Here’s our weekly look at big events and big issues around Division I men’s college hockey.
Todd: In the last few days we’ve seen some teams crowned as champions of holiday tournaments, and most of those events did it the old-fashioned way by matching the first day’s winners in a championship game. In Vermont, however, Massachusetts-Lowell left the Catamount Cup with a pair of victories but without the trophy.
The host Catamounts didn’t have to play their Hockey East counterparts but took the title because they scored more goals in wins over Clarkson and Canisius than the River Hawks did. Is it too much to ask of a tournament to be decided in a tournament format?
Jim: I will say that I don’t really like predetermined matchups in tournaments. I totally understand why Vermont did as such — it didn’t want to face a Hockey East team that it’ll have to face again in the regular season. But it certainly made for a strange situation where Kevin Sneddon called timeout while leading 5-2, trying to figure out how to score goal No. 6.
Same, for me, goes for shootout in tournaments. I understand coaches don’t want to play extremely long overtime games in the regular season but there is just so much more excitement to me for overtime, double overtime, triple overtime, etc., games than shootouts provide. I’ve never been a fan of deciding a championship in an individual skills competition. Do you like or dislike shootouts used for regular-season tournaments?
Todd: I’m all for shootouts to decide the third-place game, but I think when you’re playing for a championship, even if it’s just a holiday tournament championship, you should play like they’re playoff games.
And that’s coming from someone who’s not against shootouts at all. I just think the championship of the Great Lakes Invitational, where Western Michigan beat Michigan Tech in overtime, was a better way to decide things than the Florida College Hockey Classic, in which Cornell beat Maine in a shootout.
Since I mentioned Western Michigan, it was a pretty impressive weekend for the Broncos, who beat then-No. 3 Michigan 3-2 in overtime in the semifinals (before the game could get to a shootout) and then outlasted Michigan Tech 1-0 in overtime in the championship game. Three of the four games in that tournament went beyond regulation time, giving all of those outside at Detroit’s Comerica Park a little extra to watch. The Broncos still have a lot of work to do to get back in the NCHC race, but it was a good start to the second half.
Jim: I admit I had pretty high expectations for Western Michigan this season that, to date, the team hasn’t lived up to at all. After being idle this weekend, the Broncos will get a strong NCHC test right away against Miami, so we’ll possibly have an indication whether this team is ready for a second-half run.
You mentioned the GLI and it being outdoors this year at Comerica Park. So continues the annual outdoor game season. I remember the day when these games were special. Last week, less than 4,000 people came out to watch Bentley and Holy Cross at 38,000-plus-seat Fenway Park. This weekend, Hockey East’s premier Frozen Fenway matchups may face up to 20 inches of snow. At the same time, rumors have it that ticket sales at Fenway for the Hockey East games (sellouts in the past) have been less than brisk. Are we at the point that maybe even the fans are ready to admit that these outdoor games have become passé? I got a lot of flak for saying that two years ago during the last Frozen Fenway. But at this point I just wish hockey would be played indoors. Maybe I am the college hockey Scrooge.
Todd: Hey, I’m right there with you. I can see the charm in a first-time location but the Fenway thing is a been-there, done-that kind of thing. And by playing outdoors on a temporary rink that’s probably going to need some repair work that’ll delay the game, what you’re telling me is that the spectacle is more important than the game. To me, that’s not the right approach.
Before we wrap up, I wanted to mention the World Junior Championship. The Americans are 3-0 heading into Tuesday’s game against Canada, a game that’ll decide which team wins the group. Are you surprised at the results so far for the U.S., which returned just three players from last year’s gold medal-winning team?
Jim: I don’t think any results ever surprise me in the World Juniors simply because you never know what type of chemistry that a team — even a team of talented, young superstars — will develop in such a short period of time.
I give Jim Johannson and the USA Hockey staff a lot of credit in identifying the talent and developing the chemistry that they have in recent years. This tournament was completely irrelevant in the U.S. less than a decade ago. Today, most college hockey fans follow the results closely (if not watch the games on NHL Network if their schedule allows). That is a significant stride not just for this tournament but for hockey in the United States.
Todd: As for hockey that’s being played back in the U.S. this week, there’s a chance we’ll see a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup in the Mariucci Classic if No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 Ferris State both get the same result in their semifinal games Friday. The Bulldogs held their own against Michigan a few weeks ago; I’ll be interested to see if they do the same against the Gophers. What stands out to you on this week’s schedule?
Jim: The other two teams in the Mariucci — Colgate and Rensselaer — makes this a good tournament field. One interesting series this week will take place in Lowell, where the River Hawks will play two against Clarkson. The two teams just played one another in the Vermont tournament, making this three straight these two top teams will play. And even though I have criticized the venue for Frozen Fenway, there is little doubt that the Boston College-Notre Dame rivalry with league points on the line will be a great game to watch.