A truck, a border crossing and a giant teddy bear

Cornell’s Christian Hilbrich (9) gave his stick to help fans get a giant teddy bear over the glass after Saturday’s game (photo: Ned Dykes/Cornell Hockey Association).

You may have seen the footage from Saturday night’s efforts to launch a giant teddy bear over the glass at Lynah Rink after Cornell’s game against Denver.

Here’s one more key piece of that story.

It seems that it was Bill Gillam, father of Cornell goaltender Mitch Gillam, who brought the bear from the family home in Peterborough, Ontario, in the back of his truck for Teddy Bear Toss night.

(An aside: Picture, for a moment, the border crossing agent catching a glimpse of a giant teddy bear. You don’t see that every day.)

If you’ve missed it, here’s the video that’s gone viral since Saturday night:

Ned Dykes of the Cornell Hockey Association was taking photos Saturday night and came up with some tremendous shots. The one at the top of this post shows the crowd’s reaction as the bear finally gets over the top of the glass.

Here are a few of Dykes’ photos:

And on Monday, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann (Cornell Agriculture and Life Sciences, 1979) had the video and some of his own brand of commentary during his “Worst Persons in the Sports World” segment:

Former Hobey winner Geoffrion ready to get in front of the TV camera

Wisconsin’s only Hobey Baker Award winner, Blake Geoffrion, is back in Madison to make his TV broadcasting debut in Friday’s Badgers-Penn State game on ESPNews.

Blake Geoffrion’s memory is a little hazy when it comes to the whens and wheres surrounding his first collegiate game, but it is crystal clear about his first shift for Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.

“Joe Piskula passed me the puck up the left wing and I came down and ripped a slapper, and it went barely off the goalie, off the crossbar and out,” Geoffrion said. “I could have scored on my first shift, but I didn’t.”

Eight years later, Geoffrion is ready for another career first, and again it’ll take place at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center.

He’s teaming up with John Buccigross to call Friday night’s Wisconsin-Penn State game on ESPNews.

It’s a uniting of passions for Geoffrion, the 2010 Hobey Baker Award winner who loves hockey and, as you quickly find out, loves to talk.

There he was Thursday night, sitting alongside Buccigross in a corner of the upstairs room at Madison’s iconic Nitty Gritty restaurant, answering questions from a crowd of dozens of hockey fans who showed up to talk college hockey with the duo in an event organized by ESPN.

TV announcing may be new to Geoffrion, but talking about hockey is certainly not. That’s why he said he’s not too nervous about what’ll happen once the lights go on Friday night.

“A lot of the questions that we’re going to have early on and the interviews that I’m doing and talking about the game, that’s about the game of hockey,” Geoffrion said. “Once the game starts, I’m dissecting plays which — you know how I am — I do that all day long.”

Geoffrion, 26, is getting his introduction to TV analysis — he did some radio color commentary for Badgers games while injured in his sophomore year — through a series of links going back to the injury that ended his playing career.

On Nov. 9, 2012, during the NHL lockout, Geoffrion was playing in Montreal’s Bell Centre for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs when he absorbed a check from Jean-Philippe Cote of the Syracuse Crunch.

Geoffrion’s helmeted head hit Cote’s skate blade, then the ice. Once doctors realized the severity of the injury, he was rushed to a hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery to repair a fractured skull.

He said it took about eight months to recover from the injury, and through tears he told Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin that he was going to have to give up playing hockey.

Along the way, Geoffrion reached out to Buccigross, an ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor whose passion for hockey comes through on air and in his celebrated social media presence, about telling his story.

Buccigross did that in July 2013 with a nearly-5,000-word feature for ESPN.com that chronicled the injury but also the family that has meant so much for Geoffrion.

At some point, Buccigross asked Geoffrion whether he’d like to be an analyst for an ESPN broadcast, and that’s what launched Friday night’s appearance in the television booth.

“The guy won the Hobey Baker, he’s a younger guy. Let’s bring him in,” Buccigross said in recalling how he made a pitch to his ESPN bosses for Geoffrion. “Those are the kind of guys we should go for.”

Blake Geoffrion (left) and ESPN’s John Buccigross do a Q&A with a crowd in Madison on Thursday (photo: Derek Volner/ESPN).

It’s a natural fit for it to take place at Wisconsin, where Geoffrion grew from being, in his words, “a complete jerk” during a two-goal freshman season to a 28-goal scorer as a senior captain.

And even though it’s still hockey, it’s another stretch of the comfort zone for Geoffrion, who after his retirement from the game took a job with executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry in Chicago.

He wanted to do something that he would be passionate about, and so far he said he’s enjoying it.

Being out of the hockey-playing lifestyle has changed Geoffrion, and not in a bad way.

“I’m very, very happy,” he said. “I love what I do. I have more of a life now. I’m able to spend a lot of time with my wife and learn more about her passions and what she likes.

“I’m going to ‘The Nutcracker’ next weekend, which is not particularly my passion, I would say, but we’re going to try it out and see how it goes.”

First, he’ll try TV and see how that goes.

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
Air Force
American International
Holy Cross
Robert Morris
Rochester Institute of Technology
Sacred Heart

Big Ten

League preview
Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State

ECAC Hockey

League preview
St. Lawrence

Hockey East

League preview
Boston College
Boston University
New Hampshire
Notre Dame


League preview
Colorado College
North Dakota
St. Cloud State
Western Michigan


League preview
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.

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