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March 25, 2013

Shane Frederick: Say goodbye to the Final Five drama

— The Golden Goose is dead.

If college hockey fans didn't realize that two years ago when the first ripples of the great conference shakeup began to appear, they must have figured it out this past weekend in St. Paul.

The final WCHA Final Five (as we know it, anyway) took place at the Xcel Energy Center, and while it might not have gotten the matchups people were expecting, it did have its usual flair for the dramatic.

The championship ended up being the most meaningful in years, as two unlikely teams -- Wisconsin and Colorado College -- each needed to win the Broadmoor Trophy in order to make the NCAA tournament.

The Badgers won 3-2 to keep their season alive and end the Tigers' late-season run.

For Minnesota State, it ended up making a quick exit with a 7-2 loss to Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon. Fans barely had a chance to get comfortable and settle in for the first of five tournament games before the Mavericks had fallen behind 3-0.

While the performance was forgettable, at least MSU will have the memory of getting there, after a 10-year absence, and experiencing the grand tournament before it devolves into what will be three lesser events. (The Mavericks also get the chance to get the bad taste of that loss out of their mouths at the NCAA tournament this weekend.)

And that's what a lot of conversations were about in St. Paul over the weekend.

What will college hockey look like starting in 2014? Why did this have to happen? Will the excitement of what the Final Five had become over 13 years at Xcel Energy Center ever be replicated? Will anyone show up next March and in the years beyond?

During Saturday's championship game, played before a crowd of 18,782, a fan held up a sign reading, "B1G mistake," referring to the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference, which was the first domino to fall.

It's been reported that video promos for the Big Ten have been routinely booed by University Minnesota fans at Mariucci Arena this season, too.

When it was announced that the Big Ten would be starting a hockey conference and taking Minnesota and Wisconsin away from the WCHA, it was a big blow to their old league. Still, it seemed like the conference could withstand that punch.

The WCHA was crippled, however, when six other teams decided that, rather than repairing the battered league, they would break away to form a new one, and called it National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Bringing in the remains of the soon-to-be-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the WCHA kept itself alive. The new WCHA will be a competitive conference and one Minnesota State should have success in, too.

But the crusher will be the league championship weekend -- the Final Five.

Since moving to the X in 2001, the tournament had become a special event for college hockey fans, as well as a big money maker for the WCHA.

That's all gone now.

The Big Ten in St. Paul? The NCHC in Minneapolis? The WCHA in Grand Rapids, Mich.?

The saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for." But fans of the WCHA -- no matter where their favorite teams are going next year -- didn't wish for any of this.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

 

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