Big Ten announces creation of men’s hockey conference

If approved, Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave the WCHA in 2013.

Nicolas Hallett

Beginning in 2013-14, Minnesota, along with Wisconsin, will likely leave the WCHA to become a part of the newly formed Big Ten menâÄôs hockey conference.

Joining them in the move will be CCHA members Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, with Penn State rounding out the six-team conference after announcing the formation of a Division I hockey program in October.

The new conference will be accompanied by a postseason tournament, with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

A Big Ten hockey conference has been in the works for some time, but was only possible with the addition of Penn State, since conference rules require a minimum of six teams for there to be a conference championship. Some layers of red tape remain, but they are thin.

The proposition must be approved by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors in June of this year, which by all accounts is a mere formality.

The Gophers and Badgers leave behind a long and storied legacy in the WCHA. Minnesota was an inaugural member of the conference, which was founded in 1951.  Wisconsin didnâÄôt join until the 1969-70 season. The teams have combined to win 15 WCHA regular season titles.

âÄúThere are some mixed emotions for us,âÄù Minnesota director of athletics Joel Maturi said in a release. âÄúMinnesota is an original proud member of the WCHA. We would depart with fond memories, and the sincere belief that many of the great WCHA rivalries that the Gophers have been a part of will continue through non-conference play.âÄù

This continuation of non-conference relations is certainly possible. The Big Ten released plans for a 20-game conference schedule âÄì where the six teams play each other four times each âÄì leaving 14 non-conference games. This should allow for the continuation of rivalries with the likes of North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud State, among others.

The Big Ten release didnâÄôt comment on the likelihood of forming a womenâÄôs hockey conference.

In response to the Big TenâÄôs announcement, WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod made it clear that the conference had been expecting this move for some time and said, âÄúThis will obviously have an impact on the WCHA. But change creates opportunity too.