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WCHA, MSUM have talks: League commissioner says it's possible, but there's a long way to go

MOORHEAD - Western Collegiate Hockey Association Commissioner Bruce McLeod has had talks with Minnesota State University Moorhead athletic director Doug Peters about MSUM's potential move to NCAA Division I hockey.

If the Dragons start a program, McLeod said MSUM could possibly become a WCHA member.

"It could definitely, but there's a long way to go before it happens," McLeod said Tuesday. "And you don't know. ... Everybody wants to play in the WCHA or wants some kind of guarantees of that and that's just not the way it works."

McLeod said he has had several discussions with Peters, conversations that started roughly two months ago.

"The Fargo-Moorhead area is a decent size metropolitan area and certainly it is hockey country," McLeod said. "That's what kind of makes this whole circumstance, whether it's Moorhead or NDSU or anybody else, that's kind of what makes it different than other places."

The Urban Plains Center would be the likely home for an MSUM Division I program.

"We would love to see it," UP Center general manager Lance Johnson said. "We are primarily a hockey facility right now. I could see this strengthening that hockey-only mission."

Johnson said the UP Center could accommodate the practice and game needs of current tenants Fargo Public Schools and the Fargo Force and a Division I program.

"It would take a lot of planning," Johnson said. "But we would love to see another tenant come in."

Johnson said he's had brief talks with Peters.

"There are a lot of details that have to be worked out," Johnson said. "But we would do our best to make space available for a Division I team."

Force head coach Dean Blais said the UP Center would be on par with most arenas in the WCHA.

Blais is a former head men's hockey coach at the University of North Dakota, which is in the WCHA.

"I'm not going to say it's better than the Ralph Engelstad Arena or Mariucci Arena or the Kohl Center," Blais said. "This is as good as most other WCHA arenas. I've been to them all."

Blais did not rule out coaching at MSUM.

"I'm not saying, 'No,' " he said.

McLeod said he hasn't seen the UP Center, but he does have regular hockey talks with Blais.

"In the past, a suitable building has always been a problem," McLeod said. "That seems to be a viable type of place. I think that probably, as much as anything, has sparked things a little bit."

The WCHA has 10 teams. Bemidji State has applied for league membership. If accepted, Bemidji State would be the league's 11th member.

"Eleven is problematic," McLeod said. "It's a very difficult circumstance for us. But we've actually had some other schools that would be interested in being No. 12, but the league is not interested in them right now. ... We're still kind of exploring a compatible 12th team."

The Dragons would have to clear a number of hurdles to secure a spot in the WCHA.

The league has 10 institutional criteria for new members, including playing a Division I schedule for two years before membership is granted. But McLeod left open the possibility of the two-year waiting period being waived.

"Everything is negotiable," McLeod said. "I would believe there could be some circumstance, but I don't know."

At least 75 percent of the league's members would have to approve any application to join the league. Bemidji State needs eight of the 10 members to vote in its favor to gain WCHA membership.

"They're even having trouble making the jump," Blais said of Bemidji State, which started its hockey program in 1947. "I think they are going to get in, personally. It's better to have two teams in than one and I think Doug looks at that, too, for scheduling."

McLeod said it would realistically take MSUM at least four or five years from startup before it would likely be in a position to make a bid to join the WCHA.

"We don't know what the Division I landscape is going to look like," McLeod said. "I've been around and I don't know what it's going to look like. It's a tough situation.

"We'll keep in touch with Doug and certainly encourage whatever we can without making any kind of promises. I can't do that at all."

While the idea of Division I hockey at MSUM is in its infant stages, Blais said he is impressed with the way Peters is proceeding.

"I think it starts with a guy like Doug Peters who has a dream and is following through with it," Blais said. "Is it realistic? I think he's got to research some more, but I think he's going about it the right way."