Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Eastern hockey moves back to ACHA

 

As Eastern Washington University's hockey team turns 20, the program will be returning to its roots.

After spending the past seven seasons in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League with very limited success, and against schools few had ever heard of, the Eagles will now be part of the expanded Pac-8 Hockey League for the 2018-19 season.

As one can presume from its name, the five-year-old league, now with 12 schools, has some familiar names like Washington, Washington State and UCLA which will regularly appear in the University Recreation Center next fall and winter.

The Eagles' new home returns them to play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The ACHA is the national governing body for college club hockey across the nation for both men and women and has three divisions of play. The Pac-8 is a Division II league.

The EWU program had its birth in 1998 under former EWU administrator Brian Levin-Stankevich. The one-time interim-president, prior to the selection of Dr. Rodolfo Arevalo in 2007, was the team's first coach and was instrumental in having an ice rink designed into the URC, which opened in 2008.

Moving to the BCIHL in 2011 after years of success in the ACHA seemed to be the logical thing to do as it gave Eastern a league, not just a random schedule of games in which to play.

But the recruiting necessary to compete there was hard to attain. In those seven seasons, Eastern had a 40-117-5 record, a .237 winning percentage and never better than a fifth-place finish. BCIHL teams were able to recruit Tier I Major Junior players, like those from the Spokane Chiefs and the Western Hockey League who have paid tuition that can easily be used following junior play.

Eastern lost recruiting teeth when an out-of-state tuition rule was changed, making it more expensive to attend the school.

"The B.C. team was struggling over the past several years," Pat Hanlon, head coach of the new team said.

The BCHIL players reportedly told their management they were no longer interested in playing in the Canadian circuit. "They were tired of losing, and wanted to return to the ACHA " Hanlon was told.

Hanlon said a significant majority of players from both teams have indicated their desire to play in the new league which features six teams in a northern division and another half dozen in the south.

The Northern Division consists of Eastern, the University of Washington, WSU, Oregon, Western Washington and Boise State. In the south are USC, UCLA, California-Berkeley, Arizona State, San Diego State and San Jose State.

UCLA is the one team from the south which will travel to Cheney this year in cross-over games. Next year EWU returns the favor against one of the teams from the south.

Originally the move into the Canadian league was designed to cut travel costs. When that was made, schools like the Washington and WSU were not very strong. "They've upped their game," Hanlon said.

When EWU played Western Washington for the Northern Pacific Hockey Conference title earlier this year, the URC had regained some of the old fan flavor which existed when the facility opened. "There could be some good hockey in the URC again," Hanlon said.

Camp opens Sept. 7 with about 30 players expected to vie for 20 nightly roster spots. Eastern opens at home with Idaho in a pair of games on Sept. 21-22.

WSU and Idaho also call the URC home as the only ice available in the Palouse is seasonal and is just 3/4ths the size of a regulation 85 X 200-foot rink.

Hanlon and his players are not the only ones excited for the move.

"Both our players and the students who come to watch them will lock into the fact that we get to compete against the Oregon Ducks, the UCLA Bruins and those teams and that can relate to that," Director of Campus Recreation Programs Mike Campitelli said.

Fans see major university names across the uniform, not a distinction that they are a club program, Campitelli said.

"I think next year is going to be a rebirth of hockey at the highest level around here," he added.

For further information on the 2018-19 Eastern Washington University hockey team visit http://www.ewuacha.com

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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