Atlantic Hockey will host its league championship at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester for the next three seasons, and may look to extend the relationship beyond that.
At a press conference announcing the decision, Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio said that the move is critical to improving the caliber and reputation of the league in relation to Hockey East, ECACHL, CCHA and WCHA.
“We needed to move our tournament from an on-campus site to a facility that exposes our league and exposes Division I hockey to a greater clientele and hopefully build the same type of exposure for the league — and the member institutions and the student-athletes — so that we’re no longer looked at as the new kid on the block or not that strong a hockey league,” said DeGregorio. “Our goal is to be considered equal to the other leagues in college hockey. We want to show that our institutions are viable programs and we’re serious about Division I ice hockey.”
DeGregorio said the the hockey tradition in Rochester was an important factor in the decision. The AHL Rochester Americans have called the Blue Cross Arena home for fifty years. Extensive renovations and expansion prior to the 1999-2000 season increased the arena’s seating capacity from 7,250 for hockey to 11,200.
The decision to move the tournament to Rochester was by a unanimous vote of Atlantic Hockey athletics directors. An unspecified number of other facilities were vying for the tournament. This will mark the first time that the annual tournament has been held on a neutral site.
Talks with the arena began in Dec. 2004, when DeGregorio and former Canisius athletics director Tim Dillon visited Rochester while evaluating RIT for league membership. Atlantic Hockey announced RIT’s acceptance later that month and Air Force’s move to the league from the CHA last April. Both teams join the conference for the 2006-07 season.
The arena’s management company, SMG, which also manages the Pepsi Arena in Albany, has actively been pursuing college athletic events for the facility. The AHA tournament will provide the arena with a preview of the 2007 NCAA East Regional to be played there the following weekend.
“It means a great deal for our facility to bring this type of event to Rochester,” said Jeff Calkins, SMG general manager at the Blue Cross Arena, who held up a 2002 newspaper article that had announced his company’s intentions to pursue NCAA regional events.
While RIT is located about 10 miles south of the downtown arena in the Rochester suburb of Henrietta, it plays its home games at the Frank Ritter Memorial Arena on campus. RIT last played a game at the Blue Cross Arena against Clarkson in 1986, but has stated that it will consider hosting some home contests there in the future. None is slated for the 2006-07 season.
“We’re looking forward to showcasing our product and our league to our fans and the Rochester community,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. RIT will play host to the league’s annual meeting and media days at its university-owned RIT Inn and Conference Center in late September.