The landscape of leagues in Division I college hockey continues rearranging like one continuous line change, and Wednesday's latest move afforded the conference that includes UAA some postseason security in the future.
As expected, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced it unanimously accepted Northern Michigan University to join the league in the 2013-14. That's when Wildcats will leave the Central Collegiate Hockey Association to return to the circuit where they competed from 1984-1997 and won a national championship in 1991.
Northern Michigan will give the WCHA six teams in 2013-14 -- the others will be UAA, Michigan Tech, St. Cloud (Minn.) State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji (Minn.) State -- and six is the magic number. The NCAA requires a league to have a minimum of six members to secure an automatic berth to the 16-team Division I tournament.
At present, the WCHA consists of 12 teams, but that configuration will only last another two seasons.
Earlier this year, Minnesota and Wisconsin announced they would leave the WCHA in 2013-14 to open play in the new Big Ten conference. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State that same year will leave the CCHA to join the Big Ten, and Penn State, which is beginning a varsity hockey program, will also play in the Big Ten, giving the new circuit six teams.
The WCHA was further downsized for the future earlier this month when members North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth announced they will break away in 2013-14 and form the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). Those teams will be joined by Miami (Ohio) of the CCHA to give the new league the magic six members.
Depending on what kind of WCHA schedule is instituted in 2013-14, the return of Northern Michigan to the league could mean yet more distant travel for UAA, whose mileage log is surpassed only by UAF of the CCHA. Northern Michigan, like Michigan Tech, is located on the state's remote Upper Peninsula, a four-hour time difference from Anchorage.
The league-hopping likely isn't complete, either.
Notre Dame of the CCHA seems certain to bolt that circuit and is being courted by other conferences -- the Fighting Irish have enough cachet to basically choose their destination, which they expect to decide next month. The Big Ten and NCHC seem the most logical spots for the Irish to land. Also, Western Michigan's athletic director has said that CCHA program could be open to changing leagues.
Should Notre Dame and Western Michigan bolt the CCHA like Northern Michigan, the league would be left with four teams, including UAF.
That's why the CCHA this week is courting four programs from Atlantic Hockey, which is currently a 12-team conference.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.