WCHA enters final season before major makeoverThe Western Collegiate Hockey Association isn’t going away, but it will never be the same after the 2012-13 men’s season.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association isn’t going away, but it will never be the same after the 2012-13 men’s season.
Twelve teams will say farewell in their own way this winter while celebrating, remembering and saluting the premier conference in Division I. Members begin nonleague play this week, including Minnesota Duluth at home with Ohio State on Friday and Saturday.
Four will remain in a remodeled nine-team WCHA for 2013-14. UMD and five others will join the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Minnesota and Wisconsin will be part of the Big Ten league.
The WCHA is beginning its 61st year. UMD joined in 1965-66, the same season a freshman forward from Fort Frances, Ontario, came to Duluth. Bruce McLeod played for the Bulldogs and stayed, working in administration, including the position of athletic director from 1983-96. He began his position as WCHA commissioner in 1994-95, succeeding Otto Breitenbach.
McLeod, 65, has had some connection with the league for 47 years. And while he’s saddened by the WCHA’s breakup, he said he’s never been given specific reasons for the departure of the schools to the NCHC. Only one WCHA coach contacted McLeod during the NCHC’s planning in 2011, he said.
“Some (WCHA schools) thought it was a better route to take (to join a new league). That’s their prerogative,” McLeod said Tuesday from home in Denver. “With all of the (recent) changes it seems that the college game has lost a little bit of its soul and has become more of a business.
“I have a lot of emotions about this last season (of the 12-team league). I’m going to miss a lot of the people who have made it so enjoyable. I’ve been blessed to be part of such a fantastic league.
“My loyalty has always been to do the best job I possibly can; to make the league better than it was. I’m looking forward to the last big splash that we’ll make this season and I’m excited for a new era. The league isn’t going away; it will just have a new look.”
McLeod’s contract runs through 2013-14 and, although he’s made no decision about his future, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him step down at that time.
Goaltending, as usual, to be
critical in WCHA race
Goaltending will be as critical as ever this season with new faces dotting rosters, including UMD.
Five of seven goalies with the top winning percentages from last season have departed —leader Kenny Reiter of UMD (23-9-6), Kent Patterson of Minnesota, Aaron Dell of North Dakota, Mike Lee of St. Cloud State and Josh Robinson of Michigan Tech.
“As everyone in this league knows, it starts between the posts,” said first-year Minnesota State-Mankato coach Mike Hastings, who played two seasons at St. Cloud State and was an assistant at Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha.
The central theme for most teams includes upperclassmen and defensive play.
“We have an outstanding group of seniors and will rely heavily on that group,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol.
Six of the WCHA’s top scorers are also gone and no team was hit harder than UMD. Eighty of 147 goals were scored by Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk, J.T. Brown, Brady Lamb, Scott Kishel and David Grun, who all have moved on. Connolly, Oleksuk and Brown were in the top six in league scoring for all games.
“We have some significant losses up front and some holes to fill, but we have good depth at every position,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
UMD opens the league season Oct. 26-27 at home with Wisconsin.
Some rules changes
WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd provided an update on NCAA rules changes during a league conference call Tuesday.
-- If a goal net is dislodged by the defensive team while an offensive player is in the act of shooting, a puck entering the net can be ruled a goal. Previously a dislodged net by the defensive team meant an automatic whistle.
-- Indirect contact to the head, the result of the continuation of contact starting in the chest area, can be a two-minute minor penalty. Previously, any contact to the head resulted in a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
-- Hand passes in the defensive zone, from defensive player to defensive player are no longer allowed. Hand passes will result in an automatic whistle.
-- Any puck going off a skate and into the net is a goal as long as there is no kicking motion. The rule is being reinstated after being taken out six years ago.