UAF hockey

Alaska’s Colton Leiter tries to keep the puck away from Ferris State’s Joe Rutkowski, left, during the second period of the Nanooks hockey game against the Bulldogs on Friday night at the Carlson Center.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks could be looking for a new hockey conference for the 2021-22 season. 

Seven members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, a 10-team NCAA Division I conference, announced Friday they are exploring the creation of a new conference that would begin play in 2021-22. The three other members of the conference — UAF, University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alabama Huntsville — are not part of the plan.

According to a release from Northern Michigan University, which is one of the WCHA schools involved, the new conference also would comprise fellow Michigan schools Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University and Michigan Technological University; Minnesota schools Bemidji State University and Minnesota State University Mankato; and Bowling Green State University, of Ohio.

According to the Northern Michigan news release, a focus of the potential new conference is improving regional alignment and overall student-athlete experience while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint.

Calls from the News-Miner seeking comments from UAF athletics director Keith Champagne, associate athletics director Terylynn Olds and head hockey coach Erik Largen were not returned  Friday.

The news release also stated that seven members have independently submitted formal letters of notice to the WCHA office in Minneapolis, initiating the withdrawal process in accordance with the WCHA Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. 

The seven schools will continue to play in the WCHA this season and in 2020-21.

WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson released a statement Friday.

“Late this afternoon, the WCHA office received communication from several of our Men’s League institutions that they intend to explore the creation of a new Division I men’s hockey conference that would begin play in 2021-22,” the letter stated. “The institutions have indicated they intend to compete in the WCHA during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

“While this news is disappointing, the WCHA will work to assure than any members that do withdraw do so in accordance with WCHA Bylaws.”

The announcement also came on the day that Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the fiscal 2020 state budget, which includes $130 million in cuts to the University of Alaska System.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.