March 26, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Gone Into History

The CCHA Says Good Bye to a 42-Year Existence

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Teams have come and gone to the CCHA — Kent State, Illinois-Chicago, St. Louis, Ohio University, Nebraska-Omaha.

Now, it's all gone. An entire 42-year history, gone.

It's hard to believe a league that produced Brendan Morrison, Marty Turco, Ryan Miller, Nelson Emerson, Doug Weight, and so many more — simply vanishes into the night. But so it did Sunday, after the Mason Cup was awarded.

"There was a day that to play here meant more than playing in the NCAA tournament," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "Everybody wanted to get to 'The Joe," and the NCAA tournament was gravy."

The league was born out of a meeting between coaches Jack Vivian, Bill Selman and Ron Mason — then of Bowling Green, St. Louis and Lake Superior State, respectively. Those meetings, perhaps, were not unlike those that led to the NCHC, whose creation, and that of the Big Ten, ultimately led to the CCHA's demise.

Teams came and went in the '70s, but the league received a boost when Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Michigan Tech left the WCHA in 1981 to join the CCHA.

The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh away.

Like a lot of leagues in college hockey, the CCHA was mish-mash of Division II schools, smaller D-Is, and Big Ten schools. In the small world of college hockey, it was a marriage of necessity, tumultuous for many years, but relatively stable for two decades after.

If these coaches had their druthers, things would have stayed the same way. The forces of nature at work were largely out of their control. Michigan and Michigan State will be in the new Big Ten Hockey Conference. Notre Dame headed to Hockey East to avoid being left in the dust.

"It's a little bittersweet," Jackson said. "It's sweet to be here, but bitter that it's the last one."

Mason finished his career with 13 CCHA championships, at three different CCHA schools. The trophy bears his name.

"It's nice to have a name like that when you're still above the ground," Mason said.

The Cup, and other artifacts, are headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. At least something will be preserved.

"There's so many great names (on the cup), the Lergs, Ken and Jeff, the only father-son combination," CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch said. "The puck from the game-winning goal (of this year's title game). The stick from the player who scores that goal."

Berenson played for Michigan when it was in the WCHA, but coached the Wolverines to nine CCHA tournament titles.

"Well I think it’ll take awhile before the smoke clears but it’s been the only college league that I’ve coached in," Berenson said. "When I played I played at Michigan, I played in the WCHA when Michigan was in that conference. And that was before Wisconsin even had a program and mostly these other schools. So, the CCHA can be proud of all the team members, and all the championshps, and all the great events they’ve had at the Fox Theatre, and the great players they’ve produced and the great people they produced as student-athletes. ... It’s been a great league, they have nothing to apologize for. It’s just too bad it’s over."

Jackson finishes with seven.

"This one is extra special to me," Jackson said. "The first team I ever coached as a head coach in college hockey in 1991 won this tournament (Lake Superior). And this was the last opportunity to win one of these tournaments."

It may be worst of all for the league staff, which is now unemployed. Pletsch said he'd be handing out resumes along with the Mason Cup.

"Everyone's was kind of looking ahead a litle bit, and sometimes it's tough to get full buy in," Pletsch said. "But our staff was so dedicated and professional, and that's what I'll remember.

"I was fortunate enough to go to center ice with Ron Mason (during the game intermission). It kind of epitomized the CCHA. The coaches and the quality of people. When Ron walked off, Red came from the other end to make sure to shake his hand. Jeff Jackson was the same way. ... That was a 28-championship shake involved there."

Make it 29. And final.

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