The Minnesota Cup was introduced by the WCHA during the 2018-19 season as a way for the league’s five Minnesota schools to fill out an expanded nonconference schedule following the loss of North Dakota’s program and four league games.

With the WCHA returning to eight teams and a 28-game league schedule via the addition of St. Thomas in 2021-22, however, the Minnesota Cup is being phased out of existence and as of now, will not be part of the next season’s conference schedule, which the WCHA plans to announce in mid-May.

“The addition of it was to create a pathway to some games given the loss of those games on the schedule,” WCHA commissioner Jennifer Flowers said Thursday. “It’s not necessarily completely off the table in the current climate, but big picture, the Minnesota Cup was planning to go away as we transition back to eight teams."

Before the Minnesota Cup, the University of Minnesota hosted an in-state men's tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for four seasons from 2013-17 called the North Star College Cup. Minnesota Duluth won the last tournament by beating St. Cloud State 2-1 in overtime in the championship.

Ryleigh Houston (28) of Minnesota Duluth competes for the puck against Minnesota State-Mankato during a Minnesota Cup semifinal game on Jan. 4, 2020 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.  (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Ryleigh Houston (28) of Minnesota Duluth competes for the puck against Minnesota State-Mankato during a Minnesota Cup semifinal game on Jan. 4, 2020 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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The first Minnesota Cup followed two years after the North Star College Cup's collapse in 2019 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis featuring Minnesota, UMD, SCSU and Minnesota State-Mankato. The Gophers beat the Huskies for the title with the Bulldogs finishing third.

Duluth's Amsoil Arena hosted the second edition in 2020 with the Gophers being replaced by Bemidji State in the rotation. UMD defeated the Beavers for the title that year.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020-21 version, which was to be held in Mankato. St. Cloud State was scheduled to host in 2021-22 and Bemidji State in 2022-23.

“The door is not slammed on that because if we found four teams in a place of struggle with nonconference (scheduling), we would look to potentially add that back in to be helpful,” Flowers said.

Bemidji State goaltender Lauren Bench (35) and Minnesota Duluth forward Sydney Brodt (14) reach for the airborne puck in the third period of the 2020 Minnesota Cup final on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / File / News Tribune)
Bemidji State goaltender Lauren Bench (35) and Minnesota Duluth forward Sydney Brodt (14) reach for the airborne puck in the third period of the 2020 Minnesota Cup final on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / File / News Tribune)

With a 28-game league schedule, WCHA teams will have the opportunity to schedule six nonconference games, or more if they play in an event that the NCAA exempts from the 34-game limit.

Flowers said geography continues to work against the WCHA when it comes to nonconference scheduling as it is much easier and more affordable for the programs out east in the ECAC, Hockey East and College Hockey America to play each other rather than fly out to play WCHA schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio.

The only non-WCHA school in the Central time zone sponsoring NCAA Division I women’s hockey at the moment is CHA’s Lindenwood in Saint Charles, Missouri.

Flowers said she is working with the other conference commissioners on solutions. It’s a group that became more connected than ever during the pandemic while working through a variety of issues, and she believes there are opportunities to work together on scheduling.

“We have to be very cognizant of the need for nonconference opportunities for all of women’s hockey,” Flowers said. “That’s something that we have to as a body of women’s hockey understand the importance.”

League meetings wrap up

The WCHA held its annual league meetings virtually this week, the second year in a row that was necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Flowers said it was an opportunity to regroup and celebrate the success of the 2020-21 season in which the league sent three teams to the NCAA Frozen Four — including UMD — with Wisconsin winning the national championship.

“I was really proud of our league this year,” Flowers said. “We navigated a lot of challenges. We had the opportunity to cave a few times and take the easy road out and I don’t think we ever did.”

Other news from the week's meetings:

  • The WCHA will return to its traditional playoff format as well in 2021-22 with the top four teams hosting the bottom four teams in best-of-three quarterfinal series and the winners advancing to the WCHA Final Faceoff. In 2020-21, the league took just the top four teams to the Final Faceoff and from 2018-19 through 2019-20, the regular season champion received a bye through the quarterfinals to the Final Faceoff.

  • Flowers said Greg Shepherd will continue as the league’s supervisor of officials. Shepherd was also the WCHA men’s supervisor of officials, but has retired from that side of the game following the dissolution of the men’s WCHA. Shepherd completed his 42nd season with the WCHA in 2020-21, including 28 as supervisor of officials.