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WCHA approves new playoff format

DETROIT - The WCHA doesn't have a tournament location picked out quite yet. But wherever the Final Five lands come 2013-14, this much is certain: Alaska is already in.

The new-look league wrapped up its annual summer meetings in Detroit this week.

And although many expected an announcement on the tournament location, the WCHA dropped another bombshell instead: The two Alaska schools (Anchorage and new member Fairbanks) will play in the first round every year.

Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb Thursday confirmed that all nine of the league's teams would make the playoffs and that the regular-season champion would receive a bye into the Final Five.

That much could have been gleaned from the press release the league released Thursday afternoon.

What wasn't on the press release, however, was the fact that the Alaska schools would be playing each other every year - regardless of league finish - unless one of them got that first-round bye.

In other words, there will always be at least one hockey team from Alaska in the Final Five.

"There were mixed feelings about that," speaking from the Detroit airport following the meetings. "If they both finish above or below the top four, there might be a feeling that it was a little unfair.

"But we discussed a lot of different options and this was the one that seemed to make the most sense for everyone from a travel perspective and from an economic perspective."

League members agreed to keep the currently-used playoff format of three-game series in the first round and single elimination in the Final Five.

The other major decision the league made this week was the approval of a 28-game conference schedule.

That works out so each team plays six opponents four times apiece and two opponents twice each. Both the current WCHA, as well as the soon-to-be-defunct CCHA, which includes all the future new members of the league, play 28-game schedules.

"The scheduling and playoff formats were the most difficult thing to work out," said Goeb, who is on the scheduling and tournament committee. "This way, every team won't have to travel to Alaska every year, but over a 10-year period it will work out for everybody."

Goeb acknowledged that league directors hadn't yet figured out plans for the tournament location, but it was something they were close to finalizing.

There had been some speculation about where the league would land following the announcement that the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference would be playing its tournament at the Target Center beginning in 2014.

Other items on the agenda included "expansion and identifying potential future markets" as well as "future public relations and marketing initiatives to coincide with the 2013-14 campaign."

Goeb didn't comment on the expansion issue, but did say that he's excited for the league to start fresh with its new members, which include Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green and Alaska Fairbanks. All five were members of the CCHA before the reshuffling of college hockey.

"I think it's going to be great," he said. "There's a lot of excitement for the new league going forward and I think everyone is looking forward to dropping the puck."

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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