If you remember a day when you typed out or bookmarked www.math.umn.edu/~urton/chockey/chockey.html, you’re definitely a veteran college hockey fan.
In the mid-1990s, that URL was the College Hockey Homepage, the creation of a pair of Minnesota graduate students in the Math department, Tim Brule and Lee Urton. And if you were among the 14 percent of American adults using the Internet in 1995, you could use Netscape Navigator 1.0 and get the latest college hockey scores, stats and news.
We bring this up now because this is U.S. College Hockey Online’s 20th season covering the sport since emerging from the College Hockey Homepage. And it all started in math classes at Minnesota.
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Lee Urton: We were part of the same class. We started in grad school the same year, ’92. And it wasn’t that big of a department so we met just during the course of class introductions. We all knew each other, hung out together and that sort of thing.
The hockey part came in — I ended up getting season tickets to Gopher hockey. And, independent from me, Tim also had season tickets. We would often talk about the games. We had both been to the games and saw them. We had interest in what was going on.
Tim Brule: And then you started on Hockey-L and you got me involved in Hockey-L.
(Editor’s note: The listserv Hockey-L lives on, with many original members still active.)
Urton: I’m trying to remember how I first heard about it. I think I met someone else who was a season ticket holder at Minnesota who was part of this Hockey-L listserv. They told me about it and I joined, and then I told Tim about it and he joined. Through that, we met Mike Machnik as well as Jayson Moy. Paula (Weston), I think, we met through there.
Brule: It was quite a few. Just about the end of our second or third year of grad school, I had just finished defending my thesis for my master’s degree and the whole advent of the Internet and webpages, I became aware of it. Lee was a little bit further ahead. And we started playing around with hockey webpages. It was all the thing on Hockey-L. There were webpages for all sorts of teams.
Urton: We were using the web for sharing math assignments and that kind of thing in the grad department. And so I was already learning basic HTML coding through that. And because Tim and I were going to these games and talking about the games, we were always interested what was coming up next. Next weekend, we knew Minnesota would be playing Michigan Tech, but we didn’t know anything about Michigan Tech. We didn’t know who their players were, we didn’t know how good a team they were. It was really hard to get information at that point.
So we got what we could from Hockey-L. And some teams were represented really well, but some teams were not. And we kind of thought, hey, we were interested in this information and we’re having a hard time getting it. If we’re trying to do this, I bet there are other people who are also trying to get this information.
Brule: So we started with the University of Minnesota’s website, a website for Gopher hockey. I got a bunch of pictures and we ended up kind of donating it to the university. But part of that, we kept up an other links page. And that pointed to the math department account, and we rebranded it the College Hockey Homepage.
And part of the University of Minnesota thing, we got Frank [Mazzocco, then the TV voice of the Gophers] to answer emails; it was called “Ask Frank.” We did a lot of neat little features like that. But the links from the University of Minnesota page to this black homepage that we called the College Hockey Homepage, it all happened really pretty quickly.
And then we started to do all sorts of interesting things on the College Hockey Homepage. It was 1995 that we created the PairWise. The PairWise was a part of the College Hockey Homepage. It predated USCHO. I didn’t have the RPI computed; I had to use Erik Biever’s RPI and bring it in. But the College Hockey Homepage was the first place that we could actually accurately get statistics for across the nation for Division I. You couldn’t find them anywhere. Nobody had them. So we composited all of the statistics for all the leagues into one HTML file and put it up online.
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It was the 1994-95 season, and Brule was handling the numbers side and Urton was leading the editorial side.
Urton: We were dealing with just Division I men’s hockey at this point. So we created an individual page for each team and then we sort of mined Hockey-L for people to write about various leagues. There were people that were obviously really devoted to their team or the league that their team was in, and we sort of talked them into joining us and putting together a weekly column. Tim and I were splitting duties for the WCHA.
Brule: Oh, god, that was bad.
Urton: That was awful. Like each column was worse than the last.
As Tim mentioned, it really blew up very quickly. We were right in that there were a lot of people that wanted to have this kind of information. They wanted to see the statistics. They wanted to read about their league and their team. And it was the right time because the Internet was just taking off, and suddenly the whole thing exploded.
This was all on the University of Minnesota math department servers, and I remember sitting in class one day — and we were still taking classes, we were grad students at this point — and the professor of this class said that the hockey stuff that we were doing was responsible for like 95 percent of the traffic on the math department servers. At that point, Tim and I knew we were onto something and we’d better start thinking about how to get it off the math department before they kicked us off.
Brule: That year was very interesting, to say the least. So the second year was 1995-96. And that’s where I made a small financial commitment. I had to buy a server to get it off the math department. And we had to recruit a team to help maintain the editorial. I took on most of the statistical portion of it — the numbers, the generation of the website — but the whole editorial stuff, it was all piecemeal. We didn’t have a real (content management system) at the time. It was still very manual. We went through a lot of people that first year.
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Near the end of the 1995-96 season, Brule and Urton started working out how to turn the College Hockey Homepage into what eventually became U.S. College Hockey Online.
Urton: We talked for quite a while — I remember we had a lengthy discussion, Tim and me and Mike Machnik, who was doing a lot of the architecture work. He was a real sounding board for us. We discussed what we were going to name this new company. We knew College Hockey Homepage was not a viable name.
We had already seen the power of a name because of the PairWise. When Tim was first programming it, we were sitting in the math lab and Tim said, what should we call this thing? It’s doing all these comparisons, so we should call it the PairWise comparison or the PairWise Ranking. And I said, oh, PairWise Ranking. P-W-R. Power. Power rankings. We’ve got to name it that.
Brule: Lee is the one that coined PWR.
Urton: So we talked quite a bit about what we were going to name this company. And we didn’t want to use U.S. college hockey because there was U.S. College Hockey Magazine and we didn’t want to necessarily step on their toes or be confused with U.S. College Hockey Magazine.
But we really struggled with trying to describe what it is that we did. We cover U.S. college hockey. That was what we were doing. And we couldn’t really come up with another name for it that really made sense to us. So we decided to call it U.S. College Hockey Online, and definitely emphasize that word online to try to make it a different entity than U.S. College Hockey Magazine and try to keep people from being confused about what it was. We didn’t want the URL be uscollegehockeyonline.com. That would have been too long and too complicated to type in. So we decided to go with uscollegehockey.com instead.
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In late March 1996, the College Hockey Homepage went to the Frozen Four in Cincinnati, where USCHO came together.
Urton: We had decided at that point we were going to make it a company and go to U.S. College Hockey Online. And it was the first time we had a chance to meet. We drove down, 13 hours I think from Minneapolis to Cincinnati. And it was the first time we had a chance to get together, physically meet all the people that were doing all this work. Mike Machnik and Jayson Moy.
We wanted to talk to everyone about the idea of trying to make a go of this and try to be a real company. So I would say that Frozen Four to me sort of marks the birth. We had been in discussion, we had been thinking about, Tim and I had talked a bit about it. This was really when we presented the idea and got some buy-in from some people. On the drive back, the long, 13-hour drive back, we came away enthusiastic and eager to go. To me, that’s sort of the birth right there of the company.