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Backers say support for MSUM hockey is there

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MOORHEAD - The money and enthusiasm are there to support Division I hockey at Minnesota State University Moorhead, supporters and the university's president said Tuesday.

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Edna Szymanski said the people who asked MSUM to consider a hockey program can provide the financial backing.

"If they wrote a check today, it could be done," she said. "We were ap-proached by people who could make it happen."

Szymanski and athletic director Doug Peters have not named the people who approached MSUM.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association lifted its moratorium on adding teams on Jan. 15. The deadline to apply was March 31, but the only university that did so was Bemidji (Minn.) State University.

A hockey program could not be supported with state money, she said.

Several community members have been meeting with Peters and representatives from the Urban Plains Center to discuss the idea.

One of them, Fargo-Moorhead developer Jeff Schlossman, said the group is expanding and beginning to raise funds for a possible program.

Schlossman said he's long supported bringing Division I hockey to Fargo-Moorhead.

"This is a great market, a great media market, a great sports market," Schlossman said. "It has a lot of potential now that there's an arena in town."

Fargo Force General Manager and Coach Dean Blais estimates it would cost about $5 million to start a Division I program.

Chris Birmingham, a member of MSUM's Alumni Foundation board, thinks people will be willing to provide financial support.

"In terms of our community, I think there's a lot of support out there that would support hockey regardless of whether it's MSUM, Concordia or NDSU," he said.

Other smaller campuses in Minnesota such as Bemidji State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato have been able to support hockey programs, Birmingham said.

UP Center representatives also are enthusiastic about bringing Division I hockey to Fargo-Moorhead and hosting the team, said Todd Berning, president of the Metro Sports Foundation, which owns and operates the center.

"It would take the facility to a whole new level," Berning said.

A Division I team could be a catalyst to help the UP Center complete its long-term goal of adding four rinks, said Berning, who has helped facilitate meetings about an MSUM program.

NDSU Athletic Director Gene Taylor said Berning contacted him in late March about starting a Division I hockey program.

"At the time of the meeting, I said I didn't think now was the time and they needed a fairly quick turnaround because of the WCHA," Taylor said.

Concordia College, which has Division III hockey, also was approached, said Athletic Director Larry Papenfuss.

Peters has not commented on whether MSUM is also looking at women's hockey, but Szymanski said the university would comply with Title IX requirements.

Taylor said when NDSU looked at adding hockey, officials determined the university would have to add women's hockey to be compliant with Title IX, making hockey more expensive to sustain.

"Women's hockey does not draw the fan base that men's do," Taylor said. "A lot of men's programs, the money they generate goes to pay for the women's."

Admissions Director Gina Monson said she's excited MSUM is exploring hockey because it would help recruit students who want to play and who want to support a hockey team.

"Minnesota is such a hockey state, so I think it would be positive," Monson said.

Gino Gasparini, United States Hockey League executive vice president and a former head University of North Dakota hockey coach, said financial backing is key.

"The trick in the whole business is sustaining it and making it a viable program revenue wise," Gasparini said.

Forum reporters Eric Peterson and Mike McFeely contributed to this report.

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