It’s been a bit of a lighter content week here at USofH, due to some early-in-the-week travel and various projects, so I figured we should get caught up on what turned out to be a fairly busy week in American hockey.
Among the highlights of this week, was NBC Sports Group’s announcement that it will cover 16 college hockey games on the soon-to-be-renamed VERSUS beginning Dec. 31. Also, USA Hockey announced that it will be sending a team to the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, in January and also unveiled that team’s roster. Also, did you know we’re in the first few days of Come Play Youth Hockey Month? Well, we are. Find out more about Come Play Youth Hockey Month and how we’ll cover it on USofH.
All of that after the jump…
NBC Sports Group Green-Lights College Hockey
The biggest news of the week, to me at least, was that VERSUS, which will be re-branded as NBC Sports Network on Jan. 1, will carry no less than 16 college hockey games during the second half of this season.
The coverage begins on Dec. 31, with Boston University and Notre Dame leading off at 7 p.m. ET (Side note: Unfortunately, this game will go almost directly head-to-head with the USA-Canada World Junior Championship preliminary round game).
Here’s the full schedule via Puck The Media:
Saturday, Dec. 31 #12 Boston University at #4 Notre Dame 7:00 p.m. (VERSUS)
Jan. 6 Dartmouth at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 13 #14 Minnesota-Duluth at Nebraska-Omaha 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20 #3 Michigan at #4 Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27 #9 Yale at Harvard 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 3 Cornell at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 #1 Boston College at Vermont 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10 #5 Minnesota at #8 Denver 10:00 p.m.
Feb. 17 Dartmouth at #9 Yale 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 #12 Boston University at Vermont 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 #15 North Dakota at #8 Denver 10:00 p.m.
March 2 #8 Denver at Nebraska-Omaha 7:30 p.m.
Hockey East Tournament
March 9 Quarterfinals 7:30 p.m.
March 16 Semifinals 5:00 p.m. and 8 p.m.
March 17 Finals 8:00 p.m.
All rankings based off USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine 2011-12 Men’s College Hockey Poll #5 (October 31, 2011).
This is a pretty comprehensive schedule, spanning games in Hockey East, WCHA, CCHA and ECAC. That’s fantastic for college hockey. It is a comprehensive look at the NCAA’s current college hockey landscape and will also go into a variety of buildings across the country.
It’s a fantastic showcase for college hockey. There are plenty of highly competitive match-ups that will offer some entertaining games.
There is plenty of college hockey on TV this year already, but having the college game share a home with NHL hockey is the most important factor in this new development. NHL fans will be exposed to the college game for the first time in many cases, with plenty of commercials promoting the new college schedule during NHL broadcasts. It also fills a void on weekend nights where the NHL is unavailable to a national audience.
This is a huge development for college hockey.
USA Hockey Names Youth Olympic Team
For the first time in history, the International Olympic Committee is hosting a Youth Winter Olympics. Hockey will be part of this Olympic-style event and the U.S. will have a team participating.
The team will be comprised of players under the age of 16, meaning they’ll be from the 1996(!)-birth year. Former U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey coach Ben Smith will lead the U.S. Under-16 Boys’ Select Team.
Team USA will compete against squads from Canada, Russia, Finland and Austria (one of these teams is not like the others, one of these teams is not the same). Each country will be sending a squad of 17 of their very best 1996-birth years so this should be a truly interesting event.
The Under-16s are the youngest international competitors for USA Hockey, with the addition of this event.
It is likely that you’ll see many of these names on the NTDP’s U.S. National Under-17 Team come next fall, with some headed to the USHL.
A quick look at the roster:
Forward Blake Clarke is actually already playing Junior hockey. Most 15-year-olds don’t play Junior, but Clarke is skating for the Fargo Force. The youngster has appeared in just five of his team’s first 10 games and has registered a goal. He’s got really good size for a kid his age and hopefully will receive more ice in Fargo in the coming weeks.
Ryan MacInnis will get a lot of attention for his inclusion on this roster mainly because his father is former NHL star Al MacInnis. However, the younger MacInnis is one heck of a hockey player by all accounts and may be one of the best in this 1996 age group. He’s already 6-foot-3, but unlike his father, Ryan is a forward.
Another familiar last name on Team USA is Nick Schmaltz. He is the brother of 2012 NHL Draft prospect Jordan Schmaltz. The younger Schmaltz is a forward, unlike his older brother. One scout told me that Schmaltz may be one of the top two American players in this birth year and is going to be highly sought after by just about every developmental organization under the sun.
There is one other player on Team USA skating in Junior hockey this season. That player is Nathan Billitier, currently skating for the Rochester Stars in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He’s posted two assists in 13 games for the Stars, and his ability to compete against the older competition should come in handy when he gets back to playing his peers.
Team USA will bring two goaltenders, six defensemen and nine forwards. I was told the teams will play three 15-minute periods, hence the smaller roster.
The U.S. will open tournament play against host Austria on Jan. 14.
The tournament concludes with a championship game to be played on Jan. 22.
It’s a new event, but that should make it incredibly interesting to follow. These young players are getting a truly unique opportunity to represent their country on the international stage before any of their peers.
Also, for all you movie buffs, this tournament may be the closest we ever get to a real-life version of D2: The Mighty Ducks. If only Trinidad & Tobago was granted entry…. sigh.
COME PLAY YOUTH HOCKEY MONTH
The NHL, in conjunction with USA Hockey has dubbed November Come Play Youth Hockey Month.
The special month is higlighted by Try Hockey Free Day, which actually takes place Saturday, Nov. 5.
More than 430 rinks across the U.S. will be opening their doors to kids aged 4-9 to come out and try hockey for free Saturday. Kids will get a chance to wear the gear, receive instruction from coaches and push some pucks across the ice. Click this link to find out which rinks in your area are hosting a Try Hockey For Free event. It gives you a map and everything. It really couldn’t be easier.
If you’ve ever thought to have your child try youth hockey, tomorrow is a great opportunity to do it. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be your kid. It could be a neighbor, a niece or nephew, grandchild or just a family friend. If they have an interest, let them give it a shot. You’ll find that it’s just as much fun for you as it is for them.
There have been a zillion initiatives over the years to get more kids involved in hockey, but few are as effective or as easy-to-execute as Try Hockey Free Days. It’s a small thing to do to help grow the game and it has been helping attract more players every time.
Throughout the month of November, you can expect some more youth-hockey related content on United States of Hockey. The grassroots volunteers and players are the ones that keep hockey moving forward and we’ll be here to tell you all about them. If you have any youth hockey stories you’d like to share or know of a volunteer or player we should tell hockey fans about, email me at email@example.com, or leave a note in the comments.