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Could Wayne State be experiencing a change of heart?

Wayne State won’t be playing hockey next season but that doesn’t mean that the program is dead and buried forever. In an article in Friday’s Detroit Free Press, George Sipple writes that the school is in talks with the Detroit Red Wings to build a facility on the Wayne State campus in downtown Detroit that the Wings would use as a practice facility and the University could use for a Division I varsity team.

The article states that WSU athletic director Rob Fournier “hopes to convince (Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Illich) that a partnership is in the best interest of the Warriors and the Wings.”

Obviously, this is not something that will happen overnight and the fact of the matter is that the team will not play next year and the remaining members of College Hockey America remain endangered to not have a conference next year in which to play.

But CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos told the Free Press that building a rink with the Wings “would make a strong statement” and is a “huge step in demonstrating commitment.”

This all could be just another PR buzz campaign that’s circulating around to generate positive news, particularly in light of the CHA’s seemingly impending demise. But at the point, all good news is exactly that, good news, for college hockey.

500 Reasons Not to Make the NCAA Tournament, Part II (replacing Part I)

For about six hours today, this exact blog space was occupied by a story reacting to what we thought was new legislation instituted by the NCAA men’s ice hockey committee that would require at-large teams in this year’s NCAA tournament to posses a record at or above .500.

Well, according to an email that USCHO.com received from the NCAA today, that was a misprint.

So go on with your life, Minnesota-Duluth. Your tournament life may still hang by a thread, but at least it doesn’t hang by your record.

For the record, below is the commentary that I provided when I believed that a team needed a .500 record to earn an at-large tournament bid. Knowing what we do now, I have not changed my opinion one iota on the topic:

Personally, I think this is a good move by the NCAA. Certainly, this could have been outlined more clearly by the committee, but to institute a standard that in order to qualify for an at-large bid you have to be above .500 certainly makes sense. This isn’t the first time that the .500 and above rule has been applied to the ice hockey tournament. Just a few years ago, Teams Under Consideration were actually defined as those teams with a record of .500 or better. When leagues like the MAAC (now Atlantic Hockey) and the CHA were organized, the insular schedules of member clubs created a plethora of .500 teams in each league that were, at the time, far inferior to many other clubs. Thus the definition of TUCs was changed to look at the RPI, not the overall record.

Recent tournaments, and this year’s included, saw teams hovering around .500 near the end of the season still hold solid positioning in the PWR and that’s likely what led to the committee making the “.500 rule” change this past off-season.

Certainly, this caught a lot of us in the college hockey world by surprise (mostly media types like myself and fans like you) but in the long haul I believe this is a good move to ensure the integrity of the tournament.

Like I said, I stand by all of what I wrote here. I don’t think that a team with a record below .500 belongs in the tournament unless they can prove the belong by winning their conference tournament (and yes, I do believe that winning a conference tournament proves you belong).

Maybe this is a topic to be tackled in the off-season by the committee and, if passed, would appear in print when it’s not just a typo.

And then there was one…

We’ve reached the first full week of March with only one regular season league championship still up for grabs. The WCHA will come down to the final weekend of play, with North Dakota sitting just two points behind league-leader Colorado College.

The Tigers may have the tougher opponent this weekend then they’ll face in-state rival Denver, while North Dakota squares off against St. Cloud State. SCSU did prove a problem for Wisconsin over the weekend, earning a split, but they’ll be traveling to Grand Forks for this final weekend which gives the edge to the Sioux.

Though most league titles have been settled (if you’re just joining us New Hampshire won Hockey East, Clarkson took the ECAC crown, Army won its first-ever league title in Atlantic Hockey, Michigan edged out Miami for the CCHA crown and Bemidji State was victorius in what may be the final regular season for the CHA) there still plenty at stake for the three leagues still in regular-season action this weekend.

In addition to crowning a champ, the WCHA still has a four-way battle for the final two home ice positions between Wisconsin (currently in 4th), St. Cloud and Minnesota State (currently tied for 5th) and Minnesota (currently in 7th, three points out of fifth).

The ultimate battle to the finish will be in Hockey East. Despite New Hampshire wrapping up the title earlier than any other team in the nation, the remaining teams are all locked in various battles.

There’s a six-team battle for three home ice spots between Boston University, Vermont, Providence, Boston College, Northeastern and Mass.-Lowell. Five points total separate second-place BU and Vermont from NU and Lowell (both currently tied for sixth).

