Hockey fans disenfranchised by the NHL and the black hole that appears to be consuming the season may not find comfort soon. For a lot of NHL fans, it’s that league and nothing else when it comes to hockey, and it’s easy to understand.
The game as its played at the highest level cannot be replicated. The atmosphere surrounding an NHL game in person and even the television experience cannot be replicated. The media coverage will not be matched. The fan rituals won’t be the same.
That’s probably what NHL fans are going to have to understand as this season appears less and less likely to ever get off the ground. There is no way to replace the experience one gets from following the NHL, but there are ways to soften the blow.
If you’re in the U.S., the most accessible way to get some sort of hockey fix is through the college game. While college hockey does not have the same regional reach as the NHL, making it tougher for a large portion of the country to see Division I hockey live, the TV coverage has never been better.
Though Fridays and Saturdays aren’t big TV nights, if you miss hockey badly enough and you’re staying in, you’re at least going to have something. Which I promise you is better than nothing.
Coming up after the jump, more on letting college hockey fill your NHL void, UNH’s Kevin Goumas, Jerry York’s chance at history, and a look at why players leave mid-season.
This weekend, for instance, depending on the breadth of your cable or satellite package, you could choose from any of 10 games on TV, with tonight’s Michigan State at Notre Dame game most easily accessible on NBC Sports Network.
Now, if you’re accustomed to the NHL, college hockey is not going to fill all of your needs and no one should suggest it can. At the end of the day, it’s the same game with mostly the same rules, but a host of differences that may pique your interest.
Whether its pep bands, rowdy student sections, or unique traditions, there are a lot of things to like about college hockey and perhaps you’ll stick around even after the NHL comes back.
If you’re a fan of fighting, you won’t get that in college hockey. It’s not allowed, but it doesn’t make the game any less physical. The hits can be just as hard and the blood just as bad.
If you love the NHL, odds are you like hockey (just going out on a limb). Unfortunately for all of us, we’re going to be forced to go elsewhere for what appears to be a while. So flip your TV on tonight. You might like what you see.
York on Cusp of History
Jerry York’s next win won’t just be any old victory, it will be historic. Though in typical fashion, York doesn’t need the fuss to be about him. Even if it will be his longevity and consistency that will have got him here, York would prefer if his players got more of the praise.
As Boston College meets Providence on the road tonight, Jerry York will have the opportunity to become the sole owner of the record for all-time wins by a head coach in NCAA Division I hockey. He is currently tied with Ron Mason with 924 career wins behind the bench.
The Massachusetts native has become a symbol for college hockey’s past and present, for winning and perhaps most of all, for doing things the right way.
York has turned BC into the class of college hockey. He has won four national titles at his alma mater and another at Bowling Green. York has helped develop numerous players, putting them on a path to NHL careers and success at the game’s highest level.
Why do you think BC loses so few players to the CHL? If a player is committed to Boston College, no matter what NHL team drafts him, GMs are more than pleased to send them to York as opposed to convincing them to go north.
His success has not come at the expense of his personality. York is genuinely liked by his colleagues and respected by players and fans no matter their ties.
When he’s ready to hang up the whistle, and who knows when that will be, there should be a little spot cleared for him not just in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, but in the Hockey Hall in Toronto. He’s earned it.
Goumas on Fire
Though the UNH Wildcats lost their first game since reaching the No. 1 ranking in both major national polls, Kevin Goumas remained on fire. He scored a goal in last night’s 3-2 loss to Boston University to extend his point streak to 10 consecutive games. The junior ranks second nationally with 24 points, just one behind leader Kyle Flanagan of St. Lawrence.
Goumas is just 10 points shy of his total from last season in 21 fewer games so far. One more goal and he will match his personal best also from last year.
UNH’s ascent in the polls has matched the incredible production out of Goumas. In the dramatic 6-4 comeback win over then No. 2 Denver on the road, Goumas had two assists before notching a natural hat trick that tied, took the lead and iced the victory.
This week, Goumas made his debut on our Hobey Baker Watch at CBSSports.com, and if he can keep this up, he’ll stay there all year long.
The Long Beach, N.Y., native is undrafted, but could be hitting more NHL teams’ radars with the way he’s been able to take over games. The few times I’ve been able to watch UNH this year, Goumas has just jumped out every single time.
For a while there it looked like UNH was having success because of Casey DeSmith’s goaltending, which has also been phenomenal this year, but without an offensive catalyst like Goumas, it could be a different season.
Goumas has 11 more points than his next closest teammate, but the Wildcats have actually seen some very balanced goal scoring throughout the lineup. This team looks all the more for real by the week. A stumble against BU doesn’t change that.
The race for the Hockey East crown should be awfully interesting this year with UNH back in the mix.
Early December can be difficult for college hockey programs. As semesters near their close at college campuses across the country, some players have used that opportunity to start anew somewhere else.
Last year, Charlie Coyle announced he’d be leaving Boston University to pursue opportunities in the QMJHL, a league he’d eventually make a mockery of in the second half and throughout the postseason.
