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The Boston Globe

Sports

Hockey East boosts strength, prestige with Notre Dame

Boston College has a long-established rivalry with Notre Dame.

Now that the Fighting Irish have joined Hockey East, they will be developing nine more through the course of their first season in the league.

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“We’re moving into a conference that is really on the rise right now,’’ said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “The conference, as far as the level of successful teams, is growing and hopefully we’re going to help that.’’

BC veteran coach Jerry York said it’s an exciting time to be a member of the league.

“I think it’s a home run for our league,’’ said York. “I think [commissioner] Joe Bertagna has got to be given a lot of [credit] that he’d go out and bring in a team like that. To bring in a legitimate national contender and a brand name like Notre Dame, it makes us that much stronger as a league. We’ll all benefit.’’

One of the hallmarks of Hockey East has been the high-level competition throughout the regular season that results in all teams being at the top of their games by the time the playoffs begin. This year, all 11 teams will make it to the postseason for the first time ever.

“It brings a traditional rival into our league,’’ said York. “It brings in another school that’s going to compete for a national championship. When they come to our building, it’s not quite [like facing Boston University] but it’s in that hemisphere. We welcome Jeff Jackson and his crew but we also understand he’s not coming here to lose games.’’

The league’s coaches have applauded the new schedule format with only 20 league games, down from 27 last year, which allows everyone to schedule more non-league play.

“I think it’s the best schedule we’ve ever had and I’ve been here a long time,’’ said York. “I like the fact that we’re balanced, we all play 20 [league] games so we’ll get a true champion and it lets us go outside and play a challenging national schedule so now we’re more like college basketball where Duke plays ACC games but they’re also playing a lot of outside competition. I think it’s great for our fan bases. We were limited at BC, and I think BU and Northeastern are the same, to three nonleague games because we have the Beanpot and a Christmas tournament and you never know who’s going to be in the tournaments. And that was 31 so we had three games we could actually schedule [in previous seasons].’’

Bertagna said the change in scheduling and addition of Notre Dame makes Hockey East more of a national conference and less of a regional one.

“That’s going to shake things up a bit,’’ said Bertagna. “They’re going to have a presence on NBC Sports Network [which will televise all of Notre Dame’s home games], which will raise the profile for the whole league. I think the fans are going to be excited about seeing them come into their rinks. Half the league will host them this year and the other half will host them next year. So it’s pretty exciting.’’

Bertagna said going to a more national schedule wasn’t without its challenges. One of the reasons the league went to a 20-game Hockey East schedule was to not unfairly burden Notre Dame with excessive travel.

“The first wave, we were really committed to minimizing how much travel Notre Dame had to do,’’ said Bertagna. “So five trips out here and five weekends hosting, you’ve got your 20 games. The second wave, now that the schools have had the opportunity to go from looking for seven nonleague games to 14, and it will be 12 next year because of Connecticut [joining Hockey East], I think some of them have found it wasn’t easy to get a nonleague schedule that was strategic.

“In fact, that’s a national problem as evidenced by the NCAA tweaking their criteria, giving bonus credit for winning a game on the road. That was really a concession to the huge gap between some big-time schools that might have nine nonleague home games and some that might have two or three. They wanted to make sure that gap was mitigated.’’

Bertagna said the other 10 teams in the league were unanimous in their desire to add Notre Dame. The only concession the league made to the South Bend school was to allow it to have its own TV agreement with NBC Sports. Ultimately, it would help promote the league on a national platform.

Jackson said the timing was right for the change.

“It’s going to be fun for us, it’s going to be a new challenge,’’ said Jackson. “You’re not going to win all those [league] games because you are playing such great opponents but it makes you a better team when it matters the most. I think that’s going to be the situation for every team in our conference. It was never easy in the CCHA either but it’s going to be even more challenging in the fact that I think there are even more high-end teams that are basically going to compete in the Frozen Four and you’re going to beat teams of that quality on a more regular basis.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.
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