For the first time, the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference will have men’s ice hockey as an intercollegiate sport this winter.
And the first champion of the conference tournament will be crowned in Fort Wayne.
Indiana Tech will be one of five conference teams – including Aquinas College, Lawrence Technological University, Rochester College and the University of Michigan-Dearborn – and the WHAC Tournament will be March 2-4 at the SportONE/Parkview Ice House.
“Yeah, for us, it’s been a big deal. I know this has been talked about amongst the member schools and the idea has been thrown around for a couple years as the NAIA schools look at hockey a little bit more,” said Indiana Tech’s coach, Frank DiCristofaro. “Our footprint lends us to being perfect hosts with the WHAC being in Indiana, Michigan and the Great Lakes region. … It just made sense for us to put this proposal together.”
The tournament will be single elimination, including a Friday night play-in game between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds, and the champion is expected to host the 2019 tournament, DiCristofaro said.
Indiana Tech is coming off a 17-20-1 record in its third season and the Warriors are moving to the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Varsity Division after playing in Division I. The Varsity Division is made up of teams within the NAIA that have hockey as a varsity sport and can award athletic scholarships.
While hockey flourished among NAIA schools prior to 1991, it is now a reemerging sport targeted for growth. Concordia University Ann Arbor is slated to have a WHAC hockey team in 2018-19.
“I think our rink is just a no-brainer as far as a host team goes,” DiCristofaro said, noting that the Ice House has three sheets of ice and is centrally located.
Indiana Tech will open its season Sept. 29 and 30, when it plays host to Midland. The ACHA National Championships begin March 8 in Columbus, Ohio.
“I think hosting (the WHAC Tournament) helps the program and puts us in the spotlight, at least for the first year of it,” DiCristofaro said. “More than anything, what it will do is put us on the radar for other NAIA schools that are looking at hockey and maybe unsure if they should have it as a varsity sport. We have a chance to help grow the game more in our footprint.”
Last season, the Warriors’ season ended in the semifinals of the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League’s tournament with a 7-1 loss to Michigan-Dearborn.