Quinnipiac University’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams will be joining the ECAC for the 2005-2006 season, Steve Hagwell, the acting commissioner of the ECAC Hockey League announced August 24.

The men’s team, which has been in Division I for the last six years, spent last season playing in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Prior to the 2003-2004 campaign, it was in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association for five years. The women’s team was an independent in 2003-2004. The Bobcats will replace the University of Vermont, which announced its intentions to leave the ECAC for Hockey East last winter.

“We are confident that Quinnipiac will be a tremendous addition to the league and welcome it to the league family,” Hagwell said in a press conference at Quinnipiac August 24. “During our very thorough membership review process, it became evident that Quinnipiac is a great fit for our league.”

Quinnipiac was one of five finalists for the opening in ECAC, on a short list that included Niagra, Mercyhurst, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart.

Earlier in the summer, the ECAC’s athletic directors recommended Quinnipiac for acceptance and the league’s policy committee approved that recommendation August 20 in Albany, N.Y.

“I had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of meetings, a couple of presentations they made,” said Yale men’s ice hockey coach Tim Taylor, who is also the chairman of the men’s coaches group. “It was clear they were extremely dedicated to the sport of ice hockey. They did a very good job substantiating the fact that they would be a good academic and social fit for the league.”

The Bobcats’ dedication to hockey is best exemplified by the planned construction of a 157,000-square-foot arena with both a basketball court and ice rink. Construction is set to begin this month, with completion expected in January of 2007.

The men’s team is coming off of one of its most successful seasons, finishing 15-14-6 for third in Atlantic Hockey. Four of those losses came against national powerhouses Wisconsin and Michigan, with the Bobcats falling by an average of 1.5 goals per game in those contests.

Head coach Rand Pecknold has been behind Quinnipiac’s bench for the last decade and inked a four-year contract extension with the university May 24 of this year. He has led the Bobcats’ transition from Division II to Division I and now from Atlantic Hockey to the ECAC.

“This is obviously an exciting time for the university and our program,” Pecknold said at the press conference. “Our current players are very excited, and from our alumni players I’ve received a lot of calls — This is the next big step.”

Men’s hockey aside, one of the things that distinguished Quinnipiac from the other finalists was its commitment to women’s hockey.

“It’s very important,” Taylor said. “Some of the other schools that didn’t fare quite as well in the interviewing process were not able to demonstrate the strong commitment that Quinnipiac was able to demonstrate to both sports.”

Quinnipiac’s women’s squad has been Division I for four years, posting an 11-21-2 mark last season, which included a 5-1 loss to the Bulldogs.

“Acceptance into the ECAC Hockey League is very exciting and another great step in the development of our women’s ice hockey program,” Bobcat head coach Michael Barrett said. “We welcome the opportunity to challenge ourselves in what is arguably the premier conference in the nation.”

For both Yale’s men’s and women’s squads, Quinnipiac’s move to the ECAC lays the groundwork for an in-state rivalry.

“We don’t have that many great rivalries,” forward Jeff Hristovski ’06 said. “We just have Harvard. UConn is out of conference. Quinnipiac, they’re getting better every year. It’ll be nice having another Connecticut team to play against.”

Though it has not been officially announced, it seems likely that Quinnipiac with replace Princeton as Yale’s travel partner.

For now, the ECAC and Yale have found a good answer to the many questions raised by Vermont’s departure last winter.

“I feel it was a great choice,” Taylor said. “We wanted to make sure we filled the vacancy with a school that would enhance our league.”