A coaching change is not the only adjustment the Owls have made this summer.
Per a team spokesman, the team is moving to the Division I level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association and will play in the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association conference this season.
“We’re pretty excited about it because we know it is a conference that the club will be able to be competitive in,” general manager Jerry Roberts said. “I think it’s a big step. It’s something we have spoken about for several years. It is something we would like the club to try to grow and progress toward, and now I think we are finally there.”
After the Owls made the ACHA National playoffs in the 2011 season, team officials started discussing the club possibly going to Division I.
Those discussion were intensified after the ECHA approached the team last summer and asked if it considered making the move to Division I.
In the first week of February, Temple submitted paperwork to gain entrance into the league. Two weeks later, the ECHA informed the team that its bid was approved. An official announcement was not made however, to avoid being a distraction for the team.
“At the time we did not want to distract from the end of the season regional rankings and playoffs,” Roberts said. “We didn’t want there to be any backlash against the current team in the rankings because we were leaving.”
The Owls leave behind Division II after competing on the level since the early ‘90s. Temple also departs Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey with a four-year drought of qualifying for the regional playoffs.
“There is definitely a bitter taste in our mouth that is going to hopefully carry over into next season and hopefully push us to be successful,” defenseman Patrick Hanrahan said. “It’s tough, working so hard over the last three years to make a regionals birth or a league championship. That’s definitely in the back of your mind. It’s disappointing. Obviously we would like to end on a better note. We would like to end on a better note every season, but we hope now moving into a new league hopefully we can make a quick splash and be successful.”
The team’s move to ACHA Division I will not affect recruitment efforts until 2016, since the deadline for high school seniors going to college was December 2014. Despite the setback, Roberts is optimistic about the future.
“It’s going to open the doors for a much more talented level of player to come to school, especially because we are now playing at the level where if you can’t go NCAA, we are your best option,” Roberts said. “The level of play makes our club much more appealing to prospective student athletes. We were in competition for a lot of players with teams like West Chester because [the players] wanted to play at the next best thing. We think that Temple both academically and everything that we have at our club, we think that we are going to have a lot of success. The school is very well positioned to benefit from this.”
Forward Devon Thomas joined the team last season as a freshman, but said his recruitment came without the knowledge of the club going to ACHA Division I.
“I did not know at that point, but it’s a greater chance to play hockey, so I’ll take it,” Thomas said. “I was happy where Temple was. I thought that was a good spot.”
The Owls’ new conference opponents will be Drexel University, Villanova University, the United States Naval Academy, Towson University, Lehigh University and Penn State Berks. Temple will play each team twice during the season. In addition, the Owls will still play Penn State University and the University of Delaware, as well as a number of other non-conference opponents.
“It will be fun to keep [Penn State and Delaware] on our schedule and also at the same time gaining new opponents and new rivalries will be a bigger thing for us,” Hanrahan said. “I’m sure it will be a fun league and a competitive league and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The top team in the division in terms of points receives an automatic bid into the national playoffs, where it plays against 12 other conference winners. The Top six teams in the division at the end of the season play for the league championship.
The details of the Owls schedule are still influx, but they know they will play 21 conference games along with 12 non-conference games. Villanova and Drexel assisted Temple’s scheduling efforts by sharing contact information of the other Division I schools and adjusting their schedules, so out-of-state schools could play Temple in the same weekend.
Roberts said Temple put a lot of thought into its agenda since it did not want to compete against top teams and then lose.
“There are opponents on the schedule that we will probably struggle with,” Roberts said. “In January we are hosting Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a perennial national powerhouse at the [Division I] level, but we also have a lot of games against teams on the backend of [Division I]. We think that looking at our schedule and looking at our roster and building as much as we can at this point, we think we can potentially having a winning season next year.”
Thomas is hopeful the move to Division I will increase the team’s popularity on Main Campus
“As soon as you put the [Division] I in front of it everyone kind of understands that we’re actually there, that we actually have a team,” Thomas said. “Hopefully we can get some publicity and get some fans in this school revved up.”
Stephen Godwin Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @StephenGodwinJr