The Middle Tennessee State ice hockey club recently announced it will be joining the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC) beginning in the 2019-20 season.
“This was something as the new commissioner I wanted to make sure everyone understood this is a team effort,” newly-appointed SECHC commissioner Justin Bradford said. “In talking with different players and coaches, I think they all understood expansion is a great thing because of location, travel and budgets. All of these hockey teams are student organizations and so they have to work within a budget, so having teams that are local really helps with that. Adding MTSU helps with all that because they are local and they have a lot of fans here.”
“It just made sense when Justin Bradford became commissioner,” MTSU hockey coach Jasen Riherd said. “He realized this could become a force in the south. Now, here we are part of a top-tier hockey conference."
Entering its 11thseason, the SECHC also recently added Clemson, Florida State, Kenesaw State and the University of Alabama-Huntsville, as well as MTSU, in the conference’s first expansion since 2010.
“What’s going to be great is some of these schools already have established rivalries,” Bradford said. “But now, adding some more teams we can add in more rivalries. MTSU and Vanderbilt can now be a hockey rivalry. MTSU and UT will become a rivalry, UAH and MTSU can become a rivalry. These will all be conference rivalries.”
MTSU has been an independent hockey club since its inception in 2015-16. As part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, club-level and non-varsity teams don’t have to abide by the same conference guidelines Division I programs do.
“Unlike other sports, these are student organization, club sports and they're non-varsity,” Bradford said. “So, schools that play in the SECHC play as part of the ACHA. They’re the governing body over all these teams and divisions in men’s hockey. The SECHC is primarily a Division III conference, so it allows us to be different in terms of how we expand.”
Riherd has been with the club since the beginning and eyes the new conference as a golden opportunity to not only grow the sport, but introduce a new generation of kids to the possibility of playing college hockey.
“It’s going to open up a lot of recruiting doors,” Riherd added. “There are guys who grow up fans of Georgia, Auburn and Georgia Tech, and they may not the degree they want to have, so the next best thing is to play against them. I think that naturally is the next step to bringing kids in here.
With an already strong and growing congregation of hockey fans thanks to the Nashville Predators, hockey has grown in popularity ever since the early 2000s. With Vanderbilt and MTSU now taking their in-state rivalry to the ice rink, plus the growing popularity of the GNASH high school hockey league, the sky really is the limit on how big hockey can become in the south.
“What’s great is Nashville hosts the SECHC tournament in February at Ford Ice Center,” Bradford said. “There’s so many alums of all these schools in the Nashville area that show up. For the tournament, we’re going to be able to get a lot of people out to these games and experience college hockey. MTSU being local will really help with that. My goal is to become the elite conference in the southeast region of the United States.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @mpatrickg / Michael Gallagher / Murfreesboro Post
The Georiga Bulldogs came into Nashville for a battle against your Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The Raiders struggled with penalties which hurt them in the end. The next game for your Raiders is November 2-3 as they travel to Florida.
Your Blue Raiders drop their first game of the season against Umass Lowell. The Raiders fought hard against the Riverhawks but ultimately came up short.
ANTIOCH – The MTSU hockey team kicked its season off with a bang on Friday night, downing the Vanderbilt Commodores 8-3 at Ford Ice Center.
“I think it all starts with how we have been preparing to start this season,” said MTSU captain Nathanael Wilson, who had three assists in the game. “From hanging with each other on campus to having dry land on non-practice days. I think it really helped us create some chemistry that translated over on the ice.”
It was a close game for the first two periods. It was tied 1-1 after the first, and MTSU held a 3-2 lead after the second. Then the Blue Raiders caught fire in the third period, reeling off five third-period goals to blow out their in-state rival.
“Oh it’s fantastic,” Wilson said. “Especially since they (Vanderbilt) are the other big college team in middle Tennessee. We’ve wanted to play them for the past couple years, but the scheduling just hasn’t worked out, so I was glad to get them on there this year. Having the big crowd there made it amazing as well, it definitely added to the hype.”
Nick Kristinus led the team with four goals and an assist for a five-point night, followed by Connor Linkowski, who scored two goals and added an assist. Patrick Shannon and Jacob Fink each added a goal and Shannon tallied an assist.
“It’s for sure a blast,” Wilson said. “When you can see that all of the hard work and dedication has paid off, it definitely makes it so much more fulfilling. I’m proud of the guys for working hard and keeping the foot on the gas pedal.”
As impressive as the MTSU offense was, Josh Freidenburger in goal was equally impressive. He stopped 57 of the 60 shots he faced, posting a .950 save percentage.
MTSU returns to the ice on Saturday, Sept. 29 against UMass Lowell at Ford Ice Center.
“(We just have to) keep the same mindset as before, go in every shift with 110 percent intensity and just work hard, and most importantly have fun,” Wilson said. “It should be a really good game against a big hockey school such as them.”
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @mpatrickg5 / Michael Gallagher / Murfreesboro Post