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IFallsRon

Omaha in the WCHA?

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I can't imagine why Dean Blais would take a job in Omaha but my guess is that it's what that program needs to get it into the WCHA. More later.

Dean Blais has resigned as head coach of the Fargo Force, according to the USHL organization's front office.

There had been speculation surrounding Blais as the next head coach of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and various outlets were reporting that Blais will be named the next coach of the Mavericks at the school's 2 p.m. press conference today.

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By Rob White

WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts has a message for all those making plans for the Mavericks to join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Wait a minute.

“I keep reading all these articles that we're moving to the WCHA, and that's extremely premature at this point,” Alberts said. “We've never made that announcement.”

Further still, Alberts said, the WCHA — which originally contacted the University of Nebraska at Omaha about switching from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association — appears to have backed off some in its pursuit.

“The tenor of their interest seems to have changed, for whatever reason,” Alberts said. “Their interest seems to have waned.”

Alberts said he spoke with WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod on Friday as a matter of routine business and got a different impression of how things were going.

“The only thing that has changed since our previous conversation is that we hired a head coach,” Alberts said.

Does that mean that UNO's hiring of Dean Blais, who twice won national championships while coaching for WCHA power North Dakota, has made the WCHA squeamish?

McLeod, who said on the day Blais was hired, June 12, that the league's coaches were excited about competing against him again, downplayed the insinuation.

“I don't know what that means,” he said, dismissing any correlation.

McLeod said league athletic directors would make a recommendation Wednesday to their faculty representatives about the league's potential expansion.

Bemidji State already has applied to join the 10-team league, and the WCHA wants to find a second program to fill out the lineup and make scheduling uniform.

McLeod said previously that UNO was the league's only target and that avenue would be examined before moving on to another school.

He said no date has been set for a formal vote. UNO has not applied to join the league.

McLeod said he was unaware of a change in interest in UNO from the WCHA.

“I'm not sure what he (Alberts) is referring to,” McLeod said. “This is just part of the process.”

When UNO started its hockey program in 1996, its original hope was to join the WCHA, but when the league didn't move quickly to admit UNO, it instead joined the CCHA.

“We're not disappointed at all in the CCHA,” Alberts said. “We've had 10 great years in the CCHA. They've done great things for us and we've built some good rivalries. Our hockey program is not afraid to take on anybody. And when Ohio State and Michigan come to town this year on back-to-back weekends (in February), it's going to be special.”

CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos, reached by cell phone Friday afternoon, declined immediate comment.

Alberts has vowed to re-evaluate all aspects of the Mav hockey program since taking over as athletic director last month.

“We did have conversations with both leagues, and those were fruitful,” Alberts said. “All we have stated is that we were going to take a comprehensive look at how we do business with hockey. Since the WCHA approached us with interest, we listened. It was never about us seeking a new home.”

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Gophers Assistant Coach Mike Hastings has also resgined from that position to come on board at UNO as an assistant to Blais. Hastings was in the running for the head coach job down there, so it is interesting to see him on as an assistant again. One would think that Blais may only coach a couple of years and then the program will be ready for Hastings to step in and take over when Blais steps down.

As for UNO joining the WCHA, I have my fingers crossed. I have relatives in Omaha that are die-hard UNO hockey fans, season tickets and the whole nine yards. I would LOVE to go down there on a road trip to watch the Gophers play and see some family in the same weekend. Omaha is a boring town, but there will be free room and board if I would be able to make the trip. I really hope it comes true!

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UNO would be a good fit. Saw them play a few games in Mankato and was really suprised to see how far they've come.

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Welcome Bemidji and Omaha to the WCHA! The details will be interesting, such as admission cost for UNO, when they are allowed to become members and if Omaha gets the Final 5 every once in a while.

Per the Bemidji Pioneer:

Sources have told the Duluth News Tribune that Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha will be officially welcomed into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Friday afternoon.

News Tribune hockey writer Kevin Pates reported this morning that the Beavers and Mavericks will begin play in the league in 2010-11. A WCHA teleconference call is scheduled for 5 p.m.

