Josh Fenton understands the history and traditions of college hockey. The Minnesota native grew up watching the old WCHA, and now he’ll help lead the sport into a new era.
Fenton is the commissioner of the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference. His staff and eight of the country’s premier college hockey programs — North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Omaha and Western Michigan — will attempt to increase national exposure of the sport by breaking tradition.
Fenton spent 12-plus years in various hockey-focused athletic roles at Miami (Ohio), most recently as senior associate athletic director of finance and administration, before taking on this new endeavor.
Shaking up the college hockey landscape offended many fans, but Fenton believes the birth of the NCHC and Big Ten hockey only will strengthen the game. And though it looks as if the NCHC is going head-to-head with the Big Ten by scheduling coinciding media days and conference tournaments in the Twin Cities, Fenton said that appearance is deceiving and that all hockey conferences need to work together for the betterment of the sport.
The NCHC will hold its conference semifinals and finals, the Frozen Faceoff, on Friday and Saturday at Target Center. The Big Ten hockey tournament runs Thursday through Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
Q: With these scheduling conflicts, it appears the new hockey conferences are setting up to be rivals. Was this intentional and how is this perceived by your member schools?
A: I think we all have an obligation to work together to ensure college hockey is viable and strong long into the future. Whether that is the Big Ten, which has institutions that compete at the highest level of college athletics, or whether that’s our conference that has Division II and Division III members.
I say our ‘friends across town at the Big Ten ’cause I do consider them friends. … We have to work together in different and unique ways to make sure the game is strong and viable.
You ask whether it’s competition, I don’t know if I necessarily look at it that way. … I do think we have great product. I think we’ve got great institutions. I think our history and tradition in the sport is off the charts. I think we have the opportunity to become one of the premier conferences in college hockey.
Q: How do you address the perception that the NCHC is a superconference with eight of the country’s elite teams?
A: I guess you could look at it that way. Denver has won seven national championships, North Dakota has won seven national championships, Duluth has won one. Colorado College has won a couple. So there is a lot of history and tradition there.
I don’t know if I look at us as the quote power conference. Certainly we have institutions that have a lot of competitive success in the past.
I go back to why these eight schools came together, which is so cool and unique. Miami University and Western Michigan compete at the FBS level, midmajor. You’ve got North Dakota, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha that compete at the FCS level. Then you’ve got St. Cloud State and Duluth that compete at the Division II level, and Colorado College competes at the Division III level. I think it’s so neat these schools could come together and say we’ve got some like-minded feelings about our hockey programs that this could be very successful and this could really work.
You look at the institutions within our conference … they’re institutions where hockey is a big deal. It’s certainly a big deal at the Big Ten, but football is a pretty big deal at Michigan and Ohio State. It’s unique in that regard. And then I think there was this desire for national exposure. I’m careful when I say that, because I don’t want to seem as though we’re covering the country coast to coast, though we do have teams in three time zones. I think there is a little national feel to it.
Q: Will these new so-called “power hockey conferences” hurt the little guys of Division I college hockey?