- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Wade Regier remembers plenty about his experience as a Minot State hockey player.

But one night sticks out above the rest.

As a sophomore forward in 2005, Regier laced up for an in-state showdown against Dakota College at Bottineau — the defending NJCAA national runner-up — at All Seasons Arena.

The atmosphere was one he’ll never forget, the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1S8FZPt ) reported.

“It was complete and utter chaos at the All Seasons,” Regier said. “I remember one year there was a big brawl in 2003 between Minot State and Bottineau. It was a bench-clearing brawl, this whole big thing, so my freshman year we weren’t allowed to play each other. Then, my sophomore year we were able to play each other again, and we played on a Tuesday night.



“There were hardly any seats available. It was so packed in there.”

By Regier’s estimation, well over 2,300 students and fans — several of which supported the Lumberjacks — packed All Seasons Arena that night from wall to wall.

Now as Minot State’s coach and director of hockey operations, Regier hopes to one day replicate that crowd on a nightly basis at the NCAA Division I level.

And soon.

Recently encouraged by the promise of more than one private donation, Regier is hoping to see Minot State become the fifth Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference institution to add Division I hockey.

It wouldn’t be easy.

Though hockey support is undeniable in the city of Minot, the transition is complicated. Financing and Title IX equity are perhaps the two biggest stumbling blocks, while the risk of undertaking a multi-million-dollar program — particularly for a small school like Minot State — is a hurdle all its own.

But what if it happened?

Regier has no doubts over its potential success. He’s witnessed the depth of Minot’s hockey support on numerous occasions, both as a player and a coach.

“My message to those who might be apprehensive is this: whenever there’s been a big game or a big score, something big with the word hockey attached to it in Minot, this city has shown time and time again that hockey his big here,” Regier said. “It’s almost king, I like to say. Whenever Arizona State has ever been to Minot, whenever Oklahoma’s come to Minot, whenever the Tauros play Bismarck at home, the buildings are always packed.”

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Regier isn’t the only one confident in the potential popularity of a Division I hockey program at Minot State.

“If finances weren’t a part of it, it’s a no-brainer,” MSU athletic director Rick Hedberg said.

But money is easily the biggest piece to the puzzle.

Minot State’s annual athletic budget supports 14 NCAA Division II programs with roughly $4 million, more than double what it spent per year at the NAIA level.

Still less than five years removed from MSU’s full Division II introduction, Hedberg estimates his athletic budget would double again with the inclusion of Division I hockey.

“At this point, with a crystal ball I’d say it’s going to happen in the next 10-20 years, but right now we’re still in the infant stages of moving from NAIA to Division II,” he said. “We have to really take care of the programs we have, because we’re not even in the top half of our league at this point as far as operating budgets are concerned.”

It’s true.

According to United States Department of Education records, in 2013-14, MSU spent $3,423,203, while the NSIC average came in at $6,140,786. Four schools — Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State — inflate that mean with Division I men’s and women’s hockey programs. But even without hockey, those four schools greatly outspend Minot State.

The addition of two ice hockey programs — one for both men and women — would tack on “probably 3 1/2 to 4 million” additional dollars to the Beavers’ current athletic budget, Hedberg said.

“The thing you really have to be careful of in adding any sport is how it affects the sports you currently have,” Hedberg said. “We definitely don’t want to go into it where we end up adding men’s and women’s ice hockey and have to cut five sports to do it.”

At this point, Minot State isn’t ready to undertake NCAA hockey programs on its own.

But private investment can be a game-changer.

Penn State and Arizona State both made the jump from ACHA to NCAA Division I over the past six years, and both did so with the help of substantial donations.

The Nittany Lions established the initial model for aspiring club programs in 2010, as Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula — who sold his natural gas drilling company, East Resources, for a reported $4.7 billion the same year — submitted an astonishing personal donation of $102 million, most of which went toward the construction of a state-of-the-art facility in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Three years later, Arizona State proved that it doesn’t take nine figures to add hockey.

“You don’t need $100 million to make it happen,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “You need to give yourself a sustainable amount of start-up capital to get off the ground, and that’s what we have. That’s all it is, and hopefully more institutions see that now.”

ASU’s start-up capital was still considerable.

Between four benefactors, Arizona State was handed $32 million to pursue a Division I men’s hockey program.

“The support from our donors was unequivocally the reason why ASU was able to adopt the sport of ice hockey,” ASU assistant athletic director Rocky Harris said via email. “The financial investment from our generous donors supports the ice hockey team as well as the addition of women’s lacrosse and women’s triathlon. The investment was significant, and allowed ASU to launch the sport immediately and to be competitive at the NCAA level.”

