Omaha open to evaluating WCHA

Nebraska-Omaha hired its new athletic director this week, and he’s jumping into quite a storm.

The eyes of the college hockey world will be on Omaha this summer. The landscape could change significantly if Omaha decides to apply for the WCHA.

I’m guessing that Omaha has been targeted by the WCHA to apply along with Bemidji State. It makes sense. Travel can be done by bus for almost all of the schools. Omaha also draws well. In 2007-08 (I don’t have the most recent year’s stats handy), Omaha ranked second in the CCHA in attendance and sixth in the country. It has potential to increase both fan base and the year-end profit sharing for teams.

Chancellor John Christensen and new AD Trev Alberts were asked about the hockey program in depth after the hire was announced.

Christensen says that Bemidji State has been in contact with Omaha’s president and the outgoing AD about applying for the league. The Beavers have, not surprisingly, encouraged the Mavericks to apply.

"My response was, once we get an athletic director, that may be the time to evaluate," Christensen told the Omaha World-Herald.

Alberts continually stressed the need for Omaha’s hockey program to flourish in order for the athletic department to be successful. Could the WCHA — which boasts the top four attended programs in the country in Wisconsin, UND, Minnesota and Colorado College — help Omaha do that?

Read the story here.

Zajac added to Team Canada

The Sioux once again have four reps at the World Championship.

Travis Zajac was added to the Canadian roster today. He’ll join Americans T.J. Oshie, Drew Stafford and Jason Blake at the tournament.

Former Sioux forward Dave Tippett, the head coach of the Dallas Stars, is an assistant coach for the Canadians, too.

The tournament is hitting its second phase now. The Americans let a 5-2 third-period lead get away yesterday in a 6-5 overtime loss to Sweden. Oshie, Stafford and Blake all had assists in that game.

Medal round play doesn’t start until Wednesday.

Happy birthday, Jonny

Jonathan Toews won about six Winnipeg city-league championships as a youth. He led Shattuck-St. Mary’s in scoring for two seasons.

He graduated from high school a month after turning 17.

He scored a goal on his first college shot (first period of his first game).  He played in two Frozen Fours, won a Broadmoor Trophy, earned MVP honors in the West Regional. Was named both all-WCHA and first team All-American.

He captained his Canadian team to a gold medal at the U-17 world tournament, scoring the game-winning goal in the championship game. He was the youngest player on the 2006 gold medal World Junior team. He was the hero of the gold medal team in 2007.

He was the youngest player selected to the 2007 Canadian men’s world championship roster, but still was one of the team’s leading scorers. He picked up another gold, becoming the first player in Canadian history to win gold in both the World Juniors and World Championship in the same year.

He signed a multi-million dollar contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Scored a goal on his first NHL shot. Set the record in the Hawks’ long and storied franchise history for scoring the fastest goal ever to start a career. He then proceeded to get at least a point in his first 10 career games — the second-longest streak to start a career in NHL history. He was one of three finalists for the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Last summer, he was named captain of the franchise. Youngest captain in the NHL, third youngest in the history of the league. He started in the NHL All-Star Game and led the Blackhawks to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. A couple of days ago, he helped the Hawks win their first playoff series in 13 years.

Today, Jonathan Toews turned 21.

Happy birthday Jonny, and congrats on your average first 21 years.

Expansion teleconference

The expansion conference call obviously had a lot of folks listening in, interested in what’s currently happening and what’s going to happen with the WCHA. It lasted about 45 minutes. WCHA commish Bruce McLeod, Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb and BSU head coach Tom Serratore were all available for questions. Most were directed at McLeod.

The Herald story is located here.

Below, I’ll post a general roundup of the questions and answers. I’m just going through some notes here, so they aren’t going to be word for word, but they’ll be close.

