Waldorf University’s hockey team and five other member universities are taking steps to bring the sport back to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Waldorf, Aquinas College, the Indiana Institute of Technology, Lawrence Technological University, Life University and Lindenwood University-Belleville are charter members of an NAIA Division that has been formed in cooperation with the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). The NAIA Division, which will begin play during the 2017-18 season, was officially approved at the annual ACHA Coaches Convention in Naples, Fla. and formalized with each head coach signing a declaration of intent to compete in the division.
“It means a great deal to our staff and our players to be pioneers in the resumption of NAIA hockey,” Waldorf coach Brett Shelanski said. “A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes by many different people to make this a reality and we are truly excited to be a part of it.”
The NAIA hosted an ice hockey championship from 1968 to 1984. With the sport regaining interest at numerous NAIA institutions during the last decade, additional universities are positioning to establish varsity programs within the next few years.
In 2014, a group of coaches and athletic administrators began working with NAIA officials to sponsor the initiative return of ice hockey as an NAIA championship sport. The group formed a coaches association in 2016 and collaborated with ACHA leadership to create the new division that will host the NAIA varsity programs during the multi-year process to regain NAIA championship status.
ACHA executive director Mike Walley led the effort to create the new division for the growing number of varsity programs at NAIA institutions. The ACHA will continue to serve as the governing body and will support the programs during the NAIA’s emerging sport process as well as encourage growth of the sport at other NAIA institutions.
In October 2017, the NAIA Division will begin competition with the national tournament to be held March 8-13 at Columbus, Ohio.
Full members of the NAIA Division include Waldorf, Aquinas, Indiana Tech, Lawrence Tech, and Lindenwood-Belleville. Life will be an affiliate member of the division.
The NAIA Division will include a 16-game conference schedule with every team having a conference bye each semester, which will serve as dates for scheduling nonconference opponents. Each member program will play a home and road series against all other full members. The six teams will be seeded based on the league standings to determine the seeding for the NAIA National Tournament.
With the formation of the NAIA Division, the conference footprint will include teams from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Georgia.
Aquinas and Lindenwood-Belleville appear on Waldorf’s schedule this season, giving the Warriors a glimpse of the competition they’ll face in the NAIA Division. Waldorf fans wanting a preview of the NAIA Division have the chance to see the Warriors host Aquinas in this weekend’s home series at Albert Lea, Minn. The series begins on Saturday at 7 p.m. and concludes on Sunday with a 1 p.m. matchup. Waldorf entertains Lindenwood-Belleville in a Feb. 10-11 series.
The NAIA Division is expected to be a stacked conference with five of the six teams ranked in regional polls. Waldorf (17-4) is ranked No. 8 in the latest ACHA Division II Central Region poll and Lindenwood-Belleville (13-4-1) is No. 1. Aquinas College (16-2-1) holds the No. 3 ranking in the ACHA Division III North Region poll and Lawrence Tech (10-3) is ranked No. 8. Indiana Tech (13-11) is ranked No. 22 in the ACHA Division I poll.
“We expect the level of play to be extremely high immediately,” Shelanski said. “If you look at the schools and programs involved, they are all top notch. There is outstanding school support from all of these institutions for their hockey programs and all of the teams are highly ranked in their current divisions.”
The breakdown of Waldorf’s 2017-18 schedule is as follows:
ACHA/NAIA DIVISION – 2017-18 CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
- Oct. 6-8 – Nonconference
- Oct. 13-15 – Nonconference
- Oct. 20-22 – Nonconference
- Oct. 27 – Waldorf vs. Lindenwood-Belleville @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7:30 p.m.)
- Oct. 28 – Waldorf vs. Lindenwood-Bellevile @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7 p.m.)
- Nov. 3-5 – Conference bye (Waldorf)
- Nov. 10 – Waldorf vs. Aquinas @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7:30 p.m.)
- Nov. 11 – Waldorf vs. Aquinas @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7 p.m.)
- Nov. 17 – Waldorf vs. Indiana Tech @ Fort Wayne, Ind. (7 p.m.)
- Nov. 18 – Waldorf vs. Indiana Tech @ Fort Wayne, Ind. (4 p.m.)
- Nov. 24-26 – Thanksgiving break
- Dec. 1 – Waldorf vs. Lawrence Tech @ Southfield, Mich.
- Dec. 2 – Waldorf vs. Lawrence Tech @ Southfield, Mich.
- Dec. 8-10 – Nonconference
- Dec. 16-31 – Holiday break
- Jan. 5-7 – Nonconference
- Jan. 12-14 – Nonconference
- Jan. 19-21 – Nonconference
- Jan. 26 – Waldorf vs. Lindenwood-Belleville @ Hazelwood, Mo.
- Jan. 27 – Waldorf vs. Lindenwood-Belleville @ Hazelwood, Mo.
- Feb. 2-4 – Conference bye (Waldorf)
- Feb. 9 – Waldorf vs. Aquinas @ Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Feb. 10 – Waldorf vs. Aquinas @ Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Feb. 16 – Waldorf vs. Indiana Tech @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7:30 p.m.)
- Feb. 17 – Waldorf vs. Indiana Tech @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7 p.m.)
- Feb. 23 – Waldorf vs. Lawrence Tech @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7:30 p.m.)
- Feb. 24 – Waldorf vs. Lawrence Tech @ Albert Lea, Minn. (7 p.m.)
- March 2-4 – Nonconference
- March 8-13 – ACHA Division II National Tournament @ Columbus, Ohio