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Coaches, conference titles and the national championship

Wisconsin’s win in the WCHA championship game Saturday not only put the Badgers into the NCAA tournament, it made one short list even shorter.

Badgers coach Mike Eaves won the national championship in 2006, but until last weekend he didn’t have a conference title on his coaching resume.

The only other name on the list of national championship-winning coaches without a league title was Amo Bessone, who led Michigan State to the 1966 NCAA crown but never took the Spartans or Michigan Tech to the top of their league.

(Well, unless you count Big Ten championships that Michigan State has from 1958-59, 1966-67, 1970-71, 1972-73 and 1975-76, but those were determined by the results of regular season games played between league schools while they were members of other conferences.)

Turning to this year’s NCAA tournament, there are 11 coaches looking for a first national championship, but only Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings (the only first-year college head coach in the field) doesn’t have a conference title on his resume.

COACHES LOOKING FOR FIRST NCAA TITLE IN 2013
Keith Allain, Yale
Norm Bazin, Massachusetts-Lowell
Rick Bennett, Union
Rico Blasi, Miami
Dave Burkholder, Niagara
Dave Hakstol, North Dakota
Mike Hastings, Minnesota State
Bob Motzko, St. Cloud State
Rand Pecknold, Quinnipiac
Dave Smith, Canisius
Dick Umile, New Hampshire

The other five coaches in the tournament have combined for 12 of the 65 national championships that have been awarded.

Boston College’s Jerry York has five (1984 with Bowling Green; 2001, 2008, 2010 and 2012 with BC); Denver’s George Gwozdecky (2004, 2005), Notre Dame’s Jeff Jackson (1992 and 1994 with Lake Superior State) and Minnesota’s Don Lucia (2002, 2003) each have two; and Wisconsin’s Eaves has one (2006).

After leagues disappear or change, how will we remember them?

Please excuse the temporary bout of morbidity I’m about to throw into one of the most exciting times in the college hockey season.

At some point or another, we all wonder how we’ll be remembered after we’re gone. Some of us would like to be known for having been kind to others. Some of us, for having made a lasting impact on our world.

What will the CCHA be remembered for? What about this incarnation of the WCHA? And the NCHA?

When the CCHA Championship wraps up on Sunday, the league will essentially be gone. Yes, some of its teams will move on to the NCAA tournament wearing CCHA patches on their sweaters and, yes, the trophies will go on display sometime down the road at Bowling Green, an original member.

But this week is the last hurrah for the league, aged 42, and longtime friends of the league will be offering up their memories.

Fred Pletsch has been with the CCHA since 2001, first as director of communications, then as associate commissioner and, since 2011, as commissioner.

When I asked him this week how he’d like the league to be remembered after it’s gone, he brought up four areas.

• For being inclusive.

Pletsch offered a reminder that the league formed in 1971 because its charter members couldn’t get into the WCHA.

“Throughout its history, I think the CCHA opened up to anybody that showed interest in starting a program and committing to hockey,” Pletsch said.

• For its talent.

Beyond seven Hobey Baker Award winners, Pletsch argues that the league set the tone for high-profile college players in the mid-1980s, when Michigan State’s Craig Simpson was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft and the Spartans’ Joe Murphy went at No. 1 overall a year later.

“That had NHL people sit up and take notice,” Pletsch said. “And it was good for all the other players of the league because as the scouts went to watch the Simpsons and Murphys, they were seeing that there were a lot of other good players in the league.”

• For a pioneering spirit.

Fred Jacoby, the CCHA’s first commissioner, got the league a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Bill Beagan, who succeeded Jacoby, put together national television deals that made CCHA games available in more than 50 million homes, Pletsch said.

And Pletsch credited his predecessor, Tom Anastos, with pushing to eliminate obstruction even before the NHL’s post-lockout crackdown.

• For a sense of united purpose.

Pletsch related that at one point, Michigan and Michigan State gave up lucrative TV contracts of their own so the league could put together a deal.

“Obviously, the ultimate demise of the CCHA was the result of decisions made that were out of the control of the coaches and the administrators that are in the trenches,” he said. “There was always such a cooperative spirit in the room to do what’s best for the sport nationally.”