Arizona State’s donation was 31 percent of that given to Penn State, a far more realistic goal for schools considering the same transition.

If Minot State was handed a similar sum?

“It’d certainly make the decision a lot easier, because you’re going to have revenue,” Hedberg said.

But finding $32 million is far from easy.

Regier is confident that Minot State’s hockey program has already garnered “$5 to 10 million” based on private pledges already accounted for, while official donations have yet to be made.

And it’s going to take a lot more than four people to raise the necessary funds, Regier said.

“I just think it’s going to be spread out a lot more,” he said. “That’s going to be the challenge. In ASU’s case, they had four guys call each other within a week and say, ‘all right, let’s do this,’ and away they went. For us, it’s maybe going to take 40 people, or maybe 100 people. That number might be that much larger in our case.”

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With the money already raised from individual pledges, MSU’s club hockey program is reportedly gaining momentum in pursuit of its fundraising goal.

But momentum doesn’t always produce results.

Beginning in 2009, Minnesota State-Moorhead began considering the notion of adopting Division I hockey, and had about 40 percent of a proposed $37 million endowment raised by 2011.

Then the Dragons hit a wall.

“We knew what numbers we needed to hit to make it work,” MSU-Moorhead athletic director Doug Peters said, “and in the time frame we had, we did not successfully hit those numbers.”

Following Penn State’s Division I announcement — which induced the formations of the Big Ten hockey conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference — NCAA league realignment created a limited window of opportunity for MSU-Moorhead, Peters said.

On Feb. 27, 2012, that window closed.

“It was purely financial,” Peters said. “I haven’t followed this closely, but if you look at Penn State adding it, they had a significant outside gift. Arizona State had significant outside gifts. At this point in time, if you’re looking to add hockey, you have to have to make sure that the numbers work.”

The financial elements of a Division I hockey transition also bleed into the issue of Title IX equity, at least for schools like Minot State and MSU-Moorhead.

Arizona State was able to add women’s triathlon and women’s lacrosse — two relatively inexpensive programs to fund — to equate its addition of a men’s hockey program, particularly given its climate and location.

The Beavers would have only one option.

“We’d have to add a women’s hockey program, too,” Hedberg said.

And women’s hockey programs almost always fail to generate revenue, making the potential profitability of a men’s program at Minot State even more essential.

“That’s why I say it’ll take $3-4 million (per year),” Hedberg said. “That’s both programs together, and that’s to fund them both at the highest level.

“And it would have to be women’s hockey because of our culture here. I’m guessing they don’t have girls high school hockey in Arizona, and we do here, and that’s how it works. Unlike with Arizona State, we wouldn’t be able to add women’s rowing or women’s equestrian or something like that that’s less expensive.”

___

By Hedberg’s initial estimation, funding two Division I hockey programs would cost roughly $3.5 million to $4 million annually.

So why the need for $32 million or more up front?

One word: insurance.

If Minot State’s hockey program set a fundraising goal and matched it, those millions would be placed into an endowment for the university — a large funding account that uses compound interest to generate funds in perpetuity, hence the need for up-front cash.

And the larger the endowment, the more annual interest available to fund new projects — like starting a pair of Division I hockey programs.

That said, $32 million might not be the right figure for Minot State. It could be more.

“It’s about finding that dollar amount that gives MSU athletics that encouragement and enough cushion,” Regier said.

After conferring with the system office of Minnesota State Colleges and chief financial officers of three Minnesota institutions with Division I hockey programs, MSU-Moorhead determined a financial goal of $37 million five years ago, and fell well short of that mark.

Before any official steps could be taken, a concrete business plan would be needed from Minot State.

“It makes a lot of sense where we’re located; the popularity of hockey in this area, the popularity of UND and other schools, we’re close to Canada. It just makes a lot of sense,” Hedberg said. “But how do we find a way to fund it at a level where you’re going to be successful? We don’t want to go into something where you’re scraping by. You look at the schools that are doing it; it’s a huge commitment financially.

“Not to say we can’t do that, but that’s really the model that protects your program if you can endow it. You’re just kind of living off the interest.”

Despite the shared confidence in the potential popularity of a Division I hockey program, risk is always involved when this kind of money is being discussed — particularly in the case of Minot State, which is still in the early stages of the NAIA-Division II transition.

