It was a transitional offseason for the WCHA, as the league said goodbye to eight schools, and welcome six new teams into the league. There was a good deal of transition among the league's individual teams as well, as two teams found themselves searching for new head coaches.
Here's a look at five of the biggest stories in the new WCHA this past summer.
1.The Alaska-Anchorage Coaching Search Fiasco
Before the college hockey season had officially ended, Alaska-Anchorage chose not to renew the contract of head coach Dave Shyiak. The move wasn't all that surprising considering the Seawolves had just finished off a dismal 4-25-7 season, and had been perennial bottom-feeders in the WCHA under Shyiak(a problem, in fairness, not just isolated to Shyiak's tenure.) But nobody could have predicted the mess that came next as the Seawolves searched for their next head coach.
Things started out normal enough with the UAA search committed, headed up by athletic director Dr. Steve Cobb naming a pretty respectable list of finalists for the head coaching job. But shortly after, bitter recriminations from a local community that felt left outside the loop by Dr. Cobb started. Cobb would receive a "vote of no confidence" from both the state youth hockey association and from the school's hockey alumni. Then, former Seawolf Mickey Spencer dredged up an incident from 2011 in which Shyiak struck a Seawolf player with his stick, in an attempt to get Cobb fired.
Eventually, Alaska-Anchorage's coaching search would be put on hold, and Cobb was fired from his position. After being let go, Cobb claimed the University president that fired him "may be mentally ill" and that he intended to prove so in court. Cobb has yet to file that court case.
The Seawolves started their coaching search for the second time, with a less restrictive set of criteria for candidates, which allowed them to eventually hire ECHL coach Matt Thomas to take over the program. Since taking over, Thomas has landed a talented local recruit in defenseman Chase Van Allen, and hired a respect, up-and-coming assistant coach in Josh Ciocco.
2. Alabama-Huntsville Searches for Another Coach
When they were accepted as full-members of the new WCHA this past January, it seemed like there would finally be some stability in Alabama-Huntsville's program. But when head coach Kurt Kleinedorst resigned as head coach in late May, the Chargers found themselves searching for their fifth coach in eight seasons. Kleinendorst resigned citing a desire to return to pro coaching, and he would eventually be hired as head coach of the Minnesota Wild's AHL affiliate.
The Chargers would go on to hire Air Force assistant coach Mike Corbett on July 8th.Corbett was a finalist(twice) for the Alaska-Anchorage head coaching position and considered by many one of the top assistant coaches in college hockey, and ready to lead a program of his own.
3. Ohio State's Loss is the WCHA's Gain
Ohio State shocked the college hockey world in mid-April when they fired head coach Mark Osiecki. In the aftermath of Osiecki's firing, the Buckeyes had de-commitments from a number of recruits that had committed to Ohio State to play for Osiecki, and the WCHA was the most immediate beneficiary. Zach Stepan, a third round draft choice of the Nashville Predators, and the USHL's third-leading scorer last year, chose to enroll at Minnesota State.
Defenseman Cliff Watson, a 6th round draft choice of the San Jose Sharks, re-opened his recruitment after Osiecki was fired, and in early August, it was announced that Watson would play for Michigan Tech, after the Huskies had a recruit fail to qualify academically.
Stepan and Watson will be the only two freshmen in the WCHA this year that have been drafted by an NHL team.
4. WCHA Players Sought After in Free Agent Market
The new WCHA won't have the same type of highly-drafted, surefire NHL prospects the league once had, but that doesn't mean the league will be off the NHL's radar completely. If this past offseason is any indication, the league will be a hotbed for under-the-radar free agent prospects for NHL teams. Three players from new WCHA teams left school early this summer to sign NHL contracts: Lake Superior's Buddy Robinson(Ottawa) and Kellan Lain(Vancouver), and Northern Michigan's Jared Coreau(Detroit). In addition, outgoing seniors such as Minnesota State's Eriah Hayes(San Jose) and Bowling Green's Andrew Hammond(Ottawa) signed NHL free agent deals.
5. New Media Deal Rumored, But Not Announced
This June, the WCHA's leadership met with the athletic directors from their new conference members, and one of the items on the table was a potential media deal for the league that would see all of the home games from league members streamed online.
The rumored deal would be with Fox Sports, and put all the league's games on the new FoxSportsGo app, which was supposed to launch this past weekend in conjunction with the new Fox Sports 1 network, but was delayed to fix some bugs. Each member school would be responsible for the costs involved in producing their own broadcast, though rumors seem to indicate that league's schools are willing to undertake those costs, giving the WCHA what could end up being the best media deal of any of the western conferences.