By Darren Eliot -
The Miami RedHawks fell to St. Cloud State Huskies on March 31, 2013 in Toledo, Ohio in the Midwest Regional Final. At stake was a bid to the NCAA Frozen Four. In the end, it was the Huskies moving on and the the RedHawks ending their season and concluding the Central Collegiate Hockey Conference “Celebrate The Legacy” final season after a 42-year run.
What began as a scheduling alliance discussed by a few coaches in Boston in 1971 ended in 2013 in Ohio, thus closing down a Michigan institution. Six of the 11 teams in the final edition of the CCHA hailed from the Mitten. It brought large schools like Michigan State and the University of Michigan together for in-state battles against smaller programs such as Ferris State and Lake Superior State. That was an element that made the CCHA special and unique in our state.
Next season has everyone aligning in new conferences. MSU and U of M will be part of the new six-team Big 10 Conference. The Western Michigan Broncos will be part of the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the lone Michigan representative. Ferris State, Lake State and Northern Michigan all move to a reconfigured Western Collegiate Hockey Association. There they join the Michigan Tech Huskies, who have been part of the WCHA since returning in 1985.
The other five schools that comprised the final version of the CCHA all move as well. Miami enters the new NCHC with a rivalry built in after losing to future conference foe St. Cloud State. Notre Dame joins Hockey East, while the remaining member schools (Alaska Anchorage, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake State and Northern Michigan) all fold into the WCHA. Everyone placed and accounted for, with the CCHA now just a memory.
Those memories will live on as teams in-state continue to compete against one another in home-and-home sets and rotating site series on an annual basis. Plus, the Great Lakes Invitational continues as a unifying event for Michigan college hockey, co-hosted at the Joe by Michigan Tech and U of M. So, while the CCHA is gone, the ability to sustain rivalries will still be there.
And while it might not seem like it now – or sit well with some – this is about trying to grow college hockey from a visibility standpoint. Thus, the Big Ten banner is being unfurled to encompass hockey. The reach and brand recognition of the Big Ten is the draw, as are the power schools involved: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, along with the Wolverines and Spartans. New to the mix is Penn State, who come in as the sixth member of the initial “Original Six” Big Ten Conference. The Nittany Lions may lack the history the other schools boast, but with a brand-new building and strong recruiting classes, they won’t be “new” for long.
It makes sense on certain levels and leaves you feeling nostalgic on others. As U of M’s legendary coach Red Berenson said after the CCHA’s final championship game, for 29 years the CCHA was the only place he had ever coached. For many in Michigan, the CCHA was the identity of college hockey. The goal now is to keep the local interest level high, while further extending the identity of the hockey amongst college sports fans at large.
The cost for pushing for progress is the Central Collegiate Hockey Conference. That doesn’t at all diminish what the league meant to the growth of the game over the past four decades-plus. Now, though, the memories are forever frozen in time.
Let the nostalgia begin.