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Revamped WCHA previewed at hockey coaches luncheon

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 12:36 am

FAIRBANKS — More than 60 people at Friday’s Alaska Nanooks hockey coaches luncheon got a preview of the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Association for 2013-14.

The Nanooks and current Central Collegiate Hockey Association members Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green State are moving next season to the WCHA, joining four of its current teams — Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech.

The moves of the five CCHA programs are part of a realignment in NCAA Division I hockey for 2013-14. The realignment signals the end of the 11-team CCHA, and the formation of two new conferences next season — the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

“I’m trying to be respectful of the CCHA in their last year of existence, I guess really, and I don’t to want to intrude on kind of their way of celebrating their last year of operation,” Bruce McLeod, WCHA commissioner, said during the luncheon in the Carlson Center, where the Nanooks played host Friday and Saturday to the fourth-ranked and conference leading Miami (Ohio) RedHawks in a CCHA series.

“I have a lot of respect for the previous (CCHA) commissioner, Tom Anastos, and certainly for Fred Pletsch, the commissioner right now,” McLeod added.

Fairbanks is the fourth of five visits that McLeod is making among the CCHA programs that will be WCHA members next season. His last visit will be to Bowling Green State in Ohio.

Among the topics about the revamped WCHA that McLeod discussed at the luncheon in the Pioneer Room of the Carlson Center were playoffs — particularly a certain situation for the Nanooks and Seawolves — and potential expansion, on-ice officials and broadcasting games.

The top eight teams in the regular season of the revamped WCHA will advance to the playoffs. The postseason begins with four first-round series with the top four teams playing host to the squads that place fifth through eighth.

The first-round winners advance to a conference championship tournament, which McLeod said will be rotated each year among two sites. The locations haven’t been determined, but in an interview after the luncheon, McLeod confirmed a rumor that the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., is under consideration. Grand Rapids is about 60 miles south of Big Rapids. Mich., the home of Ferris State University.

Unless one of them finishes in first place, the Nanooks and the Seawolves will play each other in a first-round series in Alaska. Financial and logistical reasons led to the decision, which was approved in a vote among athletic directors of the revamped WCHA.

“It’s the financial realities for us — a lot of last-minute plane tickets and the distance between the two Alaska schools and Michigan Tech, or something like that,” McLeod said.

“It can be a negative or a positive thing if the two Alaska teams are in the upper part of the league, it’s not quite fair to them,” McLeod continued. “The opposite side of the coin is one of the Alaska schools is guaranteed of moving on.”

McLeod used an example of how financial expenses during the playoffs affect the current 12-team WCHA.

“A lot of these (playoff) arrangements you don’t know until the week before and you have to buy very costly plane tickets,” he said.

“Between Denver and St. Paul, Minnesota — where we have our championships — at that time of the year because of the ski season in Colorado, you can never get a team on a plane,” McLeod said.

“What you end up doing is getting three or four guys on this flight and three or four guys on that flight,” he said. “It’s just kind of ferrying people in, and from a coaching standpoint, nobody wants that. First of all, you don’t like kids wandering around the country without a coach or someone in an authority position.”

McLeod said in extreme postseason travel scenarios, the WCHA has to had to book charter flights, which depending on the situation, can be two to three times more expensive than fares on commercial airlines.

Regarding on-ice officials, McLeod said the revamped WCHA plans to have a core of officials but are planning to propose sharing officials among other leagues.

“We’re going to try to have a minimum number of games that they have to commit to the WCHA, but we’re trying to allow them to work other leagues, too,” he said.

McLeod said the revamped WCHA also will be taking into consideration an NCAA rule that once an official has worked 15 games in a league, he is committed to that league.

“You cannot officiate those games (in other leagues) from a neutrality standpoint,” he said. “We’re really conscious of a lot of those things. We want to have our core group of officials, but there will be hopefully some sharing of officials.”

Alabama-Huntsville, which is playing as an NCAA Division I independent this season, is scheduled to formally apply to the revamped WCHA during the NCAA Convention in January in Dallas. The program was a member of the now-defunct College Hockey America and applied several years ago for membership in the CCHA but its application was denied.

McLeod said Alabama-Huntsville’s application must be approved by a vote of 75 percent of the members of the revamped WCHA for it to become a member.

The revamped WCHA doesn’t have a broadcasting arrangement but McLeod is intrigued by possibilities with the Internet.

“Whether you’re watching it (game) on a handheld (mobile device) or your computer or you have a device that puts it on your television set ... all of that is possible now,” he said. “Those telecasts are getting better and better by the year.”

There conference is considering streaming games as whole rather than individual schools broadcasting their games through cyberspace. One possibility is showing four games at the same time on the Internet.

“Those things are getting more and more like a TV broadcast than ever, with the commercial drop-ins and the replays, and everything else,” he said.

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi spoke early in the luncheon and his program also is part of the realignment for 2013-14. The RedHawks are moving to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference that will consist of CCHA rival Western Michigan and current WCHA schools North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State.

Three other CCHA programs — Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan — are heading next season to the Big Ten with WCHA teams Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Penn State, which debuted this season as a Division I independent. CCHA member Notre Dame will be playing in 2013-14 in Hockey East, which includes defending national champion Boston College.

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