Between the Lines
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
I received a lot of response, as expected, from our last installment of Between the Lines, which featured a story on the NCAA's proposed deregulation of amateurism.
It's still not a topic that's being talked about at all in the national media, perhaps because hockey is the sport most impacted, and the national media mostly ignores college hockey. But its impact on hockey cannot be underestimated. The debate continues and, despite all the theorizing, no one really knows what the long-term impact will be. Everyone is in agreement, however, that the entire ballgame will change.
Hopefully, last month's article cleared up a lot of issues, but there is understandably still some confusion. However, in reality, what is being proposed is actually much simpler than the current system, assuming you can throw out everything you know about NCAA regulations defining an amateur.
Bottom line: As long as you are not receiving money while enrolled in an NCAA school, you are OK. Nothing else matters. The only problem is, every year you compete following high-school graduation outside of the NCAA costs you a year of NCAA eligibility.
There was one error in the last article, however, and for that I apologize. Actually, it was an omission.
I failed to mention that, apparently, you will still have one year following high school graduation to compete outside the NCAA without affecting your NCAA eligibility. Thus, a player who goes to the USHL could play the season following high school graduation, i.e. the 19-year old year, and still have four years of NCAA eligibility. This softens my main concern quite a bit unless, again, I'm reading it wrong. I could not reach the NCAA for clarification, but if anyone can help, feel free to contact me.
Thursday, January 6, was the start of the NCAA Convention, and the hockey community was hoping to voice its concerns there. There are pros and cons to the changes, but as a whole, hockey types were perturbed that they had little, if any, voice in the original process.
Not a lot of news has come out of that convention, though one thing we do know is that an NCAA women's championship has been approved for 2001. That is good news for all of hockey, because the more people playing, the better. The more visible hockey can become at more schools, the better.
In other news, the MAAC has been all but assured an auto bid for the 2001 tournament. However, according to sources, an increase to a 16-team tournament is losing support.
Those who don't think the MAAC deserves to be in the same conversation as the other four conferences will be upset by this turn of events, but that's narrow-minded thinking. The first step toward expanding the scope of college hockey is to include more schools in the process. Giving the MAAC a bid will do more to improve that conference, in the long run, than anything they could do themselves.
As a result, however, it seems each of the other conferences will revert to having just one automatic bid. The conferences will then have the ability to choose how to dole out that bid, just as it was until a few years ago, when what's known as the "Colorado College" rule came into effect.
(That rule was instituted after the year the Tigers won the WCHA regular-season title and were still left out of the NCAA tournament: only the playoff champion was guaranteed a bid. The result was autobids for the regular-season champion and for the playoff champion in each conference, a rule that has stood until now.)
It would be nice for these bid changes to coincide with the expansion to a 16-team tournament, but I give my endorsement anyway.
The results are in, and again hardly anyone noticed. But we did, and it's our duty to point it out.
The U.S. Junior National Team placed fourth at the recently-completed World Championships in Sweden, its best finish since a runner-up spot to Canada in 1996-97. Actually, as far as I'm concerned, they finished third, since the 4-3 bronze medal game loss to Canada came in that god-awful abomination called a shootout.
Last month, I said it was time for the National Developmental Program — which was designed to give top U.S. talent the chance to flower — to start showing some fruits of its labor, that this would be a telling tournament for the validity of the idea. It's hard to say with a third-and-a-half place finish, but it appears the U.S. did itself proud at the tournament. I say "appeared" because you can't find the games on TV anywhere. (Can someone please tell DirecTV to pipe in TSN.) I did, however, get to listen to an awful radio broadcast of the U.S.-Canada round-robin game while I just happened to be traveling during the holidays. I could barely tell what was going on, but I did manage to ascertain that the U.S. was dominating Canada in the third period of a 1-1 game.
That game ended in a tie, and despite scoring just five goals in four round-robin games, the U.S. finished 1-1-2 for third place in the bracket. Paired with the other bracket's No. 2 seed, host Sweden, the U.S. won handily and impressively, 5-1, doubling its scoring output for the tournament.
Then, sadly, Team USA mentor Jeff Jackson had to leave Finland and return to the U.S. to be with his ailing mother. Team USA lost a 4-1 decision to the Czech Republic, before playing another tight one with Canada in the consolation.
All things considered, fans of U.S. hockey have to be pleased. It would have been nice to get a medal, but there's every reason to believe the program is on the right track. Jeff Taffe led the way with five points, and only Barrett Heisten, Adam Hall and Dan Cavanaugh had two goals. BU's Rick DiPietro, who has carried the Terriers early on, was 2-2-1 with a 1.81 GAA and .935 save percentage and won the tourney's outstanding goaltender honors.
They're often over-hyped, but this year's holiday tournaments had some interesting moments.
In the Badger Showdown, North Dakota pulled out a 3-2 win over host Wisconsin at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the place where the Sioux closed out the 1997 national championship. It was a classic struggle between a team that has been prominent in the national picture in recent years, and a team that used to be and is close to regaining that status.