Similarly, there’s a three-way battle for the final playoff spot in Hockey East (the only league in the country that makes its regular season mean something by eliminating teams at season’s end). UMass seemingly has the fast track, holding a slim two-point lead over Maine and a four-point lead over Merrimack. What’s interesting is that Maine holds the tie breaker over UMass and Merrimack, which faces UMass this weekend, would hold the tie breaker over either Maine or UMass (Merrimack would have to sweep the Minutemen this weekend to get into a tie and thus would win the season series).

The most intersting storyline in Hockey East is Maine. It desperately needs a sweep of a somewhat hot Lowell team this weekend to qualify for the playoffs. Maine, along with BU, BC and Providence, have never missed the playoffs in the 24-year history of the league.

WCHA Dominance in the PairWise

If the NCAA Tournament Selection Show were taking place today, the WCHA would have a 50/50 chance of winning this year’s national championship based on the field itself (WCHA fans, I’m sure, will argue that the league’s “superiority” would give them better than a 50/50 shot, but to that I digress).

Currently, eight of the ten WCHA teams rank in the top 14 of the PairWise rankings. That was made possibly when Minnesota crept from the 15th spot to the 12th position over the weekend, while a skidding Minnesota-Duluth club held on for dear life to the 14th and final PWR rank.

I don’t have the math brain to say what the chances are the through the playoffs that eight WCHA teams will maintain their PWR. Obviously, the lower the seeds that advance to the Final Five the better the chance that we’ll see seven or eight WCHA teams.

It does create a bit of an interesting issue. As one who enjoys the “national” flavor of the tournament, I’d prefer to see no more than six teams from the same conference. The fact that five conferences could split the final eight non-WCHA tournament spots is a bit absurd, particularly given the fact that two of the top five teams in the PWR come from the CCHA (and that conference also has a third team, Michigan State, appearing to be a tournament lock).

What could throw a wrench in all of the plans, of course, would be lower-seeded teams winning conference tournaments to earn the automatic bid. In the ECAC, that certainly seems feasible as it does in Hockey East.

It’s far to early to begin griping about an unbalanced tournament field, but certainly something to keep an eye on in coming weeks.

Who’s Hot

There are a few teams that are streaking towards the finish line in a rather impressive manner:

North Dakota: 15 games without a loss is pretty impressive, though Minnesota-Duluth gave them a run for their money over the weekend.

Connecticut: The Huskies have won four straight and had top goaltender Beau Erickson make a surprise return to the lineup this weekend. That helped UConn climb from the Atlantic Hockey cellar to sixth place.

Harvard: Left for dead entering the Beanpot, the Crimson dropped only the Beanpot title game down the stretch to go from hoping for home ice in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs all the way to a first-round bye.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats locked up the regular-season crown with plenty of time to spare and, though they had a hiccup with a tie this weekend against Merrimack, have gone 11 games without a loss.

Controversial Goal in Maine/UMass series

A couple of people inquired why I haven’t had any commentary about the controversial goal at the end of the UMass-Maine game that led to the Black Bears winning in overtime last Sunday afternoon.

To recap the play, which I was fortunate to watch live on ESPNU, a Maine defenseman cleared a puck the length of the ice with about two minutes left in the overtime. The trail linesman signaled for icing, but the rough ice conditions led to the puck slowing down. Just as it was about to cross the goal line for icing, the lead linesman waved off the icing ruling that the UMass defenseman giving chase (I don’t remember who it was) could have played the puck.

Maine’s Andrew Sweetland, hot to the heels of the UMass defenseman, pressured the puck behind the net, created a turnover and centered the puck to Wes Clark who deflected it over the goaltender Dan Meyers for the victory.

UMass coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon was lived after the play, chasing the officials around the ice, holding his hands on his head. While it would seem that Cahoon had a gripe, after I slowed the play down on replay numerous times, it would appear that if the UMass defenseman stretches out his stick, he would have reached the puck before it crossed the goal line.

What Cahoon does have a gripe with, though, is how late the linesman waved off the icing. The puck had already crossed the line before the signal was made, putting the UMass defender in an awkward situation – he was expecting a whistle and instead was now forced to play the puck with a forechecker close in toe.

One thing I know from this play – it was not a black and white call. I could understand why either side would argue for or against the icing call. It’s unfortunate that the game was deciding on the ensuing play. But if anything this play teaches a solid lesson to all players – you have to play until the whistle. Letting up for even a second because you believe the play will be blown dead can be costly in a fast-paced game.

UNH?

