Tuesday, December 7, 2010
My story regarding Saturday's outdoor meeting at Michigan Stadium between U-M and MSU - the "Big Chill at the Big House" that is expected to draw more than 109,000 fans - is now up as an Extra at USCHO.com. I also wrote a similar story that's now online at USAHockey.com and is called "Big House to Host Big Chill"
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Well, haven't been here in a while, and the 2010-11 college hockey season is now well underway. So much has happened since August, not the least of which was Penn State announcing a couple of months ago that it will move up to the NCAA Division I level for both men's and women's ice hockey in the next few years.
I don't know if I'm at all that crazy about a six-team Big Ten men's hockey conference, or any six-team league, for that matter; but if Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin and now Penn State decided to form their own gang (with TV undoubtedly driving that possibility), it could open up opportunities in already-established conferences for other schools. That would be Alabama-Huntsville, primarily, but maybe some other schools such as North Dakota State would be tempted to make the jump to Division I if there were spots open in the CCHA and WCHA. Going it as an independent these days is tough, even though I do remember the good old days in the late '80s and early '90s when the indy ranks included UAH, Air Force, Army, Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, Kent State and even Notre Dame ...
Boston College has stumbled a bit after starting out of the gate strong last month, while Boston University and Maine both look resurgent after somewhat-down campaigns last season, as does Notre Dame in leading the CCHA. Yale is off to a solid start at 5-1-0, last week’s loss at Air Force notwithstanding, while Princeton is leading the ECAC in conference play (yes, I know it's only been four games). Nebraska-Omaha has been one of college hockey’s biggest surprises so far in starting off its WCHA tenure with eight wins in its first 10 outings, surpassed only by Minnesota-Duluth at 9-1-2 overall and tops in the polls this week. Michigan, Miami and Alaska (Fairbanks) all look strong so far this fall, after all made the NCAA Tournament last spring.
Locally, Princeton - league-leading Princeton - hosts its true home opener on Friday night against Harvard, followed by a visit from Dartmouth on Saturday afternoon. Hard to believe it's been eight months since the Tigers’ ECAC first-round playoff loss to the Crimson, but that's the beauty of a new season - you get to try all over again.
Friday, August 20, 2010
The exodus from the Division I college ranks continues. About 30 players in all so far this summer have moved on to the major junior or professional ranks, with some or even all of their NCAA eligibility still remaining. The latest is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute rising sophomore forward Jerry D'Amigo, who last week passed up his final three (possible) collegiate seasons with the Engineers to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who drafted him in 2009 in the sixth round.
D'Amigo's a nice kid and a good player, and I found that out firsthand when I interviewed him earlier this year for a story that ran in USA Hockey Magazine:
He averaged nearly a point a game in college, and almost everyone knows how he helped the U.S. to a first-place finish in the World Junior Championships in Saskatchewan in January. Would he have been better served by sticking with RPI for another year, though, if not all three? Most likely - but pro teams nowadays seem to want to get their prospects signed and into their own systems ASAP, as if leaving them in school is such a terrible thing.
Never mind that players in college tend to be older and stronger, and you're playing against young men instead of still-developing teenagers. Weight training and off-ice conditioning in college also helps those players, or student-athletes, as they physically mature. And they’re working towards a degree - it might not be in plasma physics, but they’re getting their education, and have quite a bit of academic support to assist them. Some may not take advantage of all that is offered to them; but it is there, and it’s a lot easier when you have people assisting and even cajoling you to get things done. I’m not sure that happens in the CHL ranks, at least not to the extent of the college academic system.
Some say major junior is better because they play more games, but how much skill development really occurs in games? More often than not, players will just try not to make mistakes in a contest, whereas in college there are three or four practices a week where players can strive to better themselves and even try different tactics without the pressure that accompanies an actual game.
Some want the NHL to step in and perhaps establish a calendar moratorium on when players still in college can be signed away. I don't see that happening - the pros are a business, and to a lesser extent so is major junior, and of course they want to get the best players possible on their rosters. This plundering of the college system isn't good for the NCAA, though, and there's been strong words on both the college and junior sides about the spreading of falsehoods and the utilization of underhanded tactics and the like.
Just because a player is enrolled in school or has signed a letter of intent hasn’t kept the junior clubs from pursuing them until they wrest them away. College Hockey Inc. executive Paul Kelly supposedly wasn't even invited to the upcoming World Hockey Summit in Toronto - an oversight?
The truth is that players can stay in college all four years and still make the NHL - and do well. Montreal's Brian Gionta readily comes to mind, and he won an NCAA title with Boston College in 2001 and a Stanley Cup with New Jersey just two years later. He also has his bachelor's degree, has played in more than 500 NHL games, and has fashioned a half-dozen NHL campaigns of at least 20 goals apiece. Ryan Malone played four seasons at St. Cloud State and averaged almost a point per game, and has skated in more than 400 NHL outings, plus the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals with Pittsburgh. Rem Murray tallied more than 50 points in each of his four seasons at Michigan State while studying civil engineering, and went on to play in 560 NHL games. He also recovered from a debilitating muscular condition to help Edmonton to Game Seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.
You could argue the other side of the coin with a player like Bill Guerin, who has collected two Stanley Cup rings and more than 850 points with eight NHL clubs. He left Boston College after just two seasons - but he was also drafted fifth overall in 1989. So odds are he was going to make it. The same can’t be said of the kids who have just jumped from college after playing one or two years, and weren’t drafted nearly as high as Guerin, and are nowhere near as big or strong as he was at that age. (I felt like he was going to break my hand just from a simple handshake when he was a freshman at BC and I was a junior and a staff writer for The Heights student newspaper.)
How many of these kids who signed away their eligibility this summer will stick in “The Show” remains to be seen, but I'll wager none will make an impact or possibly even suit up in the NHL this season. And some may never get there.
Obviously major junior has been the feeder system to the NHL for a long, long time, and no can deny the talent of the truly elite players who have come out of the CHL, from Wayne Gretzky on down. Still, when you consider the benefits of increased practice time, off-ice conditioning, and allowing time for physical, mental and personal development, well, staying in school for the kids who aren’t quite Gretzky really isn't such a bad thing.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
... or rather, it continues.
Kyle Palmieri. Louis Leblanc. Nick Leddy. What do they all have in common?
They all played college hockey. That's right - played. As in done, or rather one and done. Each recently signed his first professional contract after just one season of play at the NCAA Division I college level. Palmieri departed Notre Dame for the Anaheim Ducks, Leblanc left Harvard for his hometown Montreal Canadiens, and Leddy is off to the Chicago Blackhawks organization from Minnesota.