The close loss by Wisconsin had Badger fans wondering what it would have been like with Dany Heatley, the stellar freshman who was away at the World Juniors. Well, the Badgers will get a chance to find out when the teams hook up for a regular-season series Jan. 14 and 15, but everyone's really waiting for the one in March...
The Great Lakes Invitational is always one of, if not the, highlight of the holiday season. This year was no exception as Michigan State's Joe Blackburn turned in a 37-save effort to lead the Spartans past rival Michigan. Of course, those bragging rights only held until the teams hooked up again last Friday, when Michigan turned the tables thanks to the return of starting netminder Josh Blackburn. But, school loyalties aside, there's not a whole lot better in college hockey than a packed Joe Louis Arena and the intensity of Michigan State-Michigan...
Also worth noting is Jeff Farkas' five-goal outing against Vermont in the final of the UVM Classic. The Catamounts were poised for an upset, but Farkas' Hobey-like effort carried the Eagles to a 5-4 win.
Are Niagara and Wayne State using the CHA as a steppingstone to bigger things? There have certainly been rumblings to that effect.
Remember, Blaise MacDonald didn't go to Niagara to be in a minor conference. MacDonald came in with a lot of respect, having been a part of the Boston University program for so long, and that helped him get good opponents, and thus build the program. The CHA was a nice idea, but he's always been looking for more.
At Wayne State, former Western Michigan coach Bill Wilkinson started that program with similar things in mind. He wants to get back into the Division I mainstream as soon as possible.
They could leave as an entry for the CCHA within a couple of years. And, word is Army is all but assured of joining the MAAC for next season. Combine that, and it means a likely quick death for the CHA.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, if it was used as a positive, though it would be nice to have more Division I conferences.
Yale's Jeff Hamilton, a Hobey Baker candidate entering the season, has decided to take a medical redshirt for the season. Yale loses its top gun for the stretch drive, but it gets a healthy Hamilton all next season ...
Minnesota had another player hit the Roed. Peter Roed was a high school standout, but didn't have the grades for school. He went to juniors and now plays in the AHL with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, Florida's top affiliate. His brother Shawn was off to a great start this season with the Gophers, but was suspended under first-year head coach Don Lucia's no-tolerance policy for academic shenanigans. So, instead of sit out, Shawn hit the Roed, and is playing major juniors in the WHL for Portland. I applaud Lucia's stance. Some kids are not made for college, and that's not a knock on them. Part of what makes hockey great is that there are options for those kids. Unlike basketball and football, there is a junior system, or minor pro ...
If you ever need to find an old Ivy League goalie, try to the broadcast booth. Ken Dryden popularized the notion when he sat in as color man for Al Michaels during the extraordinary 1980 Olympic coverage. Since then, fellow Cornell goaltenders Brian Hayward and Daren Eliot have made homes in Anaheim and Atlanta, respectively. Now, add Tripp Tracy to the list. The former Harvard goalie can be heard analyzing games for the Carolina Hurricanes. Of course, the Harvard footprint is all over the Hurricane organization. Owner Peter Karmanos' son, Jason, played for Harvard with Tracy. Jason Karmanos' pro career was cut short after he lost use of an eye ...
Speaking of freak injuries: RPI graduate Eric Healey was tearing things up for Springfield of the AHL, until he was victim of a much more literal and scary tear. Playing in Worcester on January 2, Healey was tangled in a corner scrum with teammate David Bell and Worcester's Sylvain Blouin when one of their skates accidentally severed the tendon nerve artery in his left wrist. Forgetting the severity of the wrist injury, he could have bled to death if not for the quick attention of the Falcons' training staff. He was rushed to the hospital and there were concerns he may never have use of the hand again. However, the team released a statement two days later saying that Healey had successful surgery and is expected to make a complete recovery. This season, on the other hand, is over ...
As Jeff Halpern continues to mark time in the NHL, the Capitals forward is already closing in on a record: most NHL games played by a former Princeton hockey player. But, wait, Halpern is a rookie, you say? Indeed. The previous record is only 48, held by Mike McKee in 1993-94 with the Quebec Nordiques. That doesn't take away from what Halpern has accomplished. He has humble totals of 12 points so far this season, but has been one of the Capitals' best faceoff men, and he leads the team with a +6 rating while playing in all 39 of the team's games. All this while becoming the first Maryland native to make the NHL. He has a little ways to go, however, before breaking the goals record for a Princeton alum. That's held by Andre Faust, who scored 10 goals in his 47 NHL games over two seasons. Halpern currently has five. The only other former Princeton player to taste the NHL? Ed Lee, who played two games with Quebec in 1984-85 ...
Dany Heatley was recently ranked No. 1 by the Central Scouting Bureau among prospects for this year's NHL draft. I suspect that gives Badger fans a lot of mixed emotions. Can you say "David Tanabe"?