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College hockey: Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Alaska-Fairbanks join WCHA

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Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Alaska-Fairbanks have accepted membership invitations from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and will play in the league beginning in the 2013-14 season.

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The WCHA extend the invitations Thursday to the three Central Collegiate Hockey Association schools along with Western Michigan and Bowling Green. There is a 30-day response deadline. The invitations followed a joint WCHA-Central Collegiate Hockey Association meeting Tuesday in Chicago.

Bowling Green could be the next team to join the WCHA and the school is leaning toward accepting the invitation according to blog posting from Toledo Blade newspaper writer John Wagner. When athletic director Greg Christopher was asked if it is 'likely Bowling Green will join the WCHA merger,' he said "things are tracking in that direction."

It has been speculated this summer Western Michigan would wait to see where fellow CCHA school Notre Dame will land before making their decision, but athletic director Kathy Beauregard told the Kalamazoo Gazette WMU will no longer wait.

"Right now, it's time for us to make the best decision for Western Michigan University," Beauregard told the Gazette. "We know we stand on our own. We know we bring excited, committed Bronco hockey to whatever league we end up positioning ourselves in."

The startup National Collegiate Hockey Conference are rumored to be pursing Notre Dame. If Notre Dame were to join the current six-team NCHC, Western Michigan is rumored to follow.

But Notre Dame is currently weighing its options and could potentially play as an independent or pursue membership in Hockey East. Beauregard told the Gazette it is unlikely the Broncos will pursue membership in Hockey East.

"I would say that Hockey East is not as viable for us as knowing what we have with some other options," Beauregard said. "I will also say I don't think anything is off the table as far as what could happen in the east if some other things could trickle other effects."

WCHA membership now stands at nine teams for 2013-14: Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, MSU, Mankato, Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Alaska-Fairbanks.

Northern Michigan left the CCHA for the WCHA in July. Friday's announcement by the three schools likely means the end of the CCHA in two years. It has existed since the 1971-72 season.

Ferris State has sponsored hockey since 1975-76 and became a Division I program in 1979. It is located in Big Rapids, Michigan. The city is located 200 miles northwest of Detroit and has a population of almost 11,000.

"The uncertainty of the past five months has caused some genuine angst and instability on hockey playing campuses across the country," Ferris State Athletics Director Perk Weisenburger said in a press release. "Through the vision, leadership and cooperative spirit of the institutions in these two tradition-rich conferences there is a renewed sense of stability, excitement and a new direction for hockey programs in both the CCHA and WCHA."

Lake Superior State has sponsored hockey since 1966-67 and was part of the International Collegiate Hockey Association with Bemidji State until it joined the CCHA in 1972. It is located in Sault St. Marie, Michigan on the far eastern edge of the upper peninnsula and has a population of about 16,000. The school has won three Division I hockey championships, the last in 1994.

"Without fully knowing the final outcome, if everything realigns as we have it on paper today, I think this will be a better conference for Lake Superior State Hockey long-term than the CCHA was, and I thought the CCHA was pretty good," Lake Superior State president Tony McLain said in a statement.

Varsity hockey at Alaska-Fairbanks started in 1925 and the Nanooks played in Division II from 1972-85 before moving to Division I. UAF became full members of the CCHA in 1994 and the school is located about 360 miles north of Anchorage.

"There is a collective sense of relief," Fairbanks Athletic Director Forrest Karr said in a statement. "We can now turn our attention to making sure all CCHA student-athletes have a quality experience over the next two years and to helping build on the WCHA's solid foundation."

Fairbanks plays in the 4,595-seat Carlson Center, Ferris State plays in the 2,493-seat Ewigleben Ice Arena and Lake Superior State plays in the 3,373-seat Taffy Abel Arena.

The Marquette (Mich.) Mining Journal reported NMU athletic director Les Wong said the WCHA made a request for Ferris State and Lake Superior State to upgrade their arenas. Both athletic departments agreed to make improvements.

The addition of the three schools is the latest move in a wave of conference reorganization in college hockey this offseason.

The shift started in March when the Big Ten announced plans to form a conference in 2013-14. The Big 10 will bring together current WCHA programs Minnesota and Wisconsin, CCHA programs Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and new program Penn State.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference formed in July when current WCHA programs North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth formed the new league with CCHA school Miami.

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Pioneer staff reports
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