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Former UND, BSU coach Bob Peters steps down as CHA commissioner

BEMIDJI -- R.H. "Bob" Peters, the onetime UND hockey goaltender who later served as UND and Bemidji State University head coach, has announced his retirement as College Hockey America commissioner, effective June 30.

BEMIDJI -- R.H. "Bob" Peters, the onetime UND hockey goaltender who later served as UND and Bemidji State University head coach, has announced his retirement as College Hockey America commissioner, effective June 30.

Peters served seven years as CHA commissioner.

"I'm at that age," Peters said. "There was 41 years as a coach, then seven as a commissioner. It's been a delightful experience -- the toughest jobs I've ever loved. I'm now ready to gracefully hang up my skates for the last time."

Peters, a goaltender as a player, graduated from UND in 1960 after became a Fighting Sioux assistant coach a year after coaching high school hockey. In 1964, he began the first of two seasons as UND head coach, winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title his first year and finishing third in the NCAA national tournament.

In 1966, he took over as head coach of Bemidji State University, where he remained for 35 years, winning 702 games and 13 small-college national championships.

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Peters time as commissioner of the fledgling league was full of activity as some teams terminated their programs (Findlay, Wayne State), others started up (Robert Morris and Syra-cuse on the women's side). In addition it was a long process for the CHA to obtain the automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament, Peters said. In addition, the league hosted the 2007 Frozen Four with the St. Louis Sports Commission.

Over the years the league has seen several players move on to the professional hockey ranks, and the teams as a whole have become very competitive against the best teams in the nation.

"That's a real tribute the coaches and the players they've been able to recruit," Peters said. "Across the board all the other conferences have respect for the CHA and the quality of the teams. Again that's a real tribute to the CHA coaches."

For the upcoming 2008-09 season, Ed McLaughlin, Niagara University director of athletics, will serve as CHA interim commissioner.

"Coach Peters is one of the pillars of college hockey and a hall of fame human being," said McLaughlin, chair of the CHA Men's executive committee. "I feel blessed to have worked with him over the last two years, and we owe him a debt of gratitude, within our conference and across the sport.

Peters, a goaltender as a player, graduated from UND in 1960 after became a Fighting Sioux assistant coach a year after coaching high school hockey. In 1964, he began the first of two seasons as UND head coach, winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title his first year and finishing third in the NCAA national tournament.

In 1966, he took over as head coach of Bemidji State University, where he remained for 35 years, winning 702 games and 13 small-college national championships.

Now down to four teams, the CHA has been working on plans for assimilation into one of the established conferences to ensure future stability.

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"We're thinking there may be some movement in that direction by the latter part of June," Peters reported. "That's the target date.

"The CHA will operate next year with four teams (Bemidji State, Niagara, Robert Morris and Alabama-Huntsville) on an 18-game schedule. Each of the teams will play each other six times."

Will the automatic qualifier (AQ) to the NCAA Tournament be retained?

"The AQ will be decided in a June meeting of the NCAA Championships Committee," Peters reported. "They have the ultimate authority to award the AQ -- it's a process they go through every year."

A straw poll was held among those attending the annual spring college hockey coaches meetings in Florida, asking if the AQ should be retained by the CHA. Peters said the result of the informal vote among the coaches -- representing the other five conferences in college hockey -- was "favorable to the CHA retaining the AQ."

Having a four-team conference receive an automatic qualifier would not be the optimal situation.

However, Peters said such a plan could be acceptable for one year with assimilation or expansion of some sort taking place the following year. "That way six AQ's could be retained," he said.

"It's critical that the CHA stay in existence," Peters reported. "Any new teams starting pro-grams need a place to go. In the other five conferencesm there are three with 10 teams and two with 12 teams, with 10 being seen as the best situation with which to work.

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"The ECAC, with 12, makes it work because the teams are within relatively close proximity and they use a system with travel partners. The CCHA has made it work with 12, with some challenges, but I don't believe people want to go beyond that."

As an "emerging" sport, college hockey can't put itself into a position to lose any more teams, according to Peters.

"Over the last 20 to 25 yearsm men's college hockey has lost 11 teams with two others being close to being terminated," Peters said.

"We don't want to go in that direction -- we need to have a place for everybody."

Peters pointed to burgeoning numbers of registered youth hockey players across the country as a major factor in having a conference where growth could occur.

"There are players from 29 states on college hockey rosters now," Peters said. "The challenge in the future will be to provide an opportunity to play for the large number of American-born players coming up through the ranks."

If no assimilation of the CHA takes place and no new teams are added, having the four re-maining CHA teams play as independents would be "a humungous task," Peters reported. "Teams could do for one, two or even three years if there was a solution in sight. If not, it would be extremely difficult.

'We have to do everything possible to avoid any further loss of teams.

"I truly believe in my heart there's so much more growth that can take place. We have to have the foresight to consider what things will look like in 15 or 20 years."

"This season will be one of transition for the CHA," interim commissioner McLaughlin said. "We will continue the hard work we have done throughout the last two years to stabilize ourselves while maintaining our commitment to the student-athlete experience. I am excited about the challenge."

The CHA Women's Conference recently completed its sixth year and will have five member schools competing in 2008-09 with the recent addition of Syracuse University. Mercy-hurst College Director of Athletics Craig Barnett, chair of the CHA Women's Executive Committee, will serve as interim commissioner.

Niagara is a charter member of the women's league along with Mercyhurst and Wayne State. Robert Morris joined the conference for the 2005-06 campaign with Syracuse becoming the fifth member this fall.

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The article includes some material from the Herald.

The Bemidji Pioneer and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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