Mind you, they've just signed contracts, not picked out their locker in an NHL dressing room. There's no guarantee any of them will be in the "The Show" next season, or ever, but their college eligibility is kaput. Such is the nature of the beast with elite players, but more and more it seems like college is becoming a stopover for some skaters. Two semesters of play and study, and they're off - barely enough time to arrange their dorm room before they pack their bag for their pro career.
Players are going to leave early every year, but after just one college campaign? Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkader both left Michigan State after its 2007 NCAA title, and Nathan Gerbe followed suit a year later when Boston College won the whole thing; but each of those guys played three collegiate seasons. None of them has really become a fixture with his respective NHL team - Kennedy was just waived by Buffalo, and Gerbe has had trouble sticking with those same Sabres. Abdelkader scored two goals in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals and spent the first half of last season with Detroit, but was later sent back to the Red Wings' AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.
Makes you wonder how Palmieri, Leblanc and Leddy might fare when it's their turn. Being all first-round draft choices, the odds are in their favor that they'll (eventually) make it - but will any of them make a bigger impact than Kennedy, Abdelkader or Gerbe did in their first few NHL seasons? Or any of the other players who will eschew a scholarship for a one- or two-way contract between now and Opening Night?
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Hear that? It’s silence. That’s good as far as college hockey is concerned, after some of the goings-on that took place not long after the 2010 Frozen Four was finished.
Three Boston College freshmen were passengers on a sport-utility vehicle that was struck by an MBTA Green Line trolley in late April, with alcohol possibly having been a factor in the crash. Just days later, two Notre Dame freshmen were charged in another alcohol-related incident in Indiana. Finally, in early May, Boston University dismissed two players and suspended another for violations of team rules.
Regardless of the various circumstances in these incidents, it’s very easy to sit back as adults and say these kids should have known better, but that’s it - they are kids, no matter how big some of them look standing on a blueline. Saying they’re kids doesn’t excuse things they’ve done, but being younger, they are going to try different things - not necessarily all for the better - and they’re going to make mistakes, some more severe than others. They don’t have the experience most of the rest of us do, the kind you only get from living. Most of us now wouldn’t even think of doing things in our 30s or 40s that we did without hesitation in our teens and 20s.
It’s maturity, which a lot of kids simply don’t have while they’re in college.You could have a parent, guardian or mentor try to lecture you on right or wrong until they’re blue in the face, but their words probably won’t fully sink in until you’ve actually lived what they’re trying to teach you. That’s true for most people growing up - the question is, do they actually learn from their experiences?
Compounding the problem may be the sense of entitlement among some student-athletes, that they can do whatever they want simply because they’re on a varsity team. Hockey isn’t necessarily immune to this - but just because you can skate faster or shoot harder or were drafted higher than most everyday individuals shouldn’t entitle you to a free pass when you do something morally wrong or against the law. Unfortunately, though, sometimes that stuff does get swept under the rug at some schools because in the end, “they’ve got games to play”.
That isn’t right, either. It’s not fair to rush to judgment like the MBTA did in outright blaming the BC students in the Green Line collision before all the facts were in; but if students do something wrong and are just told that they were wrong and simply have to do community service as a result, what does that teach them? They would probably just gripe about the community service and not learn that there can be severe consequences for actions taken. Thankfully no one was killed in that MBTA crash - but what if someone had been?
The problem of entitlement is definitely more pronounced at the professional level. Sometimes the sports pages read more like a police blotter, with all the trouble that pro athletes seem to enmesh themselves in nowadays. Some of them think they can get away with absolutely anything just because of who they are and who they play for; and unfortunately that attitude, especially in today’s instantaneous information age, trickles down to the college and perhaps even high school levels. Some players have had their egos fed for so long because of how fast they can run a 40-yard dash that they think they’re above the rules the rest of us have to follow. Sometimes the law lets them off the hook, too, imparting more negative lessons to the youth who look up to those “role models”.
The three things that took place early this off-season don’t mean there’s some kind of epidemic of lawlessness about to run rampant in college hockey, with the familiar two-note clang from "Law & Order" right behind. The schools that had problems in April and May are all led by veteran coaches - BU seems to have taken care of their situation, and BC and Notre Dame will more than likely handle their own incidents in proper fashion. Let’s hope things stay silent on or near those campuses and everywhere else, at least for these next three months, until the puck drops again in college rinks all over the country.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 OT win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the 2010Stanley Cup Finals tonight just about signals the end of yet another on-ice campaign - minus the Calder Cup Finals in the American Hockey League, which is currently tied at two games apiece between Texas and Hershey.
It was a season (so far) in which Chicago won it all in the NHL for the first time since 1961; Canada claimed both men's and women's Olympic hockey gold on home soil in Vancouver; the Czech Republic took home the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship; a Boston school earned a third consecutive NCAA Division I men's hockey national title, with Boston College accomplishing the feat for the second time in three years; and the OHL's Windsor Spitfires dominated their major junior competition in winning their second straight Memorial Cup.
There's two neat things that stand out about the Blackhawks winning the Cup for the first time in 49 years, among other notes such as Marian Hossa earning his first Cup in his third straight Finals with three different teams. This year's Cup-winning goal was netted by an American in Buffalo-born Patrick Kane, even if most people had no idea where the puck went after he shot it until the play was reviewed. After the goal was ruled good, the Cup was first lifted by a former collegiate player in Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. The former North Dakota Fighting Sioux also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, tying a Blackhawks playoff record with 29 points.
Toews wasn't along among ex-NCAA players who helped Chicago claim its fourth-ever Cup. Former UVM Catamount forward Patrick Sharp scored 11 goals for the Hawks this spring, including one in the Game 6 clincher, while former Michigan State defenseman Duncan Keith contributed 17 points and seven teeth to the Chicago cause this spring. John Madden (Michigan) earned his third Cup ring in his first season with his new team to go along with his 1996 NCAA title with the Wolverines, while Adam Burish (Wisconsin) can now add a Cup to his 2006 national championship with the Badgers. And in the same year that the University of Alaska Fairbanks made the NCAA Hockey Tournament for the first time ever, Nanook alumnus Jordan Hendry won his first NHL title.
The Flyers had a smaller share of contributing collegians in their amazing postseason run, as youngsters Matt Carle (Denver), Darroll Powe (Princeton), Jared Ross (Alabama-Huntsville) and James Van Riemsdyk (UNH) all saw playoff action for Philadelphia. The Flyers went from barely qualifying as the Eastern Conference seventh seed after winning a shootout on the last day of the regular season, to coming within two victories of winning hockey's biggest prize.
