North Dakota is well-known for its college hockey as home to one of the greatest powerhouse programs in the sport. Well, now their neighbors to the south are about to get involved. As first reported by ESPN’s John Buccigross on Tuesday night, Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is working on creating a Division I Men’s Hockey program, beginning in 2023-24. The school has since confirmed the decision today as part of a plan to transition the entire athletic department to Division I by 2030, but did not provide a timeline for their move in hockey. Augustana currently does not have intercollegiate hockey or even club hockey, so there is work to do but a plan is in place.
It has been a time of great change in the NCAA hockey ranks with the likes of Robert Morris and Alabama-Huntsville going the way of the dinosaur, but LIU and soon St. Thomas joining the fold, with Lindenwood in the works and schools such as Tennessee State, Navy, and Illinois exploring the possibility. While some of these new entries may seem somewhat random, Augustana University (formerly College) should not. South Dakota has quietly grown into a hockey hotbed due in no small part to the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, one of the top programs in the league. The ECHL and NAHL also call the state home, with the Rapid City Rush and Aberdeen Wings, respectively.
One roadblock to entry into Division I hockey can often be finding a conference, but that is also where Augustana’s addition makes sense. The school currently participates in Division II’s Northern Sun Conference. The NSIC’s membership includes Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Mankato, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State – two teams from the NCHC and two teams from the WCHA. Their relationships with those schools could break down that barrier to entry by jumping right into an established conference. The Vikings could be in good shape to get off to a hot start to their entry in Division I hockey.