Is it me or has most of the college hockey world been blindsided by the fact that New Hampshire has climbed to the number two spot in the PairWise Rankings? The Wildcats have quietly played well over the last couple of months and now are close to locking up a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The UNH lineup is not filled with household names… at least not yet. The team’s most well-known player at this point might actually be rookie James van Riemsdyk, the number two overall pick in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft. He, though, has not been the cog behind this team.

In fact it’s difficult to point to any one player who has carried the Wildcat club. Senior goaltender Kevin Regan has posted a consistent 17-5-1 record with a solid .929 save percentage. Senior forwards Mike Radja and Matt Fornataro have both steady offensive players.

But the truth is that the entire UNH lineup, top-to-bottom, is dangerous. The club boasts 12 double-digit point scorers. it has two defenseman in Brad Flaishans and Crais Switzer who are solid defensively but can jump into the rush.

In essense, this is a pretty well-balanced team that could do well in the post-season. The only question lies in experience. The Wildcats have made the NCAA Tournament for the last three years but have posted just one win over that time, that coming over Harvard in 2005.

In other words, the current roster of Wildcat players have not proven they can take the next step. But experience means a lot and there are enough veteran players sprinkled with budding talent to be dangerous.

The first test comes this weekend against Boston College, which sits six points behind the Wildcats for the Hockey East top spot. A sweep could all but sew up the trophy for UNH. Being swept would turn that level of comfort upside down.

Applauding Discipline

I have to tip the hat in a couple of directions this week for league that have stepped forward to state clearly that fighting will not have a place in the college game.

First off, Atlantic Hockey and its executive committee should be congratulated for upholding the suspensions issued to RIT in the wake of the massive line brawl the Tigers participated in against Canisius. The commissioner and director of officiating spent a signficant amount of time watching video to get the suspensions correct. And the executive committee’s ratification of the decision by denying RIT’s appeal sent a strong message of support for the league administration.

The WCHA also deserves recognition for issuing supplemental discipline after last Saturday’s North Dakota-Denver game. I have not seen tape of the fight that took place between J.P. Testwuide and Kyle Radke but I applaud the league for not simply sweeping the incident under the rug. It makes you wonder as a member of the media if all the complaining we (okay, I) do about fighting in college hockey is actually being heard. Likely it’s not, but at least I can think there’s a possibility.

Canisius-RIT – the suspensions

Some of the longest suspensions in the history of college hockey were handed down by Atlantic Hockey last night in the aftermath of the Canisius-RIT melee that took place last Saturday night.

Commissioner Bob DeGregorio issued a total of 20 additional games worth of suspensions to eight separate players, suspending two of the players involved for the remainder of the regular season.

Canisius sophomore defenseman Carl Hudson and RIT senior co-captain Ricky Walton will each sit out the remainder of the regular season. For Hudson, who originally was assessed a double game disqualification which carries with it a three game suspension, he will sit a total of seven games. Walton, who was originally suspended for just one game, will miss five additional games.

The remaining six players – Canisius’s Phil Raush, Taylor Anderson and Jason Weeks and RIT’s Tyler Mazzei, Louis Menard and Stephen Burns – all will sit out their club’s next game before returning to the lineup.

Walton and Hudson’s suspensions are among the longest in recent memory as a result of on-ice actions. Both played key roles in adding fuel to the fire at separate times during the fight.

Walton’s actions came first. As things were beginning to be brought under control, he punched a Canisius player from behind. Shortly thereafter Hudson, who had already been placed in the penalty box by the referee, exited the box, re-engaged in the altercation and proceeded to pound the head of an RIT player into the ice.

DeGregorio said that these actions warrented the extreme suspensions.

“Those suspensions were based on the degree of each player’s involvement [in the altercation],” said DeGregorio. “Hudson came out of the penalty box and re-engaged an RIT player. His actions re-ignited a very volitile situation and could’ve resulted in serious injury to either an RIT player or himself.

“In Walton’s case, in my judgement it was the severity of his involvement in the incident, particularly with the ‘sucker punch’ from behind of a Canisius player followed by additional fisticuffs.”

According to sources, RIT is appealing the suspensions, something DeGregorio confirmed.

“RIT does have an appeal filed and it will be heard [Friday] morning] before the Atlantic Hockey executive committee,” said DeGregorio. Canisius, meanwhile, issued a statement from Athletic Director Bill Maher on Thursday stating that the school fully accepts the supplemental punishment calling it “both substantial and appropriate under the circumstances.”

The executive committee is comprised of four athletic directors or senior administrators from Atlantic Hockey member schools: Holy Cross’ Bill Bellerose, Bentley’s Bob DeFelice, Sacred Heart’s Don Cook and AIC’s Richard Bedard.

