New Season Primer
Everything You Need to Get Up to Speed on 2013-14
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
When Massachusetts-Lowell, St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac and Yale arrived in Pittsburgh last April, the changing landscape of college hockey was evident. North Dakota wasn't there. Neither was Boston College, Minnesota, Denver, Wisconsin or any of the other programs that ruled college hockey for decades.
Yale left with its first national championship and officially ended the final year of college-hockey-as-we-knew-it. The long-awaited spate of realignment sparked by Penn State's 2010 announcement of a new Division I hockey program was under way. In its wake went the CCHA altogether and Hockey East and the WCHA as they were known.
The Big Ten and National College Hockey Conference are here to stay. Even with three years notice, no one's quite sure how this new reality will look. For now, storied rivalries are on hold to make room for new scheduling requirements. Teams and fans are forced to learn of new opponents, new cities and towns to travel to, while experienced juniors and seniors enter the year as green as freshmen in certain circumstances.
"I think it's going to be great," New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. "College hockey is so exciting right now. The parity around the country is tremendous right now. Now, with the new leagues, there's a lot going on. It should be a lot of fun for us. It's certainly going to be interesting to watch."
"We all felt all along that this was going to happen," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said at Big Ten media day. "From my perspective, I think it is exciting. From the players' perspective, the freshness of it adds even more excitement. There's a little trepidation from the fans. I do believe that they'll see, at Minnesota, we'll have the best of both worlds. We'll be part of the Big Ten, and we'll get to see our in-state rivals and a lot of our former rivalries from the WCHA over time."
The inevitable influence of the dynamic world of collegiate athletics has finally reached college hockey. Thursday, the new era finally begins in force. Pucks will drop in Rochester, N.Y., and Ann Arbor, Mich., and everything that changed becomes irrelevant. It's not new anymore. It's just the same old college hockey season. Seven months from now, four teams will land in Philadelphia to compete for a national championship. The routes those teams took will be different than those before them. If nothing else, there's one thing that will most certainly be the same — we're all going to enjoy the ride.
Penn State's move led to the formation of the Big Ten, forcing Minnesota and Wisconsin to leave the WCHA. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State left the CCHA. The most prominent programs from the two western leagues — save for Notre Dame — eventually formed the NCHC.
Notre Dame opted to move to Hockey East, which forced the league to find a 12th team. Connecticut eventually received the invite, but won't leave Atlantic Hockey until the 2014-15 season.
The CCHA eventually dissolved with the remaining programs joining the WCHA. Alabama-Huntsville was the final piece, finding a home in the new WCHA after two seasons as an independent program. ECAC was wholly untouched by the moves, despite overtures from Hockey East in search of its 12th team prior to welcoming UConn.
New playoff formats are a part of the changes as well.
Hockey East abandoned its eight-team three-round tournament for the same 11-team format used by the CCHA for the last three seasons.
The Big Ten opted for a six-team, single-elimination tournament.
The NCHC will use the eight-team three-round format formerly used by Hockey East, though with a third-place game, the only conference to have one now that the ECAC has eliminated it.
The WCHA will adopt the same system as the NCHC. The lone difference being that the WCHA will eliminate the ninth- and 10th-place teams like Hockey East did prior to this season.
The Pairwise underwent an overhaul recently as well, with the committee deciding quality wins bonuses and home-road weighting should be part of the process.
With the changes coming so close to the start of the season, some were frustrated since schedules were already finalized. In general, though, the adjustments to the Pairwise likely eliminated the dynamic element of the system that saw teams bounce around the rankings based on their opponents' performance. Primarily, eliminating the Teams Under Consideration component of the system will make the picture a bit clearer even ahead of conference tournaments and championship Saturday.
"The Teams Under Consideration cliff was a big thing for us," Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, a member of the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee said. "A team that was a No. 1 seed one weekend shouldn't be able to drop almost out of the tournament the next weekend because someone else won or lost."
