Large-scale conference changes in NCAA men’s hockey are typically met with a large amount of hand-wringing.
So it went this offseason when seven members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association stunned the league office by filing notice to leave after the 2020-21 season.
Those schools — Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan — are looking to form a league of their own, apparently free of the current league structure and the three other WCHA teams.
The geography of the teams left out did not go unnoticed. Alaska, Alaska Anchorage and Alabama Huntsville are among the most remote outposts for Division I college hockey.
The announcement left questions to be answered over the coming months:
Will the three outsiders continue to be viable college hockey programs? Alabama Huntsville has plans for a new arena, but higher education financial woes in Alaska are forcing those schools to go the other way and return games to smaller, on-campus facilities. Funding for the Seawolves and Nanooks is best described as tenuous.
How far will the dominoes fall in this cycle of conference changes? In 2013, the addition of the Big Ten Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference ended the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and impacted 21 teams. Opening the books again could prompt other schools to want to shift for geographical or competitive reasons.
As the 2019-20 season begins, there’s uncertainty at the conference level across the country. Hockey East is looking for a successor to commissioner Joe Bertagna, whose contract isn’t being extended after this season. The Big Ten is waiting on word from Illinois about the potential for being its eighth team.
Here are five other items to keep an eye on around NCAA men’s hockey this season: