As most colleges in the U.S. wind down for the fall semester and many people are gearing up for winter holidays, I can’t help but think that in three months from Christmas Eve, we’ll be saying goodbye to the CCHA.
I know that early in the season I said I’d focus on the here and now, the hockey to be played before the league’s inevitable end, but it’s impossible to think about the end of the first half of the 2012-13 season without thinking of the second half. Naturally, that leads to the final CCHA game, the championship game to be played Sunday, March 24.
When that final buzzer sounds and the Mason Cup is lifted for the last time next March, I’ll be a little teary eyed. I won’t be alone. Witnessing the end of a league that has impacted so many people throughout its four-decade history is going to be difficult.
You know what might help? A party. A great big party. And anyone who has spent any time around the CCHA — especially around the weekend of the league’s championship tournament — knows that this is a league that knows how to throw a party.
And CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch is a guy who knows who to invite.
“I sent personal invitations to 63 people who had either been players of the year or CCHA Championship MVPs, to invite them back to the championship,” Pletsch said. “I’ve received confirmation from 15 already.
“George McPhee got back to me in half an hour. Ken Morrow got back to me right away.”
You know, the George McPhee who had 94 goals for Bowling Green (1978-82) and who is the general manager of the Washington Capitals, and the Ken Morrow who played defense for Bowling Green (1975-79) and who won a gold medal with the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team before going on to 10 seasons with the New York Islanders.
Pletsch wants to give the league a fitting sendoff. In addition to the league’s season-long theme of “Celebrate the Legacy” — which includes 30-second spots featuring alumni of each CCHA team promoting the league’s final season, easily found on YouTube — the CCHA is throwing a big party in Cobo Hall on Saturday, March 23, after the second semifinal game. Pletsch is planning on bringing together former players, coaches, officials and employees of the league.
Other former players who have committed include Lake Superior State alumni Darrin Madeley (1989-92), Bruce Hoffort (1987-89) and Mark Vermette (1985-88); Michigan State alumni Dwayne Norris (1989-92) and Bobby Reynolds (1985-89); Western Michigan alumni Wayne Gagne (1983-1987) and Bill Horn (1985-89); and Michigan alumni Jed Ortmeyer (1999-2003) and Shawn Hunwick (2007-12).
One enthusiastic returnee is Bill McKenzie, who was the first-ever CCHA Championship MVP, a goalie for Ohio State in 1971-72. “He told me he still has the goal stick from that game,” Pletsch said, “signed by all of his teammates.”
Pletsch said he wouldn’t mind having help finding some of these former players. “Emails bounce back,” he said.
While Pletsch is working on finding players, he’s enlisted help in finding and inviting former coaches and officials. Ohio State alum (1975-76) and former Miami coach (1985-89) Bill Davidge will track down the coaches, while current head of officiating for the CCHA Steve Piotrowski — who really did score 12 goals for Ferris State in 1977-78 — will be looking for the former men in stripes.
“Buddy Powers is flying in that Sunday after the Hockey East championship,” Pletsch said. Powers, who played three seasons for Boston University (1972-75) and has been an assistant at BU since 2009, was head coach at Bowling Green for eight seasons (1984-92). Pletsch said former Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp (1999-2009) will be there as well. Kemp is currently an associate director of athletics at UNO.
“Most schools maintain an alumni list of their players,” Pletsch said, “so we’re able to send out an offer to them.” Others like some coaches and officials — and fans — are difficult to locate. Pletsch said that he wants to include fans in this celebration, especially diehard fans of teams from seasons and seasons ago. He’s not quite sure how to do that yet, but knowing Pletsch and the CCHA, there will be an opportunity for all fans to mingle with the ghosts of CCHA past throughout the weekend.
If you have contact information for former CCHA players of the year or MVPs or former coaches or officials — especially those who have left the game — you can contact the CCHA through its website or email me directly and I can pass along information for you.
It’s a small world … and an interesting league
When Pletsch was looking up former CCHA players, he ran into a little of his own past when he talked with Mark Vermette, who is the community relations superintendent at Goldcorp’s Red Lake Gold Mines, about 550 miles north of Minneapolis in northwest Ontario and near Vermette’s hometown of Cochenour.
“When I was in high school, I worked for a gold mine, underground, during the summers in Ontario,” Pletsch said. “Mark Vermette’s father was my first foreman.”
Pletsch said that he never made the connection until he reconnected with Vermette.
One of the more interesting stories to come out of the league’s efforts to contact former coaches is that of Bill Neal, the first Western Michigan hockey coach (1975-78). From 1999 through 2005, Neal wrote more than 250 episodes of the “E! True Hollywood Story” and he produced five episodes. According to Pletsch, Neal has a new book out — and Neal will be in Detroit in March.
“It’s kind of cool.”
