Between the Lines
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Every year, the chair of the men's ice hockey committee changes. This year, it's Notre Dame assistant athletic director Tom Nevala. The committee, which is always comprised of one member from each conference, has generally been good at following the overall feelings of the overall coaching fraternity, whose opinions shift slowly, if at all, depending on the topic.
But individual committee members can bring their own ideas to the table, and if it's a chair, then the idea might even gain traction.
Nevala made some news recently by stating his opinion that the NCAA Regionals should move back to campus sites, with higher-seeded teams hosting a best-of-3, which is how things were prior to 1992 (though it was actually, for more years than not, a total-goals series, not a best-of-3).
"We have such great campus facilities that are such a part of the fabric of college hockey," Nevala told the NCAA News, "it’s a shame that the national tourney isn’t played in them."
I understand the argument for this. Often, the regionals are sparsely attended. In fact, I've been a long-time supporter of the philosophy of creating the best atmosphere possible for the NCAAs — what the NCAA calls the "student-athlete experience." And there have been times when the committee tweaks the by-the-book NCAA matchups in order to maximize attendance, and I have no problem with that.
Consequently, the argument goes, what could be a better atmosphere than having games on campus?
But people forget just how much that kind of setup was despised. Even now people complain when schools that are the host team get to play what amount to home games in the NCAAs, because of the rule that host teams must be placed in that venue.
I understand that, at least with campus sites for the Regionals, the teams that are hosting will be the ones that deserve it, because they will have played their way to a higher seed.
But I still believe that going in that direction is a step backwards.
When a sport is ready to move off campus to neutral sites for NCAA games, it's considered a big step forward. Maybe hockey is in an in-between state, where it just can't yet support neutral site Regional games. But it's better to battle for a higher profile, than to admit defeat and go backwards.
If you think about it, even though the Frozen Four is sold out most years, it's not like it's a raucous atmosphere, except when in places like Minnesota with a local team involved. In Tampa last year, it was a full building, but how many were BC or Ferris State fans? Ten percent? Why, then, shouldn't the Frozen Four be on campus?
Part of the integrity of the tournament is to avoid allowing one team to have too much of an advantage. Let's keep it how it is, despite the flaws. And perhaps just encourage better venues in the bid process.
With Jerry York sitting on a record-tying 924 career wins as a head coach, it's likely he'll break the record in the team's next game, which is not until December 29 in the opener of the Mariucci Classic against Alabama-Huntsville.
No offense to Alabama-Huntsville, but that's going to be a bit anti-climactic for a lot of people who came to see BC play the last two weekends, hoping for a coronation. Not much, if any, of the Boston media is going to travel to Minneapolis to see the Eagles play after Christmas.
The way some people look at it, Boston University and Providence deprived everyone of a special moment. To that, you have to say, "too bad." Did you want BU and Providence not to show up?
Through it all, York remains classy as ever, and it's not like he'll be forever deprived of the record. It will happen soon, and then he'll keep on trucking for a few more years and probably get over 1,000 wins.
Abate the Hate
It's very easy to hate Gary Bettman right now, and believe me, I share the same sentiments. But the one thing the NHL commissioner is often criticized for that's completely unfair is his push to get hockey in warm-weather cities. In particular, people criticize Phoenix, an issue again at the forefront recently, as the NHL and city of Phoenix helped broker a deal that would keep the Coyotes there. And again the outcries came from people, trashing the NHL for trying so hard to keep the team there when so many Northern cities would love to have them.
Those people are really missing the point. Because in the case of growth of American hockey, and in particular its impact on Division I NCAA hockey, it's been nothing but a startling success.
There are currently 11 D-I players from Arizona. Those include Colten St. Clair on North Dakota, and Quinnipiac senior Jeremy Langlois. It's a safe bet that there wouldn't be nearly as many if there weren't NHL hockey in Phoenix. The same can be said for the many players from Florida, Texas, California and so on. These players are all over college hockey nowadays, and many are making the NHL. At a time when a lot of top-end talent is choosing Major Junior, there is so much more talent to pick from because of the growth through the United States.
The potential No. 1 pick in next year's NHL Draft (if there's a draft) is Seth Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones. He grew up in Dallas when his father was playing for the Mavericks. Seth Jones said he got into hockey from watching the Dallas Stars play.
And it's not just watching the NHL team. There needs to be a place to play. And because of the bigger interest, it becomes viable to build rinks there. And in many cases, it's the NHL team itself that's helping to fund these rinks, because they are investing in having future fans. This, again, breeds more potential players.
One thing that could help is ensuring that ticket packages are reasonable.
ECAC on Top?
The ECAC is threatening, for the first time, to lead the nation in intra-conference winning percentage.
For some, this has caused a reaction of either complete glee or complete shock. But my reaction is somewhat more tempered, only because, if you are that shocked, it means you haven't been paying attention.
The ECAC has done pretty well over the last few years. This year is more of a culmination of a cycle than it is a stunning reversal.
There are many reasons for this. And one is simply because the ECAC is doing a better job recruiting. Part of that is because Ivy League schools now have more resources at their disposal than in the past. The players still need the grades, but the financial aid packages they can give can often make the cost a non-issue. Part of it is just because everyone is doing a good job.
The other reason, of course, is that some of the big powerhouses are struggling, with everyone pointing to Michigan and Wisconsin, in particular. But all around, things are more spread out because of the amount of top-end talent bolting for Major Junior. The "rich get richer" that goes on in all sports as they get more popular — i.e. more money comes in — was going on slowly but surely for years, but leveled out because of the Major Junior issue.
Take a look at the World Junior roster. There's more than half a dozen players that originally were committed to U.S. colleges that skipped out, including a few between North Dakota and Miami alone, plus starting goaltender John Gibson, who was supposed to go to Michigan. North Dakota and Miami are still doing fine, but they are more beatable than they might otherwise have been with all those players.
We'll see if the trend continues. The ECAC teams may all fizzle out. A lot will be answered during the holiday tournaments. There's no superpower among them, but there's about six real strong teams this year.
Speaking of the World Junior tournament, the U.S. is up against it this year. Because the teams are seeded according to last year's finish, the U.S. is the seventh seed, after last year's disappointing showing. As a result, they are in the same group as Canada and Russia, which is going to make for a difficult task. In addition, Canada and Russia have some extra players on the roster that wouldn't otherwise be there if not for the NHL lockout.
For the first time in a while, a U.S. college coach is not leading the World Junior team. This time, it's former NHL defenseman Phil Housley, who never even played in college. He is assisted, however, by Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki.
This is always a fantastic tournament, and everyone should tune in, if possible.