My experience with the CCHA has been from a distance, but I’ve always thought that, as a whole, it was an underappreciated, misunderstood entity.

It has lived in the shadow of the WCHA for a lot of its existence despite producing great players and featuring some of the game’s iconic coaches.

It has been lampooned in some parts for instituting the shootout and for denying admission to Alabama-Huntsville when the Chargers were becoming homeless. Those, however, were administrative decisions made by schools facing severe financial crunches — an element to the stories that I’m not sure ever was fully understood.

My hockey-covering career has been based in two other conferences, both of which also are undergoing major changes this offseason.

The Division III NCHA men’s league, which has produced the last three national champions, is crumbling as the Wisconsin state schools reorganize under their Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference umbrella.

St. Norbert and St. Scholastica are moving to the MCHA, and the dynamics of western D-III hockey are getting a big jolt.

I’ll remember the NCHA as featuring some pretty intense rivalries and great characters. I’m sure those rivalries will realign but the old ones were pretty good.

And while the CCHA prepares to close up shop after this weekend, the WCHA Final Five will be a farewell gathering of sorts, too.

Partisan fans that have sat next to each other for years at the Xcel Energy Center will go their separate ways next season, when the WCHA loses two schools to the Big Ten and six others to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

The five teams that were left in the CCHA after the moves to the Big Ten, NCHC and Hockey East (Notre Dame) are headed for the new-look WCHA so, again, new rivalries will form.

But for those of us who grew up watching the WCHA of Wisconsin and Minnesota, of Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota, it might be too different to recognize.

How will we remember the WCHA as it stands today? I think for me, it’ll be in the atmosphere of a Final Five. We all know that the league has its blemishes and has made us shake our heads more times than we care to count, but it sure can put on a good show.

So with the CCHA and the WCHA of today, it’s time to enjoy what little is left. Soon enough, memories are all we’ll have to go by.

How will you remember these leagues that are changing or disappearing? Leave a comment below.

Rare combination of absences possible in this season’s NCAA tournament

Even with an expanded NCAA tournament field in the last decade, college hockey’s historical powers haven’t necessarily been sure things to make the national tournament.

Minnesota (33 all-time appearances, second all-time) missed out in three straight seasons. Wisconsin (24, seventh) has been part in only five of the 10 tournaments since the field expanded to 16 teams.

Boston University (32, third) and Boston College (31, fourth) weren’t both in the same tournament from 2008 to 2011.

This season, however, could produce a rare result in terms of which combination of teams sits out when the tournament starts.

It was recently pointed out by a reader who follows our @USCHO Twitter account that some of the traditional college hockey powers aren’t in line for at-large berths to the NCAA tournament as it stands.

@ how bout BU, Wisconsin, Mich and. Mich State potentially all out if tournament?
larry normal Rare combination of absences possible in this seasons NCAA tournament

The last time Boston University, Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State all missed the NCAA tournament in the same season, you ask? It was 1980, when the field was just five teams.

In 65 NCAA tournaments, only eight have been played without any of those four schools: 1958, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1979 and 1980. The first six of those tournaments were four-team fields; like 1980, the 1979 tournament was made up of five teams.

Michigan, of course, has a 22-season NCAA tournament streak that will come to an end unless the Wolverines win the CCHA playoff title and the automatic bid that comes with it.

Michigan State also needs a CCHA title and will have to do it from the 11th and final playoff seed.

Wisconsin is 20th in the PairWise Rankings, so it has an outside shot at an at-large bid with a lot of wins before the field is selected.

Boston University is in the best position to put one team from this quartet into the tournament. The Terriers go into the final weekend of the Hockey East regular season tied for 17th in the PairWise.

For more looks at the potential NCAA tournament field, keep following the Bracketology Blog.

A quick update from a bright day at Soldier Field (with video)

CHICAGO — Greetings from Soldier Field, where today we’ll see games that are pretty important to the CCHA and WCHA standings.

Let’s hope that playing outside in what is right now a pretty blinding sunshine doesn’t negatively impact No. 3 Miami against No. 12 Notre Dame or No. 2 Minnesota against No. 18 Wisconsin. Both games are part of the Hockey City Classic, and by the time the day is done the race for first place in both leagues could have a very different look.

