The much-discussed “super conference” has a name now: the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. And even with only six teams — currently — the conference should be a force to reckon with beginning with its first season, 2013-14.The NCHC will be made up of five teams from the WCHA — Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha and North Dakota — and Miami (Ohio) of the CCHA. The teams have combined for 17 NCAA championships, and all six were in the 16-team NCAA tournament this past spring. UMD won the NCAA title, and North Dakota reached the Frozen Four.
Athletic directors and coaches from those schools gathered Wednesday in Colorado Springs for the NCHC’s first news conference. It came five days after they publicly confirmed their plans.
Brian Faison, North Dakota’s athletic director, said the six schools share the same core values. He listed ways they are alike:
• They have highly successful programs.
• The schools are committed to competing at the highest level.
• They have the stature to get national exposure.
• And they have a wonderful history and tradition.
UMD athletic director Bob Nielson said the Big Ten’s announcement in March that it was forming a hockey conference in 2013-14 spurred the birth of the NCHC. “We felt it was important to be proactive,” Nielson said.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are leaving the WCHA to join the Big Ten. If that’s a thunderstorm, this is a hurricane for the 60-year-old league, which could be left with five teams in two years.
Of course, those involved with NCHC have a different view: sunny and bright.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin indicated UMD will be able to play rivals, such as North Dakota, more often, while his boss, Nielson, sees off-ice benefits.
“There is the potential for a national presence and media opportunities out there,’ Nielson said. “It is a great investment in the future of UMD hockey to be part of this conference.”
Faison said the new conference enables UND to take care of two big concerns. “From a scheduling standpoint and recruiting standpoint,” he said, “we knew we had to compete with the Big Ten Conference. A group coalesced with the same perspectives, issues and concerns.”
That group could grow soon. The NCHC has openly courted Notre Dame of the CCHA to join. The Fighting Irish are exploring their conference options, according to a school representative. If the they do join, the NCHC will seek an eighth team.
In response to losing five more teams, the WCHA issued a statement quoting Commissioner Bruce McLeod: “Obviously, it’s a tough day for the WCHA and a sad one for me personally, and it’s one that is not easy to put into perspective. We wish everyone well, but make no mistake, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is not going away.”
For the next two seasons, the WCHA will stay as is, at 12 teams. Then will come the realigning and shifting.
“I don’t know where everything is headed,” Sandelin said, “but I thought this was best for our program.”