July 1, 2003
Murky Waters

The future of scholarship limitations in Atlantic Hockey is unclear at the moment

By Mike Eidelbes, Nate Ewell and Jess Myers

Fans of the schools in Atlantic Hockey aren’t the only ones wondering about the impact the new league will have on scholarships.
Related Stories

June 30: MAAC Hockey Schools Form 'Atlantic Hockey'
Postcard: What's in a Name?

The coaches and administrators aren’t sure yet themselves, but they are excited that they will at least have an equal say in the issue.

Some schools in Atlantic Hockey would love to see the league eliminate its scholarship limit (currently at 11 of the possible 18 allowed by the NCAA). Mercyhurst, for one, has been supportive of the idea, with head coach Rick Gotkin and athletic director Pete Russo speaking publicly about the issue.

“I’m personally hoping that in time – hopefully a short time – scholarships will be addressed,” Gotkin said Tuesday, acknowledging that any changes for the 2003-04 season would be all but impossible. “I think we’ve gotten about as good as we are going to get with 11 equivalencies. For us to continue to grow, we need more scholarships.”

Other schools, not surprisingly, would see things differently, whether due to budget constraints or institutional policies against athletic scholarships. Holy Cross, just as an example, is a member of the Patriot League, a conference whose members do not grant athletic scholarships.

Despite the interest in the scholarship issue, it apparently wasn’t formally discussed during the creation of Atlantic Hockey. Coaches have debated the restriction informally in the past, but since only MAAC schools had a say in the matter, there’s not a good sense of where each of the nine Atlantic Hockey institutions would vote.

Looking for more college hockey this summer?

Sign up for Inside College Hockey's league on whatifsports.com, a sports simulation site that lets users create a dream team of NHL players throughout history to compete against other users. The site charges $9.95 per team. Naturally, in our league, you can only take former college players.

“We didn’t talk about it much because a lot of those decisions were made by schools that didn’t even have hockey – the Manhattans and Marists and Sienas that were members of the MAAC but didn’t have hockey,” Gotkin said.

Under the MAAC structure, presidents from schools that were MAAC members in every sport determined the governance structure. With the elimination of hockey programs at Fairfield and Iona, the only hockey-playing school with a direct role in the league’s governance would have been Canisius – a development that led directly to the formation of Atlantic Hockey.

Now, at least, all nine schools are happy to have a say in issues like scholarships, playoff revenue sharing and expansion.

“We feel good in that Mercyhurst College has one-ninth of a say in whatever issues are presented,” Gotkin said.

Now Gotkin and the Lakers just have to wait and see how many other Atlantic Hockey members agree with them.


Related Story

June 25: Vermont Turns to Sneddon

Thanks to its hire of Kevin Sneddon last week, Vermont slapped the “tag, you’re it” distinction of running a search for a head coach on ECAC foe Union. And not surprisingly, one of the possibilities to become the new bench boss for the Flying Dutchmen is former Clarkson coach Mark Morris.

"I haven't talked to (Morris), but it's a name you'd have to look at because of what he's done in the past," Union director of athletics Val Belmonte told Mark Singelais of the Albany Times Union. "He's done a terrific job and he's very respected in the community."

Morris, an assistant at Union during the 1984-85 season, is the winningest coach in Clarkson hockey history with a 306-156-42 mark and guided the Golden Knights to nine NCAA Tournament appearances. He was fired from his post last November for his role in a altercation with a player during a game-day skate. Belmonte declined comment on the issue that resulted in Morris’ dismissal.

Morris, meanwhile, expressed an interest in the job when contacted by Singelais.

"I know the league," he told the reporter. "I know Schenectady and the Capital District area. I became familiar with it during my experience down there. I think they are good people and they understand the commitment to the total student-athlete."

Another possible candidate is David Quinn, coach of the U.S. Under-17 Team and a former assistant at Northeastern and Nebraska-Omaha. Belmonte was director of the USA Hockey coaching program prior to his arrival at Union and is familiar with Quinn.

Belmonte also mentioned an interest in speaking with Mercyhurst’s Rick Gotkin and Craig Barnett of Findlay. A pair of CCHA assistants – Notre Dame’s John Micheletto and Kevin Patrick of Bowling Green – have also been mentioned. The hiring process isn’t expected to begin until next week at the earliest.


Gotkin, while a potential target by Belmonte for the Union gig, might have a tougher time hearing the siren song of an ECAC head coaching job thanks to a four-year contract extension awarded to him by Mercyhurst athletics director Pete Russo.

Still, Gotkin is aware of overtures that may come his way soon.

"Much like anyone in this business, I'm always looking for the next challenge, and I think we still have challenges here at Mercyhurst,” he said prior to the announcement of his extension. “I'm flattered that Val Belmonte would mention my name. If Union wanted to talk to me about the position, I'd be happy to. I would never say no to discussing a possibility, but I'm not really sure I'd have an interest until I had that discussion."

Under Gotkin’s direction, the Lakers have posted four straight 20-win seasons, captured back-to-back-to-back MAAC regular-season titles from 2000-03 and took the conference’s playoff championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid in 2001 and 2003. He’s spent 15 years at Mercyhurst, the longest tenure of any head coach in the school’s history, and is 22 wins shy of the 300-victory plateau.

North Dakota’s Dean Blais is also the new owner of healthy contract extension. The coach and the university came to terms on a three-year extension last week that will keep him in Grand Forks through the 2006-07 season.

“I’m happy that entering the last year of my (old) contract with UND, this won’t be my last year of coaching here,” Blais told Virg Foss of the Grand Forks Herald. “It means that for all the players coming in this season, I’ll be around all four years they’re here.”

