MAC Hockey Realignment: Meet your new conference! - Part II: The WCHA Strikes Back!

Ferris State came close to winning the 2012 National Championship. Now in the WCHA, can they get back to college hockey's biggest stage? - Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

In this three-part series, we look at the final results of the recent conference realignment shift (and proverbial death of the CCHA) and how it impacts each our 4 MAC schools' conferences. This second installment looks at the new WCHA

What a game last night! I was hoping for a 7-game series (ultimately won by Boston) but that Stanley Cup Final will be one to remember for years to come. Plenty of overtime, plenty of action, just awesome.

As for college hockey, the long layover continues as freshmen come to campuses for summer orientation and meet their new teammates. If you haven't noticed yet, the CCHA is fully dead now, with their website completely gone without even a "thank you fans" page. Kinda like the Baltimore Colts, the conference is gone. However, a majority of the absolved conference merged with the WCHA leftovers to create a drastically new looking alliance in the Midwest, hoping to keep the infamous conference in the "power conference" talks. Let's take a look at the new look WCHA

Alabama-Huntsville Chargers

Location: Huntsville, AL
Enrollment: 7,700
National Championships: 2 (1996, 1998; both D-II)
Notable Alumni: Scott Munroe, Jared Ross

What a turnaround for the UAH Chargers! Since longtime coach Doug Ross (who coached the team for 25 years from club, to D-II, to their D-I years) retired in 2007, UAH has struggled to find a home, with the CHA folding just 3 years after his retirement. The CCHA denied the Chargers entry even though they had a spot open after Nebraska-Omaha bolted for the WCHA, and UAH was on the verge of folding as a program.

But they didn't. They couldn't. The community came together and saved the program. And what's more amazing is that they have a home now in the new WCHA. One of the best stories in college hockey is this Charger program, who have taken two top-ranked CCHA teams to the brink of elimination in their two NCAA appearances. While they might not be competitive early on, look for the next head coach to revive this phoenix of a program.

Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves

Location: Anchorage, AK
Enrollment: 16,242
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Curtis Glencross, Mike Peluso

Errrr...........yeah. This isn't the better of the two Alaska teams, often bettered by the next team on the list. The Seawolves haven't really done anything since making 3 straight NCAA tournaments in 1990-1992. But like I said, they've struggled mightily lately, as shown by their 4-25-7 record last season. That .208 win percentage was good for 3rd worst in the nation behind Sacred Heart and UAH.

Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks

Location: Fairbanks, AK
Enrollment: 9,380
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Jeff Penner, Curtis Fraser, Kyle Greentree

So despite also having no national titles, Alaska, as they're more commonly known, has had much more consistent success in the regular season. They were famous coach Don Lucia's first coaching gig, and have held their own in the CCHA the past few seasons despite playing half their games at roughly 3 PM Alaskan time.

Like I said, they have struggled in the post-season, failing to win in their first series of the CCHA playoffs 5 of the past 6 seasons, including a disappointing loss to last place Michigan State this past season at home. Still, they should contend with a solid core and Dallas Ferguson at the helm for the next few seasons and weaker competition than the gauntlet of the "power" CCHA teams.

Bemidji State Beavers

Location: Bemidji, MN
Enrollment: 5,300
National Championships: 6 (1984, 1986, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997; all D-II)
Notable Alumni: Andrew Murray, Joel Otto, Matt Read

The Beavers are a team that sees the departure of the power teams of the WCHA depart as bittersweet. They gain a huge advantage of being able to possibly being able to contend for NCAA appearances again like they did in the D-II and CHA days, but now add old foes and travel expenses with trips to Alaska and Alabama.

Which brings me to the sad part of this whole realignment thing. While smaller teams like the ones in this new WCHA get to keep a home in a conference, they will have larger travel costs than prior local, regional games with presumably smaller turnouts without big names like Minnesota, Michigan, Notre Dame, North Dakota, etc. It's a sad truth: more fans will turn out for a [insert big name here] anything game than a good small name vs small name team. Amirite MAC fans?

Bowling Green State Falcons

Location: Bowling Green, OH
Enrollment: 19,764
National Championships: 1
Notable Alumni: Ken Morrow, Rob Blake, Dan Bylsma, Brian Holzinger, Kevin Bieksa

Hi BGSU. You have a great history, but it's mostly gone now. How can a team like BGSU rise and fall like they did? Look no further than their 2nd and 3rd hockey coaches. Ron Mason built the program up, setting a foundation with an insane .712 win percentage in 6 seasons. He was followed by the great Jerry York who, in 15 seasons, won 342 games, a national championship, and coached 2 Hobey Baker winners (Holzinger technically right after his departure).

Since then? Nothing. Their last NCAA appearance was in 1990, a full 4 seasons before York left. Holzinger won his Hobey in 1995, and Jordan Sigalet being named a finalist for the away is the closest thing to a true highlight Falcon fans can claim. Except that whole miracle run in the CCHA playoffs 2 seasons ago where they nearly knocked off Michigan in the semis in double OT after upsetting NMU and top ranked (and eventual National Runners-Up) Ferris State in the previous 2 rounds. Still, Chris Bergeron needs to just replace his goaltender and he should have a team looking to fight in for the upper levels of the WCHA.