So that's it for the NHL this season. After the AHL gets done in the next week or so, hockey goes dark until it all starts again in September. There's 88 days until Labor Day, one night after the Blackhawks No. 88 (Kane) finally made it Chicago's year.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
So Ohio State went the outside route in hiring Wisconsin assistant Mark Osiecki to coach the Buckeyes. Good move for OSU, Big Ten or otherwise - Osiecki is a proven coach and recruiter, and they needed a shakeup at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
I was in the tail end of my first season as Michigan State's SID when John Markell took over the Ohio State program and then led it to new heights in his 14-year tenure. That elevation included six NCAA Tournament invitations, topped by an NCAA Frozen Four appearance in Boston in 1998. Perhaps things simply stagnated for both Markell and the Buckeyes after so long together, but he should be thanked for his contributions while this new chapter in program history unfolds. Markell's tenure also followed a 20-year stretch by Jerry Welsh, so Osiecki becomes just the third head coach behind the Buckeye bench since 1975.
A member of Wisconsin's 1990 NCAA Championship team who helped the Badgers get back to the national title game this spring, Osiecki spent seven successful seasons as the coach and general manager of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers before returning to his alma mater. Prior to his juniors stint, he also helped North Dakota claim a national crown in 1996-97.
Now he's taking the reins of a program that seemingly has the resources, along with potential that hasn't always been realized. Don’t expect the Buckeyes to suddenly sell out all 17,500 seats at Value City Arena on a regular basis, but hopefully Osiecki can get OSU to compete regularly for the CCHA title and an annual NCAA berth.
Now if he could just do something about the fact that the Buckeyes are forced to play at the old OSU Ice Rink when they host the first round of the CCHA playoffs …
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
They may not be burning up the statistical scrolls, but former NCAA Division I college players have so far been all over the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Look at Los Angeles, back in the post-season after an eight-year hiatus (seven, if you count the ill-fated and idiotic 2004-05 NHL lockout). Goaltender Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts) had stopped 90 of 98 shots in his Stanley Cup debut to help the Kings to a 2-1 series lead over Vancouver and former U.S. Olympic teammate Ryan Kesler (Ohio State). Quick has gotten support from teammates such as Jack Johnson (Michigan), who has posted five assists so far in his own playoff inauguration, while Kesler had put up four assists for the Canucks.
New Jersey’s fortunes will be largely attuned to how well the former North Dakota Fighting Sioux duo of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac fare up front. Zajac scored the Devils’ only goal in Game One against the rival Flyers, while Parise tallied a goal and assisted on the game-winner in Game Two. The Devils then got two power-play goals from veteran forward Brian Rolston (Lake Superior State) in a Game Three overtime loss at Philadelphia, which has gotten one assist apiece so far from Matt Carle (Denver) and rookie James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire). Andy Greene (Miami) has a goal and an assist for the Devils, while Darroll Powe (Princeton) is a +1 in three games for the Flyers and was often seen a-waltzing and a-facewashing with Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk in Game Three.
Buffalo’s fortunes may turn on when (and if) sniper supreme Thomas Vanek (Minnesota) gets back in the Sabres’ lineup to help out goaltender Ryan Miller (Michigan State), who surrendered just two goals in Game 3 in Boston but still absorbed a loss. Blake Wheeler (Minnesota) has two assists in three games so far for the opposing Bruins.
Colorado won two of its first three games against top-ranked San Jose, with Paul Stastny (Denver) chipping in with three assists after recording a team-best 59 helpers in the regular season. Rookie forward Brandon Yip (Boston University) had collected a goal and an assist in his first foray into the pro post-season, while John-Michael Liles (Michigan State) scored the Avs’ first goal of this year’s playoffs. On the other side of that series, veteran Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (Miami) suffered the ignominy of launching the shot that ultimately wound up behind his goaltender in overtime of a 1-0 loss in Game Three. Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) had gotten San Jose to overtime in Game Two, in the only contest claimed by the Sharks so far.
Jimmy Howard (Maine) has struggled in his Stanley Cup debut, surrendering four goals in a 4-2 loss in Game Three against Phoenix that put his Detroit Red Wings down by a game after three contests. Justin Abdelkader (Michigan State), who scored twice in the Finals last year, chipped in with a goal in Game Two in a 7-4 Wings’ win in Arizona. Lee Stempniak (Dartmouth) and Adrian Aucoin (Boston University) each had an assist in the first three games for the surprising Coyotes.
Montreal got off to a good start in edging No. 1 Washington in their opener, although the Capitals rebounded to win the next two meetings. Michael Cammalleri (Michigan) led the Habs with a goal and four assists through three games, while Brian Gionta (Boston College) had a goal and an assist. Mike Knuble (Michigan) has three assists so far and Tom Poti (Boston University) has two for the Caps, who would have also had a UMass alumnus in rookie surprise John Carlson had he not elected to go the major junior route with London (OHL).
Defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh rebounded for a two games-to-one lead over Ottawa thanks to three points from Bill Guerin (Boston College), two from Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), and one from Alex Goligoski (Minnesota). Brian Elliott (Wisconsin) had stopped 66 of 76 shots so far for the opposing Senators.
Have to look a lot harder to find former collegians in the Chicago-Nashville match-up. Jonathan Toews (North Dakota) has one assist so far for the higher-seeded Blackhawks, while Colin Wilson (Boston University) had been held pointless in his first two career Stanley Cup playoff outings with the Predators.
Multiple players with college ties, eight different playoff series, and as many as four games in one night - yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the hockey year. After the NCAA Tournament, that is.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Looks the NCAA Championship trophy is just going back up the Green Line.
Boston College won its fourth national title ever, and second in three years, with tonight's dominating performance in a 5-0 win over Wisconsin before a record crowd of 37,592 at Ford Field in Detroit. The Eagles again blew the game open in the third period, tallying two goals in a span of 2:02 to make it 3-0, and then added two more scores to put the favored Badgers and Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Blake Geoffrion away and bring another title back to Chestnut Hill.
Senior forwards Ben Smith and Matt Price each scored goals in their final appearances for BC, with Smith tallying the game-winning goal and also earning Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player accolades, and Price hitting an empty net. Sophomore forward Cam Atkinson scored twice, giving him a nation-best 30 goals, and junior goaltender John Muse stopped all 20 shots he faced, including several tough ones early on, in earning the shutout and his eighth win in eight career NCAA Tournament games.
Hockey East has now won three consecutive national championships, with BU's victory last year sandwiched between a pair of BC crowns. Since April 2008, the NCAA trophy has figuratively traversed a round trip of just 14 miles - and who knows, it could stay out East again next season.
