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College Hockey:
Broadcasts Aren’t Perfect, but It’s All About Airtime

So I’m in the car listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio the other day, and he was defending national baseball announcers against the legion of idiots that seem to have no patience with national broadcasts (Fox, TBS, ESPN, etc.) of their local teams.

There are several talented and dedicated people doing play by play, serving as analysts and serving as rinkside reporters (all as a part-time job in conjunction with their other on- or off-air careers) and there are some folks out there who just don’t get it.

I watch just about every game that’s on to help with my game prep, and there is no more entertaining a show than the FS North duo of Frank Mazzocco and Doug Woog. They are funny, entertaining, informative and a great listen. They get killed for being Gopher homers but remember, they are the Gophers announcers on Gophers hockey. Their pre- and post-game show is called Gophers Live, not WCHA Live or NCAA Live. That’s where we differ at CBS College Sports — our studio shows were more general about all of college hockey. Each serves its target audience.

Many fans of their teams hate when we at the national level “parachute” in and do a broadcast of their local teams. Let’s be honest: It is hard as someone who sees the big picture of college hockey to get too involved in the day-to-day of every team in the country but our goal is to make sure we know the conferences we broadcast more and the top 15 teams in the nation. I remember doing a game once between a top-10 team and one more in the 20-25 range and we got hate mail from the lesser seeded team because we were accused of not talking about them enough.

That happens for a couple of reasons. No. 1 is lack of printed material about them in terms of info in the media guide, clippings from local newspapers/student papers, and a general lack of exposure. There are only so many stories you can get from an obscure team in a two-day span that you spend with them as opposed to the wealth of material available from Michigan or Michigan State, BU or BC, Minnesota or Wisconsin, Harvard or Cornell.

The next complaint is from the obscure team fan who voices displeasure that their team is never on TV and then when they are they don’t get enough attention in game. We do a lot of Army sports at CBS College and do an Army hockey game or two a year. The last two Army games I have done have been against Mercyhurst. Both times we got mail from each side that we were partial to the other. How about being thrilled that your team was on a national network?

The point is that whether it be ESPN, ESPNU, CBS College, FS North, FS Detroit, FS Rocky Mountain, Comcast local, NESN, or anyone else who has been broadcasting college hockey and probably not making any money doing it, fans need to be aware that those involved in these telecasts are doing it for two reasons. The first is that it’s extra money for us (I won’t be a hypocrite and say it’s all about the love of the sport), but for those of us in front of the camera we are also doing it because we love college hockey and do all that we can to promote it despite the behind-the-scenes baloney that goes on between schools, conferences and networks.

So when you are home watching a Gophers road game with your family on a Friday or Saturday night, realize that Frank and Doug probably haven’t seen theirs in two or three days and despite working Friday and Saturday and traveling Sunday, they’ll be back at work Monday morning in their main vocation.

No broadcaster will ever appeal to everyone and no national guy will ever satisfy “local loyal fan.” Would we make your life better by never putting college hockey on TV ever again? That work for you? Trust me, there are days at some of the networks listed above where that is closer to reality than you might think in this economic climate.

• Moving slightly over, there is once again the chatter that somehow someway there will be a Big Ten Hockey Conference formed if they can get one more team to get a program.

If I had a dime for every time I hear, “Well, Penn State has a great Division I club program,” I’d be a billionaire. If any school should do it, it should be Iowa with all the USHL teams in the state, but how jacked up would you be for that big nonconference tilt in Iowa City between Iowa and Alabama-Huntsville? I feel bad for someone trying to sell a hockey matchup of Iowa and Providence or maybe a tourney like the Denver Cup featuring a semifinal game between Iowa and Canisus.

Should BC break off and try to get its fellow ACC partners to play hockey? There are a lot of ACC markets where there is pro hockey. How about BU and Vermont, who share a basketball conference, breaking off into their own little world? Maybe all the non-football schools that play hockey can band together and be their own conference. How come Massachusetts and Connecticut aren’t in the same conference with Notre Dame? They are all Big East teams.

It is time for a definitive statement by anyone in college hockey that this is not going to happen. It is as ridiculous as notion as a separate all Ivy League Conference (How many times can you watch Dartmouth play Brown?).

The biggest misnomer out there is that some of those Big Ten schools are each other’s biggest rivals, and the theory behind a Big Ten conference is just that: rivalries on display every weekend. Ohio State’s biggest college hockey rival right now is in-state Miami, which just went to a national title game. Miami fans can’t wait for Ohio State to come to town; Michigan’s can.

Wisconsin’s biggest traditional rival on ice is still probably Minnesota but it has a passionate hatred for Denver and vice versa. Minnesota and North Dakota might be a bigger rivalry than Minny and Wisco — they have played bigger games recently.

