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A few weeks ago, when it was announced that the Little River Band would be playing Mankato’s RibFest next month, a few folks in the newsroom went online to refresh our memories as to what hits the band had in the 1970s and ’80s.

In our research, we stumbled upon a rather stunning fact: The Little River Band has no original members from the days it had top-10 hits like “Reminiscing” and “Lonesome Loser.”

No originals. Not the lead singer. Not the lead guitar player. Not the bass player. Not the drummer (that’s a given, though, isn’t it?).

Now if you were comparing college hockey conferences to classic rock bands, you probably wouldn’t be comparing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with the Little River Band. The WCHA has been a force in its sport for nearly 60 years.

You’d be better off equating the conference with The Rolling Stones or U2. Its teams play to big arenas and consistently sit at the top of the charts. Its players win awards.

It has not been a league of one-hit wonders.

But when you see what the WCHA will look like when its power teams leave after the 2012-13 season — Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Big Ten and North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha to the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference — it won’t be your father’s WCHA anymore.

The league will be left with current members Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech. Northern Michigan — and possibly more teams — will be added to that lineup when the others leave.

Of that group, only Michigan Tech is an original, charter member of the WCHA, and the Huskies actually left the league for three years in the early 1980s before returning.

St. Cloud State joined the WCHA in 1990, Alaska-Anchorage in 1993, Minnesota State in 1999 and Bemidji State in 2010.

Over the years, 37 teams won national championships as members of the WCHA. When the leftovers take over the league in 2013-14, only two of the teams will represent those titles — Michigan Tech (1962, 1965 and 1975) and Northern Michigan (1991).

If the creation of the NCHC did anything, it stripped the WCHA of its brand — its history and tradition. “The National” — as some associated with the new conference are calling it — also stripped its own teams of that image.

All three of the new and retooled conferences will have to find new ways to sell their product, but that task will be toughest for the WCHA and its teams.

With the Big Ten and the NCHC breaking away to form college hockey supergroups.

They’re looking at getting national TV coverage and playing before some of the biggest arenas in the sport.

The WCHA? It will continue to be competitive. Games will be close, and one or more of its teams will make the national tournament each year.

It might look different, but the league isn’t going away. The tour will continue. The question is: Will it still be able to rock?

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com.

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