On Friday, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced that commissioner Bruce McLeod will be retiring following this, his 20th, season on the job.
While the news itself came as no big surprise (McLeod, 62, began hinting of his impending retirement as far back as April), it was released rather quietly, curiously late in the afternoon on the Friday before the holidays.
Not all that long ago, the announcement would have drawn tributes from the Twin Cities to Colorado to Madison and from Grand Forks to Duluth to St. Cloud.
Indeed, the McLeod era included perhaps the greatest period of growth the league has seen.
Over that time, Minnesota State found a Division I home, a successful companion women’s conference was formed and, thanks to the construction of the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the Final Five became the most lucrative and well-attended conference tournaments in the country.
WCHA teams have won eight national championships and have been to the Frozen Four 23 times since McLeod took the reins from the legendary Otto Breitenbach. From 2002 to 2006, WCHA teams won five straight titles. In 2005, all four teams in the Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio, were from the league.
A former player and unabashed fan of the sport, McLeod assisted in the forming of the College Hockey America conference for Bemidji State, Alabama Huntsville and other independents. The group even named its tournament trophy after him. When that conference shriveled and died, the WCHA saved Bemidji and also coaxed Nebraska Omaha over from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
But it was also under McLeod’s watch that the league fell apart in recent years.
Hockey was going the way of other college sports, most notably football, with power programs flexing their muscles, grabbing as much cash as possible and leaving the little guys to fight for the scraps.