League recognizes 50 greatest players

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association has announced that over 130 players from 13 past and present member schools are up for inclusion to the Top 50 Players in 50 Years promotion.

The league started out as the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League in 1951 before changing to the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League in 1953. The current league came into effect in 1959.

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod says the list is only one of several things the league is implementing to celebrate its 50 years of existence. The announcement follows on the footsteps of the new logos on player jerseys, patches on jackets, signs and posters in all member arenas and a yearbook that documents the league's history. They've even made a watch.

“There's a tendency in this day and age to reference what's current,” McLeod said. “But this makes sure people are aware that this league has been around and prospered for a long time.”

Former WCHA skaters Ed Belfour (North Dakota University), Tony Esposito (Michigan Tech), Brett Hull (University of Minnesota Duluth), Chris Chelios (University of Wisconsin), Curtis Joseph (UW) and Scott Mellanby (UW) are some of the league products who ascended to the National Hockey League.

“I've been around this league for 30-plus years but I really found it interesting that some people may not remember the names on the list,” McLeod said. “But the names are there in the books for anyone who wants to get a sense of the league's history.”

The University of Alaska Anchorage has eight players on the list, including forwards Mark Stitt, Mitch Kean and Keith Morris, all players between 1993-95.

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Other past Seawolves include forward David Vallieries, 1994-97 and goaltender Gregg Naumenko, 1998-99.

Current UAA forward Steve Cygan is the lone WCHA player nominated who's still skating.

“It means a lot (the nomination),” Cygan said. “It goes to show that my hard work has gotten noticed, especially with the names of the other guys on the list.”

UAA athletic director Steve Cobb, Ed. D., says the university's short tenure in the league means that some great Seawolves who played before UAA's entry in 1993 are unduly kept off the list. At the same time he espouses the importance of the promotion.

“It's extremely important to embrace the history and tradition of the WCHA,” Cobb said. “Fifty years ago to today. Think about it, you have to build bridges to the next generation, something I think the league and the university have accomplished.”

Beginning Nov. 11, the WCHA will announce the top 50 honorees 10 players at a time. Every month the committee will announce ten more players, until the WCHA Final Five March 14-16 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.