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CCHA commissioner Don Lucia pleased with first year as more challenges loom

"It would have to be something where all across college hockey the teams together decided to lift the major junior rule, but it is a little bit more complicated than that," the commissioner said

Don Lucia.jpg
CCHA commissioner Don Lucia.
Contributed / CCHA

The CCHA crashed the college hockey scene last season as the newly reformed conference took on a new NCAA Division I program, produced the Hobey Baker Award winner, sent two teams to the national tournament and almost produced a national champion.

During the conference’s media day this week, several coaches took a moment to acknowledge commissioner Don Lucia and his staff for a successful first season, noting the league’s increased use of social media, player recognitions and improving brand and individual school awareness.

“I've always maintained the strength of our league is our coaches," Lucia said. "We have eight veteran coaches in our league in this upcoming season. They've had tremendous success over the years at they're each individual campuses, and certainly a driving force as we continue to build the CCHA, and our brand and the success they've had on our their individual campuses.”

Minnesota State continues to elevate itself in college hockey. It took command of the No. 1 poll spot last season and joined conference foe Michigan Tech in the NCAA tournament. The Mavericks eventually fell to Denver 5-1 in the championship game. Mavericks senior goaltender Dryden McKay smashed the career shutouts record and set a record for wins in a season on his way to winning the Hobey.

The CCHA got tangled up in a viral moment last season during its Mason Cup tournament when a Minnesota State overtime goal was disallowed (following Lucia's decision for further review) more than an hour after the team celebrated and left the ice. The Mavericks and Bemidji State eventually returned to finish OT, which ended with Jack McNeely’s goal for a 2-1 Minnesota State victory. At the time, Lucia said his call for the post-game review was the most difficult decision he's had to make in his role as commissioner.

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Lucia touched on a couple key topics this week:

  • The ever-increasing viewership on FloHockey, the CCHA’s streaming partner.
  • The varying ways teams build their rosters, either from juniors or the high school ranks. “If you look across college hockey over the years, it has become a little bit older and I think the coaches in our league, they like those veteran players,” Lucia said.
  • Name, image and likeness (NIL) deals for players and how that could lead to a change to the major junior rule the NCAA has in place for the Canadian Hockey League. Again, this is all new. It would have to be something where all across college hockey the teams together decided to lift the major junior rule, but it is a little bit more complicated than that,” said Lucia, mentioning scenarios. "It's kind of the unknown. And I think there needs to be a lot more vetting on that and we'll certainly start to do that at the commissioners’ level."

One change to count on is the CCHA’s ninth member, Augustana, joins the league in a transitional capacity for the 2023-24 season before having a full conference slate in 2025-26.
“So a lot of things are happening the CCHA and we're hopeful that to continue to build off that,” Lucia said.

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On the preseason poll

On Sept. 19, the CCHA released its preseason poll as voted on by the coaches. Ignored or bulletin board fodder for some, Lake Superior State was picked to finish sixth and head coach Damon Whitten reached this observation:

“We were picked sixth two years ago when we hung a banner and went back to the tournament and that's where we expect to be again this year, competing for a banner and returning to the tournament,” Whitten said, referencing his 2020-21 team which won the WCHA tournament to earn an NCAA berth. “This is again our best team in nine years. And I think the polls will prove to be a little bit off in that regard.”

For the record, even after losing seven key players, Minnesota State had the top spot in the preseason poll, followed by Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, the Lakers, Ferris State and St. Thomas.

“I think there are a lot of reputation polls,” Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan said. “I do think Ferris is going to be a much better team. I obviously think Lake Superior is gonna be an extremely good team.”

Blasi’s thoughts

Last year, St. Thomas was not only a league newcomer, but in its first year of Division I hockey. The Tommies won three games last season, eight fewer than seventh-place Ferris State’s 11 wins overall. As his team plays catch-up, St. Thomas head coach Rico Blasi understands someone has to be at the bottom of the poll.

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“No, we don't want to finish last,” he said. “That's not what we want to do. We want to compete every night. We want to make sure that we're part of the talk about, you know, some of the top teams in the league, and we know that there's a process to that.”

Rob Beer is the digital content manager for Forum Communications. A journalist with Forum Communications since 1991, he is the editor of The Rink Live and assists with Northland Outdoors and other content produced by the company.
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