This year, BU has lost another Terrier to the Q. Junior forward Yasin Cissé, with just half a season of junior hockey eligibility left, has left the program to sign with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. The burly winger plays a fast, physical game, but has struggled to find his footing in college hockey due in part to injuries.
As a draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers, and therefore a prospect of the Winnpeg Jets, Cissé only posted seven points over 38 games spanning two-plus seasons at BU. His loss won’t be considered major for the Terriers, although it does negatively impact the depth of the team with college hockey’s toughest schedule to date.
Jack Parker didn’t pull any punches in a conversation with the Boston Hockey Blog, saying “I think he’s been close to leaving from the day he got here.”
The legendary coach also said, “I don’t think anybody can improve better playing in [major] juniors.”
Before anyone takes that out of context, be sure to note the word “better,” meaning the development is not inferior, just not better. It’s an opinion most college coaches have.
When it comes to development, a lot of folks try to make one out to be better than the other, as opposed to both being effective in a lot of different ways. So, I tend to agree with Parker in this case.
For Cissé, this may be a last-ditch effort and maintaining any prop prospects. He’ll have the opportunity to sign with Winnipeg, but he’ll need to have a monster second half in the Q to improve his chances of getting that contract offer.
Northeastern also lost a forward this week, as Joseph Manno has decided to leave the program, though he appears likely to stay on the college track as he’s headed to the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. He is the second Husky to depart in three weeks as Cam Darcy left school to play for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL as well.
Losing two forwards in the middle of the season like that certainly doesn’t help the Huskies, who have struggled with consistency since shocking BC in its Hockey East opener.
It wasn’t only current collegians jumping ship, however.
A player that would’ve been two years away from reaching a college campus has decided to head to the QMJHL. Conor Garland, a 1996-born forward has committed to the Moncton Wildcats after struggling to produce at the USHL level with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Garland was verbally committed to Penn State, but by signing with Moncton, will forgo his college eligibility.
Just 16 years old, Garland found as many his age have found that the USHL is an awfully tough league to produce in at a young age, with very few exceptions. The bigger, stronger, more defensively seasoned USHL is not conducive to major point explosions, particularly not from 16-year-olds. Prior to this year, Garland had never had trouble producing, scoring 65 goals for the Shattuck-St. Mary’s bantam team and he also put up 94 points for the Empire Junior Hockey League’s Boston Jr. Bruins last year.
Garland may find better success in the Q, but 16-year-old players tend to struggle in junior hockey in general. With just three points in six games, Garland may have felt a little more urgency to leave the typically more defensively stout play in the USHL. Going to the Q, however, is no guarantee for better results.
For Penn State, it’s another tough loss as the team had Thomas Welsh withdraw his commitment in September after being unable to “agree to terms” with the Nittany Lions, which is some peculiar wording. Welsh recently closed the door on college hockey entirely as he signed with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL.
The good news for PSU is that they’re identifying and getting commitments from sought after players. The bad news is that they lost two good recruits, which hurts more when building a program from scratch. Either way, Penn State and Guy Gadowsky should still be able to find good players to help build the program, but these are certainly setbacks.
Though all of these departures listed likely each had different circumstances surrounding them, the mid-season change of scenery is becoming increasingly more common in college and junior hockey.
Many of these players are chasing the same goal, the dream of being drafted and/or signed to an NHL contract one day. If they aren’t getting what they feel they need to reach that goal, they take their puck and go elsewhere.
This is another instance where leverage has taken over the developmental hockey ranks and where the current culture within the game is becoming more damaging for all involved.
The following may not be true of the instances listed above, but the regularity with which this is happening suggests certain trends about how players are attempting to get their way.
Ice time and roles shouldn’t be negotiable, but for a lot of coaches, they have to be in order to recruit and keep certain players. Coaches sometimes will make promises to players about playing time and roles, but almost always, particularly in college hockey, it comes with a qualifier: Those roles are available to the player if he earns it.
What a lot of players don’t seem to understand anymore, and that’s not to suggest that any of the players above were doing this per se, is as they go up the ranks in hockey, they’re not going to be the best player anymore. Not only that, but winning is at a premium as they climb the ladder and the coaches have to ice the best teams that give them a chance to win hockey games. That means earning ice time and playing well enough to keep it.
The current structure in hockey, where a player has numerous escape pods through the variety of junior hockey leagues until they’re 20 years old, might actually start hurting development.
One of the skills that players will have to acquire as they climb the hockey ranks is the work ethic required to earn a job. Every player that has made it to the NHL didn’t develop his skills because he was handed ice time without earning it. They played on the first power play unit because they were good enough to be on there. They were on the PK because their skills made them good enough to do that job.
The less time players spend worrying about how much power-play time they get or what line they’re on or who is ahead of them on the depth chart, the more time they’ll spend changing their situation with their play.
It’s a hard truth for a lot of players and not easy to stomach, but leaving the team that at least at some point had a belief in them that they could play an important role seems a bit counterproductive and anti-development.
As is often said to players at these delicate ages of development, “It’s all part of the process.” The sooner they learn that, the sooner they’ll develop the skills that give them a chance at a pro career.