BRUCE MCLEOD OPENING STATEMENT: "Our issue was not with Bemidji State. Our issue is more with the number. We’ve been through quite a few things in the last six months and our issue was to get to 12. If we didn’t care about Bemidji, we’d just stay at 10. The direction I got from the athletic directors is that they want me to be more aggressive in my pursuit. I still have some ethical issues that I have to be careful with in pursuing a team from another conference. Once I get an indication from them — I’m not going to talk specifically about which teams, I think we all know who some of the potential candidates are — once I get an indication from them, hopefully I can find a way to ethically work through proper channels and encourage them. It’s a little different approach than in the past. We’ve lifted the moratorium indefinitely, so we don’t have a timeline we’re working with. I don’t think we’re looking at this like a normal membership application, it’s more of a membership negotiation feeling."

Q. Could Moorhead be the 12th team?

BRUCE MCLEOD: The situation with Moorhead is interesting. The timeline to get a Division I team up and going and having, by our criteria, played a Division I hockey schedule for a specific number of years (two). . . I would say that’s the biggest issue. But there are a lot of issues. Timelines don’t work in their favor right now.

Q. So could we say that the Moorhead thing is a dead issue?

BRUCE MCLEOD: I don’t know if I would say it as definitively as that. That’s something to ask them. They have a lot of obstacles to overcome, though.

Q. What are the biggest issues facing Moorhead?

BRUCE MCLEOD: There are quite a few. A couple things come to mind: certainly the timeline. First they have to get a D-I team up and running and they have to play a certain number of years with a D-I schedule. I don’t know if there is any clear indication that they are going to do anything unless they have a conference. We have some people from Bemidji sitting in the room with us — and let me tell you, their neck is out a long, long way in hoping for membership in the WCHA. They didn’t get any assurances. And there’s also the whole issue of institutional support. I’ve read quotes from their president saying that they aren’t going to use any institutional funds. It’s going to be all fundraising or foundation work. That certainly is a concern to the WCHA. There are always ups and downs in these programs from a monetary standpoint. You need institutional commitment to play D-I hockey and to have a quality commitment to making a quality program.

Q. Do you have a timeline in place for when you want to find this 12th team?

BRUCE MCLEOD: We’ve had a lot of discussion, but we haven’t set a specific date. We did set ourselves a goal. Our goal is leaning toward mid-summer rather than next spring. We have to be more aggressive with our approach to this issue. We’re at the 11th and a half hour and closing in on the 12th hour. We have to be innovative and aggressive.

Q. Are there any incentives you can give other teams to get them to apply?

BRUCE MCLEOD: I wouldn’t put it in terms of incentives, but we do have criteria that we can work with. We have the cost of membership of joining the league and when they start to benefit from the profits at the end of the year. Those are things we can negotiate. There are some specific things with some specific institutions that can be negotiated, too.

Q. Did you consider adding Bemidji now and then later going back and finding the 12th team?

BRUCE MCLEOD: There was a discussion about the pros and cons of doing something like that. The issue for us was that’s not a good way to go about doing business. Admitting Bemidji as an 11th team and then hoping for the best after that — that’s not something we were comfortable with doing.

Q. Is Huntsville a possibility?

BRUCE MCLEOD: I don’t want to preclude anybody because sometimes your perception of a program could be different from reality. I know that they did apply to the CCHA. If we were setting a priority list, they would not be at the top of the list.

Q. Can you talk about some of the financial problems with an 11-team league and how 12 teams benefits the WCHA more?

BRUCE MCLEOD: People have been pretty aware of the financial ramifications. It’s a little bit different on each campus. There certainly wasn’t much positive from an 11-team standpoint. There are real positives with 12. One issue is that we can play six first-round games. That’s a positive. It gives us a better opportunity from a financial standpoint. We could get a larger home building in the mix [Is that an Omaha hint?]. Certainly, if you talk about Bemidji in particular as one of the 12, it definitely increases our fan base at the Final Five. Hopefully, you can create a positive out of that. If anyone saw the number of people and the amount of excitement created by Beaver fans at the Frozen Four, that’s a pretty good indication. They would definitely increase our fan base.

