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Strategic plan for college hockey growth gets results faster than expected

A strategic plan hatched about a year ago has produced results far earlier than expected.

College Hockey Inc. executive director Mike Snee appeared on the USCHO Live! talk show Tuesday from Arizona, where earlier in the day Arizona State announced it would launch a Division I varsity program starting next season.

On the program, Snee detailed a meeting about a year ago in Tampa, Fla., where the ownership group of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning called together representatives of College Hockey Inc., the NHL, USA Hockey, Penn State and others for a full-day meeting to set a course for developing more college hockey programs.

A subsequent get-together two months later at the NHL offices in New York gave further clarity.

“From that came a strategic plan on how we felt that we could affect the growth of college hockey and how we would go about that,” Snee said on USCHO Live! “I don’t think any of us thought that we would have a success story just 11-plus months into it. But it’s happened.”

Listen to the full episode, which includes appearances by Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin and Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson, here; Snee’s interview starts at about 9:15.

Snee talked about College Hockey Inc.’s role in the Arizona State decision.

“We introduced the idea to them and they saw the potential and they got excited about it,” he said. “Clearly here you have three important parts to it. One is a visionary for an athletic director. He’s bold. I don’t know if he wants to just have business as usual. He was involved and he was brand new. He started last January.

“We had a tremendous club hockey program, so that infrastructure was in place. And they have a number of people connected to the school, connected to the current hockey program that believe in it and have the financial resources to be part of the elevation to Division I.”

Snee said the group used as an example Penn State’s transformation from a successful club program to Division I varsity status.

There are similarities between Penn State and Arizona State — both situations involved a concept that was made possible by a large donation.

Still, Snee acknowledged that might not be the exact blueprint for all future growth in college hockey. The availability of facilities and the cost to maintain a hockey program are obvious reasons why a school would shy away from the sport, he said.

But after Tuesday there might be others who see that what once was just a dream is possible.

“All it takes is somebody to say, well, why not us?” Snee said. “I think tonight after this announcement, all of those Pac-12 schools as well as perhaps other schools feel that their school is actually a little closer to adding hockey than it was yesterday.”

Video: Minnesota-Duluth’s Kaskisuo makes a remarkable save look easy

It ended up coming in a losing effort, but Minnesota-Duluth’s Kasimir Kaskisuo made a behind-the-back glove save Friday that will be tough to beat as the best of the night.

Check it out via Minnesota-Duluth’s YouTube channel:

That stop of Cody Murphy was one of 35 made by Kaskisuo on Friday, but the RedHawks won 3-2 on a Sean Kuraly goal with the Bulldogs two skaters short in the final two minutes.

A team-by-team listing of USCHO’s season previews

In the last week, our Division I men’s conference columnists have previewed the six leagues and 59 teams for the 2014-15 season.

If you missed anything, here are links to all of our season previews:

Atlantic Hockey

League preview
Army
Air Force
American International
Bentley
Canisius
Holy Cross
Mercyhurst
Niagara
Robert Morris
Rochester Institute of Technology
Sacred Heart

Big Ten

League preview
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Ohio State
Penn State
Wisconsin

ECAC Hockey

League preview
Brown
Clarkson
Colgate
Cornell
Dartmouth
Harvard
Princeton
Quinnipiac
Rensselaer
St. Lawrence
Union
Yale

Hockey East

League preview
Boston College
Boston University
Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
Massachusetts-Lowell
Merrimack
New Hampshire
Northeastern
Notre Dame
Providence
Vermont

NCHC

League preview
Colorado College
Denver
Miami
Minnesota-Duluth
North Dakota
Omaha
St. Cloud State
Western Michigan

WCHA

League preview
Alabama-Huntsville
Alaska
Alaska-Anchorage
Bemidji State
Bowling Green
Ferris State
Lake Superior State
Michigan Tech
Minnesota State
Northern Michigan

An effort, probably futile, at interpreting the preseason poll

Monday’s release of the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll starts the 18th season of the rankings we put together from the votes of coaches, media members and others in college hockey.

In a world where the PairWise Rankings exist, we can’t pretend that the rankings are worth any more than the pixels on which they’re displayed. Their real value is in giving a picture of how teams are viewed by those who pay close attention to the game.

That being said, a lot of people think Minnesota has a team built to make it back to the Frozen Four.

The Gophers got 36 of the 50 first-place votes to take the top spot in the preseason poll. Looking back at previous preseason No. 1s gives mixed signals on whether Gophers fans should be happy about that.

On one hand, only one of the previous 17 preseason No. 1s went on to win that season’s national championship.