Miami leads Western Michigan by two points and Notre Dame by six in the CCHA, where wins are worth three points. After today, everyone has four games remaining so the RedHawks could build themselves a fairly solid lead. The Irish could keep themselves in the mix with a win.

In the late game, a Minnesota win would pull the Golden Gophers within one point of WCHA front-runner St. Cloud State with three weeks to play.

Wisconsin is battling for one of six home-ice spots for the first round of the WCHA playoffs and needs a point to pull ahead of Denver, with which it is tied for sixth. The Badgers, however, have just four league games remaining after Sunday; Denver has six.

Here are a couple of videos from around Soldier Field before Sunday’s game. First is a look around the parking lot where tailgating was in full swing two hours before the first game:

And here’s how it looks from field level:

The meaning and the messages from the WCHA’s addition of Alabama-Huntsville

The news got back to Alabama-Huntsville while the school was closed because of a snowstorm.

Maybe it was a sign.

“Somebody called me and said Huntsville got in because hell froze over,” UAH athletic director E.J. Brophy said Thursday night.

He was in a mood to joke after getting the result the school has been waiting for since being part of the dissolution of College Hockey America after the 2009-10 season.

UAH was denied by the CCHA in 2009. It was kicked to the curb by an interim school president last season, only to be revived before the season was done.

Conference affiliation was the only thing that would save the Chargers’ future, though, so you can understand the relief and satisfaction in the WCHA voting to admit them for next season.

“It’s a red-letter day for us, there’s no doubt,” Brophy said. “I’m happiest for so many people: our players, our former players, our fans, our friends, our alums. I’m so happy for those people that kept on putting on that blue shirt and that blue hat and coming to the rink even when things were bleak.

“It’s just a really big day for everybody that is involved now or has ever been involved with our hockey program. For us to be admitted into the WCHA is just a real windfall for us.”

WCHA presidents sent a message in unanimously approving the Chargers’ application for admission on Thursday.

It’s no secret that some left behind in the fracture of the WCHA that will come about this summer felt like schools had started to look out for themselves instead of the overall good of college hockey.

Don’t be naive and think that the WCHA adding UAH was purely a kind gesture. There is business involved and the Chargers will have to foot a lot of the bill for their entry to the league in terms of a travel subsidy.

But the WCHA could have given some good reasons to say no and leave UAH to fend for itself.

“We do worry about one another and we do hopefully take a broader look at this collegiate hockey world. I guess we’re really putting our words and our actions together,” WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “The presidents were very sincere about that we have to worry about all of these programs and get ourselves back on track here a little bit as a collegiate hockey group.”

Here are some more thoughts from Brophy and McLeod on Thursday’s developments:

Brophy, on subsidizing visiting teams’ travel to Huntsville for league games:

“We were asked to provide a subsidy to schools. We felt that was very fair. We came up with a range after visiting with Commissioner McLeod and the presidents and ADs of the WCHA. We came up with a range that everyone thought was fair and good. We used the Alaska formula for that. Those schools have subsidies that they provide. We used that formula as a guide and came up with a range that everyone was happy with. And once we got over that hurdle, that really sent us on our way.”

McLeod, on the unanimous vote:

“That was one of the concerns I had, that we don’t need something that’s divisive for the group right now. The important thing for us is to get on the same page and moving in the same direction.”

Brophy, on competing in the WCHA:

“One thing’s for sure: We don’t want to just be the last little boy in the schoolyard who gets picked last for the pickup basketball game for the next 20 years. We have been playing hockey in Huntsville 34 years. Five national championships at different levels. Have been to the NCAA tournament, have won our league championships. In fact, the last time we were in a conference we won that conference.

“So while we realize it’s going to be very difficult and very challenging, we want to win the WCHA. We want to go to the NCAA tournament. We want to go deep into the NCAA tournament. I don’t really believe in five-year plans or three-year plans. I believe in winning now.”

McLeod, on the league’s discussions:

“I really didn’t have a good handle on what was going to happen prior to [the meeting]. I was quite surprised how the conversation went in a positive way right from the get-go. There was very little opposition. I was a little bit surprised at that.”

Brophy, on UAH president Robert Altenkirch’s efforts:

“Without our phenomenal president, Bob Altenkirch, this would not have happened. He is a tremendous leader and he got the train on the track and he made it happen. Without him, it would not have happened. As far as I’m concerned when he flies back to Huntsville [Friday], they ought to carry him down the street like Cleopatra.”

