This story first appeared on FloHockey.tvstrong>
Minnesota native Bill Robertson took over the helm of the revamped WCHA in 2014. In two months he will be charting new waters as college hockey's league of distinction for seven decades will cease to exist. FloHockey's Tim Rappleye got a chance to debrief the man known as Billy Rob following the Frozen Four, a gratifying finale to a most challenging season.
Flo: Billy Rob, this was the first Frozen Four in which your conference was represented by both a team and a Hobey Baker finalist. How did that affect your experience?
ROBERTSON: It was a great way to cap off the season for the WCHA. To have a team there felt so much better, and so much different for me than the past six years prior, not having a school represented or a Hobey finalist. I felt like Minnesota State had a chance to win it all, they played their hearts out. I have nothing but admiration for the way they conducted themselves, even in the post-game comments. I'll have great memories of the ending of this season.
Flo: The fact that college hockey even staged a championship was a victory of sorts. How much did you struggle throughout this season of Covid?
ROBERTSON: It was the most challenging year of my professional career. I've dealt with two NHL work stoppages, dealt with 9/11, dealt with deaths, but nothing has compared to the day-to-day challenges of getting through this season during this pandemic.
I'm an optimistic person, but I have to say I had my doubts that we would get through this season altogether in college hockey. To play all our [WCHA] regular-season games was incredible, a big reason we were able to get three teams into the NCAA tournament.
Flo: Would you describe yourself as a "Caretaker" of the WCHA?
ROBERTSON: Yes. It is a huge responsibility. When I took over as commissioner from Bruce McLeod, knowing all the history around the league, I felt it was important to highlight all of this history, but I'm also sensitive to the new WCHA, which transpired before I came into the league, making sure that we were highlighting the new league as well.
Flo: How did you come up with your campaign to honor teams and players from all seven decades of the WCHA?
ROBERTSON: He [Communications Director Todd Bell] came into my office with a notepad this summer. What could we do to celebrate 70 years of existence in this historic league? We had to figure out who was going to be involved in the voting [for each All-Decade team]. We had a whole host of people that had been involved with the WCHA that would understand players in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. We got the people together, and Todd did a great job of implementing, staying ahead of the game. I received calls, texts and emails each week, even today, saying, "I really loved that All-Decade stuff, you really helped bring back a lot of great memories." That's exactly what we wanted to do. It goes all the way back to the 1950's, the John Mayasich era, and at the end of the day we're highlighting Mike Hastings, who was the 2021 Penrose winner as coach of the year, but was also the WCHA Coach of the Decade in the 2010's. It worked out extremely well, one of the best marketing concepts I've ever been part of in my 30-plus years working in sports.
Flo: And now your work is done Billy Rob. Do you have any regrets?
ROBERTSON: I was hoping we would win a national championship. My fellow commissioners all said, "If we don't win, we want the WCHA to win," because they knew the challenges we have faced and the potential of us not going any further. I really appreciated that piece.
I feel so happy that we were able to accomplish what we did. We could not have done this without the great staff, that includes Greg Shepherd, Todd Bell and Dean Thibodeau. I believe I've served our membership well, given 125%. Schools have reached out to me and said wonderful things, and means more than you could ever imagine.
It was such a challenging year, so unique. I'll take great memories away from this year and my time as commissioner of the WCHA. I want to go out with my head held high.