Addition by subtraction for the CSCHL

Illinois hockey battled rival Michigan-Dearborn the last time it took the ice two weekends ago, picking up two crucial victories. While the rivalry may continue to wage on, it won’t be as conference foes any longer.

According to a report on the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s website, Michigan-Dearborn, along with conference opponents Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, will be leaving the CSCHL (Central States Collegiate Hockey League) after this season and joining the up-start GLCHL (Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League) for the 2010-2011 campaign. The other teams slated to join the league include Adrian College, Davenport University, and Oakland University.

Illinois has already swept Western Michigan at home earlier this season and will face Eastern Michigan on the road the first series after semester break.

“They haven’t had as many good teams the last couple of years, but I know Michigan is a strong base for talented hockey players, so it’s a bit of a blow for our league,” senior forward Tom Connell said. “It’s kind of sad to see.”

The departures of these clubs don’t come as much of a surprise to anyone surrounding the league, including Illinois head coach Chad Cassel. Acknowledging that these changes have been in the works the last couple of seasons, Cassel believes the changes make sense for the trio and will help the CSCHL in the long run.

“It makes sense for them, there won’t be any more overnight trips for those teams,” Cassel said. “Those three teams have struggled in the league, and we’re picking up Indiana. I’m disappointed to see them go and would like to have them in the league, but our league is only going to be stronger.”

Along with losing conference opponents that the Illini have feasted on in recent years, going a combined 30-0 against the trio in the last five seasons, the departure of the three clubs leaves holes for the league to fill and questions regarding what’s next for the conference.

Cassel says Indiana University will be one of the teams to fill one of those spots, but the Hoosiers must first complete the transition from a Division II team to a Division I team, according to the ACHA.

While other teams have expressed interest in joining the league, the league appears to be set on playing with just seven teams next season.

“There’s been talk of Bowling Green coming in, which would make sense geographically,” Cassel said. “Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma would also like to be in our league, but it’s just too much travel.”

From the Illini’s standpoint, players are also looking at these changes as a good thing — even if there won’t be as many gimmes on the schedule.

“We’ve always played well against them, but with other teams like Indiana coming in, it will make for some more competitive games,” junior forward Daniel Cohen said.

With less road trips and conference games scheduled for the Illini next year, Cassel plans on scheduling more interesting non-conference games and home-and-home series with stronger rivals within the league — a prospect that could benefit the team as much as it should improve the league.

“It’s good to always play against different teams,” Cohen said. “It’ll make us work a little harder because we won’t know what to expect.”

Cassel has long considered the CSCHL to be the strongest conference in the country, and with the last two national champions counted among the conference’s group, it would be hard to argue his point.

But with many seeing the moves this offseason as addition by subtraction, there might not be an argument any longer.

“Next year we’ll have seven teams, seven teams that could potentially make the national tournament,” Cassel said. “So our league is going to be strong.”