At long last, Minnesota gives a No. 1 team upper hand over a No. 2 team

The numbers were stacked against No. 1 Minnesota on Tuesday in its non-conference showdown with No. 2 Notre Dame at Mariucci Arena.

Only certain numbers, though.

In the 15-plus seasons of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, a No. 1 team had never won a home game against a No. 2 team.

In the last 10 games between the top two teams in the rankings, the No. 1 team was winless.

Minnesota was winless in five appearances in a 1-versus-2 game.

The Golden Gophers took care of business with a 4-1 victory over the Fighting Irish, and they took care of those three trends, too.

A home No. 1 team improved to 1-6-1 against the No. 2. The last time No. 1 beat No. 2 in any game was Dec. 29, 2000, when Michigan State beat Boston College in the Great Lakes Invitational.

The Gophers finally got in the win column in games matching the top two teams in the rankings at 1-4-1.

In 17 overall games between the top two teams since the start of the 1997-98 season, No. 1 improved to 5-8-4.

Before Tuesday, it had been almost five years since we’ve seen a game of this rankings magnitude. We’ve started a page listing all of those games, and you can find it here.

Big Ten revenue potential could be tempting, but Maryland, Rutgers probably won’t be at front of line

Here’s offering a hearty welcome to Maryland and Rutgers, the two newest participants in the exciting game of When Will You Add Hockey?

2012111721 09 3028 Big Ten revenue potential could be tempting, but Maryland, Rutgers probably wont be at front of line

Minnesota brought in over $6.6 million in revenue from men’s hockey in 2010 reporting (photo: Jim Rosvold).

OK, exciting isn’t the right word there. But with the schools set to join the Big Ten — Maryland’s confirmation for the 2014-15 season came Monday and Rutgers’ is expected to follow shortly — there were predictable questions about their hockey potential.

The short answer: It doesn’t appear likely to happen soon.

Those in the know as it pertains to Big Ten hockey, which starts next season with a six-team league, say it’s more likely that established league members will be the first ones to take a serious look at adding hockey to their stable of sports.

Maryland and Rutgers have club hockey — the former fielding teams in ACHA Division 2 and Division 3 and the latter in divisions 1 and 2 — but as anyone who worked for years to get Penn State’s program elevated from club to varsity can tell you, it takes more than just a desire to make it happen.

It takes money. Big Ten schools spend anywhere from just under $2 million to just under $4 million per year on their men’s hockey programs (more on that in a minute).

It takes availability. Good places to play don’t just drop from the sky.

And it takes the right balance. Adding a men’s sport usually means having to add a women’s sport with a similar number of participants and being able to cover the cost.

But when the league starts next season, the non-hockey-playing schools in the Big Ten are going to get a better glimpse at the revenue potential that hockey has.

In a 2010 report, the five Big Ten hockey schools (Penn State was still at club status) totaled over $19 million in revenue according to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

Those figures, with total expenses and revenues (Note: This post previously included only operating, or game-day, expenses):

SchoolExpensesRevenue
Michigan State$3,077,132$1,776,187
Ohio State$2,761,793$1,186,956
Michigan$3,666,428$4,102,771
Minnesota$1,976,633$6,681,561
Wisconsin$3,975,306$5,297,711

Keep in mind that these are five established hockey programs, so the revenue for a school new to the party probably won’t reach those totals for a good amount of time.

In a way, though, it’s an investment. If Big Ten schools are willing to make the significant initial commitment, it seems there’s the potential for department-sustaining revenue down the road.

If there aren’t more Terry Pegulas out there willing to cover the startup costs (and then some), are there risk-takers among the group of Big Ten presidents and athletic directors?

It probably will take a while to find out, but the guess here is that some will come forward. And the guess is that money will drive the decision. There’s no reason to think the ways of the big-time college sports world are going to change.

Which Big Ten school do you think will be the next to add men’s hockey and when? Sound off in the comments below.

What’s in a number? If it’s 1, be careful

It’s no surprise that Boston College is going to be the target for a lot of teams this season. It comes with the national championship trophy, and it comes with the level of success that the Eagles have reached.

