There are some changes in store for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team, specifically related to what teams they'll be playing in years to come as their conference undergoes a major facelift.
Wisconsin men’s hockey spokesperson Paul Capobianco said the Big Ten now has enough teams to form its own hockey league. That development was made possible after a donation made a Penn State hockey team a reality. The Nittany Lions will take the ice at the Kohl Center for the first time in February.
The Badgers have been in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) since 1969 according to Capobianco.
Under NCAA rules, a conference has to have at least six teams to receive bids for tournaments. Penn State would make six teams in the Big Ten.
Under the proposed Big Ten hockey conference, the only two teams that would come from the current WCHA are Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Some fans worry about Wisconsin's long-time rivalries, like the one with North Dakota, that would be lost with the conference move.
"You don't want to lose that for the fans," season ticket holder Frank Alfano said. "The fans have been supportive of the UW program for years for good times, bad times."
Capobianco assured fans that the Badgers would still face off against WCHA teams in the future, even if those games aren’t in conference play.
"There's no question they'll have less meaning because they're not in your conference, but there's great history with those teams still," Capobianco said. "So you're going to play them and presumably, you're going to play them in the NCAA tournament down the line somewhere."
Capobianco added that under the new Big Ten league, the Badgers men's hockey team would play only 20 in-conference games, which he said gives more flexibility for scheduling long-time rivals in the regular season.
That's because starting next season, the Badgers will only have six teams in their conference rather than 12.
Capobianco said the WCHA will remain intact, but the league will have significantly different teams. For instance, the association just accepted Alabama-Huntsville into its ranks, making it ten teams strong.
The Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) has been disbanded as a result of the reorganization of teams. Capobianco said Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan are among the teams that will go from that league to the new Big Ten conference.
Capobianco said he doesn’t foresee any significant financial gain for Wisconsin in joining the new conference.
"There's no question it will be a little bit different," Capobianco said. "It will take some adjusting. But in the long run, I think it will be a pretty good thing for Wisconsin, and the fans really."
According to Alfono, the true fans will keep coming back no matter what conference the Badgers play in.
"It doesn't matter what league UW is in," Alfono said. "I'll always come, and I'll always encourage other people to come."