For the first time in their combined 67 years of non-varsity collegiate hockey, five of the southernmost Division III teams — including the two top-ranked teams in recent years — will compete against each other for a conference championship.
Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams, respectively, last season, and South Florida, Florida Atlantic and Tampa are charter members of the newly formed Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“The time had come where established teams in southern Florida were looking for a way to extend their seasons by playing meaningful games after the regular ACHA season had officially ended,” said Richard Snizek, FGCU’s general manager and the new conference’s first commissioner.
“Here is a perfect way to not only extend seasons but allow everyone involved to play for a conference championship.”
When the conference was announced to the DIII FGCU Eagles recently, Snizek said he was greeted by cheers and applause. “Everyone involved — coaches, managers, volunteers, etc. — were excited that this has happened,” he said.
The conference melds four of Florida’s oldest clubs with one its youngest and most promising. Each team will play two regular-season games against each of the other four that will count in the SCHC standings. The four teams with the best conference records will advance to the SCHC Playoffs, on Feb. 27 and 28 at FGCU, a week after regionals. At stake will be an as-yet-to-be-named trophy and, of course, bragging rights for the next year.
Snizek is joined on the SCHC board of directors by the head coaches at UCF (Sean Weaver), USF (Mike Canacari), FGCU (Kevin Mixon) and Tampa (Steve Kucera) and FAU assistant coach Scott Grosky.
The SCHC’s first game will pit Central Florida and South Florida on Sept. 19.
Plans for the conference, which were finalized in early August, began taking shape after talks between Weaver and Canacari well before the ACHA’s annual meeting in May. At the meeting, the two head coaches pitched the idea to FGCU and FAU. Tampa, the only other team considered for membership, was invited into the fold later.
Said Siznek, “It turned out that we all wanted to think about teams from the standpoint of being administratively sound as well as sound hockey programs. We all felt that the University of Tampa fit that model perfectly.”
Snizek said the name of the new circuit — the Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference — leaves open the possibility of expansion. “The intent of the board was to properly name the conference to reflect the desire to promote collegiate hockey throughout the southern United States,” he said.
“Someday in the future, there may come a time where we can figure out a way, logistically and economically, to include teams from other states.”