I grew up believing that college sports were good, but college hockey was almost perfect.
Not only did it have some of the finest young players in the game, but instead of being on TV from a distant field hours away, they were right on my doorstep. I watched Ryan Miller (Michigan St.), Kevin Bieksa (Bowling Green) and Chris Kunitz (Ferris St.) from Northern Michigan's Central Collegiate Hockey Associaton days, and before that, Brian Rafalski (Wisconsin) and Dallas Drake (NMU) in the WCHA. There were great players and great teams from schools of all sizes and all I?needed was a couple of bucks and a free weekend.
Goliath-sized schools came to town, but they weren't always the giants on the ice. The U.P. brought home five national championships in a 20-year span from 1974 to '94 and was runner-up four times.
Everyone believes things were better in their youth, it seems. It surely wasn't, but at that time, hockey seemed as innocent as college sports could get.
No more. Wednesday's unveiling of the "National Collegiate Hockey Conference" in Colorado Springs destroyed the last vestiges of those glory days.
North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota Duluth jumped ship, taking Miami of the CCHA with them.
"We're focused on what makes the game better and what enhances hockey for these six institutions," DU coach George Gwozdecky said at the press conference.
The key words: For these six institutions. To heck with everyone else.
Let's call the NCHC for what it is: a giant cash grab grown from fear and jealousy and an insult to college hockey, its smaller schools and the fans in places like Houghton.
So a Big 10 hockey league is forming. They already play each other in everything else, they have a TV network and they found someone willing to pony up $80 million to start hockey at Penn State. Good for them.
None of these mutineers have the same conference affiliation in anything else, there's no national TV and no programs are being created. The only common thread is the desire that sharing the spoils six ways was better than sharing it 10 ways.
No national TV network is going to want a "Michigan Tech vs. St. Cloud" game of the week. No one's ever been recruited by saying you get to play at Alaska-Anchorage every year.
They view the smaller half of this league as dead weight, so they threw it overboard to speed off into the future.
Other sports have been doing it for years. Texas used to have to trifle with the likes of Rice, Houston and TCU on fall Saturdays every year in the Southwest Conference.
TCU, for example, had 10 consecutive seasons of two wins or fewer in the 1970s and 80s, and when the Big XII formed in the early 90s, the Horned Frogs got the boot.
Of course, I thought hockey was better than that, but that's where the future lies. The pond will get smaller, but it remains to be seen if the fish will shrink to match.
The Horned Frogs are doing OK these days, and someone that remains in the WCHA will rise to the top.
Until that point, there's two years of divorce proceedings to go through. They won't be pretty and they shouldn't be.
They've made clear their opinion - that those magical small-town hockey nights that I went through as a kid and that some of you might be enjoying now - aren't good (or profitable) enough for them.
Those teams are going to have to answer to the people whose faces they spat in this week: fans over the next two seasons and teams that will be especially motivated to beat them.
A new era has begun, but no one, not the scorned nor the scorners and especially not the game as a whole, will be the better for it.
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com.