When You Don't Have History, Steal it From Someone Else
by Ryan Lambert/Columnist
The realignment shakeup in college hockey has changed a lot of things around, and with new conferences being birthed from nothing, they apparently had to scramble to make themselves seem more legitimate than they perhaps are in terms of history.
One should not, however, mistake the history of specific hockey clubs — say, what Minnesota brings to the Big Ten, or Denver to the NCHC — with the history of the conferences themselves. The Big Ten and NCHC necessarily have no history because until about three months ago, there had never been a single game played under their respective banners. This much is irrefutable.
This seems not to have stopped the NCHC from trying to make itself more impressive, which is apparently the kind of thing we should have come to expect from a league built on entitlement more than anything else. When the Big Ten was announced, all the “prestige” programs, or whatever you want to call them, that were being left behind in the CCHA and WCHA simply decided that they couldn't be bothered slumming it against these other, lesser programs which were beneath their status and probably contempt, and thus was born the “National” Collegiate Hockey Conference, which is a curious name considering that on a geographical basis it ignores all the parts of the nation not between Ohio and Colorado.
That there was a fan vote to name the finals of the conference tournament is all good and well, and settling on the Frozen Faceoff (perhaps by design not more than a little evocative of “Frozen Four”) earlier this month, which beat out the NCHC Championship, is a little icky but not in the end that big of a deal.
However, the individual awards show a very serious commitment to borrowing the history of the sport in a way that no other would be gauche enough to dare. The prize the conference will award whichever team wins its regular-season championship is the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup, which is a heck of a strange thing to call it, given that there is already a well-known national award bearing the name of the departed Mr. Penrose. Now the coach of a particularly good NCHC team can win both the Penrose and the Penrose in the season, which does not make a whole lot of sense. The historical context of the name is, obviously, plain to see, but at the same time this is the use of a name with a lot of cachet in college hockey to legitimize an award no one has ever won before.
However, the Penrose Cup is not the more egregious of the NCHC's decisions when it comes to the naming of their brand-new and in-no-way-historically-significant trophies. That, instead, came in the naming of the award they will give their best bench boss: The Herb Brooks Coach of the Year award.
This is, in a word, maddening. It is also, in a few more words, a bald-faced and pathetic attempt by a nascent and apparently attention-starved conference to make itself seem intrinsically tied to the very lifeblood of hockey at the college level when it is in fact not.
The number of games legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks coached for any team now in the NCHC is... 36. Thirty-six games that, sure, clearly meant a lot to St. Cloud, back when they were still a Division 2 school. When you think Herb Brooks, you think Minnesota, which is notably absent from the NCHC. This, you understand, is the equivalent of starting your own country and naming the "Best President" award after William Henry Harrison. He wasn't your president, and even if he had been, it was for a criminally short amount of time.
Why not name the award after a coach who helped to truly develop not one but two programs in the conference? The George Gwozdecky Coach of the Year award has a nice ring to it, but from a political standpoint, it carries more baggage than your average NCHC team will bring to the Frozen Faceoff.
All of this, by the way, is entirely due to the latent hubris of the NCHC, because it demands that it be the center of attention. The Big Ten, meanwhile, is taking the more reasonable approach laid out for it by other even slightly judicious conferences.
Hockey East, for instance, became a league in 1984, having broken off from the ECAC. And while it began playing league championship right away, as one might expect, it did not begin actually awarding a named trophy until 1988, when it was decided that the postseason prize should be named after the league's first commissioner, Lou Lamoriello. There was a period of four years in which the awards were presented with no undue names. Nothing named after a great one-year coach at BU.
Likewise, the Big Ten has already unveiled its regular- and postseason trophies and basically said it's not going to name them until such time as they deserve to be named. What a novel concept.
A true and fun fact is that the only way in which a program or conference gains legitimacy on a national level is by earning it. Every team in the NCHC has done so at one point in their history or another. It didn't kill them.
This is nothing but a co-opting of tradition so no one notices that the trophy ain't the Broadmoor now. We get it, you're important.
Michigan: It is pretty crazy to think about how well Michigan is doing this season, given that they have 10 freshmen on the roster. I guess when those freshmen are JT Compher and Tyler Motte, that helps a lot. Compher made an apparently miracle comeback from injury to score in the GLI opener, but the Wolverines lost.
