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A decade later, no revival in sight for Minnesota State Moorhead's failed effort to add D-I hockey

In an interview with Mike McFeely of InForum, the Dragons' new athletic director said, "I think the ship has sailed..." on the viability of the effort to bring Division I college hockey to Fargo-Moorhead.

MSUM hockey2
Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski (left) and former Fargo mayor Bruce Furness were all smiles on Friday, July 15, 2011, at a press conference annoucing the university's plans to pursue the addition of men's and women's hockey programs.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MOORHEAD – “Chaos is a ladder,” wrote George R.R. Martin, the renowned author of the Game of Thrones series of fantasy novels, one of which was named “A Dance with Dragons.”

Amid all the chaos in the college hockey world 11 years ago – Big Ten hockey and the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference were starting, the original incarnation of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association was ending, and the now-defunct men’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association was undergoing a radical realignment – some folks at Minnesota State Moorhead looked to find a ladder into the world of Division I college hockey.

The 2011 effort, most notably the drive to raise $37 million to start men’s and women’s hockey programs at MSUM, failed. More than a decade later, even as hockey remains hugely popular in Fargo-Moorhead and Scheels Arena remains ready to host another high-level tennant, college hockey won’t be dancing with dragons anytime soon, says MSUM’s new athletic director.

Chad Markuson was named Minnesota State Moorhead's athletic director Friday, April 29, 2022, after serving as the university's interim AD the past year.
Dave Arntson / MSU Moorhead

In an interview with Mike McFeely of InForum this week, Chad Markuson said they were close to making hockey work in 2011, and they are not now.

“I think the ship has sailed for at least the near future,” said Markuson, who had been the school’s interim athletic director for a year and was named to the position full time last month.


He noted the fiscal realities of modern college athletics, especially at the Division II level, where enrollments are declining and cutting – not adding – sports is more common. Markuson also noted that while a Dragons men’s hockey program would have been located geographically in the heart of the region’s college hockey world, a women’s program would have been the western-most program in the nation, meaning travel expenses would have likely been a concern.

We were on the right road. We were close.
MSUM AD Chad Markuson
Minnesota State University Moorhead's bid at adding a Division I hockey team in 2011 included this promotional material.

Still, the idea of college hockey expansion remains viable elsewhere, with a men’s program at Long Island University in New York coming on board two years ago, Lindenwood in Missouri starting men’s hockey for the 2022-23 season and Augustana in South Dakota starting a men’s program in 2023-24. Do a Google search for “MSU Moorhead Hockey” and one can still find the website from 2011 detailing the Dragons’ plans and timeline for men’s and women’s programs that would play at Scheels in Fargo, would push for conference membership and would potentially contribute up to $14 million to the Fargo-Moorhead economy each year.

It is not a new topic in the community, with the addition of a varsity hockey program at North Dakota State discussed with some regularity for generations. When the Fargodome was built more than three decades ago, there was a plan to include an ice plant and potentially have Bison hockey play there. In 2000, a community referendum to build a new downtown Fargo arena for a Bison D-I hockey program failed. When Scheels opened in 2008, any thought of college hockey at the Fargodome or elsewhere in the community disappeared, as the 5,000-seat hockey-specific rink would be a perfect home for the Bison or the Dragons.

Inside Fargo's Scheels Arena in advance of the 2019 NCAA West Regional.

A decade later, Markuson admits they nearly made it happen at MSUM. They had significant money pledged. They had almost certainly reached out to the WCHA about league membership. And they have a hockey-friendly community that routinely sends talented players to other places to play college hockey.

But like a rocket of a slap shot from the blue line that appears to be the sure-fire overtime winner, this effort clanked the goalpost.

“We were on the right road,” Markuson said. “We were close.”

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Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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