UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Change in college hockey nothing to fear

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College hockey's charm has always been its curse; provincialism, which has forever encumbered the decision-making process between the WCHA and CCHA and ECAC and Hockey East.

College hockey's enigma has always been its membership. For every Michigan Tech, there has been a Michigan and Michigan State; for every Minnesota, there has been a Minnesota State.

College hockey will survive itself; but only through aggressive thinking and bold realignment. Anything less would have further empowered those who are still anchored to a distant past.

There will be a press conference Wednesday in Colorado Springs to formally announce the formation of a new hockey conference, a "Super League'' if you are to believe the advance notices.

Colorado College, North Dakota, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha will form the alliance. Notre Dame and Western Michigan could be in the on-deck circle.

These schools have bonded together in response to the advent of Big Ten Conference hockey in 2013 -- featuring Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and the start-up program at Penn State.

That raises the possibility of a competitive series between the Big Ten and the Super League, not unlike the current Big Ten/ACC Challenge in basketball. That would preserve some rivalries.

Nobody knows the battle ground -- or on-going issues that have polarized regions and programs -- better than Denver coach George Gwozdecky, who played at Wisconsin and previously coached at Michigan State.

Speaking to the Denver Post on realignment, Gwozdecky said, "We want to be aligned and want to be continued to be aligned with schools of like-minded thinking (that) operate as we do.''

The Grand Forks Herald expanded on that theme by connecting the dots between the buzz phrase "like-minded schools'' and the division of power and principle within the WCHA.

The newspaper suggested that the separation often resulted in "two blocks of voting.''

Wrote Brad Elliott Schlossman, "The schools with larger budgets typically wanted to spend money, invest and try new things. Schools with smaller budgets often resisted.''

Those smaller WCHA programs -- Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State -- will have the option of regrouping with "like-minded schools.''

That category will likely include CCHA programs like Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan. Match-making does have its benefits.

In the end, the WCHA will have to reinvent itself.

The Colorado Springs Gazette cited a "dissatisfaction with WCHA leaders' efforts to get a league-wide TV deal'' which, in part, has created this end run or breakaway or whatever you want to call it.

In sum, reports of college hockey's death have been greatly exaggerated and embellished by those who are uncomfortable with change and oblivious to a 21st century reality.

If it's true that water seeks its own level why shouldn't that also apply to ice hockey and its diverse membership? Call me provincial, but it sounds like a plan that can work, and will work.

3 Comments

Nice article, Mike. I've been reading a lot about the doomsday for hockey, but I think this will be great for the Badgers and the Big 10. Maybe some people will even learn that college hockey actually exists.

Super League? Please, sounds like the name a group of jealous kids would come up with. That needs to get shot down before any of us, (including it's members) get stuck hearing it permanently. Surprised they didn't call it the Mighty Duck League.

I don't live in Wisconsin anymore, so watching my team can be incredibly difficult. TV coverage needs to get better in order to help strengthen college hockey.

ON WISCONSIN