WCHA, college hockey’s oldest conference, officially dissolves

After 70 years, the WCHA men's league has suspended operations.
After 70 years, the WCHA men's league has suspended operations.(Jordan Rodenberger (KTVF))
Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 5:44 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Western Collegiate Hockey Association has ceased operations of the Men’s League after 70 years, effective July 1, 2021. Representatives of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Anchorage, the only remaining members of the conference, recently voted to cease operations as a result of the departure of eight league members over the last two years, according to a WCHA press release.

“I want to thank the Men’s league staff for their hard work and professionalism during the past two years of operations. In particular, Commissioner Bill Robertson led the Men’s league through challenging times and is a champion for collegiate hockey,” said UAF Chancellor Dr. Dan White in the release. “We also want to lend our support to the WCHA women’s league as they continue the legacy of the WCHA. At UAA and UAF, we look forward to continuing our long histories of division 1 hockey.”

In June of 2019, seven of the 10 programs that comprised the WCHA elected to leave the conference to revive the CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Association) by the 2021-22 season - with Bemidji State, Bowling Green State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato and Northern Michigan joining forces on the effort.

This left UAF, UAA and Alabama Huntsville on the outside without an exit plan. Since the announcement two years ago, Huntsville has been cut, reinstated and have now suspended operations for the upcoming season as it has not secured a conference home. UAA is fighting to save their hockey program, while the Nanooks will play their first independent season in nearly 30 years in 2021-22. Alabama Huntsville was granted their request to depart the league earlier in the summer.

The CCHA has since added the University of St. Thomas and will field an eight team conference next year.

The Nanooks were approved membership in the WCHA for the 2013-14 season after nearly two decades in the CCHA’s previous incarnation.

“The WCHA was one of the best, if not the best college hockey conferences in the country,” said UAF head coach Erik Largen earlier this summer. “For us to be able to be a part of that history is great and to be able to play that level of competition that we did was pretty exceptional. It is a sense of pride for us to be be able to be in the league, and I think there are still a lot of good memories from that as well.”

The WCHA skated in an eight team league in 2020-21, as UAF and UAA elected to opt-out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota State-Mankato hoisted the final McNaughton Cup with the league’s best regular-season record at 13-1-0 before advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four.

“I am honored and grateful to have had the special opportunity to lead the WCHA these past seven-plus years,” says Bill Robertson, who served as Men’s league Commissioner since 2014. “I consider my time with college hockey’s oldest and most distinguished conference one of the highlights of my sports career. As we mark the end of an era of college hockey, I wish the best to all ten outgoing institutions and all individuals who have contributed to the operations of the conference.”

The WCHA will continue to sponsor NCAA division 1 women’s hockey.

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