For most, junior hockey offers a stepping stone to college hockey. The opportunity to combine playing hockey at an elite level and get an education is an excellent step in development as a player and as a person.
Few people are bigger advocates for college hockey than Mike Snee. In fact, he’s made a living at it, serving as the executive director for College Hockey, Inc.
Snee, who also serves on the USA Hockey Junior Hockey Council, talks college puck and where the future of it might lead.
USA Hockey: What’s the state of college hockey right now? It seems like it’s never been better.
Mike Snee: Yeah, it feels that way, doesn’t it? I’m glad to hear others feel that. Just in the growth area – that’s exciting. [We] wrap all of that in these feasibility studies that we have in partnership with the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association. There are a lot of reasons to be excited that college hockey will continue to grow. The way I like to look at it is that it’s our turn -- us being all of college hockey. It’s our turn to grow, just like the NHL has in the past 25 years.
USAH: How exciting is it for you to be a part of these feasibility studies, to play a role in this possible expansion of college hockey?
Snee: Very exciting. If I knew a word that was more powerful than ‘very,’ I’d use it. To step back, Penn State adding hockey and being such a success, maybe more successful than even the most optimistic person was about it, provided us with inspiration. We gathered a few people together back in 2014 from the NHL, USA Hockey, Penn State, and asked ‘How can we take this and make sure that Penn State’s not an isolated case, but rather, the first of many?’ We put together a strategic plan, and truthfully, we were all skeptics to some degree. But since then, Arizona State has added, and there are more in strong consideration of adding, and hopefully those come through and this is just the beginning of what will be seen as the growth era in college hockey. To be a small part of it is very exciting.
USAH: What does it mean to you and College Hockey, Inc., to have the NHL and NHLPA’s support?
Snee: I don’t think we would be where we are right now without the NHL and NHLPA support. Arizona State happened before the feasibility study project, but because of the feasibility project, there are a couple of schools doing the study that contacted us because they had heard about the opportunity – Oakland (Mich.) University being one of them. It kind of shook the trees, and it provided schools who had been having their own conversations a place to call to expand the conversation. They were having these conversations on the side, and low and behold, here comes this opportunity funded by the long-range vision of the NHL and the NHLPA to grow the game. On one hand, it allowed some schools a place to call if they were interested, and at the same time, it’s allowed and provided College Hockey, Inc., a reason to contact a school and a reason for a school to have consideration.
Harvard's Ryan Donato (right) scored two goals in Team USA's win over Slovakia
USAH: How exciting is it for college hockey to have four players heading to the Olympics for Team USA?
Snee: Not only that, but 20 in total on the U.S. Olympic Men’s Team that played college hockey or are playing college hockey. I know some people are disappointed that the NHL’s not there, but I think when you’re seeing what’s happened, both in terms of having four young men who are currently competing in college hockey and then combine that with some players that are like the college guys [and] are on the way up, that’s exciting.
Every single player on the team probably [had] an unexpected moment at this point in their careers. That’s pretty cool, and it’s just more evidence of the growth and the quality and the caliber of college hockey. It’s evident everywhere, whether it’s the IIHF World Junior Championship; the NHL All-Star Game or the AHL or ECHL All-Star Games, just the impact that college hockey is having on all levels of amateur or professional, it’s pretty special.
USAH: What would you say your favorite part of college hockey is, personally?
Snee: I think that it’s still a sport where the lower-profile schools can still get in there and mix it up and win against the big schools. There are so many examples of that. You just look right now at the PairWise rankings, No. 1 is arguably a top-five branded school in the country in Notre Dame. Who is No. 2? Clarkson, a NCAA Division III school in upstate New York. Who is No. 3? St. Cloud State. Who is No. 4? An Ivy League school, and No. 5 is a Big Ten school, Ohio State.
Union College won a national championship in 2014, and the two schools they beat in the Frozen Four were Boston College and Minnesota. On the surface, one might say, ‘Wow, two huge upsets,’ but anybody that was there would say Union was the best team in the country. I really like that aspect of it. I still think that aspect of our sport is pretty special, and I like it.
USAH: Anything else you want to add about the state of college hockey?
Snee: I always want to wrap it all up with this: Hockey still continues to perform very well in the classroom, and the graduation rate is 90 percent. Everything I said, whether it’s that Clarkson can compete or more players in the NHL than ever, Olympic and World Junior rosters, the sport’s growing – all of that is occurring wrapped around 90 percent of these players graduating eventually, and getting their degree.