Budget cuts at the University of Alaska could mean the end of the state’s two college hockey programs.
The university system recently released a report with three plans to accommodate for a struggling economy with big cuts directed at the two schools’ – Anchorage and Fairbanks – athletic departments.
Two of the plans would eliminate both Division 1 hockey programs that compete in the 10-team WCHA. Other options would be to combine the two hockey programs or eliminate one, while keeping the other.
Bemidji State and Minnesota State Mankato both compete in the WCHA, which offices out of Edina . The Gophers are scheduled to open the 2016-2017 season in Alaska with stops at Anchorage and Fairbanks.
“We are in full support of both our Alaska programs during challenging financial times in the state of Alaska,” WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson said. “Men’s hockey is an important part of the community fabric in both Anchorage and Fairbanks, and those programs – with their rich histories – are community and state assets. Both athletic directors are working tirelessly to do what is best for their student-athletes and programs, as the WCHA is in constant contact with both institutions. They remain hopeful, as does the WCHA, that both UAA and UAF will compete in the WCHA well into the future.”
The proposals will be discussed at forums in September with the university's Board of Regents expected to make a final decision in early November. Other options are still possible, but the athletics eport says “State budget limitations require adaptation to a new environment. Three options are presented, all are difficult to accomplish. The 2025 goal of no general funding will be the least beneficial to UA. It is a death sentence for intercollegiate athletics in Alaska.”
College hockey has grown over the last decade with the addition of two Division 1 members Penn State and Arizona State, and the creation of two new conferences, the Big Ten and NCHC. Michigan's Wayne State folded their program in 2008.
Gophers longtime coach Don Lucia began his coaching career in Alaska with stints at both Division 1 programs. After six years as an assistant, he was hired as the Fairbanks head coach in 1987 and led the program to six winning seasons before taking a job at Colorado College in 1993.
While in Fairbanks, Lucia met his future wife Joyce. They married in 1983 and all four of their children, including Wild prospect Mario Lucia, were born in Fairbanks.
The WCHA could also lose another member if Minnesota State Mankato is accepted to join the National College Hockey Conference. The Mavericks announced in July they would explore membership in the NCHC and had formally applied to join the hockey conference.
Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and North Dakota are all members of the eight-team league.
“We know they are exploring options for their men’s hockey program. I have told Minnesota State president Richard Davenport that we would like to have the Mavericks continue to play in the WCHA for years to come,” Robertson said. “We value Minnesota State as an important part of our current success and future vision.”
The WCHA continues to try and remain competitive by leading college hockey with new initiatives and announced Tuesday several major changes to its game format. The league will introduce 3-on-3 overtime and a shootout for regular-season games, a new three-point per-game structure for league standings, and implement NHL-sized nets in all arenas beginning in the 2016-2017 season.
If league games are tied after the NCAA-mandated five-minute 5-on-5 overtime period, the teams will play a second five-minute overtime of 3-on-3 hockey. If the game is still tied after the second overtime period, the game will be settled by a sudden death shootout.
The winner in regulation or the first OT will earn three points. If a team wins in the second OT or in a shootout they will be awarded two points and the loser one point.
“We remain confident and committed to ensuring the WCHA remains a key and competitive component of the college hockey landscape,” Robertson said. “With [Tuesday's] WCHA announcement it shows the dedication of our member institutions to move the conference forward in a positive and exciting manner.”