Hi, my name is Jim and I’m a slacker.
That’s right, it’s been way too long since I last wrote, so I’ll bow my head, do a mea culpa, and tell you the good news.
The good news of course is that I’m back. The better news is that the college hockey season is officially in full swing. Exams and holiday tournaments are now in the past. That means we can focus on the most important thing of all: standings.
A quick look around the nation shows a couple of usual suspects atop their league standings (New Hampshire in Hockey East, Minnesota in the WCHA and Sacred Heart in Atlantic Hockey) and a whole lot of fresh faces as well (Quinnipiac leading the ECACHL in year #2, Notre Dame in the CCHA and Niagara back on top in the CHA). Some teams have shocked us both for the good and bad (Clarkson, for instance, at 13-5-1 represents the good; defending champ Wisconsin at 8-10-2 certainly qualifies as bad).
Seeing as it’s been about six weeks since I last wrote, there’s plenty to talk about, so let’s get right to it.
It may not have been a gold medal for the United States at this year’s World Junior Championship, but after starting 0-2, the ability to rally and earn the bronze by beating host Sweden in the bronze medal game still deserves recognition.
If anything stands out in my mind, though, about the tournament is my utter disdain for using shootouts in medal round games. I don’t care how exciting the shootout is for the fans, no elimination games should be decided by five individual players and a goalie. I feel for the US players whose dreams ended on a penalty shot. International hockey needs to take a page out of the NHL and college books and not allow shootouts to decide World Championships. Can you imagine game seven of the Stanley Cup finals after players have battled with blood, sweat and tears for 10 weeks of playoffs only to have a penalty shot decide who drinks from Lord Stanley’s Cup? I do believe that shootout in the regular season of the NHL are exciting for fans and thus warranted. Just don’t use them to decide a champion.
Though I haven’t seen a ton of games in person this year (thankfully I have 29 games on my schedule in the second half), thanks to DVRs, I’ve seen plenty of college hockey games on TV. The one thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a major discrepancy between the ways games are called conference to conference. It could be because the games I’ve seen in the east have been live while those I’ve seen from the west are televised. That often can have some impact. But it seems to me that officiating in the west resembles “old school” (i.e. penalties for clutching and grabbing aren’t enforced as much unless obvious) as opposed to the whistle-fest style of the east. I’ve even noticed a difference in what’s called among the three eastern leagues (and was not surprised to stand near as one coach lambaste a commissioner over poor officiating a couple of months back). I understand that each conference has its own boss but unfortunately the differences in the way games are called from conference to conference will have the most impact at the worst time: during the national tournament.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is overly impressed by the play of Minnesota. The Gophers dropped their opener when the ran up against Maine goaltender Ben Bishop. That loss, though, was hardly a harbinger of things to come. Minnesota is 17-0-3 since that time. What’s impressed me most is the number of close games that the Gophers have ended up on the winning side. Other than four blowouts of Michigan (8-2), Colorado College (8-1), Ohio State (7-2) and Wayne State (7-1), Minnesota has played some tight games. Eleven games have been decided by two goals or less (8-0-3). It’s the ability to win the tight games that always seems to matter most come tournament time.
The College Hockey Family
A great story relayed by diehard UNH fan Bobby Coppins. He was in Green Bay in late November for the Patriots/Green Bay game. After the football game, he ended up at a bar called Anduzzi’s. Not surprising to anyone who knows Coppins is that he had his UNH hockey polo shirt on. While at the bar, he noticed a fan wearing a North Dakota hockey sweater and the two began chatting. They two realized that even though it was a Sunday, two college hockey games were on the tube: Wisconsin/Michigan on Fox Sports and Boston College/Maine on CSTV. The pair pleaded with the bartenders to put the games on but were told it was bar policy on Sunday to show only NFL football all day.
That wasn’t a good answer for these college hockey diehard. A $35 bribe when a long way and before you know it, two small TVs in the corner were showing college hockey. That’s not exactly where the story ends, though.
Within the hour, about a dozen revelers were gathered around the two televisions. One was a Lake Superior State fan, another a Minnesota-Duluth follower and another pair were MSU-Mankato followers. There were even two Northeastern fans who, similar to Coppins, had made the trek west for the Patriots game.
For hours, there wasn’t just hockey watching going on. There was plenty of chatter and debate – all friendly.
If anything, this tells me something I already knew: the college hockey community is very tight knit. It’s almost as if there’s a sense of family associated with the game. That’s always made college hockey special to this writer.
Back to the Forum for the River Hawks
Thanks to a bit of a scheduling glitch, Mass.-Lowell is unable to play its two-game series against Maine this weekend at its usual home, the Tsongas Arena. The school, though, will take full advantage and turn the weekend into a marketing stunt by playing both games in its old home, the Chelmsford Forum (when Lowell was playing there it was called the Tully Forum). The team will also return to its mascot roots and wear the jersey of the Lowell Chiefs. Lowell changed its mascot from the Native American logo after the 1993-94 season. Additionally, the school will induct its 1979, 1981 and 1982 teams into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. All three teams won the national championship at the Division II level. Tonight’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. while Saturday’s starts at 3:00 p.m.
- Chalk this up as a promo that has the potential to go very bad: Vermont will hand out rubber pucks to the first 2,000 fans through the door this Saturday when the Catamounts face New Hampshire. Here’s hoping that Hockey East’s finest call a great game and 1,500 of those pucks don’t wind up on the ice during play!
- Sticking with Vermont, with Friday and Saturday’s games versus New Hampshire sold out, the school will set a new record for consecutive sellouts with numbers 48 and 49. The old mark was 47.
- It’s impressive to see the nation’s top two scorers come from the two newest conference. Air Force’s (Atlantic Hockey) Eric Ehn leads the nation with 36 points, while Niagara’s (CHA) Les Reaney is close behind is close behind with 34.
- Though reports are that he’ll make a full recovery, well wishes go out to former Minnesota standout Phil Kessel who recently had surgery for testicular cancer. According to the Boston Globe Kessel skated for the first time this past Tuesday since his December 11 operation. Having a chance to meet and talk with Phil during this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, I can say he’s one class act and it’s no surprise that his drive and determination will help him most right now.
- Some interesting matchups to keep your eye on this weekend: Red-hot Miami hosting Michigan State for two; First place New Hampshire traveling to face upstart Vermont for a pair; and struggling Wisconsin will look to get on track in the second half at Denver