Spreading the Love Around
Last week was Valentine’s Day, and you know I can’t resist a holiday for a column gimmick.
Well, I received more email addressing last week’s column than I had cumulatively for the entire season. Thank you, readers, for letting me know that I don’t exist in a vacuum here in Columbus, O.
My favorite letter came from Dave B., a faithful reader from whom I had never heard before last week. His was the only negative letter — so, naturally, I loved it.
It read: “Your columns are not ‘cute.’ They are dead air. Step aside. Hand it over to the photographer guy that filled in for you.”
Isn’t he darling? He used the word cute in a sentence that somehow pertained to me — even after (presumably) seeing the head shot that appears with my weekly “dead air.”
As for that “photographer guy” who “filled in” for me, I assume he’s talking about Christopher Brian Dudek, whose excellent feature on his home team, the Ferris State Bulldogs, now graces our frontpage.
Last week’s column also, however, prompted some folks long-absent from my life to say hello, an unexpected bonus. In college hockey, you meet many wonderful folks who are sometimes a part of your life for a short period of time — players, their parents, their “family advisors,” officials, coaches, fans.
It was great to hear from all of you who wrote. The email I received was an unexpected — and delightful — Valentine.
So, in the spirit of mushiness (I am eyeing the slush on the side of the road as I write), let the lovefest continue!
Love, Love, Love
For some time now, shortsighted individuals have been advocating the creation of a Big Ten conference for college hockey. As you know, two Big Ten teams play in the WCHA (Wisconsin, Minnesota), and three Big Ten teams reside in our beloved CCHA (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State).
The reason there is no Big Ten conference for college hockey? Only five Big Ten schools have Division I hockey programs, and you’d need a sixth to “mandate” a Big Ten conference — and, even then, if members protested loudly enough that they wanted to remain affiliated with their current conferences, creating such an animal would take a lot of time, more hot air than currently floats in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress, and a little puff of white smoke somewhere in Vatican City.
Those who — foolishly, of course — advocate a Big Ten conference for college hockey are all about adding Penn State to the mix, the same Penn State that currently has a club team, the same Penn State that also pushed the Big Ten to 11 schools.
(I’d apologize for so disliking a place called “Happy Valley” if I weren’t so certain that most of you dislike it as well.)
So, you take the current five Big Ten schools with Division I programs, add Penn State to the mix, throw in a dose of Antoine Pitts with his Ann Arbor News column dated Feb. 17, and this chestnut sees the light of day (how about that for a non sequitur, double clich?).
These are Pitts’ actual words. Actually.
“Time to bid adieu to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and join together with other hockey-playing Big Ten schools. Time to form the league that’s long overdue and makes so much sense.”
Apparently, Pitts had an epiphany last weekend during the Michigan-Michigan State series: everyone should be able to watch Michigan and Michigan State play each other, all the time.
“In the past decade of the CCHA, ridiculous overexpansion to faraway places such as Alaska-Fairbanks, Northern Michigan, and Nebraska-Omaha, and subsequent silly scheduling schemes have robbed everyone of more of these outstanding matchups.”
(Distance between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Marquette, Mich.: 346 miles. Distance between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Minneapolis, Minn.: 513 miles.)
Unless you’re a chaperone at a junior high dance, you know that segregation is never an answer — and that’s what a Big Ten conference would amount to. Perhaps because longstanding, non-Big Ten members of the CCHA and WCHA have established traditions of D-I men’s ice hockey, those programs wouldn’t face an untimely death.
But the growth of the sport is not dependent on a “super-conference” of big-name schools; the sport gained more widespread attention through the 1990s because it is so different from your basic college hoops and gridirons. It’s these smaller schools within the CCHA and WCHA that give the sport — at least out in these parts — the variety that allows it to thrive.
Ferris State is in first place. Ferris State. They’ll go to the NCAA postseason tournament, and people around the country will ask, “Who is Ferris State?” When the answer comes — a small school in Big Rapids, Mich., that this year is playing great hockey up against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State — these people will have a one-word response: “Interesting.”
Yes, the current size of the league makes scheduling difficult. The current “cluster” system is the best the league has offered to deal with this, to date.
But a CCHA without Northern Michigan? No Chris Gobert? No Rick Comley and now Walt Kyle?
A CCHA without Nebraska Omaha? No Mike Kemp? No — hold me now, because I’m feeling lightheaded — Dan Ellis?!
And a CCHA without Alaska-Fairbanks? As much as teams complain about making the trip to Fairbanks, I contend that UAF itself is the quintessential CCHA program: heart, guts, and in a city that lives and dies by the Nanooks.
Further puzzling is Pitts’ assertion that college hockey needs a “revolutionary thinker like former Michigan athletic director Don Canham” to make a Big Ten conference “happen.”
Pitts writes, “Canham stepped up and led U-M and MSU from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to the CCHA in 1981. That forever legitimized a league that had no marquee schools.”
So, let’s find that revolutionary thinker who can undo what that revolutionary thinker did.
Anyone else have a headache? Pass the chocolate.
Home ice is supposed to be, well, home ice.
Barring a major tanking, the Ohio State Buckeyes will likely wind up in second or third place in the final CCHA standings, giving them the right to host a first-round playoff series at the Schottenstein Center, where they have so far been 10-1-0 this season — that loss coming to current No. 2 Cornell.
A quick look at the schedule for March for the Schott, however, reveals a problem: roundball. Specifically, high school girls’ roundball.
The Ohio State University has a contract with the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Girls Basketball Championships, and those games will be played in Value City Arena Mar. 13-15 — the same weekend as the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
The conflict is not actually OSU’s fault. When the NCAA pushed back the Frozen Four weekend to April 10-12, the CCHA responded accordingly. Last year, the first round of the CCHA playoffs was Mar. 8-10, and the OHSAA girls’ tourney the following weekend.
But never fear, Buckeye hockey fans. You won’t be relegated to the OSU Ice Rink — I mean, Ice Arena. You won’t be heading to any area Chiller, or to the CoreComm Ice Haus.
No, Buckeye fans, you’ll be going to Nationwide Arena, the only rink in Columbus better than Value City.
According to a story by my esteemed colleague Craig Merz in the Feb. 19 Columbus Dispatch, the Blue Jackets, ever eager to create goodwill among all hockey-minded people in central Ohio, will allow the Buckeyes to play their games between home Blue Jackets’ games.
The puck will drop for the first playoff game at 7 p.m., Mar. 14; the second game will start at 1 p.m. the following day.
If a third game is needed, it will be played on genuine home ice, in Value City Arena on Sunday, Mar. 16 at 7 p.m., as the hockey gods and goddesses intended.
The Jackets host Colorado on Thursday, Mar. 13, and Minnesota on Saturday, Mar. 15 — hence the afternoon playoff game.
This is the Blue Jackets returning a favor. Before the Jackets were up and r
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.