On the other hand, that one was Minnesota. In the fall of 2002, the defending national champion Gophers got 22 of 40 first-place votes to lead the preseason poll. They finished that season with a second straight title.

The preseason No. 1 spot has been a bit of a curse lately in terms of making the Frozen Four. Since that 2002-03 Minnesota team, the only preseason No. 1 to make it to the national semifinals was North Dakota in 2007-08.

Here’s the list of preseason No. 1s and how they’ve fared that season:

1997-98: North Dakota (30/30); 30-8-1, won WCHA regular season title, lost in NCAA quarterfinals

1998-99: Boston College (6/30); 27-12-4, won Hockey East playoff title, lost in NCAA semifinals

1999-2000: Boston College (26/40); 29-12-1, lost in NCAA championship game

2000-01: North Dakota (24/40); 29-8-9, won WCHA regular season title, lost in NCAA championship game

2001-02: Michigan State (33/40); 27-9-5, lost in NCAA first round

2002-03: Minnesota (22/40); 28-8-9, won WCHA playoff title, won NCAA title

2003-04: Minnesota (25/30); 27-14-3, won WCHA playoff title, lost in NCAA quarterfinals

2004-05: Michigan (17/40); 31-8-3, won CCHA regular season and playoff titles, lost in NCAA quarterfinals

2005-06: Denver (17/36); 21-15-3, missed NCAA tournament

2006-07: Wisconsin (17/40); 19-18-4, missed NCAA tournament

2007-08: North Dakota (13/29); 28-11-4, lost in NCAA semifinals

2008-09: Boston College (36/50); 18-14-5, missed NCAA tournament

2009-10: Denver (20/46); 27-10-4, won WCHA regular season title, lost in NCAA first round

2010-11: Boston College (45/50); 30-8-1, won Hockey East regular season and playoff titles, lost in NCAA first round

2011-12: Notre Dame (11/43); 19-18-3, missed NCAA tournament

2012-13: Boston College (35/50); 22-12-4, lost in NCAA first round

2013-14: Massachusetts-Lowell (19/50); 26-11-4, lost in NCAA quarterfinals

If you’re looking to predict which team will win the 2015 national championship from the trends of the first 17 years of the preseason USCHO poll, here are some possibilities:

• No spot in the preseason poll has yielded a champion more than No. 4. That produced the winner in 2001 (North Dakota), 2002 (Boston College) and 2003 (Minnesota). This season, No. 4 is Boston College.

• Not including the 2013-14 Yale team that was unranked and received just six points in the preseason poll that season, the average position of the eventual champion before the season was 7.3. No. 7 this season is St. Cloud State.

• The average number of points for the eventual champion (adjusted in some cases to a 1,000-point scale, meaning a 20-team poll with 50 voters like we currently have in place) is 541. This season, the closest team is No. 9 Ferris State.

Or maybe we should just let the season play out.

For new head coaches, first season often brings only marginal improvement

When the 2014-15 Division I men’s season begins this coming weekend, four head coaches will be behind the bench in a new place, each with an expectation of improvement.

You may have heard that success doesn’t happen overnight. In college hockey, that seems to apply for the first season after a coaching change.

Between 1994 and 2013, there were 96 offseason coaching changes for Division I college hockey teams. (We’re not counting coaching changes that happened in the middle of a season because the comparisons between one year and the next become imprecise.)

In the cases where the coaching change was as a result of poor performance, all of the programs surely wanted to see signs of improvement right away, and some did. Massachusetts-Lowell went from five wins in 2010-11 to 24 and an NCAA tournament spot in Norm Bazin’s debut season of 2011-12.

But not all coaching changes yield immediate results, at least not the kind that might be measured as a smashing success.

On average, those 96 coaching changes produced a winning percentage improvement of .027 in the first season. The mean improvement was .018.

Here they are, sorted with the greatest one-season improvements at the top:

This season, we’ll see whether Mike Haviland (Colorado College), David Berard (Holy Cross), Damon Whitten (Lake Superior State) and Ron Fogarty (Princeton) can turn teams with losing records into winners.

The challenge may be greatest at Princeton (a .188 winning percentage last season) and Colorado College (.270).

Of the 18 times in the last 20 years that a team made a coaching change the season after finishing with a winning percentage under .300, that team followed with a winning season only twice. Once was the aforementioned 2011-12 Lowell team, and the other was last season, when Matt Thomas took Alaska-Anchorage from 4-25-7 to 18-16-4.