I'm a little surprised that BC won both games at this year's Frozen Four by such lopsided scores. Wisconsin had a good team, and so did Miami; but speed kills, and BC has plenty of that. Their forwards may be undersized, but they're tough to catch and know what to do with the puck when they get an opportunity. They also know how to string goals together in bunches, as evidenced again tonight, and the freshman defensemen sure look like they grew up fast.
A lot of people wrote the Eagles off after they surrendered seven goals in winning the NCAA Northeast Regional final two weeks ago in Worcester, but apparently BC Head Coach Jerry York and company made the right adjustments over the last two weeks. Besides recruiting players with speed and skill, they also recruit players who buy into the team concept and who play defense - a testament to that was how hard BC players backchecked tonight, even when they had three- and four-goal leads.
They never really let the Badgers get going, or the Red Hawks before them, and now the Eagles are national champions. Again.
The football stadium experiment for the Frozen Four may not have been a complete success, but is there any doubt for college hockey fans that this is the best time of the year? Maybe the NCAA Hockey Tournament doesn't have the national following or media coverage that that other tourney with the bouncing orange ball does . It probably never will, either, but so what? For those of us who love this game, it's our own well-kept little secret. Getting the whole country involved would be nice, but it's not necessary.
The only negative tonight for me and many others is that it's six months until the puck drops again in college hockey rinks. The memories of tonight, though, will last even longer for us Eagle alumni. And this fall I'm going to try to get to BC's Conte Forum BEFORE they raise the championship banner, instead of getting stuck in traffic on the Mass Pike.
Congratulations, Eagles, and see you in October.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Boston College got the job done against Miami last night, blowing open a two-goal game with four scores in just over six minutes en route to a 7-1 win at Ford Field in Detroit in a national semifinal.
The Eagles used their speed to great advantage in going up 3-0 before the second period was four minutes old, and dictated the overall pace of the game. Ben Smith scored two goals and set up another, Joe Whitney had a goal and two assists, the Eagle defense was suffocating, and John Muse made some key stops in net in helping BC to its third national title tilt in four seasons.
On to tomorrow’s NCAA Championship Game against Wisconsin.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The naysayers for Boston College have been out since before the NCAA Northeast Regional ended in Worcester two weeks ago.
"BC can't play good defense."
"Their goaltender has too many holes."
"They're going to get embarrassed at Ford Field."
And BC won the Regional, by the way.
Maybe I'm biased because I'm an alumnus, but I have confidence that BC can top top-ranked Miami tonight in Detroit and move on to the NCAA Championship game at Ford Field on Saturday evening.
As to the first criticism, BC's biggest problem on defense is that they're young, and start no less than three freshmen in Patch Alber, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson. (It might be four if Patrick Wey wasn't sidelined with mononucleosis.) They're willing to hit, and they move the puck well; but sometimes they don't get it out, or don't rub opponents out, which is what happened in the 9-7 regional final win over Yale. The blueliners need to play a little grittier and not panic when things break down, and keep enemy forwards from skating to the net with impunity, and I'm sure they've worked on those shortcomings since March 28. The BC forwards will also have to continue to come back and help out defensively, and get in the face of opposing point men when they have the puck.
As for the second stigma, BC edged Alaska, 3-1, in the first round of the Regional, and Muse had a lot to do with that. If he didn't play the way he did that afternoon, there's a good chance the Nanooks move on to play Yale, and not the Eagles. Also, Yale was actually a pretty potent team this year, averaging more than four goals per game (no cracks about the ECAC, please), plus no less than three of the goals the Bulldogs scored against BC were on deflections in close. Those are tough for any netminder to stop, and Muse can't do it all by himself. Luckily he won't have, to if teammates apply themselves (see above).
As to the third charge - they've been to this stage before. The juniors and seniors on this year's BC team helped the Eagles to a national title two years ago in Denver, and they know what it takes to win it all. The seniors also know what it's like to come up on the short end in the last game, a la Michigan State in 2007, and you can bet they don't want to repeat that experience in their final weekend as collegians.
Concerning intangibles, the Eagles most of all have a solid coaching staff, led by Jerry York - you don't think they've worked on things the last 11 days to shore up the weaknesses that presented themselves at the Regional? Plus, the Eagles have shown they can definitely score goals this year - Cam Atkinson, Brian Gibbons, Joe and Steve Whitney, even Matt Lombardi as of late - and with their speed and tenacity up front, they can still light the lamp as well as anyone. (Hopefully the temporary ice surface at Ford Field holds up and permits them to use their skating ability.)
It won't be a cakewalk, of course. Miami is a very good team, with their own group of talented players who have been to the Frozen Four before. The Red Hawks (the old Redskins) would like nothing better than to erase last year's last-minute national heartbreak against BU, plus three years of coming up short in the NCAAs to the Eagles. They also have the memory of Brendan Burke to spur them on this time out.
But BC is here, and while they're here, the Eagles might as well win it. Whether they win 2-1 or 10-7 doesn't matter, which is as much as what York said in Worcester following the Yale shootout. As long as you're on the left side of the score, it doesn't matter how you do it, just so long as you do it.
BC can win tonight's game. As for Saturday - well, let's see about tonight first.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Well, I finally got my wish.
Boston College finally played the University of Alaska Fairbanks in men’s ice hockey in this year’s NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass. I was there to see it , and I could not have been happier - or more conflicted. I graduated from BC in 1991, and then spent the 1991-92 season working in sports information with the hockey program at UAF (I still can’t bring myself to simply call it “Alaska”.)
It’s not the first time something like this has happened to me in college hockey or the NCAA Tournament. I was the hockey sports information director at Michigan State University from 1994 to 1996, and was on proverbial pins and needles three springs ago when the Spartans edged BC in St. Louis for the national title. I felt somewhat good for the many friends I’d made at State, as they could celebrate a national championship for the first time since 1986. As an alumnus, though, I was devastated by the Eagles’ loss, just one year after coming up similarly short in the title game at Wisconsin.
I’ve kind of convinced myself since that 2007 game that BC and MSU are two of the perennial powers in Division I hockey (yes, I know the Spartans have not qualified for the NCAAs since 2008) and will likely knock heads every so often at the national level. I’ve even gotten used to MSU and UAF facing off, since they’re both in the CCHA.
But BC and UAF? Sometimes I thought that the Eagles and Nanooks (that’s polar bears, for the non-Inuit out there) would never meet, unless BC was invited to the Brice Alaska Goal Rush in Fairbanks one of these Octobers. USCHO’s Jayson Moy had actually predicted in a very early Bracketology back in November that UAF and BC would meet in in the first round of the NCAAs, but really, who thought that could possibly hold up throughout an entire season and into the actual selections?
