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Why the Hobey Baker Award ceremony is at an Air Force base

For the last six years, the Hobey Baker Award has been presented in a ceremony that was part of a larger Friday night event at the Frozen Four host arena.

Next week, it’s heading to a smaller, off-site location, and some have asked why.

My first thought was that you only had to point to all the empty seats in the arenas that have hosted the Friday night event. The atmosphere wasn’t really there, even if you had a couple thousand people in the crowd. In a 18,000-seat venue, that doesn’t get the kind of buzz you’re looking for, and thousands of empty seats don’t look good on TV.

This year’s event is in the Davis Conference Center at MacDill Air Force Base. It seats about 250 people, so fan access will be extremely limited.

The ceremony will be simulcast at an event at Channelside Bay Plaza, a retail and entertainment complex near the Tampa Bay Times Forum that is hosting the other Friday night events, including autograph sessions, the announcement of the Hockey Humanitarian Award recipient and the All-Americans, and concerts by the bands of the two remaining teams. It’s also scheduled for a live broadcast on NHL Network starting at 6 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 6.

How many (if any) fans will be able to attend the ceremony in person? That’s not yet known, but certainly not as many as have in years past.

A smaller venue doesn’t sound like a bad idea when you’ve seen the number of empty seats for the ceremony in recent years, but how small is too small?

Jon Doehr of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation said the group worked with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to find a suitable location, and the Air Force base was a intriguing site because it connects to Hobey Baker’s life. Baker was a decorated U.S. Army fighter pilot in World War I.

“We’re looking forward to a special ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base next week that will create an unforgettable experience for the Hobey finalists, while also celebrating Hobey Baker’s heritage and accomplishments both on and off the ice,” Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, wrote in an email. “Our hats off to the fine men and women at MacDill for helping create memories with this event that will last a lifetime.”

It’s hard to argue with the military connection, especially considering that there’s a special component being planned involving Hobey Baker’s military service.

And it was probably time to bring the event into a smaller setting after the demise of the Frozen Four Skills Challenge, which wasn’t part of the program last season.

We’ll see how it turns out. Where do you think the ceremony should be held? Leave a comment below.

Alabama-Huntsville and the NCAA’s transfer-rule exemption

Over the years, we’ve become all-too-familiar with NCAA bylaw 14.5.5.2.6, for some unfortunate reasons.

That line in the NCAA’s Division I manual is better known as the Discontinued/Nonsponsored Sport Exception, and it comes into play when a school drops a sport. So it has come up a few times in the last decade — Wayne State in 2008, Findlay in 2004 and Fairfield and Iona in 2003.

The provision allows for players to avoid having to sit out a season when transferring from a school that drops its program. But what about when a school announces it will drop its program then reverses course, as Alabama-Huntsville has done?

The language of the rule says that once a school publicly announces that it’s canceling a program’s varsity status, players have the right to play at another school in the next season, as long as they make the move before the start of the next academic year. Alabama-Huntsville announced in October that this season would be the last for the program at the varsity level, which started the clock for the current players to find another team for next season.

Even when that decision changed and UAH gave coach Chris Luongo the green light to resume scheduling for next season as a varsity program, the NCAA confirmed that Chargers players still have the opportunity to go elsewhere for 2012-13 without a transfer penalty.

Luongo said three players committed to other schools in the time that the Chargers program appeared to be folding.

“They were recruited, which we had encouraged and facilitated, they committed to those programs and if we were in the same position, we would expect the young men to honor their commitment,” Luongo said in an email. “We were happy when the young men found a home and we wish them the very best.

Goaltender Clarke Saunders is transferring to North Dakota, while forward Mac Roy is headed to Robert Morris and defenseman Nickolas Gatt will move to Michigan State. All are sophomores this season, meaning they’ll have two years of eligibility remaining starting next season.

Will there be others, since the door is still open? Luongo said he hasn’t felt the need to put on any recruiting pitch to players already in the program.

“They are well aware of what we have to offer and I am confident that they love playing hockey and going to school at the University of Alabama in Huntsville,” Luongo said.

Pegula tells Penn State officials he’s committed to new arena, programs

It stands to reason that the new Penn State men’s and women’s hockey programs will be affected in at least some way by the sex abuse scandal that has enveloped the school and athletic department.

The school’s president, Graham Spanier, who appeared at the introductory press conference for the program last September, is out. Athletic director Tim Curley is on leave and facing perjury charges. So a new-look administration awaits the hockey programs when they start Division I play next fall.

But it appears the development of the programs and the arena they will share will not be halted. Terry Pegula, whose $88 million donation is funding the men’s program and the arena, to be named the Pegula Ice Arena, has told Penn State officials that his family’s commitment is “as strong as ever.”

