ST. PAUL -- The University of St. Thomas men's hockey program will join the Central Collegiate Hockey Association as its eighth member for the conference's inaugural 2021-22 season, the school and league announced Wednesday morning.

The St. Thomas athletic program received NCAA approval earlier this month to move directly from Division III to Division I.

The Tommies will join Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan in the new conference.

"St. Thomas has an outstanding academic and athletic tradition with experienced and proven leadership as they transition to Division I,” CCHA commissioner Don Lucia said in a news release. “St. Thomas fits nicely within the CCHA footprint and impressed us all with the level of commitment they have for their hockey program. The CCHA welcomes St. Thomas, the Twin Cities media, and hockey fans to our league."

The Tommies will remain a member of the Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for the 2020-21 season. Most of the school’s programs will join the Summit League, while the women’s hockey team will compete in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the football team in the Pioneer Football League.

“We’re thrilled to receive an invitation from the CCHA, as it’s poised to create one of the most competitive hockey conferences nationally,” St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten said in the release. “This gives us an opportunity to create strong regional intraconference rivalries, face off against some of the most storied programs in college hockey, and develop a program that can skate with anyone in the country. Since the first conversation I had with Don Lucia, I believed this a great fit and am grateful we’ll be included in the inaugural year of the new CCHA.”

St. Thomas has compiled the most wins of any Division III men’s hockey program with an all-time record of 1,167-671-105 over 96 seasons. The program has captured six MIAC regular-season titles in the last nine seasons and has made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 22 years, including two runner-up finishes.