Division 1 NCAA hockey could be coming to SFU

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Image: SFU Hockey / Twitter

Division 1 NCAA hockey could be coming to Vancouver as soon as the 2018-19 season, according to SFU Senior Director of Athletics & Recreation Theresa Hanson.

Hanson appeared on the Sekeres & Price Show on TSN 1040, where she expanded on the possibility of Simon Fraser University competing at the top level of university hockey.

“We have just hired some consultants that are going to help us explore bringing D1 hockey to Simon Fraser and to our market” said Hanson.

Unlike other universities in Canada, SFU competes against American teams in the NCAA. SFU joined the NCAA in 2011 as a Division 2 school, but is allowed two Division 1 exemptions. All 17 sports that SFU currently competes in are at a Division 2 level. The university is currently looking at hockey, as well as beach volleyball, as their first two exemptions.

“D1 hockey makes sense on a lot of levels, certainly in our market” Hanson said. “We’re a hockey crazed country, we have no Division 1 university hockey in our country, and when you look at the number of athletes that are leaving Canada to go to US D1 schools, it’s significantly high.”

Many young Canadian hockey players are making the decision to move to the United States to hone their skills, choosing the NCAA over major junior hockey in Canada. SFU would have a recruiting advantage, being able to offer the possibility for Canadian athletes, particularly those from B.C., to play high calibre hockey and get an education close to home.

Would North Vancouver’s Paul Kariya have moved to Maine to play hockey if SFU was an option back in the 1990s? The same question applies for Penticton’s Duncan Keith (Michigan State) and Pitt Meadows’ Brendan Morrison (Michigan).

NCAA hockey is an excellent calibre of hockey, and it’s getting better every year. Current Canucks Ben Hutton, Chris Tanev, Matt Bartkowski, Alex Biega, Chris Higgins, and Ryan Miller all went the college route. Former Canucks Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa also chose the NCAA.

This season two of Vancouver’s most prominent prospects, Thatcher Demko and Brock Boeser, played for Boston College and the University of North Dakota in the NCAA.

Hanson estimates that the consultation process will take about three to six months before a decision as to the university’s intention is made.

While the prospect of watching top-level college hockey should be intriguing to people in this city, it will not come without a few challenges.

First, the competition for hockey dollars in Vancouver is already intense. The Vancouver Canucks will always be #1 in the city, of course, but the Vancouver Giants have recently struggled at the gates and are contemplating a move to Langley. Also in recent years, this region has seen the loss of an AHL team in Abbotsford and a WHL team in Chilliwack.

Is there room for NCAA Hockey in the market?

The second challenge will be finding a suitable place to play. The SFU campus does not have a hockey arena. They would have had Richmond not stolen the Olympic Oval from them, but that’s another story for another day.

Ironically, UBC has the best set-up for this type of a big league move, given their 7,200-seat arena located on campus. That won’t happen for UBC, given they play in the CIS.

SFU could play out of the Pacific Coliseum, which is an excellent venue for hockey, but wouldn’t exactly have a university-feel. Would SFU students embrace the team, or would they rely on the rest of the public to fill the seats?

Still, if SFU could ever become a powerhouse in NCAA Hockey, I think it would do wonders for not only school spirit at Simon Fraser, but for hockey fans in the Lower Mainland. But for now, we’re left to wonder.

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
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