Q. How would 12 teams change scheduling?

BRUCE MCLEOD: We would still have each team with their traditional partner [UND's is St. Cloud State]. With that model, it takes five years for the whole conference thing to work out evenly for everybody. With our scheduling model for 10 teams, it takes four years. So, it’s one more year.

Q. How could this change things for the CCHA?

BRUCE MCLEOD: All of us know the issues that Bowling Green and another school are having in regards to longevity and the health of their program there. It’s certainly a delicate issue. There are a number of ethical questions involved (with contacting the CCHA teams). I have a ton of respect for (CCHA commish) Tom Anastos. The water is getting muddier here in the D-I hockey lake by the day here.

Q. Would a 12-team league mean a Final Six instead of a Final Five?

BRUCE MCLEOD: One suggestion has been to have a Final Six — have 1 and 2 get byes, 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 on Thursday. There may not be a third-place game. That’s one thing the coaches are very concerned about. There’s been a suggestion to not have a third-place game, but that has not been firmed up at all.

Q. After learning some of this information today, is this something Moorhead could go back and improve some things and re-visit their attempt to get in the league?

BRUCE MCLEOD: They can make it better, no question. I don’t know how much better, though.

Q. Omaha and Northern Michigan have been the two talked-about candidates for membership. Have you talked to either of those programs yet?

BRUCE MCLEOD: Without being specific, yes on one.

BEMIDJI STATE AD RICK GOEB STATEMENT: We are pleased with the WCHA’s decision today. We understand the complications an 11-team format would create. We’re very excited and pleased with the direction we’re headed.

BEMIDJI STATE COACH TOM SERRATORE STATEMENT: What this does is it buys the WCHA more time to be flexible to get 12 teams. They want a clean number and a clean number is 12. We have to be patient and let them do their thing. This has to play out a little bit. This is the most positive feedback we’ve had in a while. I’m very confident we’re going to get in the WCHA when it all plays out.

Q. Is this hurting recruiting?

TOM SERRATORE: The quicker the better. Obviously, it’s tough getting recruits when there is inconsistency about what’s going to happen. But we’ve been patient for 10 years, so what’s a few more months? I feel confident that the WCHA is going to find a 12th team and I feel very confident with where we stand with the WCHA.

Cichy to play for USHL title

For the second time in about two weeks, fans in the area will have a chance to see a recruit win a championship at Fargo’s Urban Plains Center.

Mike Cichy led the Indiana Ice past Green Bay tonight by racking up three assists, pushing his playoff total to a league-leading 16 points. Indiana clinched the series against the Gamblers with the 5-3 win and will play Dean Blais and the Fargo Force for the league championship.

The schedule has not been released yet for the championship series, but at least one game will be in Fargo. Indiana was one of the USHL’s best teams throughout the season, while Fargo currently is the league’s hottest.

WCHA to actively pursue 12-team league

Here are a few quick notes from today’s conference call to read while I work on the story. The WCHA’s release is posted below:

  • The league will actively search for a 12th team to apply with BSU.
  • The league ADs have asked commish Bruce McLeod to be more aggressive in searching for another applicant.
  • BSU’s application will stay on hold while this goes on. The moratorium for expansion has been lifted "indefinitely."
  • BSU coach Tom Serratore called this the best news BSU has heard in a long time. He is confident the WCHA will find BSU a dancing partner and that BSU will get in the league.
  • Serratore knows BSU will have to be an independent in 2010-11, even if it is to get in the WCHA. He said that’s fine.
  • MSU-Moorhead is not under consideration to be BSU’s dancing partner. Neither is Huntsville.
  • McLeod said the league has had contact with either Omaha or Northern Michigan, but he wouldn’t say which one. My personal belief is that Omaha is the target because it has an opportunity to benefit the WCHA financially much more than Northern. And does anyone really want to make two trips to the UP per year?
  • McLeod hopes to get an application this summer.
  • The 12-team league would mean a Final Six instead of a Final Five. Coaches also talked about eliminating the third-place game, which could happen with a 12-team league. The format would be the top two seeds getting byes, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 on Thursday. Then, re-seed and play the semifinals Friday.
  • As stated before, 12 teams is a much stronger financial situation for the league, because it will have six first-round series instead of five with profits going 11 ways.