Here is Kevin Pates' report:

Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha officially will be admitted to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this afternoon and begin play in the league in 2010-11, sources have confirmed to the News Tribune. A WCHA teleconference call is scheduled for 5 p.m.

The decision to expand from 10 to 12 teams came Thursday night after two days of talks within the league, and with Omaha school officials. It's believed that WCHA athletic directors agreed in principle with terms negotiated between commissioner Bruce McLeod and the incoming schools, and an official vote on admission will be taken today by school faculty representatives. Eight of 10 votes is required for admission.

McLeod told the News Tribune on Thursday afternoon that there had been new developments in the situation and that an announcement was due as early as today.

It will mark the first WCHA expansion since Minnesota State-Mankato joined in 1999-2000.

Omaha currently is a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and first approached the WCHA about membership 13 years ago as its hockey program began. Until Thursday, Bemidji State was the only school to apply to the WCHA since a moratorium on expansion was lifted in January. Bemidji State made a presentation during league meetings in April in Marco Island, Fla. Bemidji State's women's team is a member of the women's WCHA, while the men's team is a member of the four-team College Hockey America, which will disolve after the 2009-10 season because of dwindling member numbers.

McLeod talked with WCHA athletic directors by phone Wednesday night with an update on negotiations with Omaha school officials, receiving guidance on how to proceed. It's believed he continued discussions Thursday with new Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts and met later in the day, by phone, with the WCHA ADs.

It's believed that negotiations centered on three points -- a reduced fee to join the league, an immediate share of playoff revenue and competing in the WCHA by 2010-11

When Minnesota State-Mankato joined the WCHA, it paid the league $40,000 per year for three years, and didn't share in WCHA playoff revenue during that time, according to the Mankato Free Press. WCHA teams each earned about $91,000 from the 2009 league playoffs, said McLeod.

Bemidji State, in particular, was pushing to begin WCHA play as soon as possible. If incoming teams were asked to wait until 2011-12, it would've forced Bemidji State to play an independent and, likely, unattractive schedule, in 2010-11, the same season it moves into the new Bemidji Regional Events Center.

The Beavers, coached by Coleraine native Tom Serratore, won the 2009 College Hockey America regular season and playoff titles, and advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time, losing to Miami of Ohio in the semifinals. Bemidji State finished 20-16-1.

Omaha (15-17-8) tied for seventh in the CCHA in 2008-09. After the season, Alberts moved Duluth native Mike Kemp from coach to associate athletic director and hired former North Dakota coach Dean Blais. The International Falls native, hired two weeks ago, was 216-115-83 in 10 years in the WCHA with North Dakota through 2004.

Minnesota Duluth has played Bemidji State very year since the Beavers moved to Division I in 1999-2000. The Bulldogs hold a 13-7 mark during that period and are scheduled face Bemidji State next season, on Jan. 22-23, in a home-and-home series. UMD last met Nebraska-Omaha in October of 2001 in the Maverick Stampede, beating the Mavericks 5-2 in Omaha.

With Omaha leaving the CCHA, it's believed the league will replace the Mavericks with Alabama-Huntsville of College Hockey America. Huntsville has applied for CCHA membership and received a site visit by the league earlier this month.

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Glad to see they worked it out. Makes more sense than moving Fairbanks over, though that would have worked too. UAH moving to CCHA is what was expected also, so no D1 programs were lost.

How are they going to re-distribute the rival pairings? UMD vs Bemidji would be cool and then have Tech vs Omaha? Or they could leave it alone and just have BSU vs Omaha.

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Glad to see they worked it out. Makes more sense than moving Fairbanks over, though that would have worked too. UAH moving to CCHA is what was expected also, so no D1 programs were lost.

How are they going to re-distribute the rival pairings? UMD vs Bemidji would be cool and then have Tech vs Omaha? Or they could leave it alone and just have BSU vs Omaha.

Good question, they might just pass on the rivalry pairing and setup groups like the CCHA. Or maybe a East and West with six team in each, lets say a West team would play all western teams twice and play all the East team only once. Their may be other options I'm not sure.

