Posts Tagged ‘college hockey’
My favorite time of the year has arrived. The college hockey postseason has been going for two weeks. Now it’s time for the main event, the NCAA Tournament. Before I get into profiling the tournament, here’s a brief look back at my first year in the Division I world.
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.
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.
I was talking to a former NHL executive Wednesday afternoon about mascots. We tossed around the question of where to draw the line between a mascot and a character. What separates the woman dressed up as Snow White at Disneyworld from the Leprechaun at Notre Dame? Are they mascots or characters? What about the Atlanta Braves’ Chief Noc-A-Homa?
Somehow the Spanish word for “pets,” mascotas, entered the discussion, and that rekindled my gut feeling about what a mascot should be: Furry and non-human. But that’s just my opinion. A team doesn’t need a mascot, though they are always popular with the kids. I once covered a minor-league hockey team that had three mascots, turning each game into a Disneyland-type experience and proving that a team can have too many. In the NHL, the Stars, Oilers, Rangers and Flyers have zero mascots. That might be too few.
At the bare minimum a team could use a nickname, which brings us to the curious case of the University of North Dakota. Officially, UND is just UND. No nickname. Its logo is an interlocking ND, similar to the more famous University of Notre Dame logo. In 2005 the NCAA decided the nickname in use at UND since 1930 — the Sioux (since the 1960s, the “Fighting Sioux”) — was “hostile and abusive.” In June 2012, state voters collectively banned the nickname, and the accompanying mascot and logo, at the polls. A few days later, the state’s Board of Higher Education officially banished the Sioux nickname to the history books. The university is prohibited from adopting a new team name until 2015.
One conference, the CCHA, is gone. Its teams either joined the WCHA, Hockey East or one of two new conferences — the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). Also, just two years after being in danger of being dropped as a program, Alabama-Huntsville has finally found a conference.
The new conferences aren’t nearly as interesting as the new storylines.
Will defending national champion Yale repeat? (No).
Will the ECAC be considered a top tier conference? (Maybe, if other teams are able to equal Yale’s success).
Will the WCHA still be competitive? (Now that the powerhouses are gone, probably not).
Will the Big Ten teams battle for the crown till the end of the season? (No).
With those questions answered, let’s look at each conference individually, starting with the ornery one that caused all the realignment problems in the first place: The Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
The college hockey season begins in a month and something puzzles me. This season’s Frozen Four will be played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, yet the overlords at the NCAA have yet to choose any destinations after that. It’s unusual that the NCAA would delay this announcement so long — they’ve planned well in advance in the past — so maybe they have a cool idea to try out.
Hopefully it’s not another attempt at playing in an indoor football stadium.
The folks in Indianapolis will supposedly make their selections in November, but to help them decide, I’ve compiled a list of destinations that would be great hosts for college hockey’s premier event. Midwestern and Western areas since the FF has been on the East Coast the past three years.
Read the rest of this entry »
Everything was setting up so perfectly. The top-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats had support from its campus, a veteran-laden squad, a number-one ranking in the nation the majority of the season, some love from ESPNU, and several articles about them in publications around the country.
They had come from behind to beat Canisius, dominated conference rival Union, barely broke a sweat in the Frozen Four semifinal against St. Cloud State, and their Hobey Baker finalist goaltender was 39 minutes into a shutout against Yale, a team the Bobcats had beaten three times during the season.
The world of sports is full of great upsets and hockey boasts some of the best. I mean, did anyone expect the Los Angeles Kings, of all teams, to suddenly become unstoppable and win the Stanley Cup two months after barely making the playoffs?
College hockey has had its share as well. Just about every year, a small school upsets a traditional powerhouse and provides a great story for sportswriters and fans to behold. In some cases – Bemidji State in 2009 and RIT in 2010 – the teams pull off two upsets and make it to the Frozen Four.
Ask most college hockey fans to name the biggest upset ever, there’s really only one: Holy Cross’s win over Minnesota in the 2006 West Regional in Grand Forks, N.D.
This past weekend, Holy Cross returned to Grand Forks for the first time since 2006 so I figured now would be the perfect time to look back at their big win. (After all, they almost pulled it off again Saturday before North Dakota woke up in the third period).
I kind of missed the boat in getting my NCAA hockey tournament predictions out last week so I thought I’d try to save face this week and give my prediction on who will hoist the National Championship trophy in Tampa Saturday night.
This year’s Frozen Four is interesting, to say the least. Some have called it boring. Others have even compared it to this year’s Final Four in basketball calling both the most “dislikable four teams in America.” That’s a fair assessment of the basketball teams, but the casual fan has plenty of reasons to cheer for at least two of this year’s Frozen Four teams.