College hockey is in its final season before it undergoes a major renovation.
There won’t be a Central Collegiate Hockey Association beginning next season as the Big Ten begins its first season with new member Penn State joining former Western Collegiate Hockey Association members Minnesota and Wisconsin and former CCHA teams Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference will begin its first season in 2013-14 with heavy hitters North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Colorado College, Denver and Miami along with Western Michigan, St. Cloud State and Nebraska-Omaha.
The remaining WCHA and CCHA teams banded together and will play under the WCHA umbrella while Hockey East gains Notre Dame and the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey remain intact.
Hopefully, one league will invite independent Alabama-Huntsville to join.
Is this good for college hockey?
It depends how you look at it.
Overall, I would say it is a positive.
There are pluses and minuses.
For example, Hockey East will certainly benefit from having Notre Dame join the conference. Notre Dame is one of the marquee athletic programs in the country. The football team is an independent and has its own TV deal.
The exposure will be a positive for the league, and Notre Dame is joining the best conference in the country based on its four NCAA titles over the past five years.
The negative is it will reduce the number of games between the teams from three to two apiece so home fans will only get to see half of the opposing teams every year.
There will be a 20-game league schedule next year instead of 27.
The University of Connecticut joins the conference the following year (2014-2015) and the number of league games will go to 22.
That means some of the teams, such as Maine, will have to scramble to land nonleague games. Teams are allowed 34 overall games unless they play in the Ice Breaker or go to Alaska once every four years. Then they are allowed two more.
It will take some creative scheduling, but that’s OK.
A lot of fans may tire of seeing the same teams.
I prefer the Hockey East games because of the rivalries that have been established.
However, I will also enjoy seeing new teams.
I’m sure some of the teams left in the WCHA aren’t enamored with the situation, but it could work out nicely. Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage will be in the same league again after being apart, as will neighbors Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech.
College hockey has had a number of changes over the years, but this will be the most significant since Hockey East became a reality in the 1984-85 season.
And that has certainly worked out well for the Hockey East schools, not so much for the Ivy League schools that banded together to form their own league with some other ECAC teams and inform the scholarship schools such as Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Providence College and New Hampshire that they no longer wanted to play in a league with them.
So the five schools formed Hockey East and invited Maine and UMass Lowell. They have added teams here and there ever since.
College hockey is flourishing right now.
In the 2010-11 season, 30 percent of the players in the National Hockey League were former college players. That was a 35 percent increase over a 10-year span.
Eleven of 13 Frozen Fours through the 2013-2014 season will be played at National Hockey League rinks. One of the two that wasn’t was played at Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.
Prior to this stretch, there was a seven-year span where the Frozen Fours weren’t played at any NHL rinks.
The Frozen Four has become a wanted attraction.
It was college hockey that pioneered the outdoor games beginning with the Michigan State-Michigan game in 2001 in East Lansing.
The two teams met in Ann Arbor in December 2010 and set an attendance record of 113,411.
The NHL followed suit.
Let’s hope college hockey, both men and women, continues its growth and expansion.