Michigan State: Are we really already going to put Torey Krug into the “Stars” category of former Spartans who are now in the NHL? Because that seems like a bit much.
Minnesota: Speaking of it being too early to make pronouncements: “Both [the Gophers men's and women's] teams will enter the new year as the No. 1 ranked teams in the nation. Don’t expect that to change.” I'm not sure if the men are untouchable here.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes recently got a commit from Christian Lampasso, whose USHL stats aren't all that impressive at 2-7—9 in 23 games, but he kills penalties and more importantly his shooting percentage is just 3.6 right now. He'll start scoring more and then everyone will say “Oh wow that kid's really good all of a sudden.”
Penn State: Here's a good look at how the Penn State program came together. If you've been paying attention, though, you probably know most of this stuff already. Such is the burden of expertise.
Wisconsin: If the U.S. Is going to win at World Juniors, Nic Kerdiles needs to be The Guy up front. Don't worry. America has this one wrapped up. (Of course, he hasn't scored in two games and the U.S. is 2-0-0.)
Colorado College: This would have to be one hell of a “second-half surge.”
Denver: Yeah, 5-3 sounds just about right for a Denver win at UMass. I very much buy that as a reasonable result.
Miami: Riley Barber as captain of the US World Junior team seems like a no-brainer. One of the few returners, and he's very, very good. Given the amount of ice time he's been eating up for the RedHawks this year, he might never come off the ice in Sweden.
Minnesota-Duluth: The reason Justin Crandall isn't a goalie, and instead is the best forward on UMD this season, is that after his brother Aaron and his dad Jeff both played that position, his mom said he couldn't.
Nebraska-Omaha: I guess that yes, it is fair to say Jake Guentzel and Josh Arbcibald have been "key contributors" for the Mavs this season, given that the latter is a point-a-game player and the former is third on the team in assists as a freshman.
North Dakota: Oh a kid from Grand Forks committed to UND? Seems like that was a slam dunk. They've only been recruiting him his whole life.
St. Cloud: The St. Cloud Times gives the Huskies an “A” for the first half, which they say is “grading on a curve.” No need for a curve, they're just one of the best teams in the country.
Western Michigan: Lawson Arena got a scoreboard upgrade over the summer because NCHC rules mandated it, but apparently any talk about a new arena any time soon is just wishful thinking. “Lawson looks very nice,” said WMU athletic director Kathy Beauregard, stretching things a little.
Alabama-Huntsville: It's a little old at this point but this was a nice story on the Chargers (finally) getting their first win of the year. Starting your coaching career 0-15 is a tough go of things.
Alaska: Davis Jones has already been WCHA rookie of the week twice this season, and I guess that's understandable given his save percentage is the only one on the team that's north of .900.
Alaska-Anchorage: Also, UAA and UAF are both getting their logos and names on Alaska Airlines planes and that is cool as hell.
Bemidji State: A lucky break for the Beavers, because Phillip Marinaccio's one-game suspension doesn't happen until after break. If they'd had one more game before the two-week time off, Bemidji would only have had 10 healthy forward.
Bowling Green: BGSU had the honor of getting clobbered by Boston College in the the Places Jerry York Coached Bowl.
Ferris State: Seriously though, Ferris State at No. 2 in the country. That's not a thing any of us saw coming. Bob Daniels maybe, but then we'd have been like “C'mon Bob.”
Lake Superior: A 1-0 loss is a tough way to go into break, but a tougher way to do it is by giving up that goal with 15.9 seconds left in regulation.
Michigan Tech: Mel Pearson says the team's goal right now is winning the GLI, what with their being defending champs. It's nice to have impossible goals. Maybe not so impossible after all after advancing in a shootout against lowly Michigan State.
Minnesota State: Seven wins in a row for the Mavs after starting the season at 4-7. Not a bad turnaround, but games against Bowling Green, Anchorage, NMU, and Huntsville sure do help.
Northern Michigan: Seems like sitting on a one-goal lead in the third period at the Ralph isn't necessarily the very best idea. NMU learned this to its sorrow in its final game before break.
Goal of the Week
This coast-to-coast goal by Western Michigan's Josh Pitt to defeat Michigan certainly suffices.