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NCAA Hockey: California Dreamin' By Andrew Sale

Below is a contribution from user ASale aka Andrew Sale. Thanks to Andrew for taking the assignment and doing the legwork and research at my request.

NCAA Hockey: California Dreamin'

by Andrew Sale

Remember when the USC hockey team won a national title? Twice they had perfect seasons on the way to a 31-game win streak. Or when USC beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers four times in a row? Who was there when USC played Loyola outdoors at the Westwood Tropical Ice Gardens, selling out over 8,000 seats? No one? Well that’s okay, because it happened in the 1930’s.

That’s right, back in the early 1930’s ice hockey was one of the most popular college sports in Southern California. Fast forward 80 years later and the state of hockey in the Golden State is much different.

Back then coaches from Southern California would recruit Western Canadians and miners from Minnesota with promises of a college education and infinitely better weather. Unfortunately, due to firings and shifting management, NCAA hockey in California died out in the early 40’s. However, that is something that the president of College Hockey Inc., Paul Kelly, would like to fix.

Kelly’s primary job as head of the nascent organization is to promote NCAA hockey, which is currently in the middle of a cold war with Canadian major junior league hockey. Both camps claim to be the better route to the NHL for aspiring hockey players. Kelly is on a mission to increase the visibility of American college hockey, and a major part of his plan is expansion.

In recent interviews, he has specifically targeted California as a potential new market, and while none of California's colleges currently have an NCAA hockey program, many of them do in fact have hockey teams. What’s more is that some of them are quite good.

Californian colleges such as Cal, Stanford, USC, UCLA, SDSU, UCI and many more are all members of the lesser known known American College Hockey Association (ACHA). To understand the differences between the NCAA and the ACHA, here is a quick primer. Both leagues have separate divisions. The NCAA has Division I and Division III hockey. Division I teams may offer scholarships, and Division III teams may not. The ACHA has three different divisions, and like the NCAA, the higher the division, the higher the talent. However, the main difference between the NCAA and the ACHA is that the schools fund NCAA teams, while ACHA teams are usually funded by outside and private sources (mostly by the players themselves).

In terms of difference in talent between the two leagues, NCAA Division III teams would, for the most part, compete well with ACHA Division I teams. Although the NCAA does have an upper hand, the ACHA isn’t exactly miles behind.

Unforunately, this doesn’t change how far away these teams are from reaching NCAA status. James Anderson, president and treasurer of USC hockey was kind enough to answer a few questions about the topic. When asked how close any of these teams were to achieving NCAA status, he had this to say:

"As far as I know, of the major Southern California schools with hockey teams, (USC, UCLA, LMU, SDSU, CSULB, CSUF, CSUN, etc.) as well as other major California schools with hockey teams (Cal, Stanford, Sacremento State, San Jose St.), are not very close to achieving NCAA status, and the major cause for that is funding. For the Pac-10 schools, too much money is with the football and basketball teams because they generate the most income."

Basically, what he is saying is what school board, in this economy, would spend money on hockey when the proven moneymakers in the area are football and basketball? With the California school system in the shape that it is, it’s no wonder why they would think that way. Anderson continued on this topic and putting it into perspective, explaining that "running a legitimate NCAA hockey program costs a lot of money, especially in mild climates, and the big schools that have hockey teams (BC, BU, Denver) do not have as large football and basketball programs."

However not all hope should be cast aside, at least not for the distant future. When asked about what would need to happen in order for these teams to reach NCAA status and remain competitive, Anderson had this to say:

"For us (or any California team) to receive NCAA status, there would definitely have to be a talent influx, but unfortunately it's very difficult to bring in NCAA quality talent because we cannot provide them with the scholarships or promises of moving on to the next level. However, if we were to see a influx of talent in California, there are a number of teams that would be ready to make the jump, USC included."

So basically, a quick sum up of the college hockey situation in California is this: There is college hockey, but it isn’t funded by the schools due to economic restrictions. However, with the efforts of College Hockey Inc., there may be an increased amount of talent imported into the state and an increased amount of California talent staying local, which may lead to the creation of California’s first NCAA hockey team in over 60 years.

It’s a long stretch, but with a lot of luck, and a bit of time, maybe NCAA hockey can return to sunny California.