As anticipated, the WCHA voted Friday to admit Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha beginning with the 2010-11 season, making the conference a 12-team league. The expansion is the league’s first since Minnesota State joined in 1999-2000.
The vote, which puts the Bemidji State program back on solid ground only months after it became the first No. 16 overall seed in the NCAA tournament to make the Frozen Four, will come a year earlier than originally anticipated.
When the league said in April that it would be seeking another school to join along with the Beavers, commissioner Bruce McLeod indicated that any move would be for the 2011-12 season.
“This is certainly a defining moment for the WCHA and we are proud to add Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha to our already strong organization,” said McLeod.
“This is a happy and proud day for me,” continued McLeod. “I’m happy because I think this is such a win-win circumstance for the WCHA, our new members and collegiate hockey in general. I could not be more proud of the way our WCHA members have handled this very complex circumstance and have been able to look beyond their own backyard and do what is best for college hockey and the WCHA.
Bemidji State’s program had been on thin ice because of the impending dissolution of the CHA.
“The pieces are all falling into place for Bemidji State hockey,” stated BSU Director of Athletics Dr. Rick Goeb. “Beginning with the efforts to elevate our hockey programs to the NCAA Division I level and having the women’s program join the WCHA over 10 years ago, to our partnership with the city to see a world-class venue like the Bemidji Regional Event Center come to fruition, and now the men’s hockey program being approved for membership into the elite conference in all of college hockey.
“We want to thank the city of Bemidji, our dedicated fans and the student body who have supported Bemidji State hockey. These outstanding hockey fans and partnerships have made membership into the WCHA a reality.”
“First, I want to thank the WCHA for this opportunity,” said Bemidji State men’s hockey coach Tom Serratore. “It is truly an honor to be a part of the greatest hockey conference at the Division I level and we feel privileged to come along side the other Division I hockey programs in the state of Minnesota as members of the WCHA.
Nebraska-Omaha, meanwhile, is moving from the CCHA, which will be down to 11 teams. Alabama-Huntsville, the lone remaining CHA member without a future home, has applied to the CCHA.
Said Nebraska-Omaha Director of Athletics Trev Alberts, “The WCHA is an outstanding conference with a long history of excellent players and coaches. When we were approached about admission, we took a long look at all aspects of a move to the WCHA. In the end, we felt there were many long-term benefits to our program. We’re excited about becoming a part of the WCHA’s rich tradition of outstanding hockey.
“I was happy to hear that we would be joining the WCHA in a year’s time,” said Dean Blais, UNO’s new head coach. “I’m obviously very familiar with the league as both a head coach and assistant coach for 19 years and as a player. It’s a league with a great tradition and excellent coaches, and I’m looking forward to competing against them.”
“We are disappointed to hear of UNO’s decision to leave the CCHA as they have been a very good member of our league, and we wish them well,” said CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos. “We have an excellent league, with a very strong membership, and we will continue to focus all of our attention on being a great conference and a leader in helping to shape the future of college hockey.
“At this time, it serves no purpose to speculate on how this latest decision will impact the future makeup of CCHA membership. There is a process being followed with respect to admittance of any new member and we are committed to following that process through to completion.”