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Published April 16 2009

Forum editorial: D-I hockey at MSUM worth look

The debate about whether Fargo is a “hockey town” swings on perception and reality. If the measure is comparisons of fan attendance between ice hockey and other sports, Fargo is not a hockey town. That crown goes to RedHawks baseball, Bison football and basketball, and auto racing at the speedway near West Fargo. If the measure is grass-roots agitation for more hockey teams and venues, Fargo is not a hockey town, as recent unsuccessful votes for ice buildings attest.

But if the measure is the intensity of the hockey crowd, Fargo is a hockey town. If the measure is the ability of the hockey lobby to build buildings without public – that is, voter – support, Fargo is a hockey town.

Now comes Minnesota State University Moorhead with an intriguing proposal to add Division I men’s and women’s hockey to its sports programs. MSUM is serious about taking the plunge if all the pieces of the D-I puzzle can be put into place. It’s very early in the process, but a couple of the major pieces – affiliation with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and playing at the new Urban Plains Center – appear to be sliding into place.

But there is a much bigger piece: money, at least $10 million in external funding, said MSUM President Edna Szymanski. The president said a D-I hockey program could be very good for the school in terms of profile and student recruiting, but she said MSUM will not proceed unless the money is on the table.

Which brings us back to the intensity and dedication of hockey fans: The $10 million would have to come from sources other than public higher education appropriations. Private money will fund the hockey venture. MSUM Athletic Director Doug Peters says at this point getting a program up and running has a 50-50 chance. But it is unlikely the school would have gone public without some sort of commitment from a heavy hitter, or two or three, regarding the $10 million.

Make no mistake about it: D-I hockey at MSUM would mean world-class hockey in the style of the University of North Dakota Sioux and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers would come to town. Collegiate hockey does not get any better. It would be a huge coup for obsessive fans and a high-quality sports attraction for casual fans.

It’s worth a look. It’s worth a hard-headed, eyes-wide-open analysis. When all is said and done, it will mean one of two things: another successful D-I sport for Fargo-Moorhead or another indication Fargo is not a hockey town.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board