Welcome to Tuesday Morning Quarterback, USCHO.com’s freeform debate about the week that was in college hockey. Every Tuesday in this space, Jim Connelly, representing the East, and Scott Brown, representing the West, will discuss the issues of the day, trade barbs, make indefensible claims about their teams and leagues and generally rant about the things that make college hockey great.
Scott: Well, Jim, the new season is under way, and I know we’ll get to the games pretty quickly, but in the meantime let’s discuss the big bombshell of the last couple of weeks, which is Wayne State. The announcement that the Warriors are dropping men’s hockey is still reverberating — especially around the College Hockey America league offices. With that league now down to four teams after this season, is this the death knell for the CHA?
Jim: Certainly, Scott, this is a bombshell. Though nothing has officially been announced, I can’t see the NCAA — or the rest of the college hockey community — allowing the CHA to keep operating and receiving an NCAA tournament bid with just four teams. So, I think the most proper conversation now is where each of the four remaining teams belong. Assuming that all four programs remain — and as I say that I have no inside information that any of them would not — it would seem that a couple of teams could head to Atlantic Hockey.
Robert Morris, neighbors to Mercyhurst, and Niagara, a short ride from Canisius, seem like natural fits. Bemidji State is a geographic fit for the WCHA and Alabama-Huntsville really isn’t close to any of the current teams. If the WCHA or any other western league don’t want to open their doors to Bemidji and UAH, Atlantic Hockey might be interested in expanding to 14 teams. No matter how you slice it, though, the remaining CHA members will have to rely on the rest of the college hockey world for some help.
Scott: I agree on Niagara and Robert Morris, and both programs would be assets to Atlantic Hockey. When you mention Bemidji and UAH, though — aye, there’s the rub. The WCHA has not been willing to seriously consider Bemidji, due in part to arena issues, and I don’t think the league wants to go back to an odd number of teams.
That calls into play entertaining possibilities for playing Fantasy College Hockey Conference Realignment, where Michigan Tech goes to the CCHA, or Tech stays and the CCHA gives the WCHA Nebraska-Omaha to boot to make 12 WCHA teams, then takes Niagara itself. These scenarios are about as likely as me winning the Hobey Baker, but they’re fun to think about. The real irony is that the two teams in the biggest trouble — BSU and UAH — are traditional programs with a long history together in Division II. Losing either would be a crime, in my opinion.
Jim: I think your scenarios are certainly crazy, but you can’t rule out anything at this point. My thought is that the five remaining commissioners need to assemble at some point this season and make conscious decision on what’s best for the game. But you said it perfectly — losing any program is an absolute crime. And speaking of crimes in the CHA, how about Robert Morris stealing one from Boston University last weekend? What do you think happened there?
Scott: On the surface, this looks like a breathtaking upset, but this Robert Morris squad is one of the favorites in the CHA — which has had a number of wins over “Big Four” conference opponents in the past — and the Colonials are senior-laden, much like the 1999-2000 Niagara squad that beat New Hampshire in the first round of the NCAAs. Could RMU be this year’s surprise team on a national level? I’m not making any bets just yet, but it’s possible.
Of course, the fact is that BU outshot RMU 35-15, and the Colonials scored three goals on the power play in under four minutes, so maybe this falls into the “goalie stands on his head” variety of win (Christian Boucher, in this case) that won’t reflect the rest of the season. This can’t make Jack Parker feel better about his netminding, though, after losing John Curry to graduation. On the other hand, how ’bout them Gophers … and Pioneers … and Sioux … and Seawolves, for that matter? Quite a weekend for the WCHA.
Jim: It’s almost unimaginable how incredible a weekend that the WCHA had. Maybe that’s a hint of revenge for last year’s Frozen Four? The fact that the league earned wins wasn’t even the most impressive — it was the opponents they beat. Denver’s sweep over Maine was incredible, as was Minnesota over Michigan on Saturday. Add North Dakota over the defending national champions and Alaska-Anchorage earning a tie with BU, and my only word is “wow.” Oh and before you rub it in, yes, I recognize the major digger that Hockey East took on Friday night. When Merrimack is the only team in the league to earn a win, that’s a bad night.
Scott: I wasn’t going to say anything about that … okay, maybe I was. Regardless, though, we don’t know how much stock to put in early results like these. After one weekend, it looks like the WCHA is gunning hard to reclaim the NCAA title, but with lines not set, systems not fully developed, and starting goaltenders not even established in some cases, it’s tough to know how seriously to take wins and losses at this point. Luckily for the teams that lost over the weekend, this isn’t college football, where one bad loss can remove you from the national title picture a week into the season.
Jim: You’re very right that it’s better to lose early in the season than late. Plus, I think at least Boston College and Boston University can take some solace in the fact that they are working to break in somewhat fresh goaltenders. True, Karson Gillespie at BU has been around for a few years, but he’s always taken a back seat to Curry. Regardless, the opening weekend of college hockey surely gave us plenty to talk about around the country. I’m sure week two will do just the same.