Minnesota hockey tourney saves rivalries

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team will lose several rivalries when it moves to the Big Ten Conference next year, but the Gophers are hoping to keep a few in-state matchups intact in 2014 and beyond.

The school announced Saturday that there will be an annual tournament played by the five Division I hockey schools in the state of Minnesota: the Gophers, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth. The tournament will be played at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Next year’s event will be held Jan. 24-25, 2014. Two semifinal games will be held Friday, and a third-place game and championship will be played Saturday.

Minnesota will be joining the Big Ten next year, but other members of the WCHA will also be dispersing. St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth will join the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference, and Bemidji State and Minnesota State will stay in the WCHA.

“We all recognize, beginning next year, we’ll be competing in three different conferences,” said Tom McGinnis, associate athletic director at Minnesota. “But at the same time, we are the State of Hockey. We collectively felt it was important that we continue the annual matchups we’ve experienced for years and the rivalries that our teams have developed.”

While the Gophers will take part in the event every year, the other four schools will rotate, which means one team will be idle each year. Starting in 2014, that idle school will be Bemidji State.

Other details of the event have yet to be established, including the name of the tournament. McGinnis said there will be a contest in which fans can submit ideas to name the event. A possible trophy for the tournament is also still under consideration.

This event is similar to the Beanpot Tournament, which is held in Boston every year and features four schools from the area: Boston University, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern. The hope is that the all-Minnesota tournament can create a similar excitement in the State of Hockey.

“They have a great thing going there, and we certainly want to transcend that here as well,” Bemidji State athletic director Dr. Rick Goeb said.

There were concerns about the loss of in-state matchups with several teams leaving the WCHA, but the tournament solves that problem.

“(The coaches) are bought into continuing to make this a tournament that’s important for the State of Hockey, making this a place where we continue to focus on collegiate hockey,” St. Cloud State athletic director Heather Weems said. “It remains as a hotbed as recruiting and for our fans. This really captures that.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.