The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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March 22, 2011

Big Ten hockey a reality

WCHA hopes to maintain schedule with marquee teams

MANKATO — Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman is hopeful that a “fair and balanced” scheduling arrangement can be worked out between the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the Big Ten when the latter starts its own men’s hockey conference in two years.

On Monday, the Big Ten announced that it was recommending hockey as an official sport starting with the 2013-14 season. If passed by the Big Ten presidents and chancellors, two of the WCHA’s signature schools, Minnesota and Wisconsin, will leave to join Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in the new, six-team conference.

While Big Ten teams would need to find 14 nonconference games each season and, in Monday’s release, said it would “continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of nonconference competition” with the WCHA and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, no agreement has been worked out yet.

So would the Mavericks continue to play the Gophers and the Badgers after the 2012-13 season? If so, would any of those games take place in Mankato?

Buisman said that despite the impending departure, he believes both Minnesota and Wisconsin still have college hockey’s best interests in mind.

“There are some concerns about not having those kinds of programs coming into your building,” Buisman said. “But we’re still working on a possible scheduling arrangement with those schools. I’m optimistic that our schedule would not be tremendously different than it is now.”

Of the 12 largest hockey crowds in the history of the Verizon Wireless Center, seven, including the top two, were games in which MSU played Minnesota or Wisconsin. The other five were games against North Dakota. This season, the largest crowd of the year saw a game against Minnesota Duluth.

“We’ll continue to have, week in and week out, the best in college hockey here,” Buisman said.

In a statement released by the WCHA on Monday, league commissioner Bruce McLeod echoed that, pumping up a conference that will be sending five non-Big Ten teams to the national tournament this week:

“The commitment to excellence by our member institutions will not waver and, working together, we will push forward to assure our future remains bright.”

Buisman said the WCHA’s athletic directors have been preparing for the Big Ten’s move since Penn State announced in September that it would be adding hockey in 2012.  

“There have been some good, healthy discussions among the teams remaining in the WCHA,” he said.

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