The seven college hockey teams that are leaving Alaska’s two teams to fend for themselves in a depleted Western Collegiate Hockey Association are creating a new league with an old name.
Say hello to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, disbanded in 2013 when NCAA Division I hockey underwent realignment that did away with the CCHA and kept the WCHA, which absorbed some of the CCHA teams.
The new conference plans to begin play in the 2021-22 season, according to a press release that appeared on the websites of several soon-to-be CCHA teams.
The WCHA would be left with three teams — UAA, UAF and Alabama Huntsville — at the end of the 2020-21 season.
“We certainly want there to be a WCHA beyond next season,” UAA athletic director Greg Myford said by email Tuesday. “And there can be, but some important pieces need to fall in place by either adding existing programs or new collegiate programs launching and coming on board.
“The WCHA is an historical hockey brand that remains committed to growing the game and providing some of the most competitive college hockey in the nation.”
The resurrection of the CCHA — or at least its name — comes several months after seven of the WCHA’s 10 teams announced they were leaving the league to form their own conference. They said the new alliance made sense geographically and competitively.
The defections are troubling for Alaska’s two Division I hockey programs. UAA and UAF are geographically isolated from the rest of the college hockey world, and filling a schedule with NCAA opponents is likely to be difficult without membership in a conference. This season, 28 of UAA’s 34 games are against WCHA opponents.
“Scheduling beyond next year is challenging, but only because we need to have multiple options open,” Myford said. “We’re active in scheduling our non-conference games, just as we would be in any other year, but without certainty in a WCHA schedule, we need to be looking at plans B and C as well.”
The seven teams that would make up a new CCHA are Minnesota State, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, Ferris State and Lake Superior State. Before realignment, Minnesota State, Michigan Tech and Bemidji State played in the old WCHA, as did UAA, and Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan played in the old CCHA, as did UAF.
Former CCHA stalwarts like Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State belong to the Big 10.
The conference shakeup comes at the same time the University of Alaska is dealing with significant budget cuts. Athletic departments at both schools have cut costs, which at UAA have included moving the UAA hockey team out of spacious Sullivan Arena and into the 800-seat on-campus arena at the Seawolf Sports Complex.
UAA’s on-campus arena is much smaller than the 2,500-seat facilities required by the WCHA, but the conference gave UAA permission to make the move with the expectation that expansion would follow.
Myford said expansion is still in the planning stages.
“The next step is getting a more detailed outline of what we want an expansion to include for our team and our fans, as well as how we might integrate increased services for the community,” he said. “All of that comes with a cost, obviously, so that is critical to the planning too."