The College Hockey Showcase, a Thanksgiving tradition in its 18th year, will become a piece of history after this weekend.
"Wisconsin didn't want to do it anymore," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, "so it kind of fell apart from there."
Minnesota and Wisconsin have participated in the showcase since its start. Each year the two WCHA teams would either host or visit Michigan State and Michigan. Then, under the latest format, the Gophers and Badgers would switch Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) opponents for the second game.
This year, for instance, the Gophers play Michigan State on Friday at Mariucci Arena and Michigan at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. (A day off between games is unusual but unavoidable because of the Gophers' football game against Iowa on Saturday afternoon at nearby TCF Bank Stadium.)
"I enjoyed [the showcase]," Lucia said, "but the good thing is we play Michigan State the next two years, so we will continue to play some of these Big Ten schools."
The Gophers will play the Spartans in a two-game series next Thanksgiving weekend at East Lansing, Mich., Lucia said. Michigan State will return to face the Gophers at Mariucci in early October 2012.
After that, only one season remains before the big upheaval, the imminent formation of the Big Ten Conference.
Penn State, which announced in September it would start a hockey program, will have a team playing its third season and a new arena by the 2014-15 season. The Nittany Lions will be the sixth Big Ten hockey team, the minimum number the conference requires to recognize a champion. Minnesota and Wisconsin would leave the WCHA, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State the CCHA, to form the new league.
Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner, has been publicly mum on the topic of a men's hockey conference. But WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod said Delany and Penn State athletic director Tim Curley told him that was their plan.
The WCHA, in turn, has proposed a nonconference schedule arrangement with Minnesota and Wisconsin should they leave the conference.
"If they start with six schools, [Big Ten Conference teams] would only have 20 conference games," McLeod said. "Fourteen nonconference games [for a full regular-season schedule] is not easy to come by, especially if they are looking for quality opponents."
Under the WCHA's preliminary proposal, the Gophers and Badgers would each play eight or 10 games each season with rotating opponents, McLeod said. So it would take either five or four years for the Gophers to play the remaining 10 WCHA teams home and away.
The WCHA, McLeod said, also has set up several committees and hired a consultant to advise the league on how to remain strong without Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"You can't say [the Big Ten Conference] is done until it's done, but that's certainly the way it is headed," McLeod said.
For sure, the showcase is kaput.
"It served all four institutions well," Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said, "but it's a good time for a change."
Maturi was an associate athletic director at Wisconsin and in charge of hockey when the showcase began in 1993. "Ron Mason was coach at Michigan State, Jeff Sauer at Wisconsin, Doug Woog at Minnesota and Red Berenson at Michigan," Maturi said. "We all thought it was good for Big Ten teams to play one another. We experimented with it. Done it in different ways, different sites. It worked well."
The showcase also renewed some rivalries. Michigan and Michigan State were members of the WCHA for its first 31 years, 1951-81.
Of the four coaches who began the showcase, Berenson is the only one holding the same job. As for the showcase, it appears to have served as a stepping stone to a new conference.