It would be too simplistic to say, "Build it and they will come." But it's hard not to think that, now that the prestigious Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced Friday that it voted in both Bemidji State University and the University of Nebraska-Omaha men's hockey programs.
"It's just kind of like a 200-pound monkey off our back," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said Friday during a telephone news conference about the arduous process to apply and gain membership in the WCHA. "I'm so proud of the program, but I'm more happy for the community, the region, the alumni, the hockey alumni. It has been a long haul for us, but we've hung in there."
Joining the WCHA is a natural step for the 51-year-old Beaver hockey program, a program with a storied past involving national championships in every possible college association except NCAA Division I -- and they nearly did that this year with entry into the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.
The hope of joining the WCHA also prompted the partnership between the university and the city of Bemidji for construction of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, where BSU's men's and women's hockey programs would serve as anchor tenants, with the women's program already a WCHA member. Those negotiations were at times arduous, but key to it all was a growing hockey program that needed the WCHA, especially since the current College Hockey America is folding. Friday's announcement should quell a lot of concerns over the future of the program -- and its play in the event center.
Building the center wasn't the key factor in WCHA membership, but it helped.
Bemidji State "has a very, very storied program, lot of history to it," WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod said Friday. "Bob Peters is legendary in our sport and what he's done for the sport -- a lot of accomplishments at a lot of different levels. They are obviously in the midst of erecting, the steel is going up, actually, on their new building and will be ready in the fall of'10. It's very exciting in the community, and if you've spent much time up there, that's hockey country. It's in the culture of the community, in the culture of the region."
While the event center is more than simply a hockey arena, it's hockey that will help pay the rent. And it will be WCHA hockey -- North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State. And it's ideal that Bemidji State's inaugural WCHA season begins with the event center opening.
McLeod wouldn't go into specifics about what was negotiated, but at some point Bemidji State will be eligible for league revenue sharing from its successful season-ending tournament in the Twin Cities, providing financial resources to the university.
Friday's announcement will help solidify the future of both the Bemidji State hockey program and its partnership with the community.