One could argue that the old Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) is the best in the nation. Right now it has defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, University of Denver, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado College, University of Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud State, and newcomers University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Bemidji State.
But this week the college hockey world was shaken up to its core. With the Big Ten Conference announcing last year that they are bringing on hockey it made since that Minnesota and Wisconsin had to jump ship. By removing two of the top college programs, the boys of the WCHA decided they needed to one-up the Big Ten and start what they are calling a “super-conference” starting play in the 2013-14 season.
The league, with the new name of National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), will contain Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver and Nebraska-Omaha and be joined by Miami of Ohio.
One could argue that this will be the best conference in the country. The WCHA’s tradition of excellence with a record of 37 national championships, will be hard to beat.
But the point is what will happen to the WCHA, and more importantly to the smaller teams like the University of Alaska-Anchorage? and even the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (currently in the Central Collegiate Hockey Conference(CCHA)). The word on the street is that the two leagues will combine as the new WCHA.
A big issue is all that travel to Alaska. With both UA-Anchorage and UA-Fairbanks in the same conference, it would mean that teams from the lower 48 would have to travel two Alaska twice in a season. This is a big deal. Also with the loss of such powerhouses as North Dakota and Minnesota it will severely hurt attendance at the (UAA Seawolves) home games. The Sullivan Arena enjoys near sell out crowds when these two schools come to town.
Also at stake is college recruiting of course and this is often measured in the success of the teams. In order to get into the college tournament with an automatic seat, a conference must contain at least six teams. With the formation of the NCHC it leaves teams like the Seawolves out in the cold, literally. The Seawolves are coming off one of their best seasons advancing to the second round of the tournament last season by beating the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Seawolves already have a tough time recruiting top talent from the lower 48. With the loss of the “big boys” of college hockey it will make it that much harder. Fewer scouts will come up to Alaska to observe the games and frankly it will just be sub-par hockey, at best.
So Alaska hockey fans, you still have a couple more seasons to watch some of the best hockey in the world at Sullivan Arena. After that it is really anyone’s guess what we will see. Until then we will just have to hold our breath and root on the boys in green and gold!