Puck Drop
See more of the story

When Central Collegiate Hockey Association officials pondered whether to admit Division I newcomer Augustana to the conference, Commissioner Don Lucia had a couple of questions: Why Augustana and why now?

Turns out, the people, the place and the timing meshed for the CCHA.

"They seemed to have it all there,'' Lucia said of the Sioux Falls school. "We felt it was a perfect fit.''

On Tuesday, the CCHA announced it has accepted Augustana as the ninth member of the Division I men's conference. The Vikings will begin play as a program in 2023-24 at Midco Arena, a 3,000-seat on-campus venue that's in the early stages of construction. Augustana will be the first Division I hockey program in South Dakota, and it'll be in the heart of a thriving metro area of more than 275,000. Sioux Falls businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford was a key financial donor in helping Augustana start the program.

"We wanted to keep the momentum going for Augustana University,'' Lucia said. "… That was an important piece. The teams that are adding hockey have to know they're going to have a home.''

For the Vikings, that CCHA home includes Minnesota State Mankato and Bemidji State, programs they face in other sports as a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference member. The other CCHA teams are Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and St. Thomas.

Augustana will start with a transitional schedule in the CCHA, playing 16 games (one series against each member) in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons before playing a full league schedule starting in 2025-26. "It allows us to get our skates underneath us a little bit,'' athletic director Josh Morton said.

Morton in April hired Gophers assistant coach Garrett Raboin as the Vikings' first head coach, and Raboin is excited to show off the CCHA brand.

"It helps bring clarity to the path,'' he said. "One of the first things parents and players want to know is what league you're going to play in. Now we have that common name, the CCHA, that players all know.''

Lucia said he's comfortable with an odd number of teams in the CCHA, pointing to the Big Ten and Hockey East operating under a similar structure. He didn't close the door to adding a 10th team but stressed the fit must mirror Augustana's.

"We weren't looking to expand, but the right team came along and showed that commitment level,'' Lucia said.