The college hockey season is drawing to a close. Three conferences have already crowned regular season champions, while the WCHA and Hockey East will do the same this weekend, with a lot still up for grabs heading into the final weekend.
Ferris State’s dream season continued when it wrapped up the CCHA regular-season title on Friday night without winning the game. Ferris tied Western Michigan and lost in a shootout, but that one point was enough to clinch after Michigan dropped a stunner to Bowling Green.
A 22-9-5 record, including a 16-7-5-1 mark in the CCHA is a heck of a season for FSU. Despite no NHL Draft picks on the roster, Ferris State posted a better conference record than the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Miami. Just incredible. Now Ferris has to get it done in the postseason as the CCHA playoffs begin this weekend, for which the Bulldogs earned a first-round bye.
In the ECAC, it was Union College wrapping up the regular season title. The rise of the Union hockey program to its consistent presence at the top of the ECAC standings is rather remarkable. It’s a big reason Nate Leaman was hired away from Union to become head coach at Providence College. Though Leaman left, Union hasn’t missed a beat. Under the direction of new head coach Rick Bennett, the Dutchmen have captured their second consecutive ECAC regular-season title.
Union has gotten pretty balanced production from its forwards, but it is the play of goaltender Troy Grosenick that really stands out. The sophomore goaltender’s numbers are ridiculous. A 16-5-3 record, to go along with a sparkling 1.64 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He’s also posted five shutouts.
Union’s consistent presence at the top of the league is not a fluke. The Dutchmen may not be one of the best teams in the country, but this is a very good hockey team and could make a little noise in the postseason with a hot goalie.
In Atlantic Hockey, it was the Air Force Falcons who skated off with the outright regular-season title with a 3-0 win over Robert Morris on Saturday. The Falcons have quietly put together a respectable 17-9-7 record, including a 15-6-6 mark in the AHA.
The Falcons should be an interesting team to follow in the postseason, as they always are. To make it to the NCAA tournament, it will require an AHA Tournament title, but the Falcons are capable. It always seems like Frank Serratore’s bunch is going to be in the mix because of the work ethic and toughness every USAFA team has had. Don’t underestimate the Academy Kids.
Over in the WCHA, there’s still a title on the line this weekend and a lot of different scenarios for playoff seeding. Chris Dilks did a great job of breaking it down on Western College Hockey Blog.
Hockey East still has to get through this weekend before it can crown its regular-season champion. Boston College is in the driver’s seat with two points on second-place BU. BC will meet last-place Vermont in a home series, so barring a major upset, the Eagles likely earn the title. Boston University will need some help from the Catamounts, but will also have to win both in a home-and-home series with pesky Northeastern to earn the outright title. Meanwhile, third-place UMass-Lowell has a home and home series with Providence and can sneak into a higher seeding.
With so much to be decided yet in a pair of heavy-hitting conferences and playoffs beginning for the three other conferences, it should be a very fun weekend of hockey.
Minnesota State Moorhead Won’t Go Division 1
From the moment Doug Peters, Minnesota State University Moorhead athletic director, announced that the school was making a push to raise funds to create a Division I hockey program, it seemed like a long shot.
After missed goals and delayed deadlines, it has become clear to the University that Division I ice hockey is not in its future. That was confirmed by MSU-Moorhead President Edna Mora Szymanski, when she announced that the school has called off its quest to join the D-I ranks Monday.
Moorhead had set a goal of $37 million to fund construction of a building and other costs associated with creating a Division I program. It wasn’t as ambitious as Penn State’s $88 million, but still a whole lot of money.
Szymanski couldn’t justify diverting funds intended for academic purposes to help support the quest for hockey and that’s always the right call from a University standpoint.
It is disappointing for the school, as there was a wide open door to get into the Division I game thanks to realignment. The WCHA presumably would have welcomed Moorhead with open arms to fill out a conference that will have space come 2013-14.
In the end, any expansion should be considered good, in my eyes. Losing out on Moorhead isn’t necessarily a significant blow in terms of the future of college hockey though. It wouldn’t have expanded college hockey’s footprint any, as it is well established in Minnesota/North Dakota. It wouldn’t have provided a big-name school to help generate exposure.
Not to say that Moorhead wouldn’t have been a nice addition. It would have been. It just wouldn’t have been a significant step forward. It’s disappointing for the school and probably for the WCHA, but in the end, it’s just another minor bump in the road for college hockey.
