"A man is insensible to the relish of prosperity until he has tasted adversity." - Rosalind Russell
That quote sums up what I believe college hockey will experience over the next couple of years. The college hockey powers are insensible to the relish of prosperity that they have been experiencing and breaking into all sorts of conferences. The breaking up of the CCHA and WCHA into the Big Ten, the NCHC, and a revamped WCHA will cause some problems over the next couple of years. However, there are possibilities out there that after a few tough years, that all the conferences could add a couple of teams and in turn have the strength to grow the sport of college hockey.
The Big Ten conference is a natural conference that can expand into all 11 schools. That is an additional 4 schools that will be playing Division I hockey within the next decade, I believe. I would expect by the year 2016, that there will be announcements that the three Big Ten schools that do not have hockey and Illinois which has an ACHA team will be forming Division I teams and become members of the Big Ten conference. It would be cool to see that a major conference have total representation in college hockey.
This is the last year for the CCHA. Most of the members are joining the WCHA. Three members are joining the Big Ten Conference, Notre Dame is joining Hockey East, and two schools are joining the NCHC. The CCHA has been around since 1972 and will be missed.
The NCHC is a new conference that has been formed partially in response to the Big Ten conference and partially due to the power schools of the WCHA and CCHA deciding that they wanted to form a power conference. From the CCHA Miami University has won the conference title in 2006 and 2010. The Redhawks won the tourney title in 2011. Western Michigan won the tourney title in 2012. The only other team that has won anything in the past decade besides Notre Dame or the Big 10 schools is Ferris State. They won the league in 2003 and 2012.
The WCHA teams joining the NCHC have a pedigree as well. Since 2000, Colorado College has won the conference 3 times, the University of Denver has won the conference 3 times the WCHA tournament 3 times and the National Title twice. Minnesota-Duluth has 1 tournament title, Nebraska-Omaha joined just 2 years ago and is starting to develop a reputation as a tough team to play. North Dakota has four regular season titles, 5 tournament titles (including the last 3) and 1 National Title, and St. Cloud State has 1 tournament title. The only other two schools that have a title during that time frame are Wisconsin and Minnesota who are joining the Big 10.
The revamped WCHA have all the colleges that have a program that aren't considered powers in the past decade or so. Like I said the only school that has won a title in the past decade is Ferris State. So the teams that the schools of the NCHC thought wouldn't be anything if the conferences stayed the same now have their own league where some will start to rise to the top and themselves become relevant in hockey. Another thing that is nice is that Alaska has both of their hockey teams in the same conference. Can anyone say rivalry? Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage I will guess becomes a hard ticket to get because of the bad blood that will develop real quickly there. The state of Michigan now has 4 teams in the WCHA. Michigan Tech, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior State. Add Bowling Green from Ohio and you have rivalries galore. You also have Bemidji State and Minnesota State-Mankato in the conference. I would have loved to have seen the WCHA add Alabama-Huntsville Chargers to the league. I understand that the team is located in the South and a long distance from every other team, but it would be to the benefit of college hockey to invite them and make them a part of the conference.
Now for the expansion of colleges that could be Division I college hockey programs. Seattle University could be a prime candidate for a new hockey program. You could easily attract Montana and possibly Montana State as programs if they are included into a conference. And as a fourth school from that region, try to land Portland State. Then if the 2 Alaska schools wanted to pull from the WCHA and form a league with the 4 new programs, you have the mandatory 6 schools you need for a conference. If you only get two or three of the schools to start a hockey program, then incorporate them into either the WCHA or the NCHC. That would strengthen those conferences.
In closing, realignment in college hockey probably isn't done. I can see Air Force leaving the Atlantic Hockey Association and possibly joining the WCHA. There are teams that participate in the ACHA that might get a building that corresponds with NCAA guidelines and could move to Division I like Iowa State, Ohio, and Michigan-Dearborn. More teams in Division I hockey is good for each conference and in turn each school. I hope that the schools take heed of the possibilities and work in bringing other schools into the fold.