Bemidji State gets good news from WCHAMINNEAPOLIS — Bemidji State has been trying to get into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for years, and the powerful conference might finally be relenting for the first No. 16 seed ever to reach the Frozen Four.
MINNEAPOLIS — Bemidji State has been trying to get into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for years, and the powerful conference might finally be relenting for the first No. 16 seed ever to reach the Frozen Four.
The 10-team WCHA lifted its long-standing moratorium on expansion Tuesday at the league’s annual meeting in Marco Island, Fla. The league hasn’t officially approved Bemidji State’s application for admission, but Commissioner Bruce McLeod said he will be more aggressive in pursuing a 12th school to accompany the Beavers into the mix.
“Our issue at this point was not Bemidji State University and their membership,” McLeod said in a teleconference. “Our issue was more with the number. We’ve been through quite a few things in the last six months or so trying to work through the number of 11.”
Unlike the 11-member Big Ten, the WCHA is firm about having an even number of teams to make a balanced schedule.
McLeod said he hopes to have a resolution by mid-summer.
Time is of the essence for Bemidji State, which made a stunning run to the NCAA Frozen Four this season. The school’s College Hockey America conference will fold after next season.
While the WCHA didn’t hold a formal vote on the Beavers’ application, the Beavers came away with the impression that they took a huge step closer to a new hockey home.
“We have been patient for 10 years — what’s a few more months?” coach Tom Serratore said. “I’m confident the WCHA will be able to find a 12th member, and I feel very confident where we stand with the WCHA. All we need to do is be patient and things will work out.”
It’s been a long climb up the hockey ranks for the school of 5,000 in northern Minnesota. The Beavers won 13 national championships in Division II, III and NAIA before making the jump to Division I in 1999.
It wasn’t until this season that the Beavers finally caught the attention of hockey fans across the country.
The final seed in the 16-team NCAA tournament, Bemidji State defeated Notre Dame and Cornell in the first two rounds to advance to the national semifinals in Washington, D.C. The Beavers lost to Miami of Ohio, but the feel-good run could only have helped them in their quest to join the mighty WCHA.
While McLeod said the program’s success this year didn’t make the school’s application any more or less attractive, the commissioner did say it raised Bemidji State’s profile.
“We were just real conscious of not trying to get caught up in all that enthusiasm,” McLeod said. “We were very happy for them and it probably put a little pressure on us from a public standpoint more than anything.”
Now it seems the only thing in Bemidji State’s way is the lack of another program to reach that round number of 12. Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan have been floated as potential members, but McLeod declined to comment specifically on those two schools. He did say an upstart program at the University of Minnesota-Moorhead would be a “long shot.”
McLeod said he is willing to be flexible with schools to make joining the WCHA an attractive option and is confident he will be able to find a 12th school to make it happen.
“We’ve reached a real critical point in collegiate hockey, especially in the West,” McLeod said. “The direction I’ve been given is we have to be more aggressive in our approach.”