If it does happen for a third consecutive season, it will certainly be unexpected. Both Princeton and Colorado College were picked for last in their respective leagues.

Polling season has begun; USCHO polls start in the coming weeks

It’s the time of year when we start seeing leagues release the results of preseason coaches polls, with an occasional media poll thrown in.

ECAC Hockey was the first out on the women’s side Monday, with Harvard leading the rankings.

We’ll post the rest as they come in, but here’s a heads-up that the USCHO.com polls will be starting in the coming weeks.

The preseason USCHO.com Division I Women’s Poll is scheduled for release on Monday, Sept. 22, with its counterpart in Division I men set for Sept. 29.

The preseason polls for Division III men and women are scheduled for Oct. 27, a few days before teams are eligible to begin competition.

Get up to speed with this season’s changes with the NCAA’s rules video

It’s not a new college hockey season without a rules video.

So here’s the long version of the 2014-15 product from the NCAA. There’s a slightly shorter version without some women’s clips, but the ideas are the same.

If you’re not into 14-minute videos, here are the rule changes in list form: (You also can find these in the new NCAA rule book.)

1. Goal Pegs. (Rule 2.1) Effective with the 2016-17 season, all institutions must have a goal anchoring system with 10-inch pegs in place.

Rationale. To reduce the number of stoppages for the goal cage becoming dislodged. Most NCAA institutions already use some anchoring system, but allowing some time to prepare and work with off-campus facilities is needed.

2. Faceoff Location — Offensive Scoring Opportunity. (Rule 81.2) When the attacking team is attempting to score a goal and the puck goes out of play as a result, the faceoff shall remain in the attacking zone. The puck must have been shot/passed from the attacking zone and be a clear attempt to score for the faceoff to remain in the zone.

Rationale. Rewards the offensive team and eliminates the sometimes difficult determination of which team the puck deflected off of before leaving the ice.

3. Faceoff Location — High Stick/Hand Pass. (Rule 81.2) When play is stopped due to a high stick or hand pass violation, the ensuing faceoff will take place one zone closer to the offending team’s goal.

Rationale. Previously, the faceoff was always in the offending team’s defending zone, which the committee believes is too punitive.

4. Video Review: Sequence of Penalty and Goal. (Rule 93.2) The video criteria will be changed to review if a goal was scored before a penalty infraction occurred.

Rationale. Provides officials with another opportunity to correctly administer the game.

5. Video Review: Offsides/Too Many Men. (Rule 93.2) The time sequence for review of an offside or too many men infraction ends when the puck leaves the attacking zone. Previously, the review was to take place only if the infraction led directly to a goal.

Rationale. Clarifies the allowable amount of time/play that can occur with the review still being in effect.

6. Video Review: General. (Rule 93.1) Any video that is available for review purposes will be allowed. Previously, only games that were televised were eligible for review purposes.

Rationale. Clarifies the allowable use of video.

7. Video Review: NCAA Championship. (Rule 93.4) During the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship only, the rules committee has authorized officials in the tournament to use video replay during the game to review penalties that would result in the removal of a student-athlete to ensure proper enforcement.

Rationale. The quality and availability of video replay in the Division I Men’s Championship is consistent and will enhance the game officials’ effort to properly penalize actions on the ice immediately.

8. Interference: Blindside hits. (Rule 59.1) A category of penalty in the interference rule will be added to separate a severe blindside hit from the contact to the head penalty. In these cases, a major penalty may be called for blindside contact when the head is not contacted.

Rationale. Allows officials to appropriately designate these penalties. The NHL has taken a similar approach in this area.

9. Faceoffs: Dropping the Puck. (Rule 81.3) Linesmen shall “present” the puck; current mechanic is to drop the puck from the beltline.

Rationale. More in line with mechanics used in most other areas of hockey.

10. Faceoffs: Closing the Hand on the Puck. (Rule 81.2) If either faceoff player closes the hand on the puck during the immediate action after the puck is dropped, it shall be an automatic minor penalty.

Rationale. Eliminates an unfair tactic and forces faceoff players to use their stick/skates to win the faceoff

11. Faceoffs: Official’s Error on Icing. (Rule 81.2) All faceoffs in this situation will be moved to center ice. Previously, the officials could conduct a faceoff at a place that did not unduly penalize one team; that led to some inconsistencies and the consensus was to move to the center ice faceoff.

Rationale. Eliminates inconsistent rulings and is as fair as possible to both teams.

12. Faceoffs: Attacking Team Stick Down Last in Zone Line. (Rule 81.3) In faceoffs in the attacking zone, the defending team will put down the stick first during the faceoff. In all other faceoffs, the visiting team will put the stick down first.

