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HOCKEY: Could the WCHA Women’s League soon add an 8th team?

BEMIDJI -- Could the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Women’s League add a new member in the near future?

If Northern Michigan decides to form an NCAA Division I women’s hockey program, that might very well be the case.

Last Friday, NMU announced it will explore the possibility of adding a women’s hockey program. The school is the latest to take advantage of the NHL and NHLPA feasibility study initiative that aims to grow the number of NCAA Division I programs.

The Wildcats have fielded a men’s hockey program since 1976 and are currently members of the WCHA, where they compete alongside Bemidji State.

“I am thrilled for the initial steps Northern Michigan University is taking to explore adding women’s hockey as a D-I sport,” said WCHA Vice President and Women’s League Commissioner Katie Million in a statement. Million was present for last Friday’s news conference in Marquette, Mich.

The potential addition of another women’s hockey program would be welcome news to BSU women’s hockey head coach Jim Scanlan.

“It would be tremendous from a lot of different aspects,” Scanlan said. “Just the growth of the game, just to have another Division I program playing women’s college hockey would be tremendous.”

The possibility of adding an eighth school to the WCHA Women’s League would be especially beneficial to a league that has had an odd-number of members since North Dakota’s program folded following the 2016-17 season.

NMU would easily fit within the conference’s geographic footprint.

“The majority of (D-I programs) are out east, so this would be great for the WCHA with the possibility of them joining our league,” Scanlan said. “It’s an opportunity for 25 more players to have an opportunity to play at this level. And obviously for us, selfishly, to have an eighth team in the league and fairly close -- it’s still a bit of a drive -- but it certainly beats jumping on a plane.”

Northern Michigan is the third school to announce their participation in the NHL-NHLPA feasibility study initiative, joining Illinois and Oakland. Others have done so confidentially, according to College Hockey, Inc.

The feasibility study will analyze the factors that go into creating and maintaining a women’s hockey program, such as one-time and annual expenses, funding opportunities and student and community support.

There are currently no NCAA Division I women’s hockey programs in Michigan.

NCAA Division I women’s hockey programs can be found at 36 different institutions across the country.

Bemidji State is one of seven members of the WCHA Women’s League along with Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, Ohio State, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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