CCHA fans, it’s Monday the week of the Frozen Four and we are without a representative this week in Pittsburgh.
Well, unless you count me. I’ll represent. I’ll do so poorly and limit my representation to that which occurs off the ice, but I’ll represent.
I was glad I made the trip from Grand Rapids to Toledo eight days ago to see the last-ever game in which a CCHA-affiliated team made an appearance. The Miami RedHawks played hard in that 4-1 loss to St. Cloud State, but it was clear that the Huskies were not to be denied their first trip to the Frozen Four. In the final period of that game, I felt myself tear up more than once — silly, I know — with the realization that This Was It. I thought that I’d have that moment in Pittsburgh rather than Toledo; I am grateful, perversely, for the quick punch to the throat rather than the long goodbye at the Frozen Four.
I am glad for Bob Motzko, too, that SCSU is heading to Pittsburgh. Many people may not know that Motzko spent five years as an assistant coach at Miami (1991-92, 1994-98), and he was one of the many coaches who was kind to me when I started covering college hockey. I was touched by Motzko’s remarks after his win, about his ties to Miami and how challenging this season was to those in the WCHA as well. If the CCHA can’t be there, I’m glad that the WCHA in its current state gets one last whack at the national championship.
I have sympathy for WCHA fans — I do, really. The league that they have loved and followed is becoming something nearly unrecognizable. I am positive that I will become absurdly fond of the new WCHA, a league made up almost exclusively of D-II schools whose only D-I sport is hockey. Couple that with the specific CCHA schools that are merging with the remaining WCHA programs to form the new league, and the new WCHA is guaranteed a slice of my hockey-loving heart.
But it won’t be the same — not for the WCHA fans, not for the rest of us. It won’t be the same for many of the fans of teams in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference nor the Big Ten. I’ve heard from fans of every current WCHA team joining the NCHC that they’ll miss the WCHA; I’ve heard from many Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State fans that they’ll miss the CCHA. I’ve heard from coaches all over the country who have said the same thing of the demise of the CCHA, that it didn’t have to happen. I’ve also heard that perhaps the new alignments will not hold, that things will be reconsidered in a few years. We’ll have to wait and see.
More immediately, though, we have some great college hockey to witness. This is an exciting Frozen Four, to be sure. Two teams from Connecticut? Wild and fabulous, as it guarantees some of my favorite Boston hockey writers will be in Pittsburgh even though no teams from Boston will be there. (Yes, yes. It’s good for the whole tiny state of Connecticut, too, and Quinnipiac and Yale fans.)
Two ECAC teams? Even more fabulous, as that league has been underrepresented in the Frozen Four for many years now.
A single team representing the west? Yes, but one that’s never been there coached by a guy with deep CCHA roots. I can live with that.
And a Frozen Four in a great sports town, a reinvented Rust Belt city that loves its hockey. I can live with that, too.
One more note that occurs to me about CCHA representation in this year’s Frozen Four: I have no inside knowledge of this, but look for at least one CCHA crew officiating in Pittsburgh.
I’ll be writing in Pittsburgh, even though the CCHA won’t be playing. I’ll be writing next season, too, although I’m not sure yet what my duties will be. Thanks to everyone who’s asked about that. I was moved throughout the season by the number of people who expressed concern for me as the CCHA was ending. For those of you looking forward to being rid of me after this season, well, too bad.
You can join the USCHO staff at a variety of locations in Pittsburgh, and if you’re not there, you can listen to Ed Trefzger and Jim Connelly with USCHO Live! Wednesday through Saturday. Rumor has it that I’ll be sitting in the USCHO booth at the Frozen Fest on Thursday before the games.
I’ll post my picks for the tournament on Thursday morning. My apologies in advance to Yale fans, as I’m picking the Bulldogs to go all the way.