Lo and behold, though, it worked out, albeit in Worcester rather than Albany. And more than 18 years after I left Logan Airport in Boston for an 18-hour journey that ended at Fairbanks International Airport, the Maroon and Gold finally met the Blue and Gold, and in the NCAA Tournament no less.
And UAF played well. Really well, as in well enough to win and make battle-tested BC 0-3 all-time in the national tournament against teams from the 49th State - and I’ve attended all three of those games. My interest in the Great White North was originally piqued when visiting Alaska Anchorage swept the Eagles in a best-of-three NCAA first-round series in March 1991, back when the first two rounds of the tournament were still played on campus sites.
Five months later I was in Fairbanks, more than 4,000 miles from home, and nearly two decades later I sometimes still can’t believe I went through with it. It’s one thing to say you’d like to visit Alaska, or take a cruise up there. Try living there for eight months, including the winter, where snow falls in October (when it’s late), the sky becomes perpetually overcast, and the temperature ultimately drops to minus-50 degrees with no wind chill.
Now consider all that when you originally hail from the East Coast. I had never been farther west in my life than Ohio to that point, and I could measure the distance on a map between Fairbanks and my hometown in New Jersey with almost an entire yard stick.
It’s a unique place, to be sure. And a special one, made even more special by some of the people I was fortunate enough to encounter. I’ve only made it back once, in January 1996 with Michigan State, but I’ve still kept in touch with a number of UAF people over the years. Facebook has helped tremendously over the past year - it also provided some friends who are former UAF players (yes, Klip, that would be you in particular) with a forum to tell me I should be wearing Blue and Gold when the Nanooks played BC.
Actually, had UAF won the 1991 NCAA Independent Tournament in Anchorage, the Nanooks would have earned an automatic berth and headed east to play at BC’s Conte Forum. Instead it was the rival Seawolves, although BC was scheduled to play at UAF in the next year or so as part of was then known as the Great Alaska Face-Off tournament in Fairbanks. For whatever reason, though, that didn’t materialize, either. And so my own personal wait extended until last week in Worcester.
This probably isn’t the best analogy, but I guess you can compare the two schools to two girls you’ve dated. The alma mater is like the girl you dated a long time ago. You’ve moved on to other things, and don’t see each other very often, but you still share a unique bond you’ve never shared with anyone else, and never will.
The second school is the girl from almost as long ago. What you had didn’t last very long, and the meetings are even less frequent; but she is also quite special, and you could never forget her.
Then those two girls finally meet - and pretty much start beating the crap out of each other. Sort of Saturday’s game in a nutshell for me.
I was sitting rinkside at the DCU Center, a place I’d never been to before, ironically between the dasher board decals that spelled out "Alaska" and "Boston College". I was situated against the glass to the left of the net defended by BC junior goaltender John Muse for two periods. All the goals were scored down the other end of the ice, but that was the net the Nanooks swarmed in the final minutes of regulation, where they got off several shots that were stopped, blocked, went wide, or struck metal. A bounce or two left or right, and the game would have been tied.
Matt Lombardi scored shorthanded for the Eagles in the opening period. Anthony Taranto answered for the Nanooks in the second stanza. Pat Mullane put BC back up by a goal early in the third. After that it went back-and-forth, with BC trying to hold on, and UAF working overtime to stave off elimination and force OT.
As a BC alumnus, the clock couldn’t count down fast enough. As someone who had worked with the Nanooks, it was oh so close. BC held on to win, with Matt Price “scoring” an empty-net insurance goal in the final seconds, and advance to the regional final; but UAF was just that close to knotting and possibly even winning an NCAA Tournament contest in its first-ever invite to the big dance.
Afterwards I got to see several people from Fairbanks whom I had not seen in a very, very long time. I hadn’t seen Bruce Cech, the one-and-only radio Voice of the Nanooks, since 2000 at Michigan State. I hadn’t seen Dean Fedorchuk, a Hobey Baker Award finalist as senior, since a 1993 series at Elmira, the last time that UAF had ventured this far east. Talking to them again, though, it was like little or no time had passed since I used to keep the shot chart on the concourse at the Carlson Center at Nanook home games that one short year I was there.
I even got to talk by cell phone to Scott Roselius, who has worn practically every hat for Nanook Hockey that you can think of, from player to rink manager to sports information director and more. He helped to get the NCAA game against BC broadcast live back in Fairbanks at UAF’s Patty Center, and talking to him I could sense his pride in the Nanooks having finally made their national debut.
I could sense that pride from everyone associated with Nanook Hockey, including Jack Townshend, a long-time Fairbanks resident whom I had never met before but who has followed the UAF program since its inception in the 1980s; and current Nanook Head Coach Dallas Ferguson, who was a sophomore defenseman on that team that played at Elmira so long ago. I was present for that series, too, as it was the closest UAF had ever come to my neck of the woods.
Until last weekend, that is. Former UAF Head Coach Guy Gadowsky was also around in Worcester, as a member of the NCAA Tournament Committee; but I get to bother him 12 to 15 times a season in covering his current school, Princeton University, for USCHO.com as an arena reporter.
I was at the Northeast Regional as a fan, however, and as one of two schools. I met BC sophomore forward Cam Atkinson that night at the hotel shared by both BC and UAF, so maybe that helped him garner a hat trick in the regional final (yeah, sure). BC ultimately won a home run derby against a gritty Yale squad the following afternoon to advance to the Frozen Four for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and I again felt the pride I have always felt when the Eagles get this far, with the hope and anticipation of possibly even greater things to come.
I also felt pride for their first-round opponent from far away, even in a defeat that could have easily been victory. The Nanooks showed the college hockey world world that they also belong, and that even greater things should come for them, too.
Go Eagles. Go Nanooks.
Originally written 06/13/2009
For the second time in 14 years, Bill Guerin of Boston College will have his name engraved on hockey's greatest prize, the Stanley Cup. For the first time ever, younger BC alums Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi will join him as their Pittsburgh Penguins outlasted the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, 2-1, in the seventh and deciding game on Friday night before just over 20,000 fans at Joe Louis Arena in southeastern Michigan. Guerin didn’t figure in the scoring in the series finale, even though he finished third on Pittsburgh's playoff scoring scroll, but still won his first Cup since 1995 with the New Jersey Devils, the club that drafted him fifth overall (in the world) in the summer of 1989.
