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College hockey is not doomed

And neither are Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State or Michigan Tech

July 9, 2011
By Matt Wellens - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal






Doom! Doom! DOOM!

Try singing that to yourself today. Annoying, isn't it?

I learned that little jingle from an ex-girlfriend, who was slightly obsessed with the song and the awful cartoon it came from - Invader Zim.

I was reminded of that jingle - and that's not a good thing - while reading the chatter on Twitter, Facebook and the fan forums after it was first reported that North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and Miami will break away from their respective hockey conferences to form a new league that will compete with the Big Ten starting in 2013-14.

Some are calling the new conference that was officially announced Saturday, the "Super League." I, on the other hand, have gravitated toward the name awarded by Chris Dilks of the Western College Hockey Blog - the "Secondary Six."

Most college hockey fans, however, are calling it the death of the little guy.

According to them, the remaining five WCHA and six CCHA schools - Notre Dame is gone too, it's just a matter of when and where at this point - will be forced to join the "Leftover League" where they will be forgotten. No television coverage. No sell outs. No nothing. Rumor is they won't even be allowed to play on ice.

There they will rot until one by one, they close up shop.


For once, call me the optimist because I'm not buying college hockey armageddon that even my red-haired colleague in Houghton is predicting. The little guy is not dead yet. Not by a long shot.

I have no doubts the Big Ten will be a force in college hockey with its high-profile universities and ever-expanding television network to lure recruits, but all six schools can't be in the NCAA tournament every year. Only one of those teams reached the NCAAs this season playing in separate leagues. They will be lucky to send three on a yearly basis.

As for the "Secondary Six," the Big Ten they are not. Miami is about as strong of a presence in Cincinnati as Robert Morris is in Pittsburgh, Omaha is a baseball and football town and the Pioneers are about as relevant in Denver as the Brewers are in Wisconsin come football season. Duluth, Grand Forks and Colorado Springs aren't going to get the league a lucrative TV deal, either.

Again, like the Big Ten, that league will be lucky to send three schools to the NCAA tournament each year after beating the tar out of each other. Someone has to lose.

Now if the "Leftover League" scares you, don't worry, it's not happening either and no, the Wildcats will not be stuck in a watered down CCHA. More movement is on the horizon. Fans who pleaded with the school to move to the WCHA a few years back may finally get their wish soon enough, even if its not the same WCHA we have grown to know.

Movement will not be limited to CCHA and WCHA schools, either. Alabama-Huntsville may finally find a home, while Robert Morris and Niagara may land in a league that allows the full 18 scholarships, which Atlantic Hockey currently does not.

The little guy has always had a presence in college hockey as LSSU showed three times in the 80s and 90s, NMU showed in 1991 and most recently, Duluth this winter. Little conferences have thrived in recent NCAA tournaments as well, with Bemidji State reaching the Frozen Four out of the now-defunct College Hockey American in 2009 and RIT out of Atlantic Hockey in 2010.

For too long, Northern has seen its budget stretched thin with long bus rides to far away places. The Wildcats have been a small fish in a very big pond and while they have had some success under the current alignment, it has been limited.

A smaller 6-8 team league of regional rivals may not be as sexy. It may not attract the gates Michigan and Michigan State gather or land the Wildcats on a little regional sports network.

The Big Ten and "Secondary Six" will have to play someone and NMU will be glad to host them in Green Bay or take $40,000 to play in the Sioux's Ralph Engelstad Arena.

So quit singing that annoying doom song. Play some Miley Cyrus, for all I care.

Cheer up. The future of college hockey is a lot brighter than you think.



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