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It's Not Easy Being Anchorage

(Ed. note: I wrote about half of this during the season and never finished it, so I figured I'd finish it now.)

Long-time journalist Virg Foss wrote a column in the Grand Forks Herald(on March 18th) and as usual, for better or worse, it got people talking. Among his "random thoughts" was this gem:
Set them adrift: I know it’s not a nice thought, but I can’t be the only one who wishes there was a way to kick Alaska-Anchorage out of the WCHA and replace the Seawolves with Bemidji State.
Sadly, he's probably not. Back on February 27th, WCCO's Dark Star interviewed Minnesota assistant coach John Hill, in a painfully awkward interview where the interviewer didn't realize the interviewee had once coached at UAA. One of the questions posed to Hill was about some people thinking UAA shouldn't be in the WCHA. Hill's answer was basically, "I could see why some people think that." Though he added at the end, "I hope they never do[get kicked out of the WCHA]".

The fact that this was brought up by two of the oldest men on the planet probably says something. I'm sure if Sid Hartman can regain his grip on coherence, he'll join in the cause too. But it's out there, so I may as well give my opinion.

I think the idea of replacing UAA with Bemidji is one of the dumbest things I've heard all month. And last week, I heard Metallica's cover of "Turn the Page" on the radio, so that's really saying something. Probably the biggest reason for allowing Bemidji into the WCHA is that if the WCHA doesn't, Bemidji would likely fold their program, and fewer programs is bad for college hockey. Letting in Bemidji and kicking out Anchorage doesn't solve that problem, it just transfers it a few thousand miles west. Without a conference to play in, I doubt UAA could survive as an independent. Other than the extremely provincial argument that Bemidji would likely stock their roster with more Minnesotan-born players, and slightly reduced travel costs, I don't see what that switch would accomplish.

Anchorage doesn't seem like a great fit for the WCHA. They're behind a good majority of the league in terms of hockey facilities(though a new building is becoming more and more realistic). They're forced to recruit out of a different, shallower pool of talent in western Canada, as opposed to the rest of the league, which relies on Minnesota/USHL/the top players from elsewhere. Their fans understandably don't travel well, meaning they don't do a lot for the rest of the league economically. They've finished in last place three years in a row, and haven't had a winning record since joining the WCHA. So it's far from a perfect fit, but it's the best option available. In an ideal world, they'd be better of sharing a conference with Fairbanks, maybe some Canadians schools like the University of British Columbia, and some schools in Washington state. But that's not an option, and it won't be for a long, long time.

Maybe it would be easier for some of those old-timers to go back to the days when there were only 5 teams in college, but for the sport of college hockey, having more teams is generally a good thing. Having a team that struggles in the WCHA is better than not having one at all.