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After 70 years, WCHA men’s league officially disbanded

After 70 years of play, the men’s WCHA announced Friday that it had dissolved effective Thursday, July 1, after a vote taken by the league’s two remaining members.

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s league is officially no more.

After 70 years of play, the men’s WCHA announced Friday that it had dissolved effective Thursday, July 1, after a vote taken by the league’s two remaining members.

Representatives from Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks recently voted to cease operations for the men’s league, the release said, as a result of the departure of eight league members over the last two years.

“I am honored and grateful to have had the special opportunity to lead the WCHA these past seven-plus years,” Bill Robertson said in a statement. Robertson, who served as WCHA men’s league commissioner since 2014, was recently named USHL president and commissioner. “I consider my time with college hockey’s oldest and most distinguished conference one of the highlights of my sports career. As we mark the end of an era of college hockey, I wish the best to all ten outgoing institutions and all individuals who have contributed to the operations of the conference.”

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Friday’s news was two years in the making.

Seven WCHA schools -- Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan -- announced June 28, 2019, that they would leave the league to explore creating a new conference to call home to begin play in 2021-22. Alabama Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks were not part of the group’s plans.

The seven programs announced in February 2020 that they had revived the Central Collegiate Hockey Association name for the new league.

Two more major steps took place in the summer of 2020.

First, longtime coach Don Lucia was hired as CCHA commissioner . Weeks later, St. Thomas was introduced as the conference’s eighth member with the Tommies making the move up to NCAA Division I.

Meanwhile, Alabama Huntsville cut its program in May 2020 , only to reinstate it for 2020-21 after a fundraising campaign . After playing this past season, the program was suspended in May 2021 due to lack of a conference affiliation. The WCHA granted UAH’s request to depart the league earlier this summer.

The Alaska programs, both of which sat out the 2020-21 season , are at a crossroads.

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Alaska Anchorage will not play this upcoming season while a fundraising attempt is made to save the program. The school announced last August that the program would fold after 2020-21 before later canceling the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alaska Fairbanks will play as an independent program in 2021-22.

Established as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League in 1951, the men’s WCHA was the oldest conference in college hockey at the time of its demise. The league produced 37 men’s national champions over the years, the most recent being Minnesota Duluth’s 2011 title.

The WCHA changed dramatically following the 2012-13 season when many longtime members departed for the new Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Six new programs joined the WCHA for the 2013-14 campaign.

The historic MacNaughton Cup, the WCHA’s regular-season championship trophy, will be brought over to the new CCHA and be awarded to the league’s regular-season champion beginning with its inaugural season in 2021-22.

Bemidji State became a WCHA men's league member prior to the 2010-11 season.

The WCHA women’s league, of which BSU has belonged to since 1999, will continue to sponsor NCAA Division I women’s hockey.

Austin Monteith is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of Bloomington, Ill., he is a 2015 graduate of Butler University. Follow him on Twitter at @amonteith92. Contact the Pioneer sports department at sports@bemidjipioneer.com.
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