And here is the release the WCHA put out:

MARCO ISLAND, FL – The membership of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s men’s league, acting at it’s annual meeting today (April 28, 2009), has opted to pursue expansion of the league membership from it’s current 10-member team to a future membership of 12 teams.

The timetable for expansion consists of lifting the current moratorium as of today and continuing indefinitely. The lifting of the moratorium on expansion means the WCHA can entertain membership applications from any interested institutions who meet the league’s criteria for membership. Meeting the criteria for membership does not, however, guarantee admittance into the Association.

“The Western Collegiate Hockey Association membership today took a positive step forward in their decision to embrace possible expansion,” said WCHA Commissioner Bruce M. McLeod, “and we will continue to explore we may expand once we have completed further studies and once we have been able to identify potential members that fit the league’s criteria for membership. Obviously, there are numerous issues involved in expansion, just a few of which include the transformation from a 10-team, 28-game conference schedule to an expanded 12-member team format that would still enable us to protect our natural rivalries as best as possible, and to make certain we safeguard our successful flagship event – the WCHA Final Five.

“The WCHA has a proud history of being sensitive to the issue of expansion and the plight of other collegiate hockey programs and today’s development is a further indication that the Association will continue its tradition of assisting in the growth and development of collegiate ice hockey with an ultimate goal of expanding.”

The 10 teams that currently make up the men’s WCHA are University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), Colorado College (CC), University of Denver (DU), Michigan Technological University (MTU), University of Minnesota (UM), University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU), University of North Dakota (UND), St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and University of Wisconsin (UW). The last expansion in the WCHA occured in 1999-2000 when Minnesota State University, Mankato joined the conference as it’s 10th team.

The Commissioner’s office, in conjunction with the league’s structure committee, will head up the expansion effort with the goal of identifying potential member teams as soon as possible. The earliest the WCHA would be able to integrate new teams into the men’s league would be for the 2011-2012 season based on current contractual obligations.

“The WCHA also wants to note that Bemidji State University’s presentation to the league at the annual meeting on April 27 was very professional and well received,” said McLeod. “The BSU student body, faculty, alumni, and the entire community should know that the league membership came away impressed with the University’s commitment to the student-athlete, both on and off the ice, the long track record of success their hockey program has achieved, the breaking of ground for the new Bemidji State Regional Events Center, and the degree of excitement throughout the community and northern Minnesota for the future of BSU Hockey.”

Bemidji State University’s application for league membership will remain under active consideration.

McLeod to address media

WCHA commish Bruce McLeod is holding a conference call at 1 p.m. Central today to discuss expansion and Bemidji State, which stated its case for admission Monday. Most of the hockey media world believes that the league is going to announce that it has not decided one way or another, but we’ll find out at that time whether that’s correct or not.

So check back and I’ll be posting updates live as the conference call is going on. The story will hit the Herald’s site soon after that.

One other random piece of news: Denver forward Rhett Rakhshani tells the Post that he’s coming back for his senior season and will be captain of the team.

Idalski signs extension; shootouts to stay

Quick news update: Women’s coach Brian Idalski just signed a two-year contract extension that will take him through the 2011-2012 season.

The story didn’t appear in full on the site today, so grab a paper or wait until later this afternoon to get more information.

One random note I’ve heard from the WCHA meetings in Florida is that the women’s coaches have decided they liked how the shootout worked last season and it will continue for the 2009-10 season with the same point system.

Stafford, Blake score in U.S. win

Drew Stafford scored for the second time in two games and Jason Blake had a goal and an assist in the Americans’ 6-1 win over Austria today at the World Championships.

Lake of the Woods’ Keith Ballard also had an assist for the 2-0 Americans.

Next up: Sweden on Wednesday. That one should be a little more interesting.

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