Long Island University, based in Brooklyn, New York, announced at the end of April that they would be adding an NCAA D1 men’s ice hockey team to their athletic department for the 2020-21 season. Since this announcement, the LIU Sharks have hired Brett Riley, a former assistant coach at Colgate, as the program’s first head coach, and have also begun recruiting players for their inaugural team.
Robert McCollum, a defenseman from Thunderbay, Ontario, is one of those recent commits. This past season, McCollum skated for the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Lincoln Stars of the USHL and Kenani River Brown Bears of the NAHL, recently signing his NLI with the Long Island Sharks. I spoke with him on what it means to join the LIU roster.
When and how did you hear that LIU was adding a men’s hockey program and what were your initial thoughts?
McCollum: I heard about the program through a few coaches and friends as per their social media release as a new program and it seemed like a great opportunity as I was looking to further my hockey career and education. I also have family in New York City so having the opportunity to be in that area was something I was really interested in, having heard a lot of great things.
What aspects of the program made it attractive to you, and describe a bit about your commitment process.
McCollum: Initially what attracted me to play at LIU was to be a part of building a new program and having the chance to help create something special at a brand new division 1 program. To have the chance to participate in an inaugural season is something I’m really looking forward to. I’m so excited to help mold their program on and off the ice and I’m extremely proud to be a Shark. The recruiting process has been so much fun and such an amazing journey. Brett Riley has made things so easy on me and my family and has been extremely classy ever since he and I had started talking. He was very communicative and straight up with me since day 1. My family and I were very impressed and happy with how awesome he has made things for me so far.
What does it mean to you to be a member of the Sharks’ inaugural roster, and what are you looking forward to next season?
McCollum: This year I’m looking forward to that ‘student-athlete’ lifestyle and to experience college life first hand. I have a couple buddies playing college hockey and just from hearing how great their experiences have been makes me even more excited to get things started. This season I can’t wait to show the rest of college hockey what it means to be a Shark and I’m excited to see what our group can accomplish. Being a brand new team means that we have to come playing a competitive brand of hockey and show that we will not be a team that will give up under any circumstances. Playing hard and giving opponents a hard time every time we step on the ice is such an important aspect of being a new team and I can’t wait for how much fun this journey is going to be.
In somewhat unorthodox fashion, the LIU men’s program came after the addition of a D1 women’s hockey program in 2019, which ended up winning a conference championship title. This proved that LIU was a successful ground for competitive hockey. Additionally, the LIU Sharks are the only D1 hockey program based in New York City, which has proven to be a great market for hockey, as well as the home of many successful athletes who may be attracted to a home-town collegiate hockey program. Charlie McAvoy (Boston University/Boston Bruins) and Adam Fox (Harvard/New York Rangers, Long Island natives, expressed their excitement for LIU’s new addition on Twitter. Both McAvoy and Fox played college hockey in the Boston area.
While there are still many details to figure out, it’s expected that the Sharks will play out of one of the New York Islanders affiliated rinks in the area. During the 2019-20 season, the women team played out of three different rinks in the area; the men’s team will likely face a similar situation. However, LIU still faces the challenge of piecing together a schedule in just a few months when most teams already have their entire schedules mapped out, a task made more difficult as LIU doesn’t currently belong to a conference.
Unlike Penn State and Arizona State, the two most recent additions to NCAA Division 1 hockey, LIU also faces the issue of funding and sponsors. The University of Alabama-Huntsville had to cut its hockey program due to insufficient funds and was only saved by donations from fans and alumni. Arizona State, somewhat of an anomaly in college hockey, has been very successful in participating as a non-conference team, made possible by the school’s power-house athletic department and revenue from its football program.
Regardless, as college hockey grows, it’s clear there is no “magic bullet” method of implementing a team. The disbanding of the WCHA opens the door for conference realignment, offering LIU and other programs a chance to strengthen their programs with a steady schedule and competition. Additionally, the New York City area is an untouched college hockey market; with so many players growing up and learning to play in the area, this could lead to a pipeline of talent seen with the Boston of Minnesota schools. LIU has already recruited dedicated staff and players and I think we’ll all be cheering on the success of the program this upcoming season.
Special thanks to Rob McCollum for his contribution.