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WCHA Tourney Bittersweet For MN-ND Fans

ST. PAUL, Minn (WCCO/AP) -- The Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five tournament is underway in St. Paul and thousands of fans at the Xcel Energy Center came to see some teams that will be leaving the conference next year.

"This tournament is the best tournament in the country," said Rich Marcis, a University of North Dakota fan.

Next year the University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin will leave the WCHA and head to the Big Ten. And UND, St. Cloud State, Colorado College, Denver and UMD will all go the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

That means UMD and Minnesota won't play again in the regular season for at least two years, though Minnesota coach Don Lucia has said he expects they'll play non-conference games after that.

"It's the best rivalry in the country," Marcis said. "I'm going to miss playing all these teams. We still got Duluth and St. Cloud that are going to be in our conference, but it just won't be the same with all the tradition in the WCHA."

But one Minnesota lawmaker is hoping to keep that tradition alive. DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley introduced a bill Thursday that would pay the University of Minnesota $800,000 any year the school plays North Dakota at least once. It wouldn't matter which team wins.

"I understand that the legislature doesn't get involved in this," Winkler said. "This is the final weekend of the WCHA hockey tournament. So I just wanted to recognize that piece of tradition and I hope it somehow continues."

Winkler said his bill is "a little bit in jest" and that it won't become law. But he pointed out that he's on a higher education committee with jurisdiction over university funding and hopes the measure gets the school's attention.

"I have a lot of clients, customers, friends who are Sioux fans and we travel well," said Chirs Wetzel, a Gopher fan. He says the Minnesota/UND game is always a major highlight for him and friends.

"It's a huge game and I think it's a huge draw for people not only in North Dakota, but for people here in Minnesota," said Wetzel.

Television money is one of the main reasons Minnesota is leaving the WCHA after this season, but Winkler said that's no reason to "get rid of one of the great rivalries in college hockey."

Winkler said he's interested in the rivalry because he comes from a family of hockey fans. He played high school hockey while his brother, Shaun Winkler, played for Colorado College. He said his parents were at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Thursday for the last WCHA Final Five.

"We have to maintain some hockey traditions or we all might as well move to Anaheim," Winkler said.

As for the $800,000 incentive, Winker said he arrived at that figure because that's what the Gopher football team paid to cancel its non-conference games against North Carolina in 2013 and 2014. He said that must be what the university thinks a game is worth.


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