That’s according to Joe Battista, the associate athletic director for ice arena and hockey development, who responded to an email by first acknowledging that hearts are heavy for the victims and their families.

The Penn State men’s program is scheduled to start varsity play next season before joining what will be a six-team Big Ten league in 2013-14. The women’s team also is ready to start next season as a member of the CHA.

Pegula Ice Arena is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.

UPDATE: Pegula released a statement through the Buffalo Sabres, which he owns. Here is the full text:

The events that are unfolding at Penn State University are deeply troubling and a matter of great concern to me and my wife Kim. As many have expressed, our primary concern is for the individuals and families who may have been victimized.

Penn State’s reputation has been severely tarnished. We are encouraged to see the University trustees have begun the process of restoring integrity and trust in the institution. This process will take a period of time and trust will need to be re-earned as a result of these recent disclosures.

Penn State is supported by millions of students, alumni, faculty, staff and administrators. Our own support for Penn State and its hockey program is well known and will continue. We expect the University will carry out its educational mission with high standards and integrity.

How the conferences look with Bowling Green, Notre Dame moving

Here’s your latest look at what the Division I men’s college hockey conferences will look like in 2013-14, when realignment comes around. Bowling Green has committed to the WCHA and Notre Dame has said it’s going to Hockey East, which gives everyone from the current CCHA a new home.

ATLANTIC HOCKEY (12 teams, unchanged)
Air Force *
American International #
Army *
Bentley #
Canisius *
Connecticut *
Holy Cross *
Mercyhurst #
Niagara *
Rochester Institute of Technology ^
Robert Morris *
Sacred Heart *

BIG TEN (6 teams, new)
Michigan (from CCHA) *
Michigan State (from CCHA) *
Minnesota (from WCHA) *
Ohio State (from CCHA) *
Penn State (from independent) *
Wisconsin (from WCHA) *

ECAC HOCKEY (12 teams, unchanged)
Brown *
Clarkson ^
Colgate *
Cornell *
Dartmouth *
Harvard *
Princeton *
Quinnipiac *
Rensselaer ^
St. Lawrence ^
Union ^
Yale *

HOCKEY EAST (11 teams, adds 1)
Boston College *
Boston University *
Maine *
Massachusetts *
Massachusetts-Lowell #
Merrimack #
New Hampshire *
Northeastern *
Notre Dame * (from CCHA)
Providence *
Vermont *

NCHC (8 teams, new)
Colorado College (from WCHA) ^
Denver (from WCHA) *
Miami (from CCHA) *
Minnesota-Duluth (from WCHA) #
Nebraska-Omaha (from WCHA) *
North Dakota (from WCHA) *
St. Cloud State (from WCHA) #
Western Michigan (from CCHA) *

WCHA (9 teams, loses 8, adds 5)
Alaska (from CCHA) #
Alaska-Anchorage #
Bemidji State #
Bowling Green * (from CCHA)
Ferris State (from CCHA) #
Lake Superior State (from CCHA) #
Michigan Tech #
Minnesota State #
Northern Michigan (from CCHA) #

INDEPENDENT (1 team)
Alabama-Huntsville #

* – Schools at Division I level in all sports (38, 64 percent)
# – Schools at Division II level in most sports but Division I for hockey (15, 25 percent)
^ – Schools at Division III level in most sports but Division I for hockey (6, 10 percent)

Now we’re on the lookout for the next moves. Does Hockey East find a 12th member? Does Alabama-Huntsville survive its internal battle and find a conference home? What of Minnesota State-Moorhead and Buffalo, two schools that have indicated an interest in playing Division I hockey?

Stay tuned.

How the 2013-14 conferences look after NCHC goes to 8

Following up on an earlier post on how the conferences will look in 2013-14, when the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference form, here’s the breakdown after the NCHC’s addition of St. Cloud State and Western Michigan:

ATLANTIC HOCKEY (12 teams, unchanged)
Air Force *
American International #
Army *
Bentley #
Canisius *
Connecticut *
Holy Cross *
Mercyhurst #
Niagara *
Rochester Institute of Technology ^
Robert Morris *
Sacred Heart *

BIG TEN (6 teams, new)
Michigan (from CCHA) *
Michigan State (from CCHA) *
Minnesota (from WCHA) *
Ohio State (from CCHA) *
Penn State (from independent) *
Wisconsin (from WCHA) *

CCHA (2 teams, loses 9)
Bowling Green *
Notre Dame *

ECAC HOCKEY (12 teams, unchanged)
Brown *
Clarkson ^
Colgate *
Cornell *
Dartmouth *
Harvard *
Princeton *
Quinnipiac *
Rensselaer ^
St. Lawrence ^
Union ^
Yale *

