MARQUETTE - Not since the 1983-84 season have the Upper Peninsula's three NCAA Division I hockey programs all shared a conference.
That will all change following the 2012-13 season.
After playing in the CCHA since 1967, Lake Superior State is set to join Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan in the WCHA starting with the 2013-14 season after an invitation was extended Thursday afternoon and accepted by the Lakers before sundown.
The Lakers, Huskies and Wildcats spent three seasons together in the CCHA from 1981-1984, before Tech returned to the WCHA and Northern followed.
The Wildcats and Lakers have been together in the CCHA since 1998 and were originally together in the league from 1978-1984.
For NMU hockey coach Walt Kyle, it makes sense for the U.P. to be united in one league again.
"Us and Tech, it's crazy for us not to be in the same league," Kyle said. "Lake Superior should be in the same league as us and Tech."
The Wildcats and Lakers will be joined by another pair of familiar CCHA rivals in the WCHA come 2013-14 as Alaska-Fairbanks and Ferris State have also accepted invitations.The Nanooks and Lakers both accepted the WCHA invitations before sundown in Marquette on Thursday evening while Ferris State made its acceptance official just before noon on Friday.
The six schools that will make up the WCHA following the 2012-13 season - MTU, NMU, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Mankato, Alaska-Anchorage - made offers on Thursday afternoon to five of the remaining CCHA schools who were not committed to either the WCHA, Big Ten or National Collegiate Hockey Conference for 2013-14, including LSSU, Ferris, Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green State and Western Michigan.
BGSU and Western have neither accepted or turned down the invitation yet and have 30 days to decide whether to make the move.
According to NMU President Less Wong, the WCHA did request that LSSU and Ferris upgrade their arenas - Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie and Ewigleben Ice Arena in Big Rapids - and both athletic departments agreed to make improvements.
Wong said it would have been a crime for NMU's fellow GLIAC schools in Sault Ste. Marie and Big Rapids to be without a home.
Sometimes, you have to do what's best for the sport as well, Wong said.
"I think it was really all about college hockey having a presence in all the places where people enjoy the game," said Wong, who had suggested a merger around the time the Big Ten and NCHC were formed. "It was really quite simple. From participating in a phone call and listening to people, it finally got past the notion, 'What's in it for me?' to 'What is good for hockey?' and 'What is good for the fans?"
On Tuesday, 11 teams from the CCHA and WCHA met in Chicago to not only discuss the future of college hockey, but to share in-depth information about each of the school's hockey programs.
After representing NMU in Chicago, interim athletic director Steve Reed said extending invitations to the five CCHA schools was a positive for NMU and it presented a good scenario for the WCHA in the future.
"I think the meeting in Chicago was an excellent chance to share a lot of information," Reed said. "It was productive and we felt comfortable with all the schools.
"It was obviously the correct choice to extend an invite to those schools so we can come up with a league that has similar schools with similar philosophies."
For Kyle, the invitation of the five CCHA schools not only creates a more competitive WCHA, it creates security in the event the league would lose a team in the future as the NCAA mandates a league must have six teams for the champion to receive an automatic bid into the postseason tournament.
"There is an opportunity to grow our league. We're all pretty like minded. By adding these teams, we're not even going to be close to the six," Kyle said.
Absent from Tuesday's meeting and not receiving an invite Thursday was Notre Dame. The Irish have expressed interest in joining either Hockey East or the NCHC and have even floated the idea of going independent.
Western Michigan has expressed interest in remaining in the same league as Notre Dame, and used Thursday's invitation to once again tout itself as a top-tier program.
The Broncos neither accepted or denied the invitation from the WCHA, but did thank the six schools for the offer.
"The description of the recent Chicago meeting as creating synergy is absolutely true as evidenced by the WCHA's membership invitation," WMU President Kathy Beauregard said in a prepared statement. "We, at Western Michigan, are very appreciative of this invitation and are equally appreciative of the stability this combined league will provide for the changing landscape of college hockey."
BGSU did not offer any official comment about the invitation on Thursday, however, BGSU Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications Jason Knavel tweeted on his twitter account, (@jknavel), "Yes, BGSU hockey has been invited to join the WCHA. But a decision has not been made yet."