenton (see map). That radius covers most of USA Hockey's Atlantic District (NJ, DE, Eastern PA) plus the NYC/Long Island region, a growing "hot bed" of hockey talent. That red marker on the map is New Brunswick, under an hour to most of these players' family & friends.
Source: College Hockey Inc.
If a prospective college hockey player wants a scholarship to play hockey, and they live in this region, there are none to be found in that circle since Princeton technically doesn't give scholarships. It is an area ripe for recruiting.
The State of New Jersey Hockey
In early May, nj.com reported just how much hockey has grown in the state. "The talent pool has always been deep, but years ago very few colleges recruited out of our state," Greg Toskos, who went on to play for Babson College before returning to coach his alma mater at Don Bosco Prep, said. "Today, on any given night we have scouts come watch our games. I noticed four D-1 coaches at our state semifinal doubleheader with CBA, Delbarton and St. Augustine."
During the 2009-10 school year, there were 127 schools in New Jersey playing boys ice hockey; that number has increased to 130. That doesn't seem like a lot, except the number of participants over that same period went from 3,187 to 3,935, an increase of 748. That translates to a lot more kids - around five per team - playing.
In terms of that recruiting area, if you want to stretch the map a bit, we can help. And also show the impact of New Jersey on college hockey....now.
Source: College Hockey Inc.
We aren't talking club teams, just "varsity". And there are any number of prominent people who would love to see Rutgers get hockey, including some successful New Jersey athletes, like Brick's Jim Dowd. Dowd won the state high school championship at Brick HS, won the NCAA title at Lake Superior State, and then won the Stanley Cup with the Devils. "With the ever increasing amount of talent coming out of New Jersey, it's past time our state university adds Big Ten Hockey to keep these players home." His son is an elite hockey player but won't have the chance to play at "home" unless things change soon.
Maybe, just maybe, it is time to #FreezeTheGarden
Is anybody listening?
Short answer? Yes. Pat Hobbs for one. Along with Sarah Baumgartner, the former head of athletic fundraising and new Deputy AD, and Janine Purcaro, the CFO for athletics. The three of them met recently with a group of ice hockey supporters, led by the club team's General Manager, Adriaan Klaassen. The takeaway? Baumgartner and Hobbs are both fans of hockey (he was involved with the development of the Prudential Center and served on a board for the Devils for three years) and he understands the benefits of having hockey. Klaassen provided the group a fairly detailed accounting of costs and benefits. And while there is a slew of issues that the athletics leadership has to address before restoring or adding sports, Klaassen said, "We are being team players in assisting with fulfilling the pressing needs of RU Athletics, and have no intentions of dipping into the pockets of any current programs. However, if we bring him the necessary private funding to endow the program, it would certainly change the discussion and possible timeline to add hockey."
To that end, the ice hockey folks are now looking for funding, with Hobbs' blessing. Arizona State, which elevated its program to D1 "varsity" status this past season, had $34 million in hand to more or less endow the program in its initial stages. With the NCAA allowing 18 scholarships for men's and women's hockey, their calculations show endowing the first five years for both men and women will run in the neighborhood of $32 - $35 million (not including a facility).
Does it fit the athletic department's needs and goals?
Certainly there would be opponents to any growth in athletics. It would include the usual "anti-jock" group as well as those opposed to further financial expenditures. The financial numbers are improving, and should be much better in future years with full integration into the Big Ten. And on the academic side, hockey actually helps your "bottom line".
Source: College Hockey, Inc.
And how do you get to the point of saying it's a go?
Rutgers is in the midst of the R B1G Build campaign. Raising $100 million isn't an easy task, but it is on its way. It doesn't include hockey, but does have something for wrestling, gymnastics, volleyball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's lacrosse and soccer, tennis, and football. That's eleven of the 24 sports. And if you think about it, the faster that money is raised for this campaign, the faster those projects get underway, the sooner other projects - or even restoring or adding sports - can be considered. This is why Klaassen has just signed on to be a "Captain" for the R B1G Build, and has just delivered an email to approximately 3700 hockey supporters (RU Hockey Alumni plus petition signers), urging them to join his team and donate, many for the first time.
The start up costs they used did not include a facility. In the short term, the team could still use its current venue in South Brunswick. And could play bigger games - say Penn State or Michigan - at the Prudential Center. Throw in the Sun Bank Arena in Trenton for a one-time event, and you have quick upgrades in location. Mid-range solution? You could retrofit the RAC, but that is still a Band-Aid solution to a longer term issue. The one certainty is that the long-term solution needs to be on-campus and Big Ten worthy.
Of course, first you need to have a team.
Special thanks to Adriaan Klaassen for his help in fact-checking and data gathering in putting together this post.