The greatest influence of this adjustment likely won't come until next summer, when teams adjust their schedules with the new Pairwise system in mind. However, there should be a better idea of which teams are in line for the 10 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
"It all comes down to scheduling," Sneddon said. "The math wasn't working, it wasn't right. We found numerous problems, and our task was to make it right. Because we made these changes right now, there are going to be some people unhappy. We felt like that we knew it was wrong. We feel like it produced the right teams, but not in the right order."
While the Pairwise news was certainly a major development, rules adjustments were in an off year from the two-season cycle. The massive changes already brought about due to realignment will give players, coaches and fans more than enough to adjust to.
Big Holes to Fill
In Denver and Boston, there are, perhaps, no bigger holes left than be departed coaches George Gwozdecky and Jack Parker. Gwozdecky who was, more or less, fired by Denver in April is replaced by former Dubuque (USHL) head coach and Maine star Jim Montgomery. BU opted to keep things in the family with their replacement, choosing Dave Quinn, who served as Parker's top deputy until 2009.
Parker announced his retirement prior to the Hockey East Tournament a year ago, and his career ended with a 1-0 loss to Lowell in the league championship game. BU is excited about the change and the return of Quinn to Commonwealth Avenue. After leaving BU following the program's fifth national championship in 2009, he spent four years as head coach with Lake Erie (AHL) and one as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche.
"Being the head coach is a lot different than being an assistant," Quinn said. "I have a lot more responsibilities within the program. It's been a lot of fun getting back to BU and working with great people. And, of course, it's great to be back at my alma mater.
"It's going to be interesting. I've been a head coach before, but I've never been the head coach at my alma mater, replacing someone that's been there for 40 years. There are going to be butterflies walking onto that bench for the first time, but I'm sure once the puck's dropped, I'll just be a hockey coach again. The good news for me is (Parker's) right down the hall, so I find my walking down there to talk to him every day to go over any issues or ideas with him."
Gwozdecky's departure was a bit less amicable following Denver's first-round loss to New Hampshire in the NCAA tournament. Montgomery was a surprising hire if only because he was also linked with the top job at his alma mater after Maine let Tim Whitehead go in April. Montgomery spent the last three years leading Dubuque in its first three years of existence, which included two Clark Cups as USHL champions. Prior, he was an assistant under Jeff Jackson for a season in Notre Dame before leaving for four seasons with Rensselaer.
"That's why I wanted this job. I think Denver is a place where you can expect to win national championships and win your conference every year," Montgomery said at Denver's media said. "I wanted to come to an institution that wanted to do great things on the ice, in the classroom and in the community."
Milestones on the Horizon
Last year, Jerry York becoming college hockey's all-time winningest coach was the most noteworthy milestone. While no such achievements will come in 2013-13, there are plenty of coaches and players within reach of important figures.
Michigan coach Red Berenson ended last season with 770 career wins. Becoming the fourth coach to reach 800 will likely have to wait another year. However, Berenson can pass Rick Comley and his 783 career wins to move into fourth all time. Needing just 13 wins to get there, Berenson should be there by February.
Similarly, New Hampshire's Dick Umile needs just seven more wins to move past George Gwozdecky and into the top 10 all time. Umile currently has 519 career wins to Gwozdecky's 526.
Both Berenson and Umile have spent their entire careers as head coaches with their current programs, their alma maters.
American International doesn't generate much news throughout the year. Gary Wright, steward of the struggling program in Springfield, Mass., is just seven wins shy of the 300 mark. Wright has led the program for 30 years with minimal success. Last season's 12 wins, though, was the most for the Yellow Jackets since 14 in the 1993-94 season.
Quinnipiac boss Rand Pecknold is also likely to pick up his 300th win on the year. After last season's unprecedented success, Pecknold needs just eight wins to reach the milestone. Holy Cross' Paul Pearl is within 18 wins of 300 career victories himself.
Outdoor games are also in high supply this season. Not everyone is a fan, but there will be 10 games played outdoors this season — five in Fenway Park in Boston alone. Minnesota announced its own event to take place at TCF Bank Stadium on its campus earlier this summer. Additionally, all four games of the Great Lakes Invitational will be played at Detroit's Comerica Park.
In terms of anniversaries, Hockey East celebrates its 30th year this season just as the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference begin their first.