I met Billy later that year when he was a freshman at BC and I was a junior sports writer for The Heights student newspaper at the Catholic institution in Chestnut Hill, Mass. I remember how big he was (6-2, 220) and how strong his handshake was (felt like my hand was fractured), and I was certainly glad I wasn't an opposing player for, say, Boston University. He hit like a freight train and had a rocket for a shot, and really established himself as a sophomore when he scored a league-high 22goals as he helped BC to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. I still have the flag-on-a-hockey-stick somewhere that Billy waved around the Conte Forum ice after BC ousted Minnesota in the 1990 NCAA quarterfinals, when that round was still played on campus sites.
Billy left BC after two seasons to turn pro, and I didn't see him again until the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs when I was a media relations intern with the Devils and he was beginning to establish himself as an NHL player. He was still the same guy I knew from college, gregarious and easy-going, who wasn't too good for you because he was now a big-time athlete. I haven't seen him in the 15 years since, as he has gone on to skate for seven more NHL organizations, including the Penguins after joining them at the trading deadline this spring from a hapless organization on Long Island. Listening to him on TV these past few weeks as Pittsburgh progressed through the playoffs, though, it's clear he's still the same old Billy, even at age 38.
And now he's a Stanley Cup champion again. My brother and father and I stood here in Jersey and applauded as he skated the Cup around the ice in Detroit on June 12, not only for winning the greatest trophy in all of sports, but for making Boston College and Eagle Hockey proud once again. His photo, alongside that of Orpik and Scuderi, will surely grace one of the inside covers of the 2009-2010 BC Hockey Media Guide, along with the familiar catchphrase, "The Road to the Stanley Cup begins in Chestnut Hill".
Congratulations, Billy. Sometimes good guys do finish first.
(On the other side, the Red Wings have to make a place for Michigan State alum Justin Abdelkader next season - he's young, but he could have given them some jump in the finale as Detroit looked sluggish from the middle of the first period on. Lord knows the kid was up to the task after scoring insurance goals in both Games 1 and 2 of the Finals, the first two goals of his NHL career. Some of the older Wings looked tired as Game 7 wore on, and Detroit needs some new blood in the lineup on a more consistent basis. It's understandable to want to go with experienced guys who got you to the summit before, but some of those skaters are nearing the end of the line and new blood like Abdelkader is definitely needed. Hopefully he graduates full-time from Grand Rapids (AHL) this fall and wears the Winged Wheel for good.)
Originally written 06/27/2008
One of the best men I have ever known in my life passed away quietly on Saturday afternoon in Lansing, Michigan. He was Gerald R. "Jerry" Marshall, the long-time renowned public address announcer for Michigan State University ice hockey and baseball, and a good friend of mine since I first got out there in the fall of 1994.
"Chief" was the guy I always talked to on MSU Spartan Hockey home game nights for two seasons at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, when I was interning in the Spartan athletic department as the hockey publicity contact. A phone line ran from the Munn press box (me) down to the scorer's table (him), where we'd exchange information along the lines of penalties, out-of-town scores, promotions, time-outs and other game goings-on. I also got to know him outside the rink and discover what a great person he was, as well as one of the staunchest allies and supporters both Michigan State and Spartan Athletics has ever had.
Jerry always had a great wit, as he'd often pick up his extension during games and answer with "Jose's Bar & Grill," which still makes me smile a decade-and-a-half later. He was a fixture as the radio host of the "The Ron Mason Show", the MSU hockey coach's program on Wednesday winter nights, whether they were held at the now-departed Sneeker's or the still-going Reno's East. Those were some of the most fun times I've ever had in my life, even after I had moved on from MSU, and Jerry never failed to mention me or thank me for my assistance on providing him with stats and other information even though I ranked just above a student assistant in the athletic department hierarchy.
I also worked with Jerry during the 1995 Spartan baseball season in a derelict old mobile trailer at Kobs Field, and his warmth and humor were no less engaging then they had been at hockey. In fact, the hockey rink was probably warmer than that trailer, which thankfully never fell down and is now being replaced, although the new press box will never have known Jerry's voice.
We still kept in touch after I left State and moved on, including two more stints that I spent in Michigan although outside the Lansing area. He even made it a point to announce my presence to the MSU Blue Line Club hockey booster crowd in 1999 when I attended their pre-game luncheon before that year's Spartan Hockey Senior Night. I actually flew to Michigan from New Jersey on my own dime because my last group of players from three years earlier was graduating, and I thought it was important to be there for them. Senior Night at Michigan State is an art form in itself of how to say goodbye to your senior student-athletes, and a lot of that had to do with Jerry and his PA recap of each player's Spartan Hockey career, before they took a final solo swing around the Munn ice surface to the sterling strains of the MSU Fight Song.
Jerry was doing well when I next saw him in the summer of 2002, but he suffered a debilitating stroke in the last couple of years that severely impacted his health. I saw him for the last time when I visited in September, just my second visit to the Spartan State in the eight years since I moved back east. He had to get around with a cane, and he tired easily, but his wit and humanity were both still intact, and it was good to reminisce with him, even for just a few hours.
It was a bittersweet reunion, and as I hugged him good-bye as I left the farm that evening, this dreadful feeling welled up inside me that it would be the final time I would see him in this life. Sadly, it was, as he suffered another stroke soon after that took him away from his beloved PA and radio show duties and silenced his golden voice altogether. His last appearance at the scorer's table in Munn was that October night when MSU raised its 2007 NCAA Hockey Championship banner to the arena rafters for all time.
I don't care as completely now that State's victory that spring came against my alma mater, Boston College, because I'm glad that Jerry got to see a white-and-green national title banner go up one last time. No disrespect to the men who have called MSU games on radio and TV over the years, but Jerry was THE voice of Spartan Hockey for more than three decades. His successor has a very tough act to follow, and I don't envy him.
I feel guilty and even numb for not having known sooner that Jerry had passed, having just found out today on the Internet. I feel guilty and numb for not having attended his wake or his funeral, money and distance notwithstanding. And I especially feel guilty and numb for not having picked up a phone in recent weeks to speak to his wife just to see how they were doing. I knew I should have, but I didn't make the time because I always thought "tomorrow", and now it's something I'm going to have to live with. I do take some solace in the fact that, although he is gone, he is no longer suffering.
Now I will honor him in any way I can. Of course he will be in my prayers, as will his wife, Marty, and his family. I'll make a donation in his name to the Ralph Young Fund, the fundraising arm of MSU Athletics. I'll tell people both verbally and in writing what a privilege it was to have known him. I will think of him every time I hear the MSU Fight Song.
And even though I'm sad and depressed and have a migraine as I type this, I am going to pickup hockey tonight and will do my damnedest to score a goal for him while adorned in Michigan State Spartan green and white, even if I break a bone or two in crashing the net looking for a loose puck. It won't fill all the hurt I feel inside, but it's the least I can do in his memory. (Scoring goals, not breaking bones, although that would be OK, too.)
