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24-game league schedule probable for NCHC

The more Denver coach George Gwozdecky thinks about his team’s new conference, the more he worries. There aren’t any cupcake opponents. Nothing is going to come easy.

“If we can be .500 in the conference,” he joked, “that’s going to be an accomplishment.”

Former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr was named the first commissioner of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference on Wednesday, and he likes the proposal of a 24-game league schedule and 10 nonconference dates for the Colorado Springs-based league that starts in 2013-14 with eight teams, including Colorado College.

Western Collegiate Hockey Association schools feature a calendar with 28 league games and six nonconference games – teams that travel to Alaska-Anchorage are permitted two more games, for a maximum of 36. CC traveled to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in October; it hosted Air Force and Union last weekend; and it hosts Cornell this weekend. Next October, the Tigers are slated to host Clarkson and travel to Air Force and Cornell.

In the WCHA, a desire to play at least one game against Air Force (there has been talk of expanding to a series) limits CC’s ability to participate in a regular-season tournament, as it did the prior two years. With 10 nonconference games in the NCHC and without tiring trips to Anchorage, Bemidji State and Michigan Tech, the options are practically endless.

CC coach Scott Owens anticipates he’ll continue to be able to book trips on block breaks. And he’s close to finalizing pacts for nonconference series against Boston College, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, which is leaving the WCHA with Minnesota in 2013-14 for a six-team league of Big Ten schools that also consists of Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. There are no plans for CC to face Minnesota after next season.

“If you can take care of business, and be a top-three or top-four team in the NCHC, and have some success in your nonconference, you should be in pretty good shape” for the NCAA Tournament, Owens said at the Penrose House. “If you have years like this year, when the WCHA is struggling out of conference, then it’s going to be difficult.”

Backed by a contract that lasts 4 ½ years, Scherr, 50, has resigned his post as CEO of 776 Original Marketing, the Springs-based firm that he founded in 2009 after he was chased out of the USOC. He wants the NCHC to be “something that could be a new landmark for collegiate sports,” he said, and he’ll begin by hiring a staff, building a public relations platform, constructing a marketing strategy and securing sponsorships with corporations. Other priorities are to strike a TV deal and select a venue for the conference tournament.

The silent hope is that at least three NCHC teams – possibly as many as five – raise their PairWise rankings high enough over league action that they’re in the NCAA Tournament and that the conference is so strong, expansion isn’t a must. Scherr said, “The conference is happy with the eight teams that exist,” with CC and Denver joined by Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.

Gwozdecky maintains a handful of NCAA Tournament berths for the NCHC is realistic. “If you don’t feel that way, maybe you shouldn’t be part of this conference,” he said.

Brian Gomez

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