HOCKEY EAST (10 teams, unchanged)
Boston College *
Boston University *
Maine *
Massachusetts *
Massachusetts-Lowell #
Merrimack #
New Hampshire *
Northeastern *
Providence *
Vermont *

NCHC (8 teams, new)
Colorado College (from WCHA) ^
Denver (from WCHA) *
Miami (from CCHA) *
Minnesota-Duluth (from WCHA) #
Nebraska-Omaha (from WCHA) *
North Dakota (from WCHA) *
St. Cloud State (from WCHA) #
Western Michigan (from CCHA) *

WCHA (8 teams, loses 8, adds 4)
Alaska (from CCHA) #
Alaska-Anchorage #
Bemidji State #
Ferris State (from CCHA) #
Lake Superior State (from CCHA) #
Michigan Tech #
Minnesota State #
Northern Michigan (from CCHA) #

INDEPENDENT (1 team)
Alabama-Huntsville #

* – Schools at Division I level in all sports (38, 64 percent)
# – Schools at Division II level in most sports but Division I for hockey (15, 25 percent)
^ – Schools at Division III level in most sports but Division I for hockey (6, 10 percent)

As before, Bowling Green and Notre Dame are listed under the CCHA banner because they haven’t yet announced where they’re headed. The WCHA’s deadline for Bowling Green to act on an invitation was set to come up this week, but now it appears that has been extended to Oct. 7, according to Kevin Gordon of the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune.

And as for Notre Dame, you have to think that the tumult in the Big East Conference, in which the Irish are members for many sports, could further push back a decision from South Bend. Every time there’s a conference change, the Notre Dame-to-the-Big Ten machine gets going again, and this week has been no different.

By now, I’m just hoping we have a picture of how this thing is going to look by sometime in 2013.

Hope continues for new RIT arena

ritarena Hope continues for new RIT arena

An artist's rendering of a proposed new arena for Rochester Institute of Technology's hockey teams (photo: RIT Athletics).

In November, Rochester Institute of Technology launched a fundraising effort designed to secure $15 million needed to fund a new hockey arena for its men’s and women’s teams.

So when school president William W. Destler got to the part of his annual President’s Address about building projects on campus, naturally, the potential for a new home for the Tigers came up.

“I’m hoping against hope to have a significant announcement related to this effort soon,” Destler said.

A tip, or just hope? We’ll see.

Here’s the video. The line about the new arena starts at 38:47.

A look at how the conferences shape up for 2013-14 (today, anyway)

We got a request via email the other day to publish what the conference structure will look like in 2013-14, when the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference begin play. The situation is still fluid, of course, but let’s take a look at what we have at the moment.

One caveat: I left the CCHA as it stands even though you have to think the likelihood that the league exists in 2013-14 is smaller than small. I did that because I don’t want to assume anything with the three CCHA teams that have yet to announce their intention. (We all know that Notre Dame won’t be there, but bear with me.)

So here it is:

ATLANTIC HOCKEY (12 teams, unchanged)
Air Force *
American International #
Army *
Bentley #
Canisius *
Connecticut *
Holy Cross *
Mercyhurst #
Niagara *
Rochester Institute of Technology ^
Robert Morris *
Sacred Heart *

BIG TEN (6 teams, new)
Michigan (from CCHA) *
Michigan State (from CCHA) *
Minnesota (from WCHA) *
Ohio State (from CCHA) *
Penn State (from independent) *
Wisconsin (from WCHA) *

CCHA (3 teams, loses 8)
Bowling Green *
Notre Dame *
Western Michigan *

ECAC HOCKEY (12 teams, unchanged)
Brown *
Clarkson ^
Colgate *
Cornell *
Dartmouth *
Harvard *
Princeton *
Quinnipiac *
Rensselaer ^
St. Lawrence ^
Union ^
Yale *

HOCKEY EAST (10 teams, unchanged)
Boston College *
Boston University *
Maine *
Massachusetts *
Massachusetts-Lowell #
Merrimack #
New Hampshire *
Northeastern *
Providence *
Vermont *

NCHC (6 teams, new)
Colorado College (from WCHA) ^
Denver (from WCHA) *
Miami (from CCHA) *
Minnesota-Duluth (from WCHA) #
Nebraska-Omaha (from WCHA) *
North Dakota (from WCHA) *

WCHA (9 teams, loses 7, adds 4)
Alaska (from CCHA) #
Alaska-Anchorage #
Bemidji State #
Ferris State (from CCHA) #
Lake Superior State (from CCHA) #
Michigan Tech #
Minnesota State #
Northern Michigan (from CCHA) #
St. Cloud State #

