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BSU ponders options as Duluth, North Dakota consider leaving WCHA for new conference

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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Bemidji State's inaugural hockey season as a member of the WCHA was an unqualified success in the opinions of the players, coaches and fans. The excitement generated by the upgraded competitive level of the opponents and the move to the Sanford Center made last winter a season to remember.

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But the meaningful battles against the top teams in the WCHA soon may be lost as, according to multiple sources contacted by the Grand Forks Herald and Duluth News Tribune, UND, UMD and at least three other conference teams are planning to leave the WCHA and create a new league.

The new league plans to stage its inaugural season in 2013-14.

Despite finishing 10th last year in the 12-team league's regular standings with 21 points and an 8-15-5 record, during the WCHA playoffs the Beavers proved that they could play on even terms with the best teams in the country.

In the first round of the WCHA tournament Bemidji State swept Nebraska-Omaha, wining 4-2 and 3-2 in Omaha. That series win vaulted the Beavers into the WCHA Final Five where they defeated eventual NCAA champion UMD 3-2 in overtime to reach the semifinals.

The magical season eventually ended, however, as BSU fell 6-2 to Denver to finish the year 15-18-5.

Finally being invited to become a member of the WCHA, which arguably is the top hockey conference in the country, was cause for celebration for Bemidji State hockey officials and players. It was not an easy journey but eventually persistence paid dividends and BSU and Omaha were officially welcomed into the league last winter.

Earlier this year, however, officials at Minnesota and Wisconsin announced that their programs planned to abandon the WCHA in favor of creating a Big Ten hockey conference. Joining them in the Big Ten league would be CCHA teams Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State plus Penn State which recently decided to start a Division I hockey program.

The departure of Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA apparently has had a ripple effect and, according to sources contacted by Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald and Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune, UND, UMD and at least three other WCHA teams plan to leave the league and form a new conference.

An official press conference to announce the new league is expected next Wednesday.

Expected to join UND and Duluth in the new conference are Denver, Colorado College and Omaha of the WCHA plus Miami, Notre Dame and, possibly, Western Michigan of the CCHA.

Bemidji State University officials have not been contacted about possibly joining the conference.

"There is not much information available (about the new conference) and there is nothing official," said BSU athletic director Rick Goeb. "We are making plans and having discussions and that's all we can do at this point.

"The WCHA has been around for 60 years and will continue to be around for a long time," he added.

If the start-up conference is created the WCHA will be left with BSU, Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud, Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage. The remaining Central Collegiate Hockey Association teams include Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green.

With only five remaining teams in the WCHA and the CCHA, neither league has enough teams for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They will likely have to combine under one of the league's umbrellas, but it is unknown which one.

When reached Thursday by the Grand Forks Herald about North Dakota leaving for the new league, UND athletic director Brian Faison declined comment.

Last week Faison told the Herald that "several institutions have been looking at the college hockey landscape and different possibilities that might be out there. At the end of the day, we have to do what's in the best interest of UND hockey and that's what we're going to do. It's an emotional decision. It's a business decision."

UMD athletic director Bob Nielson had a similar viewpoint when contacted by the Duluth News Tribune.

"We're concerned about the college hockey landscape," Nielson said Tuesday. "We're looking at all the options of what could happen. Our hockey program is very important to our school and we want to be proactive.

"Our approach is to be active and examine potential opportunities, and have conversations about the future of Division I. Our intent is to be a member of the WCHA but we're considering options."

Contacted last week by the Grand Forks Herald, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said no contingency plans had been discussed. CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch did not return a phone call from the Herald.

UND is a charter member of the WCHA, one of seven teams that was in the league when it started in 1951.

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

Bemidji State's inaugural hockey season as a member of the WCHA was an unqualified success in the opinions of the players, coaches and fans. The excitement generated by the upgraded competitive level of the opponents and the move to the Sanford Center made last winter a season to remember.

But the meaningful battles against the top teams in the WCHA soon may be lost as, according to multiple sources contacted by the Grand Forks Herald and Duluth News Tribune, UND, UMD and three other conference teams are planning to leave the WCHA and create a new league.

The new league plans to stage its inaugural season in 2013-14.

Despite finishing 10th last year in the 12-team league's regular standings with 21 points and an 8-15-5 record, during the WCHA playoffs the Beavers proved that they could play on even terms with the best teams in the country.

In the first round of the WCHA tournament Bemidji State swept Nebraska-Omaha, wining 4-2 and 3-2 in Omaha. That series win vaulted the Beavers into the WCHA Final Five where they defeated eventual NCAA champion UMD 3-2 in overtime to reach the semifinals.

The magical season eventually ended, however, as BSU fell 6-2 to Denver to finish the year 15-18-5.

Finally being invited to become a member of the WCHA, which arguably is the top hockey conference in the country, was cause for celebration for Bemidji State hockey officials and players. It was not an easy journey but eventually persistence paid dividends and BSU and Omaha were officially welcomed into the league last winter.

Earlier this year, however, officials at Minnesota and Wisconsin announced that their programs planned to abandon the WCHA in favor of creating a Big Ten hockey conference. Joining them in the Big Ten league would be CCHA teams Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State plus Penn State which recently decided to start a Division I hockey program.

The departure of Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA apparently has had a ripple effect and, according to sources contacted by Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald and Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune, UND, UMD and at least three other WCHA teams plan to leave the league and form a new conference.

An official press conference to announce the new league is expected next Wednesday.

Expected to join UND and Duluth in the new conference are Denver, Colorado College and Omaha of the WCHA plus Miami, Notre Dame and, possibly, Western Michigan of the CCHA.

Bemidji State University officials have not been contacted about possibly joining the conference.

"There is not much information available (about the new conference) and there is nothing official," said BSU athletic director Rick Goeb. "We are making plans and having discussions and that's all we can do at this point.

"The WCHA has been around for 60 years and will continue to be around for a long time," he added.

If the start-up conference is created the WCHA will be left with BSU, Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud, Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage. The remaining Central Collegiate Hockey Association teams include Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green.

With only five remaining teams in the WCHA and the CCHA, neither league has enough teams for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They will likely have to combine under one of the league's umbrellas, but it is unknown which one.

When reached Thursday by the Grand Forks Herald about North Dakota leaving for the new league, UND athletic director Brian Faison declined comment.

Last week Faison told the Herald that "several institutions have been looking at the college hockey landscape and different possibilities that might be out there. At the end of the day, we have to do what's in the best interest of UND hockey and that's what we're going to do. It's an emotional decision. It's a business decision."

UMD athletic director Bob Nielson had a similar viewpoint when contacted by the Duluth News Tribune.

"We're concerned about the college hockey landscape," Nielson said Tuesday. "We're looking at all the options of what could happen. Our hockey program is very important to our school and we want to be proactive.

"Our approach is to be active and examine potential opportunities, and have conversations about the future of Division I. Our intent is to be a member of the WCHA but we're considering options."

Contacted last week by the Grand Forks Herald, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said no contingency plans had been discussed. CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch did not return a phone call from the Herald.

UND is a charter member of the WCHA, one of seven teams that was in the league when it started in 1951.

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

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Bemidji Pioneer (218) 333-9819 customer support

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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