Lastly, I remember when my folks came out to visit me in Michigan in the summer of 1997 and met Jerry at his Sears office at the Frandor shopping center in Lansing. He welcomed them warmly, told them it was a pleasure to meet them, and ultimately related to them that I was like a favorite nephew to him. Well, Jerry, you were like a favorite uncle to me, and my life was much better for having had you in it the past 14 years. Michigan State will not be the same place without you, whether at Munn or anywhere else.
Thank you for all that you did, and especially all that you did for me. You were truly one-of-a-kind, and I am truly thankful to have known you and been your friend.
God bless, Chief, and rest in peace.
The third time really was the charm ...
The old alma mater, Boston College, won the 2008 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey National Championship on April 12 with a 4-1 victory over Notre Dame in Denver, after falling just short in the finals the past two years. It's BC's third-ever national title, its second crown claimed in the state of Colorado, and its first overall NCAA championship since 2001. It was also the first time I got to celebrate at the final buzzer with my brother, who also went to BC, and my dad, whose checks did.
5-foot-5 junior forward and Michigan native Nathan Gerbe tallied two goals and two assists in the final for the Eagles against the Fighting Irish (beaten by a leprechaun?) and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Obviously it's not all about size, as he hustles his as- off, has great skills, shows no fear, and is simply one hell of a hockey player. So is freshman goaltender John Muse and a supporting cast of three dozen, including a top-notch coaching and support staff ...
Now bring on the parade - and the championship merchandise! I've already made my customary donation to Eagle Athletics and shed a few quiet tears of joy just like I did seven springs ago (yes, I admit it).
Congratulations Eagles - and from an "old" alum, THANK YOU!
WE - ARE - BC!
Originally written 03/24/2008
Three of my four schools - Boston College, Princeton and Michigan State - have earned berths in the 2008 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Division I Championship, the former two by winning their conference tournaments while the latter (MSU) earned an at-large bid and is also the defending national champion. The four regional sites with four teams apiece will contest games on March 28-30, with the Frozen Four set for April 10 and the NCAA champion crowned in Denver’s Pepsi Center two nights later. Go Eagles-Tigers-Spartans! One day the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks will make the big dance, too ...
UPDATE (March 30) Princeton fell in the first round of the regionals and Michigan State in the second, while Boston College is headed to its eighth Frozen Four in 11 years. GO EAGLES!
Originally written 09/27/2007
Citing budgetary constraints, Wayne State University in Detroit has opted to eliminate its NCAA Division I men's ice hockey program after the 2007-08 season, the Warriors' ninth campaign. The women's hockey program, though, will be retained.
Players wishing to stay at WSU will supposedly have their scholarships honored, but will no longer have a varsity team to skate for. They can also transfer at the end of the season to another school without having to sit out the normal one-year waiting period mandated by the NCAA.
That makes at least a half-dozen men's D-I puck programs eliminated in the last 13 years - Kent, Illinois-Chicago, Fairfield, Iona, Findlay, WSU - and likely also spells the demise of the College Hockey America conference, which also lost Air Force a few years ago and is down to just four teams. That's not enough schools for the group to qualify its playoff champion for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which WSU made for the first - and only - time in 2003.
Wayne State was recently denied membership in the venerable Central Collegiate Hockey Association, home of five major in-state schools, including perennial national powerhouses like Michigan State (defending national champ - Go Spartans) and Michigan, plus other neighbors like Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan - and 4,000 miles away (yes), Alaska Fairbanks. How central.
WSU was probably also done in by its lack of an on-campus arena, with the Warriors calling five different rinks home in their eight-year existence. And they call Detroit "Hockeytown" - well, maybe for the NHL's Red Wings, but not the NCAA Warriors.
On a personal note, I was there when Wayne State made its debut back in 1999 and when it recorded its first-ever home win against Findlay at the old Michigan Coliseum Fairgrounds. Seven months from now, when the new D-I national champion is crowned in Denver in April, WSU will join also-defunct Findlay on the sidelines, and all that will be left of the Warriors are memories.
What a rotten day for college hockey.
Originally written 04/07/2007
And somehow I made it through …
Michigan State won the 2007 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship in St. Louis on Saturday night by defeating Boston College, 3-1. The Spartans scored three times in the last 10 minutes to erase a 1-0 deficit and claim their third national title ever. BC's 13-game winning streak since mid-February came to an end, but their Frozen Four futility endures – just one championship in seven tries since 1998. My father is still miffed, almost an hour after the game ended.
I honestly thought I'd be consoling my friends from State after this one was done – BC had a ton of offensive ability and won this game on paper. Defense wins championships, though, and games are played on ice, and the defensive-minded Spartans, the last team anyone expected to make the Frozen Four, hung tough despite being down a goal after 40 minutes. They tied it on a power-play goal with less then 10 minutes remaining in regulation, won it with 19 seconds left and then hit an empty BC net with two ticks on the clock to seal it. The Eagles lost for just the second time in four years and 84 games when leading after two periods of play, but despite all their offensive output of the last few weeks, they couldn't get that second goal to put State away, thanks partially to a great save by MSU's 5-foot-6 goaltender. That inability to score again cost BC in the end when it couldn't clear the puck out of its defensive zone in the last minute of play and the Spartans put it home to win. (THIS - IS - SPARTA, a la the film "300".)
I am happy for my friends at State, who are some of the most diehard hockey fans you could ever meet, and happy for the Spartan players and coaches, but truth be told I am even more depressed for my alma mater. The Eagles fell in last year's title game at Wisconsin by a goal, and were just 20 minutes away from a title this year but again couldn't hold on to a one-goal lead, which is too slim a margin on this stage for a team with all their talent. It came down to one play, and tonight MSU made that play. State played the game it wanted to and now they're national champions. (Since they beat both BC and BU in the NCAAs this year, do they also get the Beanpot?) BC didn't, and is now 1-4 in its last five national championship outings.
My brother and father and I are all disappointed, since BC has been a part of our lives for 20 years, and we wonder why we get our hopes up so much every spring; but I really feel bad for BC Head Coach Jerry York, he's a good man and a great coach and this close-but-not-quite pattern has got to be galling for him. This time it was my "secondary" school doing the damage, but every year it seems like BC plays great heading into the nationals and then comes up just short in the end. It's nice to get there, but you want to win it when you do - then again it took BC Hockey's Class of 2001 four kicks at the can to get it done, and they broke all kinds of records in their tenure before finally topping North Dakota in OT in Albany six years ago ...
