Monday, July 11, 2011

Domino Theory

I have been a follower of U.S. college hockey for a number of years, as a fan of hockey, as a broadcast journalist and, of course, in my role with the Icers.

Normally this is a quiet time of year, with news of a few coaching changes, student athletes coming and going and every once in a while a team or league that faces a future that could be good - or bad.

Suffice to say, I or anyone who follows the college game has not seen a summer like this one in quite some time - if ever. Without a doubt, I don't think anyone expected what transpired over the past week.

The news that five teams from the WCHA (Denver, Colorado College, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha) and one from the CCHA (Miami) have banded together to form an as-yet-to-be-named "Super League" came right out of left field.

The first report came last week from Brad Schlossman of Grand Forks Herald and was confirmed in a press release issued on July 7. A press conference will be held on Wednesday in Colorado Springs, with the AD's of the schools in attendance.

Immediately, there were charges of dirty tricks and backroom dealing from some schools, while the college hockey bloggers and forums went into hyper-drive. If you don't believe me, just Google "college hockey super conference" - you get more than 3/4 of a million results!

Many blame Penn State's entry into the varsity club and the subsequent (but not unexpected) formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference for starting the domino effect. One writer (I won't bother to link to him) even had the hubris to blame Terry Pegula.

It was widely said that the BTHC would be the end of college hockey - now the new 6-team "super conference" has added fuel to that fire. Many fans and "pundits" are already writing the obituaries for the Bemijdi States, Michigan Techs, Lake Superior States and Northern Michigans.

Well, the folks at Northern Michigan are saying, "We're not dead yet!" Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday that NMU is likely to return to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said Monday he could not comment on the situation, but sources indicated an agreement could be reached at a WCHA meeting Friday, which would bring the Wildcats back in the WCHA by 2013-14.

It’s possible Alaska-Fairbanks of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association will be the next addition to the WCHA.

Northern Michigan, a member of the CCHA, was in the WCHA from 1984-85 through 1996-97, and was league champion in 1990-91.

If NMU returns to its WCHA roots that would give the conference six teams and a national tournament autobid, just like the B1G and the so-called "Super Six." Adding Fairbanks makes it seven.

As Alaska Anchorage AD Steve Cobb puts it in a letter to Seawolves fans:
As the NCAA requires a minimum of six teams to constitute a conference, our first order of business, obviously, is to seek additional teams for the WCHA beginning in that year. We are confident that can and will happen in the near future.

These new conference configurations will present challenges and opportunities. If possible, we are hopeful that any new configuration would give us the opportunity to return to a four-game, home-and-home series with Alaska Fairbanks as part of our annual Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup.

One thing to keep in mind in the midst of all this kerfuffle. The changes don't go into effect until 2013-14, so there is ample time for more teams to sort out where they want to be a couple of years down the road.

Will Notre Dame go east or west? What about Alabama-Huntsville, the sole indy team currently in Division 1? I'm betting the Chargers will finally find themselves a conference home sooner than later.

Joe Battista likes to use the term "victors or victims." I tend to think that the leaders of the "leftovers" schools (a term that I don't agree with) will follow NMU's lead and be victors, rather than victims.

These may be small schools, but most have loyal fans and rich traditions. And they can play hockey. I was at the Midwest Regional in 2007, when UAH took the Fighting Irish (then ranked #1 in the country) to double overtime before the Irish won. In my view, the Chargers denied ND a shot at the Frozen Four, because the Irish simply ran out of gas the next night against the eventual national champion Michigan State Spartans.

One who shares my view of the future of the smaller schools is hockey blogger Julie Robenhymer.

Julie on Monday made her first visit to Hockey Valley to interview coach Guy, so that gave me the chance to talk hockey with her and show her the campus, including the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Past, Present and Future

The transition year for Penn State men's hockey is fast approaching, with 92 days to opening night (as of this writing).

The kickoff to this historic season actually began at last season's Alumni Dinner, when former Icer Ben Bouma began the evening with ten words that have become the unofficial slogan for the Icers/Nittany Lions hockey program.

With that slogan in mind, Icers PA announcer and website developer extraordinaire Rodney Martin set out to produce a promotional video for the upcoming season.

It goes without saying that the work of my good buddy speaks for itself.