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Here's the official release from the WCHA:

WCHA adds Bemidji State, Nebraska Omaha to league

MADISON, Wis.

In what will rank among the most significant days in the storied, 58-year history of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the membership today voted to admit both Bemidji State University and the University of Nebraska Omaha into the Association family beginning with the 2010-11 season. This marks the first expansion of the WCHA since Minnesota State University, Mankato was admitted as a 10th member for the 1999-2000 season and eighth time overall the league has expanded since it’s founding in 1951.

The admission of Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha will bring the league membership to 12 teams. The current 10-team membership of the men’s WCHA is comprised of University of Alaska Anchorage, Colorado College, University of Denver, Michigan Technological University, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State University, Mankato, University of North Dakota, St. Cloud State University and University of Wisconsin.

“I am extremely pleased to announce that the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is expanding to twelve teams,” said WCHA Commissioner Bruce M. McLeod. “With the addition of Bemidji State University and the University of Nebraska Omaha the WCHA solidifies and positions itself to maintain and expand upon the excellence that is the WCHA.

“This is certainly a defining moment for the WCHA and we are proud to add Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha to our already strong organization.

“This is a happy and proud day for me,” continued McLeod. “I’m happy because I think this is such a win-win circumstance for the WCHA, our new members and collegiate hockey in general. I could not be more proud of the way our WCHA members have handled this very complex circumstance and have been able to look beyond their own backyard and do what is best for college hockey and the WCHA.

“The WCHA is proud of what they’ve put together in 58 years (2009-10 will be the league’s 58th season) and I think this day will go down as a watershed day. I fully anticipate what we’ve done today will make us even better. I’m excited about the future and can’t wait to get going.”

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association is home to a collegiate record 36 national championship teams since it’s founding in 1951, a record 13 Hobey Baker Memorial Award Winners, some 400 players who have gone on to play in the National Hockey League and some 725 NHL Draftees, more than 150 alums who have played on various Olympic hockey teams, and more than 40 players and coaches who have been part of Stanley Cup (NHL) winning clubs. In addition, the WCHA has drawn in excess of 1,500,000 fans in each of the past seven seasons and in excess of 1,000,00 for 16 consecutive years and annually conducts one of college hockey’s premier post-season tournaments – the Red Baron™ WCHA Final Five held annually at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Final Five drew 82,065 fans this past March.

“The pieces are all falling into place for Bemidji State hockey,” stated BSU Director of Athletics Dr. Rick Goeb. “Beginning with the efforts to elevate our hockey programs to the NCAA Division I level and having the women’s program join the WCHA over 10 years ago, to our partnership with the city to see a world-class venue like the Bemidji Regional Event Center come to fruition, and now the men’s hockey program being approved for membership into the elite conference in all of college hockey.

“We want to thank the city of Bemidji, our dedicated fans and the student body who have supported Bemidji State hockey. These outstanding hockey fans and partnerships have made membership into the WCHA a reality.”

Said Bemidji State men’s hockey coach Tom Serratore, who took his team to the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four in April of this year, “This is a great day for the Beavers.“

“First, I want to thank the WCHA for this opportunity. It is truly an honor to be a part of the greatest hockey conference at the Division I level and we feel privileged to come along side the other Division I hockey programs in the state of Minnesota as members of the WCHA.

“Beaver Hockey reaches far beyond this campus so that makes today’s announcement a dream come true for our alumni, many in the community and many in the region. This is a proud day for all involved with Bemidji State.”

Said University of Nebraska Omaha Director of Athletics Trev Alberts, “The WCHA is an outstanding conference with a long history of excellent players and coaches. When we were approached about admission, we took a long look at all aspects of a move to the WCHA. In the end, we felt there were many long-term benefits to our program. We’re excited about becoming a part of the WCHA’s rich tradition of outstanding hockey.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Alberts continued. “We have had a fruitful 10-year affiliation with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. It is a very well-run conference, and its member institutions have been outstanding partners. We know the CCHA will continue to thrive after we depart.”