INDEPENDENT (1 team)
Alabama-Huntsville #

* – Schools at Division I level in all sports (38, 64 percent)
# – Schools at Division II level in most sports but Division I for hockey (15, 25 percent)
^ – Schools at Division III level in most sports but Division I for hockey (6, 10 percent)

Something jumped out to me in compiling the NCAA divisions for the schools, and that’s the remarkable change in structure that the WCHA is facing. As it stands today, it has five Division I teams, six Division II teams and one Division III team. All nine of the schools that have to date confirmed their place in the WCHA of the future are Division II members that play Division I men’s hockey. My friend Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press wrote about that here, and it’s pointed out that the WCHA needs Division I members Bowling Green or Western Michigan to keep its vote at the Division I table.

There’s no sense using concrete terms yet, though. This summer is bound to give us another twist or two.

A cringe-worthy time for college teams in race for top talent

It might be time for us to get out some asterisks or some other notation for our list of college hockey-related players selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

That’s because in the give and take that is the often tenuous relationship between college hockey and major juniors, there has been an awful lot of giving by the NCAA side lately.

The top three names on that list have recently either left college for the CHL or pulled their college commitment to head to major juniors.

Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, the 14th pick in June’s draft by Dallas, left Northeastern after one season to sign with Saginaw.

Forward J.T. Miller, who was on his way to North Dakota in the fall, instead is headed to Plymouth after being picked 15th by the New York Rangers.

Connor Murphy has backed out of his commitment to Miami and will play next season for Sarnia. The defenseman was the 20th pick by Phoenix.

It doesn’t end there. Goaltender John Gibson, the 39th overall pick by Anaheim, was headed to Michigan until he changed course and signed with Kitchener, leading to this deliberate, one-sentence statement issued by Wolverines coach Red Berenson: “John Gibson has decided not to attend the University of Michigan or to play college hockey.”

And forward Reid Boucher joined Murphy with Sarnia, ending his commitment to Michigan State. He was a fourth-round pick, No. 99 overall, by New Jersey.

That’s five of the top 23 once-college-related picks in the draft gone to major juniors.

We don’t always track the comings and goings of players before they actually reach campus, but when things start to become trends, it’s time to pay attention.

It’s enticing to wonder whether college hockey’s summer of upheaval has given those on the major juniors side some marketing material, especially when you consider that four of the five college teams impacted by those moves will be on the move in 2013 (North Dakota, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State). But you’d hope that the schools would have had some rebuttal, given how adamant they’ve been that the conference shift will be for the better for their side.

That’s not the only part of the issue, of course, and I’m still a believer that we shouldn’t use broad strokes with the college-versus-major junior debate. College is right for some players; major junior is right for others. When talent departs in a group like we’ve seen in the past weeks, however, it’s cringe-worthy for anyone on the college side of things.

Another view: Thinking of history and the conference realignment

Here’s an email that came to us recently that the writer, Brian Patterson of Minneapolis, agreed to let us publish:

As a big college hockey fan, I have been following the recent developments closely and my concern, like many, is that the new conferences are completely ignoring the great history of college hockey.

Consider this — in the last quarter century, the NCAA Champions break down like this (by their “future” conference): Big Ten – 7; Hockey East – 7; NCHC – 6; ECAC – 1, WCHA – 1. You will probably notice this only adds up to 22. That is because the other three belong to Lake Superior State University — one of the remainders/castoffs (as of this date) from the CCHA.

(Full disclosure — I am a LSSU grad, and thus biased).

If NCAA football were to realign, would they cast off one of their storied teams? I doubt it. Now, I grant you that LSSU has not been highly/consistently competitive in at least 10 years — but (to continue the analogy to football above), has Notre Dame been competitive in football?

Of course, I realize this is not about storied teams and traditions, but about money. If you don’t think this is the case, then consider this — a three time NCAA Champion is being (kind of) replaced by a school (Penn State) that up to this point has had nothing more than a club team. I cannot be the only one that finds this astounding.

I am not blaming Penn State, by the way — their entrance into college hockey will likely be a very good thing, all told, when all is said and done.

The ironic thing is, and I am not the first to say this — for years college hockey fans have wanted their sport to get more attention within the overall collegiate landscape and be more “like” NCAA football and basketball. Well, we got it.

Be careful what you wish for.

What’s your reaction? Let us know in the comments below.

Realignment video roundup

While we try to catch our breath during this relatively quiet couple of days in the great offseason shakeup of 2011, here are a few videos that got posted in the madness of the last week:

Here’s the news conference at which the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was launched:

Here’s a video produced by Denver about the new conference:

And here’s the news conference at which Minnesota State-Moorhead discussed its potential new Division I program:

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