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Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard addresses the crowd during Monday's college hockey press conference/rally at BSU. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

BSU, Bemidji celebrate WCHA membership

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"There are people who aren't born yet who will be impacted by the WCHA," Bemidji State men's hockey coach Tom Serratore said Monday.

"I really believe there's not any news that has ever impacted this community and this university like being inducted into this prestigious conference,"

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A news conference/rally was held on campus Monday to celebrate Friday's announcement that the Western Collegiate Hockey Association would expand its league from 10 to 12 teams, admitting Bemidji State and the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The news, Serratore said, overshadows the Beavers' Frozen Four appearance this year in the NCAA Division I hockey championships at Washington, D.C.

"This is the biggest, long term," he said of BSU joining the WCHA. "Our Frozen Four experience this year will fade. But being part of this prestigious league will never fade."

People think the Big 10 in football and the Southeast Conference in basketball as among the nation's top leagues in college sports, said R.H. "Bob" Peters, retired BSU men's hockey coach and athletic director.

"You will see the finest in the country," Peters said. "This is a new era of excellence in the WCHA, the oldest and most successful and highest profile conference in the country."

He noted that one of the reasons for BSU's success is having only three coaches in the 50-year-history of the program. Peters served the longest and won more national championships, but Vic Weber started the program in 1959, coaching through 1966 and never having a losing season.

"It's it wonderful that we can all be here to see this," Peters said, nodding to Serratore and Weber. It was Peters who got a standing ovation, when he was announced to speak, from the 75 people who packed into the John Glas Fieldhouse Beaver Pride Room.

Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha join the WCHA as of the 2010-11 season, in time for the Bemidji Regional Event Center opening in October 2010. Serratore said he hopes to have a 28-game WCHA schedule in a month or two. In addition to the two new entries, the WCHA consists of Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver University and Alaska-Anchorage.

"It is certainly a great day to be a Beaver," said Bemidji State President Jon Quistgaard. "We're extremely proud to be a member of the No. 1 conference in college hockey. It's a monumental day for this university."

It adds to a monumental year, Quistgaard said, that includes the university being named a Tier I university by U.S News & World Report and with several faculty members receiving national distinction, and, of course, BSU's Frozen Four run.

"Since the announcement on Friday, I've been receiving e-mails and telephone calls from around the world," he said. "There are so many people, so many individuals, so many organizations that we need to thank for all the work that's been done over these years."

Asked if the WCHA possibility would have occurred if the $60 million BREC wasn't being built, Serratore said, "It wouldn't have happened without it. We had to have a venue that is an elite facility."

Details remain sketchy on what it will cost Bemidji State to enter the WCHA; negotiations were with UNO to be the 12th team to join Bemidji State. It is assumed those negotiations have UNO entering at a lower finanicial commitment.

Rick Goeb, BSU athletic director, alluded that it will be three years -- the WCHA standard for new teams -- before the university receives any revenue sharing from the WCHA's lucrative post-season tournament in St. Paul.

But Goeb also said Bemidji State will continue its commitment in full to remaining Division II sports at BSU.

"There is a three-year period with the WCHA -- yes, our funding formula and Beaver Pride and everything we've been working on lately -- certainly a lot of it is going to be realized from the Regional Event Center and the success of the hockey program," Goeb said.

"We have a lot of different models," he said. "We know it's certainly going to be a challenge for us, but at the same time it is going to benefit the other programs. ... We already have a lot of different models, we just don't know which track it's going to follow and how fast it's going to get there, but we're confident it's going to get there.

"And when I say it will get there, I mean that we're going to competitively fund all the programs," Goeb said.

Quistgaard said he laid out an ultimatum that $2.5 million be raised to continue the hockey program, and that goal was met. "They never questioned me; they went after it and they got it done," he said of Serratore and Rob Bollinger, executive director for university advancement.

When asked if Peters would be dropping the first puck for the inaugural WCHA in the new BREC, Quistgaard said probably 30 to 50 pucks would be dropped.

"A number of legislators over the last couple of days, as you can imagine, called and all want to come in and drop the first puck," Quistgaard quipped. The BREC includes $25 million in state money.

October is only a month before the November 2010 election.

bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

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