Ferris State Bulldogs

Location: Big Rapids, MI
Enrollment: 14,560
National Championships: 0
Notable Alumni: Chris Kunitz, Jason Blake

Speak of the devil! Ferris State has also regularly held their own in the CCHA lately, but have hit a string of bad luck in the playoffs unfortunately. Still, they have just missed the tournament more times than not and that could be attributed to having to play in the same conference as regulars such as Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, and Notre Dame. Bob Daniels is an excellent coach who gets the most out of his players, as shown by his 2012 National Runner Up finish with ZERO NHL draft picks on his roster. Still this program remains one of two active programs in the state of Michigan to have yet to win a National Championship (WMU).

Lake Superior State Lakers

Location: Sault Ste. Marie, MI
Enrollment: 2,907
National Championships: 3 (1988, 1992, 1994)
Notable Alumni: Doug Weight, Doug Ross

Pop quiz! Where did Ron Mason coach before Bowling Green? If you guessed Lake Superior State, you are correct. If you also knew that his future successor at Michigan State Rick Comley also succeeded him at LSSU, you are either an LSSU fan, a CCHA fanatic, or cheated. None of which are fair in this game. Also in the Lake State coaching "tree" are Frank Anzalone, who won a national title in 1988, and Jeff Jackson. Jackson won over three quarters of the games he coached with the Lakers and won a pair of national titles.

Lately though? Laker fans haven't had much to cheer about. They have struggled in recent years, earning tough draws in the early rounds of the CCHA playoffs. They will get more games now with upper peninsula rivals Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech though, so that should help keep the excitement in this once powerful program.

Michigan Tech Huskies

Location: Houghton, MI
Enrollment: 7,014
National Championships: 3 (1962, 1965, 1975)
Notable Alumni: Tony Esposito, Jarkko Ruutu

Oh how Huskie fans wish that John MacInnes could live forever. The legendary coach led Michigan Tech through 25 seasons over 4 decades that saw all 3 national titles and each of their 10 NCAA appearances end in Frozen Four appearances. And they didn't just win in those title games. They clobbered opponents. 7-1, 8-2, 6-1 in order of their titles.

However, they had been the whipping boys for the WCHA in recent seasons. Rarely finishing above 8th, the Huskies look like a shell of their former selves. Mel Pearson looks to possibly change that, after upsetting a stacked field in the GLI this season by beating Michigan and Western Michigan rather handily. Still, the consistency needs to change before any serious contention can occur.

Minnesota State Mavericks

Location: Mankato, MN
Enrollment: 15,300
National Championships: 1 (1980; D-II)
Notable Alumni: David Backes, Ryan Carter

Last year, the Mavericks stunned everyone under first-year coach Mike Hastings by making the NCAA tournament before getting throttled by Miami in the 1st round. Still, for this team, they had a great season. Now, the highest returning team from the WCHA last season (as a matter of fact, the other 3 finished 10th, 11th, and 12th) looks to take the conference crown for good from the invasive teams from the CCHA.

Fans in Mankato have a lot to love too! Hastings looks to be the first solid coach since Don Brose, who led the Mavericks to a lot of success in the D-II and D-III levels in his 30 seasons at the helm. If Hastings can reload, there is no reason to think that the short-term WCHA crown should be theirs.

Northern Michigan Wildcats

Location: Marquette, MI
Enrollment: 9,000
National Championships: 1 (1991)
Notable Alumni: Erik Gustafsson, Keith Hanson

No team in this new conference will have the coaching consistency that NMU brings. In 37 seasons, they've had only 2 coaches: Rick Comley and Walt Kyle. Comley led the program for 26 years before leaving to take over Mason's job at Michigan State. While behind the bench, he won 542 games, a national title, and led the Wildcats to 3 Frozen Fours in 7 NCAA appearances, mostly in the early 80's and 90's. (Side note: Imagine that rivalry in the U.P. when both NMU and LSSU were dominating the national picture between 1988-1994)

Kyle hasn't been a slouch though since Comley's departure. In 11 seasons, he's held his own in the CCHA to mixed results, with a lone NCAA appearance to show for it. Lately, he's had the misfortune of being upset by BGSU in the 6-11 match-up, but before that had a string of CCHA Championship weekend appearances on his resume. If they can find that late decade touch, they could easily be a scary team in the new conference.

So the WCHA looks to be a little bit more wide open. Minnesota State and Ferris State both have looked good lately with little NHL talent. UAH and both Alaska teams look to create traveling headaches for sure. BGSU's new regional rival appears to be Ferris State. Still, it should be fun to watch this conference play out.

Our 3rd and final installment of the series looks at the lone conference with TWO MAC schools in it. The brand spanking new NCHC.

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