UPDATE: More than a year after the initial announcement and having withstood considerable skepticism due in no small part to the pandemic, Lindenwood University is set to confirm that they will in fact sponsor Division I hockey next season. Bally Sports’ Andy Strickland reports that an official announcement is expected soon. Lindenwood Athletic Director Brad Wachler reportedly informed the Lions’ coaches and players on Friday that they would be joining the top ranks of the NCAA in 2022-23, putting to rest any rumors to the contrary. College hockey will be arriving in St. Louis this fall.
February 4, 2021: The newest addition to the Division I ranks of NCAA hockey is a school that most college sports fans likely know little about. Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal reports that Lindenwood University of St. Charles, Missouri, is set to add Division I men’s hockey in 2022-23, joining it’s Division I women’s program. Unlike college hockey’s most recent addition, Long Island University, Lindenwood is primarily a Division II athletic department and located in an untraditional area of the U.S. for college hockey. Yet, the school is reportedly ready to go ahead with the major step of adding a top-level program in one of the NCAA’s most popular sports.
Lindenwood, a university of less than 7,500 students located in a suburb of St. Louis, may seem like a strange option for Division I hockey. Not only has the school never sponsored men’s hockey in the NCAA, but their ACHA club program only started in 2003. Geographically, they are also an oddity as they will be one of just three programs considered to be south of the Mason-Dixon Line and are located 400 miles or more from the nearest Division I competitors like Notre Dame, Miami (OH), Nebraska-Omaha, or Alabama-Huntsville.
Yet, Lindenwood is actually not as surprising a Division I addition as it may seem. Since 2009, the Lions’ ACHA team has won three titles and finished runner-up three times at the league’s highest level and has a runner-up finish in the second division as well. It is no surprise that their rise as an ACHA powerhouse has corresponded with the growth of grassroots hockey in the St. Louis area. The school undoubtedly will hope to capitalize on that local talent, as well as becoming another close-to-home option for young players from the South or Midwest. The department is also equipped to handle the many additional requirements of sponsoring a Division I sport, not only due to their women’s team, but also as a former full Division I member from 2012 to 2019, during which time they added several new programs.
With participation in the NCAA among NHL draft picks continuing to grow with each year, and the collegiate game overall growing with it, new programs may continue to pop up in the coming years. As an institution located near a historic NHL city who has experienced great success in hockey in recent years, Lindenwood will be a welcome addition to the Division I ranks and could find quick success along the lines of Arizona State University if they can make the most of their unique location and recruiting base.