The Beavers just doubled their athletic budget five years ago. Accepting a Division I hockey transition would likely require a similar duplication of annual costs.

With that kind of spending, is it worth it?

It certainly was for Arizona State.

“Our first game drew over 6,000 fans that wanted to see the first D1 NCAA game of hockey at Arizona State,” Harris said via email. “Nationally, the response has been tremendous. Adding sports in the NCAA makes news because unfortunately many sports across the country have been cut. Adding a sport like ice hockey, coupled with our weather, really made the country stand back and notice our program.”

Now, it’s true. Schools like ASU and Penn State are completely different than Minot State on multiple levels.

Arizona State is the largest public institution by enrollment in the nation, and funds 23 Division I athletic programs with an annual expense budget of roughly $74 million. Penn State’s budget is even larger, ranking seventh in the country among Division I schools in total athletic expenses at $117,440,639.

“It would be tough to compare us to Arizona State and even Penn State,” Hedberg said. “They’re just on a different plain.”

And they are.

Regier knows that, too. He’s not trying to make Minot State hockey into the next UND.

“We’re Bemidji,” Regier said. “What are the kind of things Bemidji State currently does? Well, they play in the WCHA. They have good pockets of rivals with various schools. I have no illusions about who we are at Minot State. We’re not going to be on the Pac-12 network. We’re not going to have this steady stream of donors that are just going to be kicking in donations from all angles.

“We are going to have to work hard for our dollars to make ends meet. It’s going to take a lot more work to make sure that the revenue streams match up.”

___

To make those ends meet, you need the right people leading the way.

“Obviously you can’t just think up a Division I program,” Powers said. “The right situation and finances have to present themselves, as they did for us.”

And Powers believes Regier is the man to lead Minot State’s charge.

“I don’t think there’s any risk in trying to elevate to the highest level. They definitely have the guy there that has the passion to make it happen for Minot State hockey,” Powers said. “Wade is really the face of that program, and what he’s done with it is very similar to what I’ve done here. I think you need someone like that, someone who really bleeds those colors and views that job - whether it’s at the ACHA level or the NCAA level — as a destination position, and that’s what Wade does because he loves it. That’s what he built, that’s where he played, that’s where he got his degree from, that’s where he met his wife. And it’s all very similar to my situation here.

“I don’t think there’s any risk. I think as long as you have the right people with the right intentions that will always put the program before themselves, go for it, and they have all those things in place there.”

A Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native, Regier has been affiliated with Minot State since arriving as a freshman student-athlete in 2004. After leading the Beavers in scoring twice as a player — while also picking up an appearance in the inaugural ACHA all-star game as a senior in 2008 — Regier immediately joined MSU’s coaching staff as an assistant in 2009 before taking over as head coach and director of hockey operations the following season.

Three years later, Regier led the Beavers to their first and only ACHA Division I national championship. He recently capped his sixth season at the helm, and has led MSU to four consecutive trips to the ACHA Elite 8 while boasting a combined record of 142-21-10 since 2010.

Regier’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers, either.

“I think he’s done a great job,” Minot Minotauros coach Marty Murray said. “His recruiting speaks for itself. He’s able to get some pretty high-profile players to join his program, and he kind of has that foundation built now — not that recruiting ever gets any easier — where good hockey players want to come to Minot State. He’s done a tremendous job of building that program, and he’s made it a top contender every year.”

“I obviously have a great relationship with Wade and have a ton of respect for the program he’s built there, and it got to the point where we played them four times a year,” Powers said. “They would come to us twice, we would go to them twice, and it went without saying because the trip up there was always fun. They rock that place, pack it, fans are right on top of you, and it seems like they have a tremendous amount of support - not only from the community, but the student population. I think that says a lot about where they are as a program.”

Now, Regier is hoping to take his program to the highest level.

And it wouldn’t be easy. Not by a long shot.

Raising millions of dollars is no cake walk, and the number of additional tasks required for the transition would be significant.

“There was a lot of work in between to make sure all the I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed,” Powers said.

But Minot State may already have the man in place to make it all happen.

“I’m not the owner of our hockey program. I’m certainly not the owner of Minot State University, but I take the mentality as if I am,” Regier said. “An owner that has skin in the game, they’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure their business is profitable and that it runs like clockwork. Some people are non-owners, and sometimes those people don’t care how well a business does because it doesn’t affect them personally on their bottom line. But on my end, I’m so passionate about our program and our university.

“I just can’t imagine it not being successful.”

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