Strategic plan for college hockey growth gets results faster than expected

A year ago, College Hockey Inc. and other groups formulated a plan to develop more programs, and Arizona State’s announcement Tuesday was the first product.

A strategic plan hatched about a year ago has produced results far earlier than expected.

College Hockey Inc. executive director Mike Snee appeared on the USCHO Live! talk show Tuesday from Arizona, where earlier in the day Arizona State announced it would launch a Division I varsity program starting next season.

On the program, Snee detailed a meeting about a year ago in Tampa, Fla., where the ownership group of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning called together representatives of College Hockey Inc., the NHL, USA Hockey, Penn State and others for a full-day meeting to set a course for developing more college hockey programs.

A subsequent get-together two months later at the NHL offices in New York gave further clarity.

“From that came a strategic plan on how we felt that we could affect the growth of college hockey and how we would go about that,” Snee said on USCHO Live! “I don’t think any of us thought that we would have a success story just 11-plus months into it. But it’s happened.”

Listen to the full episode, which includes appearances by Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin and Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson, here; Snee’s interview starts at about 9:15.

Snee talked about College Hockey Inc.’s role in the Arizona State decision.

“We introduced the idea to them and they saw the potential and they got excited about it,” he said. “Clearly here you have three important parts to it. One is a visionary for an athletic director. He’s bold. I don’t know if he wants to just have business as usual. He was involved and he was brand new. He started last January.

“We had a tremendous club hockey program, so that infrastructure was in place. And they have a number of people connected to the school, connected to the current hockey program that believe in it and have the financial resources to be part of the elevation to Division I.”

Snee said the group used as an example Penn State’s transformation from a successful club program to Division I varsity status.

There are similarities between Penn State and Arizona State — both situations involved a concept that was made possible by a large donation.

Still, Snee acknowledged that might not be the exact blueprint for all future growth in college hockey. The availability of facilities and the cost to maintain a hockey program are obvious reasons why a school would shy away from the sport, he said.

But after Tuesday there might be others who see that what once was just a dream is possible.

“All it takes is somebody to say, well, why not us?” Snee said. “I think tonight after this announcement, all of those Pac-12 schools as well as perhaps other schools feel that their school is actually a little closer to adding hockey than it was yesterday.”