Familiar faces returning to WCHA
Tom Serratore and Dean Blais are coming soon to a Western Collegiate Hockey Association rink near you. The newest members of the league -- Serratore with Bemidji State and Blais with Nebraska-Omaha -- begin 2010-11 play in the next two weeks. On ...
Tom Serratore and Dean Blais are coming soon to a Western Collegiate Hockey Association rink near you.
The newest members of the league -- Serratore with Bemidji State and Blais with Nebraska-Omaha -- begin 2010-11 play in the next two weeks. On Tuesday, they were warmly welcomed by fellow WCHA head coaches during a media conference call. They needed no introduction.
Serratore, 46, is entering his ninth year as Bemidji State's head coach with a mark of 140-120-29. He was a St. Cloud State assistant for five years in the WCHA from 1993-99.
Blais, 59, is entering his second year at Omaha and spent 10 seasons in the WCHA as North Dakota's head coach with a 262-115-33 record. He had another nine years as a North Dakota assistant and played for Minnesota from 1969-73.
"It's an exciting time in Bemidji, something we've dreamt of for years," said Serratore, who grew up in Coleraine and was a Bemidji State hockey captain. "The longtime goal of this program has been to be a member of the WCHA, and it's nice to see it come to fruition.
"All of northern Minnesota and the Iron Range has been looking forward to this, and we hope to compete day-in-and-day-out with the teams in our league."
Bemidji State knocked on the WCHA's door with the demise of College Hockey America. Nebraska-Omaha was then courted by WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod to make the league an even dozen members, the largest size since its inception in 1951.
Bemidji State, which grew to national small-college stature under Bob Peters, has been in three NCAA Division I tournaments the past six years. The Beavers were 23-10-4 last season, won the College Hockey America regular-season title and lost to Michigan 5-1 in the NCAA Midwest Regional's first round. The four-team College Hockey America then dissolved.
Bemidji State opens its first WCHA season in impressive fashion with the christening of the $44 million, 4,500-seat Bemidji Regional Event Center on Oct. 15 against North Dakota.
Nebraska-Omaha was a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association for 11 years before leaving the 12-team league for the WCHA. The Mavericks went 20-16-6 in the first year under Blais in 2009-10 and lost at Ferris State in the CCHA playoff quarterfinals.
"We had a good year last season, with 20 wins, but we know how tough things will be in the WCHA," said Blais, an International Falls native who led the United States to a gold medal in the 2010 World Junior Championships. "I'm glad to be back."
Omaha, at home this week against Clarkson, opens the WCHA season Oct. 15 at Minnesota. Minnesota Duluth is at Bemidji State on Oct. 29-30, while Omaha plays at UMD on March 4-5 to end the regular season.
Bemidji State and Omaha will only enhance the WCHA's reputation as college hockey's toughest conference, say league coaches.
Colorado College's Scott Owens: "This makes us a strong, vibrant league, and those teams will be very competitive."
St. Cloud State's Bob Motzko: "We've added two programs that will want to come in and beat up on the rest of us; two, tough ornery teams."
Denver's George Gwozdecky: "They are certainly going to add strength and depth to the league."
Minnesota Duluth's Scott Sandelin: "With two very good teams coming in, it will make our league even more difficult."
Minnesota's Don Lucia: "This will do nothing but add to the WCHA, and after a couple of years it will be like they've been part of the league for years. It will be a seamless transition."