The migration of major hockey to the west coast continues, as preparations are underway to bring Division 1 hockey to Las Vegas. Fresh on the heels of the AHL placing five teams in California, and the NHL expansion on the horizon, now comes the next major pillar.
Just over a year ago, Arizona State University surprised the hockey world by announcing that their hockey team would be elevated to Division 1 status. MayorsManor has learned the next school hoping to follow ASU’s path will be the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who will likely be the next school to reach Division 1 status.
When thinking about hockey and Las Vegas, most people’s first thoughts will focus on Bill Foley, head of Hockey Vision Las Vegas and the man leading the charge for NHL expansion into Sin City. Quietly, another man has been working behind the scenes to do the same thing.
Zee Khan was a part of ASU’s hockey program as they became the 2014 ACHA National Champions prior to achieving NCAA ranks. The Southern California-born Khan played for the Sun Devils, as did both of his younger brothers. After hanging up the skates, Khan moved on to an off-ice role at ASU, where he worked for several years. Now, Khan takes his talents to Vegas, where he acts as the GM of UNLV’s Rebels hockey team.
Having seen the process ASU went through to grow their program to where it is today, Khan knows what it will take to reach the top level of collegiate hockey. The first hurdle both Khan and UNLV must clear is to find the proper funding to fuel a successful hockey program.
“It could be a year, and it could be three. The meetings are already happening,” Khan stated. “It’s really a matter of finding money which, is available to us possibly here. (UNLV) is willing to listen, and willing to at least look at the possibility of making the jump.”
Khan later went on to explain that when ASU went looking for funding, Don Mullett, the father of a former Sun Devil hockey player, donated $32 million to the program. While UNLV hasn’t been lucky enough to find one man that generous, the process to raise the necessary money is well underway.
“We’re already in the meeting process. We’re meeting with a ton of local ‘heavyweights’, I would say, as far as the financial side of it,” said Khan. “This town has a lot of hidden hockey-passionate people. As much as it’s Las Vegas, (and) people think of it as a non-traditional market, it’s a hotbed for people who have been in hockey a long time. You get a lot of hockey people here.”
Interestingly, college hockey has already had their eye on Las Vegas, as Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald posted a story that revealed plans for college hockey powerhouses North Dakota and Minnesota to face off in the city.
What about help from Foley and the NHL? With an NHL team seemingly destined for a home in the City of Lights, surely the league would be interested in helping grow the game there. In fact, the league has known UNLV’s plan for months.
“The NHL is aware of our intention as well. We made that clear back in April, that our intent would be (to field an NCAA team), with the NHL coming in. People are aware,” accounted Khan. “ASU, they announced it in November of last year, and a year later they’re playing a full NCAA schedule. It goes pretty quick if the right people are involved. Realistically, I’d like to say 2-3 years would be a good time frame. The NHL is going to be here in 18 months ideally, if everything falls in place the right way, so around the same time – good timing wise for Vegas in general.”
Currently, ASU doesn’t play in any NCAA conference, as their schedule consists of facing off against both NCAA and ACHA teams from across the country, as well as a series of games against the University of Alberta. Though there are teams who compete in NCAA sports without a division, it seems as if the next big growth in college hockey is the addition of a Pac-12 division to the NCAA.
“I think that that’s inevitable, that the Pac-12 will come in,” Khan said in agreement.
While it does seem inevitable, as Khan put it, it is far from a sure bet. A lot of what happens to both UNLV and the Pac-12 going forward may depend on the success of ASU.
“I think that ASU kind of has a strangle hold on the Pac-12 as far as pushing them back a little bit. They want to kind of keep the Pac-12 teams away for a couple of years to let ASU have success, truly build their program, and watch them grow before the other teams jump in on it,” explained Khan. “Obviously, TV money has a little to do with that. Pac-12 TV is going to be televising a couple of their games this year as well, so we’ll see how that goes. The next team up is going to probably be a smaller school. We kind of have that perfect fit.”
If Khan is correct, it seems that a Pac-12 hockey division looms on the horizon. What other schools are likely to be included in said division?
“Oregon. That’s someone I would say is probably closer than anybody else. I’ve heard USC would be interested in it, kicking the tires,” Khan added. “It’s a slower process. It’s important they see ASU have the success first to really lay that groundwork. You don’t want, especially in the Pac-12, where there’s a huge conference, teams come in and then fall apart. We’ve got to be a little patient with it, but it’s going to happen.”