By MATT WELLENS
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - In response to the Big Ten forming its own hockey conference, the University of North Dakota is spearheading a new league that would further drain the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and 2011 NCAA national champions Minnesota-Duluth will leave the WCHA, while Miami will depart the CCHA to form a new league, according to Brad Elliot Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald.
An announcement is expected to be made on Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colo. and play would begin in 2013-14 - the same season that Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State will begin play in the Big Ten.
As of now, the just-announced league stands at six schools, however, the CCHA's Notre Dame and Western Michigan could join at a later date, according to the Herald's report.
Multiple sources who would only speak on the condition of anonymity at Northern Michigan University, a CCHA member, have confirmed the formation of the new six-school league and next week's pending announcement, though those sources say Western Michigan is on the outside looking in despite a recent trip by WMU officials to North Dakota.
St. Cloud State of the WCHA is also pressing to get into the league, but it is unlikely the Huskies will be included, one source said. Invitations were also extended to Boston College and Boston University to join what has been dubbed the "Super League," but both schools turned down the offer to leave Hockey East.
Notre Dame remains uncommitted to any conference at this time and is pressing for a smaller league that features a larger non-conference slate, according to multiple Mining Journal sources. The Irish are looking for a seven-team league with a 24-game conference schedule in order to fill the rest of their dates with meetings against fellow Bowl Championship Subdivision member Boston College and the Big Ten schools.
Wednesday's anticipated announcement would leave the WCHA with only five schools - St. Cloud, Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State and Minnesota State - one short of qualifying for an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
Should Western Michigan and Notre Dame also be admitted into the new league, the CCHA would find itself in the same situation with only NMU, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green and Alaska.
NMU acting athletic director Steve Reed said Wednesday when word of the new alliance was first leaked, the university is still committed to playing in a top-tier league. Since the official announcement of the Big Ten hockey conference, NMU has maintained that same stance and continues to weigh its options, while allowing the situation to unfold, Reed said.
NMU President Les Wong echoed Reed's sentiments Thursday evening that the Wildcats are committed to playing the best of the best. Wong said he has been in contact with CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch as well as friends at universities in the Dakotas, though information about realignment has been scarce until reports in the media this week.
According to Wong, the CCHA is scheduled to hold a conference call today and is meeting in downstate Farmington Hills next month.
"We want to play with the best competition," Wong said. "Period."
According to a report in June by Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News in Maine, Notre Dame has considered joining Hockey East, which includes longtime rival Boston College, as well as Big East rival Providence. The WCHA was also a possibility, though that is highly unlikely now.
"It's a possibility," Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said to the Daily News about Hockey East. "I know our athletic director and associate athletic director are doing their due diligence in looking at all of the alternatives."
Alaska-Anchorage head coach and former NMU assistant and player Dave Shyiak said last week while in town for the summer Wildcat hockey program's alumni reunion that Notre Dame has made it known the university does not plan to remain in the CCHA.
"Right now they are exploring other options," Shyiak said. "Two other options are Hockey East or the WCHA or another realignment of some type. That's a bit of an unknown other than I don't think they will be in the CCHA. I think that's a for sure thing."
Wong said there have been no discussions between the remaining CCHA and WCHA teams about merging to form a 10- to 12-team league.
Skyiak said there will be more realignment in the future, and he would welcome a league that would bring natural rivals like UAA and Alaska or NMU and MTU together as conference foes again.
"I think it would be neat to get Anchorage, Northern (and) Fairbanks in the same league and maybe stay with the existing teams in the WCHA to form a good relationship that way," Skyiak said.