Coaches vs. Commissioners
Well, it’s been an interesting week in this saga, hasn’t it? The Commissioners asked Kelly to step down from College Hockey, Inc. The coaches weren’t happy about it, which they shared with Adam Wodon of College Hockey News. Kelly shared his side of things with USofH.
Wodon had his own column on Kelly’s remarks to me as well as the brewing discontent between the commissioners and coaches.
The situation, as I see it, is far from resolution. The coaches and commissioners can disagree all they want. Neither can do much beyond argue. The athletic directors are the ones that need to figure this thing out, and it won’t happen fast.
If we’ve learned anything about this whole process, as Wodon accurately states in his follow-up piece on CHN, is that the schools looking out for their own best interests will not change, no matter who’s in charge.
You can form a single entity, which I believe in principle is a fantastic idea, but without the support of the athletic directors, it won’t matter.
Now it’s a war of words and little action. What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that college hockey has given itself countless black eyes in the last year, and this whole saga is just another instance.
Frozen Four on TV
If you haven’t heard, the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four’s TV coverage is going to be a little different this year.
In years past, the semifinal portion of the Frozen Four was on ESPN2, with the final on ESPN. This year, however, each semifinal will be on ESPNU, with the championship game on ESPN2 (Schedule here).
The entire NCAA tournament will be available live on ESPNU and simulcast on ESPN3.com.
This has many of college hockey’s passionate fans up in arms, and rightfully so. The most important weekend in the college hockey season has been bumped to a secondary channel. The decreased exposure is not what college hockey would want. ESPNU is a premium channel on most providers, costing extra beyond the basic cable package, thus limiting the audience.
If you’re lucky enough to have ESPN3.com available in your area, you need not worry. You’ll still be able to see the Frozen Four and the tournament. Only it will be in front of the comforting, yet often diminished-quality glow of a computer screen. Not ideal for those of you hockey fans that have sunk many dollars into a large high-definition television.
It’s somewhat unfortunate, in a year that college hockey has gotten more TV exposure than ever before with coverage on NBC Sports Network, Big Ten Net Work, CBS Sports Network and Fox College Sports, its most visible day got bumped from its regular spot. The many hours of college hockey programming that ESPN hasn’t had to spend a dime on has brought more exposure to college hockey and offers free previews of what fans can expect to see on ESPN come Frozen Four time. It’s a free weekly commercial, building up to the most important weekend on the college hockey schedule.
From a programming standpoint, as tough as it is to say, ESPN probably had good reasons to bump the semis to the U. College hockey doesn’t get ratings. It does OK, but it doesn’t bring in big numbers and ESPN apparently has something that they think will do better on their flagship network.
College hockey fans are an easily-scorned lot and this is sure to make many upset. I’m not happy about it myself, but I’m also realistic. ESPN owes college hockey no favors. They also give ESPNU a chance to have a couple of marquee events in the Frozen Four semifinal games and could draw more eyeballs to ESPN’s JV network.
The championship game may be on The Deuce,
but last I checked, it’s not exactly a slam on college hockey to be on ESPN’s second-most-watched channel. It’s probably where it should be anyway. It’s still one great night of exposure for the college game.
It is still a great night of exposure, but upon further review and some very interesting stuff from Steve Lepore of Puck the Media, this is a bit of a knock. ESPN is moving college hockey’s championship game off of ESPN for the first time EVER. Since the late 1980′s, maybe earlier, the game has had a home on the WWL’s flagship. Why make the change now?
In a year where college hockey has been on TV more than ever before in my lifetime or anyone else’s, I hate to complain, but this is a tad frustrating. It may not be the end of the world, but its a kick in the pants to college hockey’s dedicated fan base that tunes in religiously each year.
This is also another instance of ESPN alienating the hockey community. Despite it’s fantastic internet coverage and the efforts of John Buccigross on Twitter, his podcast and on SportsCenter, ESPN has continually projected an image of indifference toward hockey and its fans. As a network that promotes itself as a Worldwide Leader in Sports, it has continually thumbed its nose to a sport that is growing in popularity worldwide.
The other bit of bad news for college hockey fans is that ESPN has the rights to the Frozen Four until 2020. Eight more years. If this is setting a precedent for what college hockey’s coverage will be going forward, it’s an unfortunate one.
I’m glad it’s on TV somewhere and will be available to more online, but the symbolism of this move does nothing to squash the notion that ESPN, by in large, doesn’t care about hockey or the people who love it.