The Free Press
MANKATO — It was a little more than a year ago that the college hockey world spun off its axis.
Five teams from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced that they were breaking away from the league, along with another from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, to form a new super conference in 2013-14.
Those teams -- North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska Omaha and Miami -- have hopes that their new National Collegiate Hockey Conference will be able to compete with the Big Ten, which will be starting its own hockey conference that same year.
The dominoes began falling about nine months earlier than that when Penn State announced it was upgrading its club hockey team to NCAA Division I and taking the powerful Big Ten onto the ice.
That was a blow to the WCHA and the CCHA, taking their biggest schools -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State -- away. But the NCHC shocked the world and blew up the rest of the west.
Suddenly, it was every hockey team for itself.
St. Cloud State begged to get into "The National," and got in after Notre Dame opted to go to Hockey East. The NCHC also brought in Western Michigan.
Prior to that, Northern Michigan jumped the sinking CCHA for the WCHA, and later, the remaining WCHA teams, invited all of the leftover CCHA teams aboard its rickety lifeboat. Minnesota State and its president, Richard Davenport, appeared to have hold of the oars, taking a leadership role in the revamped league.
Changes in the sport were taking place as recently as a month ago when Connecticut announced it would be leaving Atlantic Hockey to join Hockey East in 2014.
To paraphrase a popular political campaign: Is college hockey better off today than it was a year ago?
Hard to tell.
This coming season will be the last year of things as they've been in recent years, including the WCHA with its traditional powers. It will be the last season for the CCHA, a conference that first formed in 1971. (Its teams will wear patches commemorating the 42-year history.)
For Minnesota State, it did what most schools did over the last year: It looked out for No. 1.
It hired a new coach, Mike Hastings, gave him a big contract and vowed to reinvest more into the hockey program. It started pushing to upgrade facilities and other ammenities.
A year ago, there was plenty of anger in Mankato about the conference shakeups.
But much of that vitrol has subsided as the focus has turned toward the Mavericks, rather than who they might or might not be playing.
What a difference a year makes.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.