BROOKVILLE, N.Y. — In this time of coronavirus pandemic, many hockey rinks are still closed and a myriad questions persist about what campus life (in general) and college hockey (specifically) will be like in three months. Amid those oddities, it would be safe to assume that recruiting players over the phone for a college hockey program that has never before played a game would be a daunting challenge.
For the newest college hockey head coach in the Division I game’s newest program, recruiting is one of the best parts of the job.
“The recruiting is actually the easy part. It’s the other things — the scheduling, the jerseys, the equipment, the apparel, getting guys registered for classes, whatever it may be in the process of putting a team on the ice. The recruiting is the fun part of the day,” said Brett Riley, who was named the first head hockey coach at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y. The Sharks are planning to begin their first season of D-I hockey in the fall.
Long Island, in particular, and the New York City area in general, is an underrated hockey hotbed. But for his first recruiting class, Riley has cast a wide net, and has gotten commitments from western Canada, the northeastern U.S. and recently, two Minnesotans.
Justin Thompson spent last season in the North American Hockey League after leading Tartan High School offensively as a senior in 2018. He will likely spend one more season with the NAHL’s Janseville (Wis.) Jets before joining LIU in 2021-22. Garrett Worth had an eye-popping 38 goals in 25 games for Duluth East as a senior in 2018 and has bounced around junior hockey for two seasons, originally committing to Arizona State, but announced he is going to be a Shark as well.
“This was the right fit for me,” Worth said, in an interview with the Duluth News-Tribune. “I didn’t have a lot of interest in playing Division III. It was really important to get this done.”
Neither player has signed a national letter of intent, so Riley cannot talk about them under NCAA rules, but having recruited in Minnesota during his previous job as an assistant coach at Colgate, he said establishing a pipeline from Minnesota to Long Island would certainly benefit his program.
“My eyes were really opened this past year when I went out to the (Upper Midwest High School) Elite League and watched it first-hand. That’s a league and a region that we want to cover extensively because there are so many players that may have slipped through the cracks or are looking for an opportunity,” Riley said. “It helps that they come from a region and a culture that is super passionate about hockey and knows what it takes to be successful.”
Riley comes from rich college hockey bloodlines. His late grandfather, Jack, coached Team USA to a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics and coached Army West Point for many years. His father, Rob, is another former Army West Point coach, and scouts for the Buffalo Sabres. His uncle, Brian, is the current Army West Point coach.
The Sharks have yet to reveal a schedule, but like most first-year programs without a conference, Riley admitted they will be “road warriors” this winter, and home games will be rare. He said they have close to 20 D-I games scheduled with teams from Hockey East, the ECAC, Atlantic Hockey and versus Arizona State, college hockey’s other independent team.
“It will actually be quite fun to go to a lot of different venues — fans, no fans, whatever it might be this year — and open our guys’ eyes to college hockey,” Riley said.
New development league coming to Minnesota this fall
While it will be the 12th season for the North American Prospects Hockey League in 2020-21, the fall league that will play in Minnesota in the coming months will be a first of its kind.
Announced earlier this month the NAPHL Fall League is designed for Under-18 and Under-16 teams that want to get games in prior to the state high school seasons in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The league will host three events in the state:
Sept. 4-6 in Duluth
Sept. 17-20 in Blaine
Oct. 16-19 in Blaine, which will be the league’s playoff championship
The teams in the new fall league will be affiliated with six current NAHL teams: Austin (Minn.) Bruins, Chippewa (Wis.) Steel, Janesville (Wis.) Jets, Kenai River (Alaska) Brown Bears, Minnesota Magicians and Minnesota Wilderness.
Additional information is available via the NAPHL website.
(Note to readers: Welcome to Rinkytown, the new blog from The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Gophers, Big Ten Hockey and a considerable additional grab bag of things involving ice, skates, sticks and a puck. You won’t find Rinkytown on a map, just like you won’t find the real Hockeytown in Michigan. Rinkytown is somewhere in the vicinity of Dinkytown, where the coffee is hot, the popcorn is fresh and a stick salute at center ice comes after a sweep, always accompanied by the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." We hope you enjoy what you find here. Rah!)