Michigan State-Michigan is still a huge rivalry on ice, but Michigan-Ohio State isn’t — not even close. I’ve broadcasted about five OSU-Michigan games and those games don’t match the crowd intensity as when Michigan plays Miami. It might be huge to OSU, but it isn’t to Michigan and the Ohio State-Michigan State rivalry really isn’t a rivalry in any Big Ten sport. MSU football and OSU hoops are usually middle-of-the-road programs and rarely have challenged the elites in their respective sport for prominence. On ice, Michigan’s biggest rivals right now are non Big Ten schools in Miami and Notre Dame, no questions asked.

There are things broken in college hockey but conference alignment isn’t really one of them right now, and new conferences aren’t things anyone needs to be concerned with.

• Was at the BU-Notre Dame game Tuesday night and one thing is for sure. The BU power play is still in the same setup it was last season, but it looks a little different without Chris Higgins, Jason Lawrence, Colin Wilson and Matty Gilroy on it.

• Watched the Sharks and Rangers on Monday night at MSG and loved seeing former Cornell star Ryan Vesce playing a regular shift. Vesce, a lifelong Ranger fan growing up on Long Island, scored his first NHL goal against the Islanders Saturday night.

• You heard it here first. James Marcou will lead Hockey East in scoring. The diminutive junior forward from UMass opened the season with four assists against RPI and I’m guessing he won’t look back.

• Despite it going against everything I believe in terms of traditional powers being in spotlight events, I still think it was great that Bemidji State was in the Frozen Four.

• Speaking of traditional powers, most have won a national title since 1999. Minnesota has two, Denver has two, BC has two. BU, MSU, Wisconsin and North Dakota all have one. Two teams are missing: Michigan and Colorado College. CC has a lot to do with Michigan not winning one because the Tigers have a couple of epic wins against Michigan in the National Tourney this decade. North Dakota has also helped Michigan from winning the big trophy.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Michigan or CC needs a national title to keep its standing with the big boys despite the incredible regular season and post season conference success they have had and the NHL players they keep developing? It has been a while since UM has made it to the national title game. In that time, CCHA conference mates MSU, Miami and Notre Dame have all been one of the last two standing, and MSU won it all — not to mention the run of WCHA dominance in the decade that has eluded the Tigers.

It is kind of a shame because both programs have probably deserved a better fate the past decade.

• BC looks fast. If practice means anything, BC could be the team to watch in Hockey East. That was an impressive skate they had Tuesday.

• Notre Dame has looked overall average this season so far but the second and third period at BU gave Irish fans a ray of light in this young season. Two years ago, Notre Dame looked good and went all the way to a national title game after an awful CCHA championship weekend. Last season Notre Dame looked great, dominated the CCHA championship weekend and fizzled out in the opening round of the national tourney. If the Irish look just average (maybe methodical is a better word) all season and bomb out at the Joe in March, I’m picking them to win it all.

• Best wishes to Stanley Cup-winning assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald of the Penguins. Fitzy, a former Providence College star and longtime NHL player, suffered a scary injury this summer to his foot that didn’t heal right and had to be re-operated on to clean out an infection. Fitz is back in the Penguins’ front office and could be off crutches in a couple of months.

• A lot of former players with offspring in college hockey. Toronto Maple Leafs head amateur scout Dave Morrison has a son battling for a spot on Harvard’s roster. Chris Chelios has a son playing at Michigan State, as does Red Wings VP Jim Nill. Eddie Olczyk’s kid is playing at UMass. Garth Butcher’s son Matt is finishing up at Northern Michigan. Wisconsin has Patrick Johnson and Blake Geoffrion still on the roster. I know there are more — that’s who popped into my head at the moment.

• A great story in East Lansing. Zack Josepher left Long Island a few years ago to play in the North American Hockey League and hoped to make it to college hockey and his dream was Michigan State. He played in the NAHL and then in Penticton in the BCHL. After a season in Wichita Falls of the NAHL, he and teammate Cal Heeter (now at OSU) wanted to go to the Frozen Four in St. Louis as they had to drive through it on their way home.

A friend got them tickets and as luck would have it, they were right behind the MSU bench. When Josepher went on his visit to MSU, he looked at a picture in assistant coach Brian Renfrew’s office of the MSU bench erupting in celebration as the buzzer sounded beating BC for the national title. Who is in the picture behind the glass? Josepher and Heeter. When he pointed it out to Renfrew the deal was sealed and MSU had a new defenseman. Josepher made his NCAA debut two weeks ago against Clarkson and had two goals and two assists and for one glorious weekend in his career he led the CCHA in scoring.


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