The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

June 16, 2013

WCHA, Minnesota State preparing for NEW-LOOK LEAGUE

Conference seeking league-wide broadcast package

Bruce McLeod didn't expect to be in this position in 2013.

With a little more than one year left on his contract with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the 66-year-old conference commissioner is overseeing an almost completely revamped league, one that's hardly recognizable to the one he's led for the last 19 seasons.

"It seems like with each passing week and month it gets better for me," McLeod said in a phone interview from his Denver office on Thursday. "I feel better about where the league is going; it's getting more positive than ever."

In a little more than three months, the college hockey season will begin. It will be the epoch of a new era within the sport, one with two new major conferences, the death of another and an extreme makeover of McLeod's WCHA. The WCHA will have 10 teams, including Minnesota State. Gone are most of the conference's so-called power programs —Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Big Ten hockey conference and North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Nebraska Omaha to the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Joining Minnesota State will be WCHA leftovers Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Alaska Anchorage as well as Alabama Huntsville and the remnants of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association — Alaska (Fairbanks), Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Bowling Green — after six of that league's other programs scattered to three other conferences.

The big breakup began two years ago, and some hard feelings remain. But, for the most part, officials of the WCHA and its members have moved on as they prepare for the new era and try to promote what they believe remains a successful brand.

"It's taken awhile, but the 10 (university presidents) and I are getting things in order," McLeod said. "We've had to work through some things and get on the same page."

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