Rationale. To provide the attacking team some advantage during offensive zone faceoffs.

13. Penalty Shot/Shootouts: Goal Dislodged. (Rule 25.2) During a shootout or penalty shot, if the goal becomes dislodged by the goalkeeper, the referee shall either award a goal (if intentional or if the goal was obvious and imminent) or allow the team to shoot again.

Rationale. This guarantees the offensive team the opportunity to shoot, whether the dislodgement was intentional or not.

14. Penalty Shot: Injured Player. (Rule 25.2) If a player that is awarded a penalty shot is injured and unable to take the shot, one of the players on the ice at the time of the infraction shall be chosen to shoot.

Rationale. Clarifies and makes NCAA rule consistent with most other levels.

15. Intermissions: Allowable Time During NCAA Championships. (Rule 82.1) Intermissions in the NCAA championship may be as many as 18 minutes.

Rationale. Allows the NCAA championship committees to adjust timing for better ice conditions and broadcasting concerns.

16. Overtime Period: Stoppage Under 10 Minutes. (Rule 91.4) In these cases, at the first stoppage of play under the 10 minute mark, ice maintenance shall be allowed, if available. Note: The allowable stoppages are the same as the NCAA TV Timeout protocol (e.g., stoppage for icing does not qualify).

Rationale. Will provide better ice conditions and a brief timeout for both teams.

17. Uniforms: Contrast Between Number and Jersey. (Rule 9.1) Uniform numbers must be a light color number on dark sweaters and a dark colored number on light colored jerseys.

Rationale. Eliminates any confusion on numbering and provides manufacturers/teams with clear direction.

18. Uniforms: Numbers on Helmets Recommended. (Rule 9.4) The committee recommends that teams add numbers to the front of student-athlete helmets.

Rationale. Will assist with proper identification of student-athletes.

19. Goal Nets: NHL-Style Nets Allowed. (Rule 2.2) Note that the new NHL nets are considered to be legal for NCAA play.

Rationale. Editorial clarification.

20. Two Goalkeeper Requirement. (Rule 5.3) To remove the requirement for a waiver to start the game with one goalkeeper. A delay will not be allowed if the goalkeeper is penalized or otherwise incapacitated.

Rationale. Removes unneeded paperwork to a rare situation.

21. Women’s Hockey: Experimental Rule — High Sticking the Puck. (Rule 64) For the next two seasons, in women’s ice hockey, players shall be allowed to legally high-stick the puck. This experimental rule will be allowed in exhibition games and by conference request only; any non-conference and NCAA championship games will continue to enforce the current high-sticking rule.

Rationale. Strong support in the women’s ice hockey community exists to allow play to continue in these cases. Rules remain that protect student-athlete safety and will continue to be strictly enforced.

22. Look-Up Line. (Rule 1.1) Recommendation. The committee approved the use of a warning-track style line. The use of this line will not be mandatory, but is permissible.

Rationale. Potential enhancement to student-athlete safety; USA Hockey has formed a task force to study its use and implementation.

In that list, I’d push for No. 7 to be included for all games, not just the NCAA tournament.

The rationale in limiting review of penalties that could include an ejection to just NCAA tournament games seems to be that those games have more usable video available.

There was a point, however, when the rules committee opened up video replay for goals in regular season play, knowing that the quality (and utilization, for that matter) was not going to be consistent from conference to conference.

I’d say if there’s video available that can help determine if a hit rises to the level of an ejectable offense, referees should be able to use it for such an important decision.

I included the three points of emphasis for this season in Monday’s story about the Big Ten officials clinic I attended earlier this month, but they’re worth reprinting here, too.

Diving and Embellishment: Coaches, conference commissioners, coordinators of officials and on-ice officials must work collaboratively to rid the game of both diving to draw a penalty and embellishing actions to deceive game officials. The committee encourages conferences to develop ways to curb this type of behavior and if appropriate use supplemental discipline. Game officials continue to be encouraged to communicate as a crew and share information when diving or embellishment is in question.

Delaying Tactics: The committee encourages stringent use of the delay of game rules in place, especially during situations where a team may not change its players by rule (e.g., icing). In the rules survey, coaches and administrators overwhelmingly supported a crackdown on these actions. Players on the ice when play is stopped for any violation which does not permit a change of players, (e.g., icing) are required to go immediately to the faceoff location. Any player skating to the bench or otherwise delaying will receive a warning for the first offense and a bench minor penalty on the second and subsequent offense.

