WCHA’s Alaska playoff plan has some members anxious

The first sign of anxiety over the remodeled WCHA’s upcoming postseason format surfaced just minutes after the plan was voted in.

League commissioner Bruce McLeod said he heard a couple of informal conversations taking place after last week’s meeting, with representatives of the schools that will make up the nine-team WCHA talking over other possibilities.

“There was anxiety on a lot of peoples’ parts when you do something somewhat different,” McLeod said.

That something different is a format that will automatically match Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska in the first round of the playoffs unless one wins the regular season championship and the bye to the Final Five that goes with it.

The vote was eight in favor and one against, and the dissenter was vocal in opposing the plan.

“I think it is embarrassing, and I think it is bad for college hockey and bad for our league,” Alaska-Anchorage athletic director Steve Cobb told the Anchorage Daily News. “Don’t get me wrong, we love playing Fairbanks. But the playoffs are supposed to be an earned deal. You don’t pick your opponent.”

The plan was born from financial and geographical issues related to Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage being in the same conference for the first time when conferences reshuffle in 2013, McLeod said.

But the league committed to it for only two seasons, possibly further illustrating the trepidation WCHA members felt about making an outside-the-box change to postseason seeding.

“Some years if they both finish in the lower half, that’s not going to taste very good,” McLeod said. “But if they both finish in the upper half, it’s going to be not good for them. They might have been able to get two in [to the Final Five] otherwise and they’re only going to get one. That’s why we did it on a two-year rotation to see how things shake out and how people feel about it. It’s not a very long commitment.”

Including all nine teams in the postseason wasn’t a foregone conclusion, McLeod said. Eight- and six-team plans were also discussed at the meeting in Detroit before the full field was approved.

The league’s future membership also approved a 28-game conference schedule that will see teams meet six of their opponents four times each and the other two opponents twice each per season.

Cobb also told the Anchorage Daily News that the WCHA’s 2015 tournament championship will be played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. That venue has hosted the WCHA Final Five since 2001, and it will house the Big Ten Conference’s championship weekend in 2014 and 2016.

The site of the 2014 tournament has not been determined.

Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are staying in the WCHA in 2013, and Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan are joining them from the CCHA.

The conference shifts started when the Big Ten Conference announced its formation for 2013, taking Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the CCHA.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference then emerged with Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State leaving the WCHA and Miami and Western Michigan departing the CCHA.

Current CCHA member Notre Dame also is on the move in 2013, going to Hockey East.

Alabama-Huntsville is the only school without a conference affiliation after the 2013 shift takes place; the Chargers have been an independent since the CHA folded in 2010.

The future WCHA members talked about UAH, McLeod said, but that discussion was purely informational.