Wildcat hockey is joining its first conference since the 1980s.
Arizona will join ASU, Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Colorado and Colorado State to form the Western Collegiate Hockey League starting next season.
“It was always talked about, and we wanted to get the Colorado schools in and the timing just was right, and it’s finally worked out,” UA head coach Sean Hogan said. “We got the right parties involved and it’s exciting because it makes it easier for travel purposes for sure.”
The Buffaloes and the Rams are currently in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II and will move up to join the other WCHL teams in Division I.
This season, Arizona and ASU are the only western schools in the ACHA.
“They’re all great teams. It’s going to be a great league,” junior forward Andrew Murmes said. “I’m excited to actually go there to play, and that will make a lot of things easier because then, if we win our league, then we’re automatically in the national tournament.”
During the 1980s, Arizona played in the Intercollegiate Pacific Conference and the Pacific Hockey Conference, but this is the UA’s first league since the ACHA was founded in 1991.
In the ACHA, conferences get automatic bids to the national tournament, but it is doubtful the Western Collegiate Hockey League champion would need one. The Arizona and Oklahoma schools are all ranked in the top-16.
“It’ll be a strong conference from top to bottom,” Hogan said. “It’s plausible, probably not in year one, but it’s plausible that all six teams can make the national tournament in one year.”
Currently, the ASU is ranked No. 1, Oklahoma is No. 6, Central Oklahoma is No. 15 and Arizona is No. 16.
“Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma are always top 15,” Murmes said.
“And ASU, you can tell, has just been dominant, but they’re not unbeatable. With the Colorado state schools coming in, it’s going to be good.”
This season Colorado is 2-7 and plays only Division-II teams, except ASU’s D-I team.
However, last season in Tucson, the Buffaloes beat Arizona 6-5, while the Rams lost to the Wildcats 7-3.
“I think in the first year or two they might not be great, but they’ll definitely have the resources to get better,” Hogan said.
Colorado is one of the founding members of the ACHA and won a Division II national championship in 2003.
“It’s exciting to have the Colorado schools involved. They’re name schools, schools that people recognize,” Hogan said.
Each team will play 16 conference games, three against its interstate league mates and four against its in-state rivals.
The UA will continue to play ASU eight times a season, Hogan said.