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Eric Peterson, Published February 27 2012

Lack of funding ices Dragons’ hockey hopes

MOORHEAD – Unable to raise the millions in donations needed to launch the program, Minnesota State University Moorhead ended its pursuit of NCAA Division I hockey Monday.

MSUM President Edna Szymanski said the school won’t add men’s and women’s ice hockey after exploring the idea for three years.

“I wish we could have made it happen,” said Szymanski. “I don’t think we can string it out and still be fair to the other institutions in D-I hockey.”

MSUM first announced it was interested in starting a Division I ice hockey program in April 2009. At a news conference last July, MSUM publicized a business plan that required a $37 million endowment and had $15 million in commitments at that point.

Szymanski wouldn’t say on Monday precisely how much more was committed to Dragons hockey in the past seven months. She did say MSUM was more than halfway toward its goal, suggesting at least another $3.5 million in donations were secured since July.

But that wasn’t enough at this point to continue the fundraising effort, she said.

“If the money arrives, we will open the door again,” Szymanski said. “I doubt it’s going to come in the very near future. I would love to be proven wrong.”

MSUM Athletic Director Doug Peters had mixed emotions Monday. He was disappointed the school was unable to add hockey, but thought the university had put forth a “winning effort.”

“We did everything that we could,” Peters said. “We put forth the effort that needed to be put forth.”

MSUM was targeting the 2013-14 season as a start date for hockey had it met its fundraising goal. That is the season when the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will undergo a major overhaul with eight teams leaving for other conferences and five teams coming aboard.

That shifting leaves the league with nine teams.

WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod has said the league would like to get to 10 teams for 2013-14. The WCHA would have been the Dragons’ league of choice.

“The stars were certainly aligned and it provided a great opportunity,” Peters said.

Some have said the $37 million endowment figure seems high. But from the beginning, Szymanski said she would not start hockey if it would put tuition or taxpayer dollars at risk.

“You can’t take a risk even if it’s a minimal risk,” Szymanski said.

“The financial model was the right model,” added Peters. “It was a big number, there’s no doubt that. But if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right.”

The decision to give up on the push for a hockey program wasn’t firm until last week, Szymanski said.

“I’ve been pretty nervous since the beginning of the month,” she said. “I had a lot of interest, but not a lot of commitment. We weren’t at a point where I was comfortable. I am extremely fiscally conservative. … I felt like we were sitting there just trying to reel in money, reel in money and it wasn’t coming.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com