Goalkeeper Interference: Clarifying incidental contact between attacking players and the goalkeeper is a key initiative of the committee in this cycle. The goalkeeper must be allowed to play the position, but attacking players also must be given rights to legally obtained space. Through video and directives, the committee will provide more clarity on this issue. Essentially, the crease is the goalkeeper’s area and any contact that prevents the goalkeeper from playing the position must not be allowed. Incidental contact outside of the goal crease is allowed and attacking players have rights to the space outside the goal crease. Finally, deliberate contact with the goalkeeper (regardless of where it occurs) that prevents playing the position should result in a disallowed goal, penalty or both.

Back to the ice: Here’s how teams captured the first day of practice

You’ve probably seen plenty of pictures on Facebook of kids posing on the first day of school.

College hockey has its equivalents, and Monday was one of those days.

The official first day of practice for most Division I men’s college hockey teams is still more than two weeks away, but Monday was a key day nonetheless.

Starting on Sept. 15 each year, teams are able to spend two hours per week together on the ice with coaches for skill instruction.

Once the school year starts, coaches can do on-ice work with groups of no more than four players at a time. And players can work out in captains practices.

But Monday was what some consider the first day of practice.

Some teams chronicled the day on social media. Alabama-Huntsville put together a video of the morning skate.

Connecticut went through its first workout as a Hockey East member.

We saw some legendary coaches back on the ice.

 

And here’s a sampling from the rest of college hockey.

 

 

 

 

The season officially starts for most schools on Saturday, Oct. 4. We say most schools because Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage are exempt from starting date bylaws.

The Nanooks have the honor of playing the first game this season against outside competition, an exhibition against Western Ontario on Oct. 3.

Division I women’s teams start playing against outside competition this Saturday, with Quinnipiac and Robert Morris playing exhibition games.

Should responsibility for issuing suspensions move from referees to conferences?

STC UMD46 Should responsibility for issuing suspensions move from referees to conferences?

NCHC referee Todd Anderson gives an explanation to Minnesota-Duluth’s Caleb Herbert (photo: Jim Rosvold).

In theory, the technology exists to allow referees to see a video replay to help determine whether to assess a minor or major penalty or whether to give a game misconduct or game disqualification.

One of the big hurdles in implementation, however, seems to be ensuring that video of a sufficient quality can be available at all levels of college hockey where such a system would be put in place.

On top of that, however, is an intriguing idea that the NCAA men’s and women’s ice hockey rules committee will look at when it convenes for its annual June meeting this week.

A referee’s decision between a game misconduct and a game disqualification puts at least the offending player’s next game in jeopardy. A disqualification carries an automatic one-game suspension for a first offense in a season, two games for a second offense and so on.

What if it wasn’t the referee who made that call? What if that decision in most cases was left to the conferences to handle in a supplemental-discipline procedure that could use all available video and officials input?

It’s something that the rules committee will debate as it tweaks the rule book for the next two seasons.

As usual, there were a lot of rules issues discussed when committee members heard from coaches at their meetings in late April and early May.

But the topic of video review of major penalties was on the table for a good chunk of time, indicating the weight that’s being placed on setting a course for getting calls right.

It needs to be a priority, considering what’s on the line. Taking any player out of a game changes the bench dynamics, and taking a player out of his or her next game changes the team dynamics. So you’d like for those calls to be made using the best available knowledge. If that’s video, so be it.

The committee’s job, however, is to determine how to do things responsibly. A nationally televised Division I men’s game obviously has a lot more camera lenses pointed on it than a Division III women’s game, so writing one rule to cover the whole sport can be tricky.

And no one wants a 10-minute delay in a game, which needs to be a consideration for any use of in-game penalty reviews.

But a proposal to eliminate many in-game uses of the disqualification penalty (except for fighting and gross misconduct penalties) could serve as an important step toward at least making sure the supplemental discipline is handled without having to make a snap decision.

The 13-member rules committee, which includes coaches and administrators from men’s and women’s schools at the Division I and Division III levels, meets Monday through Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Chair Tom Anastos, coach at Michigan State, took to Twitter on Sunday:

He got some interesting responses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The discussion of how to decide tie games will be interesting because the coaches didn’t show much support for changing the overtime format.

A four-on-four format is already in the rule book in much the same way the shootout is — to be used “by conference policy or mutual consent of the participating teams.” If it has been used, it has been in limited exposure.

It should be noted, however, that coaches aren’t the only stakeholders in the equation. Administrators and conference officials get their say, too, before the rules committee makes a decision.

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