Dad is still a tad mad downstairs. Can't say I blame him. BC is only losing two seniors from this season, though, and hopefully will be back here next year – and hopefully with different results, against State or anyone else. 12 months is a long time to wait, but the puck drops again in just six. Congrats to the Spartans this season, and Let's Go Eagles next year.
Originally written 04/06/2007
That which I have somewhat dreaded has come to pass - it will be Boston College against Michigan State University on Saturday night in St. Louis for the NCAA Division I men's ice hockey national championship.
Oh, they've faced off before, in hockey and in other sports on the national stage - but not for an NCAA title, to the best of my knowledge. MSU scored four straight goals to beat Maine, 4-2, in Thursday's first Frozen Four semifinal, and then BC outlasted North Dakota, 6-4, in a wild affair in the nightcap. I'm happy for both schools, yet also more than a bit numb right now. I graduated from BC in 1991, where I covered the Eagles for the student paper, and worked at State from 1994 to 1996, where I publicized the Spartans. Now they're on a collision course for college hockey's national championship, and there can't be a tie.
It's funny how life works. My sophomore year at BC ended with a two games-to-one loss at State in the 1989 NCAA Hockey Tournament, and just five years later I started work at MSU. Even though I have a degree from one place and not the other, I'm actually very lucky to have called not one such outstanding place home, but two. Each school has its own special charms, from Chestnut Hill's venerable MBTA trolley system and New England tradition to East Lansing's dairy farms and Midwestern hospitality. Visits to either place are few and far in between these days, and are never long enough anymore, but I would not trade the lasting friendships I've have made at either school for anything.
Saturday's going to hurt a bit, I'll be honest. No matter who wins, someone's going to lose, and a group of people I care about is going to be hurt, too. ESPN will probably show some fan from the defeated squad crying their eyes out, and that will temper any euphoria I will feel for the winning side. It's not like today, when my guts were grinding away the whole time as State battled back to beat the Black Bears, and BC ultimately survived a shootout with the Fighting Sioux, and I cheered each goal by the Green & White or the Maroon & Gold. No wonder I have stomach problems - I take all this to heart, maybe too much, but I can't convince myself it's "just a game". I've agonized over the Eagles longer, for almost two whole decades now, but I've also suffered for the Spartans over the last 13 years. And to top it all off, I now have a pair of overlapping fight songs going off in my head …
I won't cheer for a particular school on Saturday - that would mean cheering against the other, and I'm not doing that, especially since some of those aforementioned friends are still working for either team. I will say that BC has great firepower, MSU has great defense, and both teams have great goaltenders and good men as their coaches, so I'm also not making any predictions as to the outcome. State leads the all-time series, 16-6-1, but BC has won three of the last four meetings, and all those numbers are irrelevant in 2007. Drop the puck and may the best team win.
It could be worse, though. It could have been a Maine-North Dakota final this weekend, and that would have miffed me to no end. At least I can get championship merchandise from somebody this spring ...
See you Saturday in St. Louis. Go Eagles, Go Spartans.
Originally written 03/20/2007
It's springtime, when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of .... college hockey. (Thought I was going to say baseball or young ladies, right? Sorry - but then, I'm not a young man anymore, either. And lord knows my men's hoops brackets have been shot to hell - again. Damn Wisconsin!)
The third intercollegiate big dance starts this weekend as the 16-team NCAA Division I men's ice hockey tournament commences with three games at each of four regional sites. The four regional winners then advance to the Frozen Four on April 6-8 in St. Louis, which hasn't hosted varsity college hockey since the local SLU Billikens dropped down to club status back in the early 1970s.
I guess I have somewhat of a stake in each of the regionals this weekend, starting in Denver, where my old Alaska Fairbanks acquaitance, coach Don Lucia, will mentor first-seeded Minnesota. Then's there Grand Rapids, one of my old haunts in the '90s, which will feature third-seeded Michigan State, where I spent two of the best years of my life working with Spartan Hockey. Moving further east, there's Manchester, where the old alma mater, Boston College, is Hockey East champion and the second seed. Finally, there's Rochester, although that's a bit of stretch, as I've only met Maine assistant coach Grant Standbrook twice. Very nice man, though, and a great recruiter.
This is probably my favorite sports tournament of the year, along with the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs from mid-April through early June, because I'm such a puckhead. College hockey may just be a regional sport - but those of us in the know can tell you we have something special that's all ours, even if the rest of the nation is caught up with floorboards and basketballs thsi month. One day UAF and Princeton will join/re-join the on-ice festivities as well, and this year we'll see how Davidian neophytes Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville fare against the Goliaths of the four major hockey conferences (CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East, WCHA).
I'd say let the best team win - just so long as it's one of my teams ... Drop the puck!
Originally written 02/13/2007
Another year, another Beanpot loss for Boston College. (The men's team, anyway.)
Yes, rival Boston University won it for the 28th time in 55 tournaments, and for the third straight season and 11th time in the last 13 years, with a 2-1 victory over the Eagles on Monday night just 5:06 into overtime at the TD Banknorth Garden in Beantown. BC had chances to win it with both nine ticks remaining in regulation and just under two minutes into sudden death but hey, who am I kidding? This is the Beanpot - and BC just doesn't win the Beanpot.
Well, it has won it 13 times, which looks inept compared to the Terriers' 28 titles; but then, Harvard and Northeastern, the other two Beanpot schools, have only combined for 14 crowns between them since 1953, and none since 1989, so I guess it's not a total loss. (BU now leads every one else, 28-27.)
Every year since I was an undergrad at the Heights, though, I tell myself that this is just a nothing, two-game little tournament played the first two Mondays in February. But every winter, I get my hopes up. Every February, I think it'll get it done this time. And almost every year, BC comes up one goal short.
Nuts. I'm going to bed. See you in 2008.
Originally written 12/14/2006
First time blogging - ever - and I guess I'll touch on something that's been bugging me for a while now ...
Skating around in a New Jersey rink today while wearing a retro University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks hockey jersey, I got to thinking how the 'Nooks new description as just the University of Alaska is, well, wrong. Last time I checked there was still a University of Alaska Anchorage, but I guess UAF - or Alaska, now - doesn't want to recognize that anymore. Among other things, calling the school "Alaska" has killed that classic U-A-F chant, with two guys (or gals) working to form the letters between them.
At least they probably still have "What the hell's a Seawolf?" in regards to UAA. Hopefully they'll reconsider, it's like Boston College just deciding to call their teams "Boston" when BU still exists seven miles away. But I'm not holding my breath, I'll probably pass out ...