Top 10 Stories of the Decade, Part I
CHN Staff Report
The past 10 years, like essentially any 10-year period, has seen its fair share of changes and big news events in college hockey. In this trip down memory lane, College Hockey News identifies its choice for Top 10 stories of the decade.
This is Part I of the series, with stories 5-10.
10. Retirement of Ron Mason
The long-time Michigan State mentor, Ron Mason, reached his last Frozen Four in 2001, then retired a year later with the most wins of any coach in Division I college hockey history, 924. He then hired his successor, Rick Comley, who won Michigan State a national title for the first time since Mason's last one in 1986.
In addition to Mason, Wisconsin's Jeff Sauer stepped aside for Mike Eaves, who also went on to win a national title.
It has left Comley, BU's Jack Parker and BC's Jerry York as the elder statesmen — eight national championships between them — with Parker and York, in particular, chasing Mason's win mark as they head towards their 70th birthdays. We'll see.
9. Bemidji State to the Frozen Four
A big news item unto itself, this dovetails with an increasing ability for "mid-major" conference teams to make noise in the NCAAs. Early in the decade, Mercyhurst came close against Michigan. Later, there were other close calls, such as Bemidji's in 2005 against Denver. In 2006, it finally happened, with Holy Cross knocking off Minnesota. Last year, it really came to fruition, with Air Force defeating Michigan before losing the regional final in overtime to Vermont; and Bemidji State defeating Notre Dame and Cornell to reach the Frozen Four.
Of course, this ties directly in with No. 6 below, and what this run meant to the future of many programs.
8. Michigan State vs. Michigan at Spartan Stadium
At the time, the game — coming just weeks after the 9/11 catastrophe — was epic unto itself. It set a record for most people to see a hockey game live, 74,544. Not an NHL game, not an international game — a college hockey game. A "wow" for college hockey.
But that has since become something more. That game turned into a "proof of concept," one that was subsequently copied elsewhere in college, and ultimately by the NHL itself. Now, in just three NHL seasons, it has become a New Year's Day institution. And this year, college hockey will have two more outdoor games, both getting big attention.
It may become overdone (let's hope not), but it all started at Spartan Stadium.
7. The Return of Jeff Jackson / Emergence of Notre Dame
After 10 years of flirting with the U.S. National Program, major junior hockey, and the NHL — Jeff Jackson, a two-time national championship coach at Lake Superior State, returned to the college scene in 2005. Not only is college hockey better for having him around, but the way it awoke the sleeping giant that is Notre Dame has been huge, not just for that campus, but — along with Miami's emergence as a power — for the overall quality of the CCHA.
6. The Evolution of the Frozen Four
This coincides with the Hobey Baker Memorial Award committee's decision to keep its decision more secretive, announcing a top three finalists (the "Hobey Hat Trick") and inviting them all to the Frozen Four for a Heisman-esque announcement.
The last Frozen Four of the previous decade was played in Anaheim, and did not sell out. In the ensuing 10 years, college hockey sold out every Frozen Four. In addition, the decade started with FF's in smaller arenas in Albany and Providence, and ended it with gala events in Denver and Washington, D.C.
"More people came out of there with a feel-good sense than ever," said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. "The building was great, the Capitals cooperated with us, it's as good a walking around city as there is. There had never been an NCAA championship held there in any sport — we were the first."
This decade is likely to be book-ended by another non-sellout, a Detroit's 60,000-seat Ford Field. But just the fact that college hockey had the audacity to think the event could work there, speaks volumes for how far it has come.
And now it's a weekend-long event, with the Skills Competition for both men's and women's players, coinciding with the Humanitarian Award announcement, and of course the Hobey announcement. The Hobey announcement was, just 10 years ago, held in a little banquet room at the local hotel. Now, it's open to the public and draws thousands, including live television coverage.
5. Bemidji State, Nebraska-Omaha, the WCHA, and the Demise of CHA ... Oh My
This is an extremely intertwined topic (something that will be even more prevalent with the No. 1 story), but the moves of Vermont to Hockey East, and the impending demise of College Hockey America, brought about significant shifts in the college hockey landscape over the decade.
College Hockey America was a noble experiment, to be a home for schools otherwise without a conference, and a place for emerging programs to play. College hockey as a whole did everything it could to prop it up. But, with Air Force heading from CHA to Atlantic Hockey (essentially replacing Quinnipiac, which replaced Vermont in the ECAC, which had moved to Hockey East), and the demise of Wayne State's program, the jig was up. Robert Morris and Niagara headed for Atlantic Hockey. Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville were, for the time, left in the cold.
Then Bemidji State had its run to the Frozen Four. It solidified its viability, and rallied its support in WCHA circles. But it was based upon getting a 12th team. Enter Nebraska-Omaha. Led by a brash new athletic director — former football star Trev Alberts — and his hiring of two-time national championship coach Dean Blais (welcome back), UNO decided to move to the WCHA. Bemidji State was saved in the process.
With all that, a hole was left in the CCHA, but the conference decided — controversially — not to bring Alabama-Huntsville on board. As the decade ended, UAH's future is somewhat in doubt, while the CCHA will play on with 11 teams.