The Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association continues to grow. And this time, it will change the face of NCAA Division III hockey in the West.

The league announced Tuesday (6/19) that St. Norbert College and the College of St. Scholastica have accepted invitations to become members of the league beginning in the 2013-14 campaign.

“This is a great and exciting day for the MCHA,” league commissioner Dr. G. Steven Larson said. “We are very enthused about having the College of St. Scholastica and St. Norbert College as colleagues. The strong academic and hockey tradition they bring will be an outstanding fit for our new members and the MCHA membership.”

Mike Szkodzinski, Lawrence’s director of athletics and head coach of the Vikings’ hockey team since 2006, said the league would gain “instant credibility in some different circles”  with the additions of the two programs.

“It will enhance our recruiting efforts. Now we will be able to state that our conference includes the defending national champions, the 2011 national runners-up and four different teams who have appeared in the NCAA tournament over the past two years,” said Szkodzinski, who earned All-America honors as a goaltender in 1999 for St. Norbert.  “We couldn’t say those things in years past, but now we can and the future of this conference is as bright as ever.

“St. Norbert and St. Scholastica have always welcomed MCHA competition with open arms,” Szkodzinski added. “To have them in our conference now seems very fitting.  We have like philosophies and we seem to conduct business similarly on and off the ice.  Coach Wick and Coach Coghlin are two of the most respected coaches in the nation. It is personally gratifying to be in the same conference as my alma mater but it is even more exciting to know that the conference just got better.”

The MCHA, which enters its 15th season of play in 2012-13, has grown steadily from a small, six-member conference back in 1998 into 10 teams when the Green Knights and Saints are added to the league slate starting in 2013.

“We are very pleased to have the College of St. Scholastica and St. Norbert College join the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association,” MCHA Presidents Council Chair Dr. Jeffery Docking said. “Their tradition of excellence in academics and athletics will further enhance the quality and reputation of the MCHA as one of the premier conferences in NCAA Division III men’s ice hockey.”

“This is a monumental occasion for the MCHA and its member institutions,” MCHA DASC Chair Rob Barnhill said. “We are all very excited and enthusiastic about the addition of these institutions and full-well realize that the conference title just became more difficult to obtain.  St. Scholastica and St. Norbert are perfect fits for us at this time, and their membership enhances the visibility and viability of our league.”

The Green Knights bring an impressive resume to the MCHA, having won NCAA D-III national championships in 2008, 2011 and again in 2012 when they compiled a record of 21-5-5.

Lawrence University hockey head coach Mike Szkodzinski (back row, far left) attends a press conference announcing the addition of St. Norbert College and College of St. Scholastica to the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association.

“This also strengthens and elevates the national reputation of the MCHA in NCAA III men’s ice hockey, as demonstrated by St. Norbert’s consecutive national championships in 2011 and 2012 along with the national runner-up finish of Adrian College in 2011,” Larson said. “This past season alone, four teams finished in the national rankings with St. Norbert at No. 1, MSOE at No. 8, Adrian at No. 11, and St. Scholastica at No. 19 [receiving votes].  In addition, Lawrence and Marian were ranked during the course of the year.”

St. Norbert has claimed 13 of the past 16 conference regular-season crowns it has competed for, with head coach Tim Coghlin accumulating a 19-year mark of 411-113-45.

“St. Norbert College is excited to be joining a hockey conference with a membership of liberal arts institutions with similar profiles,” said St. Norbert Director of Athletics Tim Bald. “During its history, the MCHA has been very progressive in its leadership and as a result has seen the profile of the conference rise exponentially. We are excited to become a part of that and look forward to the future as a MCHA member.”

St. Scholastica went 15-8-5 last season and was nationally-ranked the majority of the year, rising as high as No. 11. During the past four seasons, it has compiled an impressive 61-37-14 record, finishing fifth in the country at the end of the 2008-09 season, a campaign that saw CSS rise to as high as No. 2 in the polls in January of 2009.

“The College of St. Scholastica was honored to receive and pleased to accept an invitation to become a member of the MCHA,” CSS Director of Athletics Don Olson said. “St. Scholastica’s philosophy and competitive goals align perfectly with the other members of the conference. We look forward to a long and positive relationship with the other nine members of the MCHA.”

The expansion is the first since the start of the 2009-10 season, when Lake Forest College joined the conference. Both new members come to the MCHA from the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.

“The past and present coaches within our conference have always worked diligently to improve not only their individual programs, but the entire MCHA,” said  Szkodzinski. “There is a real sense of pride amongst the members of the MCHA and that has translated into excellent hockey. It is amazing to see how quickly our member institutions have improved – and very satisfying.  There is no doubt that the addition of St. Norbert and St. Scholastica will only bolster that growth. The hockey that this conference will display in the future should be tremendous.”

Starting in 2013-14, the MCHA will play a complete 18-game round-robin schedule with a two-game series vs. each team. Discussions are also underway with the commissioners of both the MIAC and WIAC regarding collaborative scheduling.

“Our student-athletes and fans can look forward to very entertaining and exciting collegiate hockey at a high caliber that will encompass four states,” Larson said. “Needless to say, the future of MCHA hockey looks bright as we move ahead.”