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Omaha, WCHA negotiating membership

The University of Nebraska-Omaha is negotiating with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association terms of possible membership, signaling that the Central Collegiate Hockey Association team is very interested in changing leagues.

Omaha has not officially applied to the WCHA yet, commissioner Bruce McLeod said Tuesday, but he said the league "definitely" wants to get something done this summer.

"Each side is explaining to the other what's going on," McLeod said. "Certainly, there have been some negotiations. We're working through that. I would say that things have probably moved a little slower since (former coach Mike Kemp) resigned. Their focus had to be on who they were going to get on board. Obviously, they answered that in a big way."

Omaha filled its men's hockey coaching vacancy on Friday with the hire of Dean Blais, who led UND to national championships in 1997 and 2000. The focus for Omaha is expected to shift to conference affiliation now.

The WCHA is trying to convince Omaha to apply for admission along with Bemidji State, which will be without a home after the upcoming season. Bemidji State's current league, four-team College Hockey America, will disband because two members have found another home.

Bemidji State has said it may have to drop hockey if it doesn't find a home. It applied for membership in the WCHA in March. The league put the application on hold and asked McLeod to be more aggressive in pursuing a 12th team, which is beneficial for scheduling and financial purposes.

The league quickly focused on Omaha, which makes sense geographically. Omaha also has strong fan support, ranking sixth nationally in average home attendance (6,211).

If Omaha applies -- a development that is becoming increasingly more likely -- McLeod will bring it to the structure and executive committees for a vote. If the committees approve of the entrance terms that McLeod negotiated with the school, they would move it to a vote among the current members.

Eight of 10 votes are needed to gain membership. The schools would begin play in the WCHA in 2011-12, so Bemidji State would play 2010-11 as an independent.

Omaha and the WCHA entered into talks even before Blais was hired as head coach and the former Minnesota player and UND coach isn't expected to stand in the way of those talks.

"Dean has such a positive image in the WCHA," McLeod said. "That's definitely a feather in the hat of Omaha. I think it sends a very clear message that they are darn serious about this thing."

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