WCHA Unveils Postseason Plans
Minnesota Schools Christen New Tournament
by Nathan Wells and Matt Christians/CHN Reporters
ST. PAUL, Minn. After 13 straight years in St. Paul, the WCHA Final Five will move out of its long-time home next year. For just one year, though.
The WCHA announced Saturday afternoon that the playoff championship will rotate over the next four years between Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Grand Rapids will host in 2014 and 2016 — while the Xcel is occupied with the Big Ten championship — while St. Paul will be the home of the 2015 and 2017 tournaments.
“We just couldn’t be more pleased to be able to host the best conference post-season hockey tournament in the country in two of the premier facilities in the Midwest,” WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “We are tremendously excited to bring WCHA championship hockey and the quest for the Broadmoor Trophy to Grand Rapids as well as continue our long-standing tradition and success of playing in St. Paul.
The league will welcome new members Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska Fairbanks, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan next season, as two teams head to the Big Ten and six head to the new NCHC. Returning are Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. The league will split the Xcel Energy Center with the Big Ten. That league will play in St. Paul during the off years, but there is no competition between the two conferences.
“The WCHA and the Big Ten want it to be a seamless transition year to year for those who celebrate college hockey,” McLeod said.
Although the conference tournament will retain the Final Five name, its format will change. Only the top 8 schools will play in the first round with the 4 best-of-three winners advancing to the Final Five. The “Alaska Plan,” in which the two Alaska schools were to play each other regardless of where they finished, is no longer an option. Rather, those two and Alabama-Huntsville will pay for first-round travel costs home or away.
In addition to the playoff format, the WCHA unveiled a new logo for the 2013-14 Season. The logo keeps the big "W" element of the previous one but adds a red hockey player to it.
In other news announced Saturday at the Final Five, Minnesota — in conjunction with Bemidji State, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth — announced plans for an annual tournament beginning in 2014 that features all five of Minnesota’s Division I hockey programs.
Dates have been set for Jan. 24-25, 2014 with Minnesota, Minnesota-State, St. Cloud and Minnesota-Duluth all taking part, while Bemidji State sits out. The Gophers will be permanent hosts while the other teams rotate over an initial four-year schedule.
St. Cloud will sit out in 2015, Minnesota-Duluth in 2016 and Minnesota-State in 2017.
“This new tournament at the Xcel Energy Center will be great for all five programs and great for the entire state of Minnesota,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “There’s a lot of history and a lot of tradition between Minnesota’s five Division I programs and we are certainly excited to keep those traditions intact moving forward.”
The interesting part here, of course, is that these teams are splitting into different conferences next year. An unfortunate by-product of that was the in-state rivalries that would be lost. This effort to create a tournament was done to address that issue.
"Although we are relocating to a new league next fall, we didn't want see our great rivalries with the four other in-state Division I programs — many of which began 50 or more years ago — come to an end," Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said.
"The rivalries that have been built between the schools in Minnesota have helped grow interest in college hockey in this region, and I think the new tournament will help carry on the strong tradition of those in-state rivalries," St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said.
The fans, in a contest, will decide the name of the tournament this spring. A trophy will be awarded to the winner of the event and the schools hope to find a television home for the contest as well, but details have yet to be finalized.
The tournament will be structured much like Boston’s Beanpot, where teams will play a different opponent each year, with a championship and consolation game following the next day.
"The impact of the Beanpot Hockey Tournament in the Boston area is unbelievable, and I think this tournament will be as good, if not better," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. "The real winners here are hockey fans from around the state. With all five Division I schools from Minnesota participating, we are enhancing the long-standing rivalries our fans have grown to love by inserting them into a tournament setting and putting hardware on the line."