“I was happy to hear that we would be joining the WCHA in a year’s time,” said Dean Blais, UNO’s new head coach. “I’m obviously very familiar with the league as both a head coach and assistant coach for 19 years and as a player. It’s a league with a great tradition and excellent coaches, and I’m looking forward to competing against them.”

Founded in 1951, the original seven members of the WCHA - then known as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League - were Colorado College, University of Denver, Michigan Tech University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota and University of North Dakota. In 1953-54, the league changed it’s name to the WIHL, or Western Intercollegiate Hockey League, and then in 1959, the league became known as the WCHA.

The first expansion of the league membership occured effective with the 1965-66 campaign, when the University of Minnesota Duluth became the WCHA’s eighth team. In 1969, the membership rose to nine teams with the addition of the University of Wisconsin for the 1969-70 season. And then in 1971, the WCHA increased its membership to 10 teams with the admittance of the University of Notre Dame for the 1971-72 season.

The WCHA remained an Association of those 10 teams through the 1980-81 playing season, when Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Notre Dame left the fold to join the CCHA, or Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The WCHA then remained a six team league up until 1984-85, when Michigan Tech returned to the Association and the league welcomed Northern Michigan University as an eighth member team.

Then in 1990, the WCHA again grew to nine teams with the admittance of St. Cloud State University for the 1990-91 campaign and on to ten teams again when the University of Alaska Anchorage was admitted for the 1993-94 season.

In 1997, Northern Michigan opted to leave the WCHA to join the CCHA, again giving the WCHA nine teams before Minnesota State University, Mankato joined the family for the 1999-2000 campaign.

About Bemidji State University

Bemidji State University, located in northern Minnesota’s lake district, occupies a beautiful campus along the shore of Lake Bemidji. Enrolling approximately 5,000 students annually, the University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and 14 graduate programs encompassing arts, sciences and select professional programs.

The University is a member of the Minnesota State College and Universities System and has a faculty and staff of nearly 600. University signature themes include environmental stewardship, civic engagement and global/multicultural understanding.

For further information about the University, visit our Web site at: http://www.bemidjistate.edu.

About the University of Nebraska Omaha

The University of Nebraska at Omaha recently celebrated its 100th anniversary during the 2008-2009 school year. UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908. UNO currently has an enrollment of 14,700 in six different colleges and graduate studies programs located on its urban campus in mid-town Omaha.

UNO features 14 athletic teams competing in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, one of the top Division II conferences in the country, as well as a Division I hockey program competing in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Maverick athletic teams have claimed national championships in soccer, softball, volleyball and wrestling including the 2009 NCAA Division II championship in wrestling.

For further information about the University of Nebraska Omaha, visit the school’s official web site at: gomavs.unomaha.edu.

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One of my questions is, how are they going to change the Final 5 tournament? That's one of my favorite weekends all year, and I'd hate for it to be changed. Could they keep the WCHA playoffs the same (10 teams whittled down to 5 for tourney), and have a cut-off for the bottom two teams?

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Good question...We will have an answer in at most 1.5 years. I'm glad that Bemidji got in since they are building that new venue already.

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One of my questions is, how are they going to change the Final 5 tournament? That's one of my favorite weekends all year, and I'd hate for it to be changed. Could they keep the WCHA playoffs the same (10 teams whittled down to 5 for tourney), and have a cut-off for the bottom two teams?

WCHA will figure it out, and I think the Final 5 will continue.

What I think could happen is that every WCHA team will play every weekend and this is how the Final 5 tourney will bread down is that the #9-12 seeded teams [9 vs 12, 10 vs 11] in the Conference plays a best of 3 series or a play-in game. Winner of both series go on the next weekend and play best of 3 series...then you know the Winners of these 5 series goes to the Final 5 in St.Paul. That could work?

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Why not a final 6, two play in game Thursday and the rest of the games can follow as normal. It might not have the same ring as the Final Five but get some marketing people to polish it up a little.

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