As I walked to the press box at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena Saturday, some of the changes were more apparent than others.
The video scoreboard hanging over center ice was rather difficult to miss. Though I think the jury is still out on what MacInnes would have to say about the 'Kiss Cam,' the benefit to the program and Michigan Tech is pretty easy to see.
On the wall below the press box are signs in the colors of each Western Collegiate Hockey Association team, and sure enough, they had been fully updated to reflect hockey's new world order. While thinking out this column, I can't help but refer to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief. I doubt she had anything to do with hockey, but I feel like I checked them off:
1. Denial - "A frightening future, July 7, 2010" - "Hopefully, I'll be the only one polishing off leftovers for a while."
2. Bargaining - "A frightening present, July 14, 2010" - "(TCU football is) doing OK these days, and someone that remains in the WCHA will rise to the top."
3. Anger - "Last minute of hate in this period, Dec. 13, 2012" - "Until they face their reckoning at the hands of a member of the new WCHA, just remember this: North Dakota changed its nickname, but it's still all about the green."
4. Depression - "Beginning of the end, Oct. 11, 2012" - "I wish I were more excited about that right now, but as a new hockey season begins, the past and the future play on my mind a lot. The present feels a little less urgent."
And now, the acceptance column.
There are games to play now, and as much as I believe this weekend's Michigan Tech hockey series at Minnesota Duluth should be a WCHA series, it isn't and that's tough. Since we're running many of our other WCHA preview materials today, let's peek at the media poll ballot Michael Bleach and I submitted to the Bemidji Pioneer:
1. Minnesota State - In lieu of a track record to go on, we turn back to whatever scraps of past results we can to predict future performance. The Mavericks made the NCAA Tournament last year, which none of the other nine teams in the league can say.
2. Ferris State - It's uncertain how much the Bulldogs' Frozen Four run in 2012 matters to the present, but Ferris has alternated .500 seasons with 20-win campaigns the last few years and is on the upswing this time.
3. Alaska - The Nanooks are coming off a winning season (barely, 17-16-4) and a sixth-place finish (of 11) in the final year of the CCHA. Doesn't sound like much, but none of the teams composing this year's WCHA finished better than fifth last year.
4. Michigan Tech - As many unknowns as any team in the league. As evidenced by Mike Hastings' (Minnesota State) first-place vote in the coaches' poll, the talent is apparent. But for a program that lost 20 games last season and has one above-.500 season in the last 21, it's not unreasonable to ask for results before expectations.
5. Lake Superior State - They were good enough to split with Tech last October and beat Northern Michigan three times out of four. Rarely good, rarely truly bad. Good fit for the middle. With two senior goalies sporting save percentages over .915, the Lakers will steal games.
6. Northern Michigan - You may have noticed it from the shellacking they got in Houghton last February, but this has not been a very good program lately, as evidenced by a 10th place finish in the CCHA last year. Without goaltender Jared Coreau, now in the pros, can they accomplish even that level?
7. Bowling Green - Quick reminder, this is the only school in the current WCHA that is Division I in all its other sports. Uncertainty over the very existence of the program through the last decade has contributed to a precipitous slide (last winning season: 1996-97), but with most key contributors returning and modest improvement (15 wins last year), this could be an underrated team.
8. Bemidji State - I'm curious to see if the Beavers will open up now that they no longer have to feel so inferior on talent against their bigger brethren. If not, it could mean a lot of tough-to-watch 2-1 losses.
9. Alaska-Anchorage - After a miserable 2012-13, an offseason that involved firing the coach and needing two job searches to get it right, coach Matt Thomas and the Seawolves are probably just happy to be focused on the ice.
10. Alabama-Huntsville - The ultimate happy-to-be-here story, it's going to take a couple years for the Chargers to recover from the damage inflicted upon the program by multiple seasons without a conference.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.