Last week’s announcement by Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) commissioner Gary Karner that the five University of Wisconsin schools would leave the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) and form a WIAC conference starting the 2014-2015 season made waves in the West Region, as well as the rest of Division III hockey.
The initial announcement caught everyone by surprise, especially the two non-WIAC schools competing in the NCHA.
“As a proud member institution of the NCHA since 1994 it is a sad day to think that a league with so much rich hockey history could dissolve but, that is a real possibility today,” St. Norbert Coach Tim Coughlin said last week. “We were very surprised to see the e-mail from the WIAC and their decision to leave”.
“With today’s [Feb. 15] announcement that the WIAC schools are parting ways with the NCHA, it now gives us many options to consider for the betterment of our hockey programs,” St. Scholastica Sports Information Director Jesse Robinson added to the sentiment last week. “Everything is on the table, from joining the WIAC as an affiliate, to joining the MCHA, replacing the UW schools with new teams in the NCHA, to taking a look at the MIAC. Whatever decision is made, it will be the best possible outcome for our men’s and women’s programs to succeed at a national level”.
Although the move will not take place for two more years, teams in the West Region will start discussing the move immediately. The MIAC and NCHA men’s hockey leagues have had a working relationship with scheduling nonconference games for many years, but next season’s games could be the last in the series of long-term agreements.
“We typically schedule in two-year segments,” MIAC Executive Director Dan McKane said. “Next season (2012-13) marks the second year of a two-year agreement. We have nothing further scheduled than that.”
The MIAC and NCHA scheduled their games on two separate weekends, with each league trading hosting duties during the two weekends. This year, the MIAC schools traveled to NCHA schools the first weekend in November, while the first weekend of January, the MIAC teams hosted NCHA teams in the conferences’ second meeting of the year.
Games for the 2013-14 nonconference schedules have not yet been established.
“I do plan to ask our hockey coaches to discuss this situation at our end of the season business meeting towards\ the end of the month,” McKane said. “Our hockey coaches meet over the next few weeks, where I would imagine future scheduling discussion will begin.”
The men’s hockey coaches meeting is scheduled for February 27, according to the MIAC website. Women’s coaches meet a day earlier.
Adding a new team to the MIAC is very unlikely, but may be brought up at the meetings. Currently, there are nine teams competing in the men’s division, while the women’s division has 10 teams.
“Currently, the MIAC has a moratorium on new members,” McKane said. “We also do not have an affiliate-member option in our bylaws.
But, with that said, I would anticipate some of the membership to discuss potential options.”
Unlike the MIAC’s moratorium to adding new schools to the conference, the MCHA has no such wording in place. If it becomes a good fit for all parties involved, the MCHA could grow by adding more teams.
“We want to be up front and ethical; we’re not into conference raiding,” MCHA Commissioner Dr. G. Steven Larson said. “Talks have been going on in both ways.”
The MCHA does not have such a specific scheduling agreement in place with the NCHA, but teams in the two conferences have met early in the season and during the holidays this season.
“It makes things interesting,” Larson said. “We have no formal agreement, but we will continue to pursue scheduling in the West Region.”
Marian, Concordia (Wis.), and Finlandia had early-season games in late October scheduled against Wisconsin-Stout, St. Norbert and Wisconsin-River Falls, respectively.
Marian also hosted the MCHA/NCHA showcase over Thanksgiving weekend that featured St. Scholastica and St. Norbert of the NCHA, along with Lawrence being the other MCHA team.
Adrian hosted both Wisconsin-Eau Claire and St. Thomas at its Thanksgiving tournament, and in early January traveled to Wisconsin-Steven Point for a nonconference series.
Wisconsin-Superior and Finlandia played against each other in December, while St. Scholastica traveled to Northland in January. Both of those series were short, considering the travel those Lake Superior schools have during the season.
In the end, physical makeup of any of the conference may not change. The WIAC commissioner has publicly stated that the new WIAC conference would be open to accepting affiliate memberships to non-WIAC schools in both men’s and women’s hockey.
“I expect that St Norbert will make application to the WIAC at the appropriate time,” Coughlin said of St. Norbert’s desire to continue with a conference similar to what currently exists. “For now, our focus is 100 percent on winning the prestigious Peters Cup.”
Player of the Week: Jordan Keizer, Jr., Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Keizer scored three goals, two of which were game-winners, and added two assists in MSOE’s sweep of Northland.
Defensive Player of the Week: Brendan Sullivan, Jr., Lake Forest. Sullivan made 41 saves in Friday’s 5-2 win over Lawrence to secure a spot in the MCHA tournament for Lake Forest. He followed that with 43-save performance on Saturday in a 2-1 defeat against Lawrence. He stopped 84 of 88 shots on the weekend for a .955 save percentage.
Freshman of the Week: Randy Willis, Marian. Willis had two victories in goal over Concordia (Wis.) last weekend to help Marian clinch the Northern Division title in the MCHA. He had 45 saves in a 5-1 win on Friday, and followed up 24 more saves in Saturday’s 6-2 win. He had a 1.50 goals against average and a .958 save percentage for the weekend.
Athlete of the Week: Adam Smyth, So., Gustavus Adolphus. Smyth helped spark a pair of comebacks for Gustavus against St. Olaf with his scoring touch. He had three goals over the weekend to help Gustavus secure the No. 2 seed and home ice advantage for the first game of the MIAC tournament this weekend. His first two goals of the weekend came Friday, as Gustavus came back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime Friday. On Saturday, Smyth added another goal as Gustavus came back from a 3-0 St. Olaf lead to forge a 3-3 tie. This is Smyth’s second MIAC Men’s Hockey Athlete-of-the-Week award this season.