CHA, Bemidji State hanging by a lace

With only four teams, College Hockey America is running out of time and games.

When former Minnesota men’s hockey goaltender Brent Solei was tacking on his first career win last January in a 5-1 victory over now-defunct Wayne State , I assumed I was seeing the beginning of the end for College Hockey America.

Already grasping an NCAA rule that allows college conferences to retain an automatic NCAA tourney bid without the necessary field of six teams, the CHA was dealt another death blow when the Warriors program shut down after last season for financial reasons.

But, like the minor you got freshman year, CHA just won’t go away.

Last week, the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee proposed a new policy that will allow the conference to keep its bid to the national tournament for at least one year, pending approval by the Division I Championships/Sport Management Cabinet.

But even if the policy is approved, it simply puts off the inevitable; sooner or later, the CHA will be extinct.

CHA charter member Bemidji State is taking a hint from Air Force – which bailed on the conference in 2006 for the greener pastures of Atlantic Hockey – by testing the waters with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Not long after Solei’s win, Bemidji State signed an agreement with the WCHA that gave the Beavers a handful of home games each season, starting in 2010-2011.

Bemidji State president, Dr. Jon Quistgaard, isn’t hiding the University’s intentions very well – the Beavers want in.

“We view this agreement as the first step in developing an even closer relationship between Bemidji State University and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association,” Quistgaard said in a release at the time.

Quistgaard and the city of Bemidji have a wonderful welcoming gift for the WCHA, in the form of the Bemidji Regional Events Center – a proposed $50 million venue that is a major bargaining tool if the Beavers are ever to join the conference.

The 4,000-seat arena meets WCHA minimum requirements for attendance and replaces the diminutive 2,399-seat John S. Glas Fieldhouse .

The problem for the Beavers is that the WCHA isn’t all that interested in adding another team, let alone one from a conference that hasn’t posted a win in the NCAA Tournament since 2000.

That’s why they haven’t done it since adding Minnesota State to the conference stable in 1995.

To top it off, the WCHA isn’t even including Bemidji State in the inaugural State of Minnesota Hockey Showcase next November – the only Division I program in the state that didn’t get an invite.

The other four teams (Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State and State Cloud State) are all members of the WCHA, which will treat the event like regular conference matchups.

But how can you hold a statewide competition and not invite the program that, arguably, sounds the most Minnesotan?

The women of the CHA aren’t doing much better than the men.

They’ll field just five teams next season, now that Syracuse has joined the ranks for its premiere season.

The Orange will join a conference that has never posted an NCAA postseason victory, going 0-5-1 with the tie coming in 2000 when Niagara tied Minnesota of all teams.

But, at least the women’s teams have been close.

While the men have predominantly been blown out against nonconference opponents in the NCAA Tournament, the women have never lost by more than a goal, and have taken four games into at least one overtime.

The CHA will likely be protected by its automatic bid this season, but after that it’s sink-or-swim time for the conference.

Whatever’s left over, after that, will celebrate the league’s 10th anniversary by either battling it out for an at-large bid, or by passing on into obscurity – or at least trying to find a few more teams to play with.