When teams meet in March to play for the Mason Cup one last time, they’ll be doing so on Saturday and Sunday. At first, the Detroit Red Wings had scheduled a Friday night game, forcing the CCHA to seek an alternative to its usual Friday-Saturday schedule. When the NHL decided to pick up its collective puck and go home, the CCHA heard arguments to move the games back to Friday and Saturday, but what was done was done.
“We had to go to the NCAA championship committee to get a one-year exception to playing on Sunday,” Pletsch said. “They also had to get clearance from ESPN to move the selection show.”
That’s correct. The ESPN NCAA hockey championship selection show has been moved to 9 p.m. the Sunday before the NCAA tournament begins all because of the CCHA championship.
“We won’t be able to move it back,” Pletsch said. “TV gets locked in, and the NCAA made it clear that once we had a schedule, we had to keep it.”
Pletsch said that the league considered playing semifinal games on Thursday and the title game on Saturday but said, “If you look at how the Super Six was, you saw that it was difficult to get fans to the rink for Thursday’s games.” The CCHA played a six-team championship tournament, the Super Six, from 2002 to 2005.
There is no third-place game this year, either, since the championship game begins at 2 p.m. that Sunday. “The NCAA told us we had to be done by 4:30,” Pletsch said. “Playing at 2, you can’t have a game at 10 in the morning before that for third place.”
Pletsch said that having the only title game on the Sunday of that final weekend before the NCAA championship tournament seems appropriate for the CCHA’s last season. “It’s kind of cool that the whole college hockey focus will be on the CCHA,” he said.
And just after that game, Pletsch said, “I’ll be handing out the Mason Cup for the final time while handing out resumes.”
Well, that worked
In last week’s column, Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron talked about how his team had been using two consecutive weekends off to reflect before heading to Alaska last weekend. Bergeron said that his players had to take ownership of their collective game.
Whatever Bergeron and his assistants said to the Falcons in the time between Thanksgiving and the trip to Alaska must have worked. Whatever those players did in the interim must have worked. The Falcons defeated and tied Alaska, returning to Ohio with four points.
Yes, the Falcons are still in last place — but they’re not alone. Tied with Michigan State and Northern Michigan, each team with 10 points, BGSU gave itself an opportunity to jockey for a little position and the Falcons (and Spartans and Wildcats) are now only three points behind Michigan and five behind Lake Superior State. The view may be the same for the Falcons, but having company — and close neighbors — may provide a little bit of perspective.
Bergeron told the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune this week that he was “pleased” with the results. “Any time you come up here and get four out of six points,” Bergeron said, “you’re doing something pretty good. We haven’t been doing enough good this first half. It’s definitely a little bit of momentum as we move forward. I’m glad that 14 days worked in a positive way.”
Players of the week
We have a repeat rookie offender.
Rookie of the week: Notre Dame forward Mario Lucia, who had a goal and two assists in Notre Dame’s sweep of Michigan State. Lucia was ROTW last week, too.
Offensive player of the week: Western Michigan senior Dane Walters, who had two goals, including the game-winner, in WMU’s 4-2 win over Ferris State last Friday and an assist Saturday. Walters has six goals in 16 games; he had a career-high 16 in 38 contests last season.
Defenseman of the week: Bowling Green senior Bobby Shea, who had four assists and three blocked shots as the Falcons defeated and tied Alaska on the road.
Goaltender of the week: Lake Superior State junior Kevin Murdock, who stopped 46 shots in a 1-0 road shutout of Miami last Saturday.
Players of the month
Notre Dame junior forward Anders Lee (11-5–16) was named CCHA player of the month for November. Lee had seven goals and two assists for the month, when Notre Dame went 5-3. Lee’s goals included a power-play goal, a short-handed goal and a game-winner.
Miami’s Riley Barber was named the league’s rookie of the month for November. Barber was also ROTW in October. Barber had two goals and seven assists in November; the RedHawks were 4-1-2 last month. Barber is tied for 20th in scoring nationally and is first in the nation among rookies in points per game (1.19).
Ohio State senior Brady Hjelle was named the league’s goaltender of the month for November. Hjelle was 3-1-1 for the month with a 0.62 goals against average and .978 save percentage in that stretch. Hjelle is third in the nation for goals against (1.46) and second for save percentage (.950).
1. Boston College
3. New Hampshire
4. Notre Dame
7. Western Michigan
8. Boston University
9. North Dakota
10. Ferris State
16. St. Cloud State
18. Minnesota State
20. Holy Cross
This is the last weekly column of this format for first half of the season. I’ll have picks on Friday and three things on Monday. I’ll have picks for the holiday tournaments as well, and the weekly columns for all USCHO writers resume the first week in January.
In this week’s picks blog, I’ll post my mom’s cutout cookie recipe, an annual favorite. (Seriously. I get a lot of email about it, which thrills Dolly Weston to no end.) If you have anything related to celebrating the season — either the holiday season or the CCHA’s last season — just email me. Stop me if you see me in Yost Friday or Munn Saturday.
Well, stop me if you’re going to be nice. Remember, someone’s keeping track and now is not the time to be naughty.
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.