The world of college hockey has changed a lot in the last couple of years. This season has been unusual, to say the least.
Some things are predictable. North Dakota and Boston University occupy the top two spots in the polls. Others that have gone according to plan are Minnesota State leading the WCHA, Bowling Green starting to become a solid program again and NCHC teams like Miami, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth having good seasons. If I had to make some predictions today, I’d say the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament will go to the Fighting Sioux (until a name is chosen, they will remain the Sioux to me), BU, MSU and Miami. Bowling Green, UMass-Lowell and Duluth could also snatch a number-1 spot.
Some other programs have been surprising. Harvard (Harvard!) is number three in the rankings, arguably the favorite heading into the Beanpot Tournament. The Crimson haven’t won the tournament since 1993 and this is their best chance to end that drought. Other surprises include Union falling from defending national champs to out of the national polls, Penn State(!) leading the Big Ten despite only being a program for three years and Wisconsin having potentially the worst season a major hockey program has ever had. The Badgers are 2-11-1 and were winless until the end of November. To watch a team go from making the NCAA Tournament last year to Big Ten cellar dweller is remarkable.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the success of Michigan Tech. The Huskies are having a fantastic year, starting 10-0. They were briefly the number-one team in the country. Tech was even featured in the New York Times, so that should tell you how big of the season this has been for the school and for the city of Houghton.
We here at AllPuck like to dignify the experience of playing hockey with complete sentences and words of praise. (Usually.) In reality, tough love and four-letter words are a more common linguistic currency in the locker room. Occasionally that tough love spills onto the practice rink. And, even more rarely, there’s a camera rolling to capture all that tough love in its crude glory.
So it was at Minnesota Wild practice today. Here’s head coach Mike Yeo:
When Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive baseball game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1995, the sitting President and Vice President of the United States were on hand to watch. Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis performed the National Anthem. Drop the number “2131” in Baltimore and many Orioles fans still understand the reference.
When Doug Jarvis played his 915th consecutive hockey game for the Hartford Whalers in 1986, he received a standing ovation from the fans at the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum. There could not have been more than 15,126 fans cheering, because the building could not accommodate more than 15,126 fans. Drop the number “915” in Hartford and it might accurately reference the number of Whalers fans still living in Hartford, since the team hasn’t existed in 17 years.
Doug Jarvis? Who’s that?
The headline of an article published on Boston.com today asks, “Why Are We So Mum On The NHL’s Response To Domestic Violence?”
The question grabbed me a bit more than usual. Just last night I took 15 minutes out of my evening to discuss the NHL’s response to domestic violence with Norm Rumack on SiriusXM Canada.
But hey, maybe I was missing something.
Turns out I was not.
To begin with, it’s a flawed question. Some of us are discussing the topic — on a radio station with more than 1.8 million subscribers at last count.
That might be a smaller audience than most Ray Rice-related dialogue, and the second paragraph of the story asks, “why aren’t we talking more about this”?
The 2014 college hockey season was interesting, to say the least.
The Big Ten Conference began play, which led some teams to willingly leave an old conference or grudgingly move to a new one. The teams in the NCHC couldn’t wait to get out, while the remaining CCHA teams were forced to say goodbye.
The preseason rankings were a little off. Miami University began as the number-two team in the country and the consensus pick to win the NCHC. They finished last in the conference and missed the NCAA tournament. Michigan was also predicted to make the tourney again, then finished a distant third in the Big Ten. After a 22-year run, the Wolverines have missed the tournament the last two seasons. Things have been a little rough lately in Ann Arbor; at least the hockey team is doing better than the football team.
Finally, there were some surprises in the national tournament.
The NHL expansion rumor mill has been heating up in recent weeks with a pair of reports connecting the NHL to Las Vegas as a done deal (Tony Gallagher’s column in the Vancouver Province and Howard Bloom’s Sports Business News tweet:
NHL expansion – four teams added by 2017, Quebec City, Toronto, Seattle, and Las Vegas $1.4b in expansion fees
— Howard Bloom (@SportsBizNews) August 27, 2014
The NHL was quick to shoot down these reports, but perhaps this is a situation where when there is smoke, there is fire, as the NHL has a least looked a few places for future teams in the past calendar year.
Maybe the NHL doesn’t really need expansion and 30 teams are enough, but considering the potential windfall to the league’s ownership by adding teams, and you can almost bet on the NHL expanding in the not-so distant future. Thirty-two or 34 teams would make sense as the next logical step, and if you believe the reports that are out there, it might happen as soon as 2016-2017, the NHL’s centennial season.
Here is a quick evaluation of nine potential NHL expansion or relocation cities in order from most likely to get a team by 2025 to least likely:
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two pieces hypothesizing what might have happened if the 2004-05 season hadn’t been cancelled.
It is September 2004. NHL training camps have opened for business. The surprising Tampa Bay Lightning are the defending champions. Hope springs eternal across Canada, where the national Stanley Cup drought has reached a seemingly interminable ten seasons. Across the Detroit river, the Red Wings are looking strong. That’s been the case most years of late — every year from 1996 to 2000 the Wings either won the Cup or were eliminated by the Avalanche — but no, this season is special.
A miraculous 11th-hour bargaining session allowed the NHL to avoid a work stoppage, ensuring a full 82-game season. The miracle was in the details. The players’ union agreed to an unprecedented salary-cap structure, taking a small step toward achieving competitive balance among markets large and small. The owners agreed to tweak the rules to improve the style and speed of the game. The era of so-called “clutch and grab” hockey is dead. Speedy skaters can speed without fear of mutilation at the hands of gargantuan defenders. The game is faster and more exciting. More scoring could be in store.
What transpires is only partly predictable.
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Editor’s Note: This is the first of two pieces hypothesizing what might have happened if the 2004-05 season hadn’t been cancelled.
What if I told you that the 2004-05 lockout was just a nightmare and didn’t actually happen?
No, I’m not making an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, although it’s tempting. At this point, there’s a new documentary about anything remotely significant.
This NHL season will mark the 10th anniversary of the 2004-05 lockout, and I figured it would be fun to imagine what might have occurred if the NHL had the common sense not to cancel an entire season by virtue of labor strife. In case you all forgot, in 2005 the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded for the first time since 1919. A Spanish Flu epidemic swept across the globe in 1919 and forced the cancellation of the playoffs. That’s a more valid premise than a ridiculous labor dispute.
Anyway, my point isn’t to force anyone to remember the pain of a lost season. It’s to wonder who would have hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2005.
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