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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2011

Falcons make switch to WCHA

BG to join former CCHA mates in new-look league in '13

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN -- For the past 40 years, the only league the Bowling Green State University hockey team has known is the one it helped found, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Yesterday the Falcons announced that they have accepted an invitation to leave the CCHA and play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the 2013-14 season.

Bowling Green hockey coach Chris Bergeron, who has been associated with the CCHA as a player and coach since 1989, said he's happy the question of what league the Falcons would call home in the future has been answered.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I think I've had enough time to [deal with] the mixed emotions [of leaving the CCHA].

"I've talked to some of the coaches in the WCHA and heard their excitement level to have us with them. This is an exciting day for Bowling Green hockey, no doubt about it."

Bowling Green athletics director Greg Christopher said joining the WCHA, "Was the most fully developed option in front of us. I think it's an excellent option from a hockey standpoint.

"Our primary objective in this process has been [to determine] what is the best place for BGSU hockey from a competitive standing. [Answering the question] 'Where are we going to best be positioned to compete for championships?' has been the driving force in all of this."

Christopher said there were several factors that he felt made the WCHA the best choice in that regard.

"The history and tradition of the conference, and the schools that are there are great hockey programs," he said. "They have a solid fan base. Institutionally, in a lot of ways those schools look like Bowling Green."

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod was pleased that the Falcons accepted the invitation to join the league.

"We are absolutely elated to welcome Bowling Green into the Association family," he said in a statement. "Across the board, BGSU is a first-class institution with a dynamic and proven athletic and hockey program that has enjoyed ongoing successes. They are 100 percent committed to being among the nation's premier ice hockey programs and they will be a tremendous addition to our new-look WCHA."

BG's announcement was the latest in a long string of conference shifting that began in March when Penn State announced that it was going to develop a Division I hockey program and that three current CCHA schools -- Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State -- and two current WCHA schools -- Minnesota and Wisconsin -- would create a Big Ten hockey conference.

In July CCHA member Miami joined with five WCHA schools -- Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, and North Dakota -- to announce they were forming a new league called the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. In September CCHA member Western Michigan and WCHA member St. Cloud State were added to that league.

Soon after the NCHC was announced, the WCHA extended membership offers to CCHA schools Alaska Fairbanks, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, and Northern Michigan as well as Bowling Green. Those five schools will join Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State in the WCHA in 2013-14.

"I think we knew we were going to get to this point some way, some how, once the Penn State announcement [was made]," Christopher said. "I don't know that we knew we were going to be exactly where we are today, but we knew that there was change on the horizon."

So why did the Falcons take so long before accepting the WCHA's membership offer?

"At the end of the day, we needed to make the best decision for Bowling Green," Christopher said. "When the first deadline [to accept the invitation to join the WCHA] came and went, we were open with Bruce that we were having internal conversations and external conversations with other institutions."

Christopher declined to discuss the schools he was speaking to, saying, "I don't think anything positive comes of that.

"We did talk to Atlantic Hockey schools, we talked to CCHA schools, we talked to WCHA schools, we talked to NCHC schools -- I think we talked to just about everybody from a hockey standpoint."

The WCHA was founded in 1951 as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League (MIHL). Celebrating its 60th anniversary this season, the WCHA has produced 37 men's national championships (NCAA Frozen Fours), finished as the runner-up another 27 times, and also produced 14 Hobey Baker Award winners, college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

"In this time of change, we have a 'home' now," Bergeron said. "At the end of the day, we wanted to make sure we had a home.

"Not only that, we have a great home. When you talk about the WCHA brand in the hockey world, it's a great brand. We think we've got eight other schools that are as committed to hockey as we are."

Christopher said joining a league that has two teams in Alaska, two in Minnesota, and three in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan will increase the travel costs associated with the hockey program.

"We knew going in to this that we would see some incremental cost increases," he said. "But that was not a factor in this decision.

"That was a bridge we crossed three years ago."

Christopher was alluding to discussions to disband the program several years ago, something both Christopher and Bergeron have said is no longer an issue.

At least one other move is imminent, as several published reports indicate Notre Dame will leave the CCHA for Hockey East in 2013-14. Christopher said that may not be the end of the conference shuffing.

"I think there's always a possibility for more to come," he said. "What happens with Notre Dame and what happens with [current independent] Alabama-Huntsville are the two obvious questions still out there.

"You never know -- one morning you wake up and Texas A&M is in the SEC. So I don't know how you ever know what's going to happen."

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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