Here’s what might surprise you: Being No. 1 in the preseason poll, as BC was anointed Monday in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, has recently meant an early end to that team’s season.

Four of the previous seven No. 1 picks in the preseason poll have then missed the NCAA tournament. Boston College is part of it, picked for glory before the 2008-09 season but ending up on the outside of the NCAA field. The others: Denver in 2005-06, Wisconsin in 2006-07 and Notre Dame last season.

Of the 15 previous No. 1 picks:

• Only one has ended up as the national champion (Minnesota in 2002-03).

• Five have made it to the Frozen Four, but none since North Dakota in 2007-08.

• The average record posted by the teams was 26 wins, 11.53 losses and 3.93 ties.

Things are a little better for majority No. 1 picks (those who earned more than 50 percent of the first-place votes cast), as Boston College is this season.

Eight of the 15 preseason No. 1s have fallen into that category, and of that eight, only one missed the NCAA tournament (BC in 2008-09) and three made the Frozen Four.

This is Boston College’s fifth time as No. 1 in the preseason poll. North Dakota is next with three, followed by Denver and Minnesota with two apiece. Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin each have been the preseason No. 1 once.

Here’s the rundown on the No. 1 teams in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and how they have fared (first-place votes in parentheses):

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

As Penn State debuts its sweaters, we ask who needs a new design

Hockey fans love their sweaters (you may call them jerseys or uniforms; I consider the words interchangeable in hockey but know that’s not a universal feeling). Just take a look around the seating bowl at a Frozen Four and you’ll get the idea.

So for fans of a new team, getting a glimpse of the team’s sweater has to make things feel a little more real.

Penn State fans got that experience Tuesday, when the men’s and women’s sweaters were unveiled. Here are some pictures courtesy Penn State Athletic Communications and photographer Mark Selders:

 As Penn State debuts its sweaters, we ask who needs a new design

The Division I debuts for the Nittany Lions teams are just weeks away; the women open Oct. 6 at Vermont while the men host American International on Oct. 12.

What do you think about their sweaters? Which team in college hockey is due — or overdue — for a new design? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Don’t expect decisions on Frozen Four sites, shields this summer

This offseason started with the belief, at least on this end, that by the time the 2012-13 season came around we’d have knowledge of the locations of more upcoming Frozen Fours and clarity on the future of face shields.

Not so much, it appears.

Talk from some members of the Division I men’s ice hockey committee in Tampa in April was that the group was looking to select the venues for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Frozen Fours this summer.

That may have been a stretch to begin with, and with new NCAA executive vice president for championships and alliances Mark Lewis just coming on board in April, the bidding process was never opened.

Pushing the bidding back means that it’s likely that when we gather in Pittsburgh for the 2013 Frozen Four, we will know the location of only one future event — Philadelphia in 2014.

That goes against a recent trend. Site selections were made at least four years out in 2000, 2003 and 2005, and Pittsburgh got three years advance notice.

But it appears the 2015 host will have just two years to get ready. It sounds like plenty of time, but remember that advances in Frozen Four player and fan experiences often get sparked by future hosts gathering info at the event. In the likely case that the announcement is made after the Pittsburgh Frozen Four, the 2015 host will have just one such opportunity.

That makes the job of the committee in finding the right 2015 host all the more critical. It’ll be an interesting welcome to the job for Tom Nevala, a Notre Dame senior associate athletic director who takes over as committee chair on Sept. 1.

As for the face shields, expect to see either the full shields or the full cages on men’s hockey players for at least the next two seasons.

In June, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports said it would need “significant safety data” on three-quarters face shields before it can sign off on allowing them to be used.

That wasn’t unexpected, and the rules committee has already started to accumulate that data. The USHL started using three-quarters shields last season, so that information will go into consideration.

But because no change is being made this season and the NCAA works on a two-year rules cycle, the next chance for a proposal is in 2014, said rules committee chair Ed McLaughlin, also the athletic director at Niagara.

The push for less facial protection is rooted in the belief that it would make players more aware of their vulnerability and, in the end, decrease major injuries. You can imagine how it could be difficult to convince safety committee members that less protective equipment equals more protection.

That’s the challenge for the committee and the hockey community over the next two seasons. Stay tuned.

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