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed publicly, but Blais – who won NCAA titles with the Fighting Sioux in 1997 and 2000 – says the extension is similar to the one Minnesota coach Don Lucia received. Lucia’s contract extension, which runs through 2009, pays a $200,000 base salary plus incentives in its final year.

Blais set a self-imposed July 1 deadline for North Dakota to extend his current deal; otherwise, he had previously stated he would leave the school following the 2003-04 season.

With the possibility of Blais bolting after the season and the threat of losing their coach to North Dakota on the horizon, former Minnesota-Duluth athletics director Bob Corran (now at Vermont) launched a preemptive strike and extend Scott Sandelin’s deal, the terms of which were not disclosed. Entering his fourth year with the Bulldogs, the former Fighting Sioux player and assistant coach guided UMD to a 22-15-5 record and a third-place finish at the WCHA Final Five last season.


Despite his team’s struggles in Mike Eaves’ first season behind the bench at Wisconsin, his 2003 recruiting class was to be the Badgers’ saving grace. Now the future of that recruiting class, ranked tops in the country by many in the know, appears cloudy at best.

In addition to the uncertainty regarding prized defenseman Ryan Suter (although the latest reports out of Nashville, which picked him the NHL Draft, suggest he will be in Madison this fall), incoming goalie Mike Brodeur will be ineligible to play for Wisconsin during the 2003-04 season.

“In talking with our compliance people, the best-case scenario for Mike is that he’ll be ineligible for a season and one game,” Eaves said last week. “So the next step for us is to recruit a goalie. We’ll need a capable backup in case Bernd (Bruckler) gets hurt.”

According to the coach, the issue of Brodeur’s eligibility (or lack thereof) arose in recent weeks in the normal process of getting him registered for school. It was discovered that Brodeur played in one period of an exhibition game for the Seattle Thunderbirds, a major junior team in the Western Hockey League. Minnesota Duluth forward T.J. Caig was guilty of a similar transgression and was made to sit out for a season and one game before becoming eligible to play for the Bulldogs in December 2002.

“We were just doing our normal homework and came across this,” said Eaves. “We’d rather find it now. Actually, learning of this now rather than later is better for our team and our school.”

Brodeur isn’t the only Wisconsin recruit sidelined for the season. Walk-on forward Ross Carlson, a Duluth, Minn., native who played for Waterloo of the United States Hockey League last season, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a June pick-up basketball game and is expected to miss the entire year.

In another major junior note, former Badger forward Alex Leavitt last month signed with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. Leavitt, you may recall, was involved in a physical confrontation with Eaves following a November loss at North Dakota. The incident became public in February, with the coach receiving a reprimand for his role.


To modify a well-worn saying, you don’t have to be a Boston University graduate to become a National Hockey League coach. But it helps. Consider that the last two hires in the NHL – Steve Stirling (New York Islanders) and Mike Sullivan (Boston) – both spent a significant amount of time on Comm Ave.

Sullivan, who played for the Terriers in the late ’80s, was head coach of the Bruins’ minor league affiliate in Providence last season and filled in as an assistant coach with the parent club after Robbie Ftorek was relieved of his duties late in the year. That sentence sums up his entire coaching resume. Still, the veteran of 11 NHL seasons has drawn high praise from players and former teammates, not to mention the man who watched his development in college.

“With Mike, there is no ego involved,” said Jack Parker to Boston Globe writer extraordinaire Kevin Paul Dupont. “No character flaws. Good father? He’s the guy. Good husband? He’s the guy. Great student? He’s the guy.”

Stirling, like Sullivan, was promoted to the Islanders’ top job from the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Unlike his fellow BU alum, Stirling has an extensive coaching background. In addition to his two years in Bridgeport, he was an assistant with the Isles for one season and put in two years of service as an assistant with Lowell of the AHL.

A member of the Terriers’ 1971 national championship team, Stirling spent 15 years in the college ranks as head coach at Babson and Providence. His most memorable coaching moment came with the Friars in 1985, when he guided the Chris Terreri-led team to the NCAA championship game only to lose to Adam Oates and Renssalaer. Stirling's son, Scott, played goal at Brown and spent part of this past season playing for his father in Bridgeport.

Needless to say, another person with BU ties was quick to put in a good word for Stirling.

“It’s an excellent choice,” Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro said shortly after the announcement. “People might not know a lot about him right now, but Steve Stirling is a fantastic coach.”


The United States Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2003 inductees last week and, not surprisingly, some of those being honored have strong ties to the college game.

The late John Cunniff, a two-time All-American at Boston College, is one of four individuals tabbed for enshrinement. Cunniff, a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, spent 13 years in the New Jersey Devils organization, included two years as a head coach. He was also a Boston Bruins’ assistant for three seasons.

Also honored was Dick Dougherty. Widely considered one of the best U.S.-born players in the 1950s, he played college hockey at Minnesota from 1951-1954. An All-American in 1954, the International Falls, Minn., product ranks fifth on the Gophers’ all-time list in goals and 10th in points. Like Cunniff, Dougherty was an Olympian, having played for the U.S. team that finished second at the 1956 Games in Italy.

Perhaps the most famous collection of college hockey players in history, the entire 1980 U.S. Olympic Team will be enshrined in the Hall. The second team to be inducted – the 1960 gold-medal winners were the first – was responsible for the country’s second gold in hockey and one of the biggest upsets in sports history with their 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in a semifinal match in Lake Placid.

The two other 2003 honorees are former NHLers Mark Howe, who spent most of his career with Philadelphia, and 15-year veteran Pat LaFontaine. The formal induction ceremony takes place at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn., on Oct. 18.

A variety of sources were used in the compilation of this report.

Send this to a friend

About Us | Advertiser Info | Site Map | Privacy Policy
© 2003 Inside College Hockey, Inc., All Rights Reserved