With the committee hearing the appeal on Friday morning, the decision should be rendered before RIT’s next game Saturday night against Niagara.

Should nothing change based on the appeal, a total of 30 man games will have been lost to this altercation and Atlantic Hockey will have sent a very loud and clear message that fighting will not be tolerated. DeGregorio said that fighting is simply not part of “the culture of college hockey” and that he certainly doesn’t want it to be part of the league.

Beanpot Post-Mortem

Another Beanpot has passed with plenty of excitement, some outstanding story lines and enough to keep the Boston hockey community talking for a while.

Boston College came out on top for the 14th time, this time as the favorite entering the tournament. The Eagles road was far from simple – needing overtime in both its semifinal win over BU and the title game over Harvard.

Some things that stood out:

- The story line of Nick Petrecki was one that was extremely captivating. He rode the ultimate roller coaster throughout the championship game. Even though the BC roster lists him from Clifton Park, N.Y., Petrecki’s mother hails from nearby West Roxbury, Mass., and has brought Nick to the games since he was 5 years old. Scoring his first career goal, a true highlight reel snipe if I may say, in the second period had to be a career highlight. Just as much so, crashing into the linesman late in the third leading to Harvard’s fourth goal and ultimately their dramatic comeback was an equal low-light. But to get redemption all in one large breath, scoring the OT game-winner was one of the best story lines of the tournament.

- Harvard really shocked a lot of people – even some of its own fans – with their gutsy, never-say-die performance in the title game. Head coach Ted Donato said after the game that he hopes this year’s tournament changes the mentality of his team in the Beanpot moving forward. If you show each and every team last night’s third period, you’d have to believe would happen.

- Northeastern truly got hosed in last night’s consolation game. Granted, the Huskies blew a two-goal lead against Boston University. But it was inexplicable how two referees missed a pretty obvious penalty late in the game when a BU player held, grabbed and threw an NU defenseman’s stick, leading to the game-winning goal. Even if both referees missed the infraction, the stick went about 10 feet into the air and seemed to be airborne forever, providing plenty of evidence for the officials to deduce that an infraction had occured. Instead, NU was one again relegated to a fourth-place Beanpot finish.

- The fact that BU wasn’t in the title game actually seemed to give a different sort of life to last night’s championship game. I’m not sure what it is, but I know that people can get sick of the status quo. Having NU and BU in the consolation game made for a very different atmosphere as arguably the two most passionate fan bases squared off in back-and-forth volley chants. BU might have gotten the better of the game, but the 3,000+ Northeastern students in the balcony sure made a heck of a statement for the pride NU fans are feeling for their program.

- Those BU and NU fans that remained for the title tilt became a bit of the show as the game wore on. It was pleasing to see and hear both fan bases unite to support the Harvard band and bring with them all of their typical respective cheers.

- Picking an MVP for this year’s tournament may never have been more difficult. No player immediately stuck out. But because there is the need to coordinate the awards ceremony immediate at the conclusion of the game, media director Ed Carpenter was charged with polling the media and determining the game’s MVP before the winning goal was scored. In years past, the determination was to give the award to the person who scores the game-winning goal, but there’s nothing worse than seeing a player do nothing the entire tournament and score a garbage goal to earn tournament MVP (a la Chris Bourque in 2005). Brian Gibbons was the choice if BC won, though following the old method and giving Petrecki the award would have been equally justified.

Boys Gone Wild

Is it me or is the college hockey world being overcome by incident after incident that leaves the average fan shaking their head. After a season that’s had a rash of problems for players both on and off the ice, last week saw one of the top scoring players in the nation head to the NHL after some sort of off-ice incident followed by one of the longest brawls that college hockey has seen.

Things began on Thursday when it was announced that Denver’s top scorer, Brock Trotter, had signed an NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Simple, though somewhat strange to happen mid-season, the signing followed Denver head coach George Gwozdecky benching Trotter for a two-game series a week earlier at Minnesota State.

Gwozdecky and Denver had no comment on Trotter being left out of the lineup and never made any official announcement of a suspension. That won’t be necessary now that Trotter has departed the program, but there certainly remains what seems like some unanswered questions.

While that drama spun off the ice, Canisius and RIT engaged in a donny-brook of fights on Saturday night that resulted in 239 penalties combined in the 4-1 RIT victory. Honestly, after watching this amateur video of the altercation, I’m surprised that there weren’t more penalties assessed. It will be interesting to see if the league imposes any additional suspension.

These are two in a long list of incidents both on and off the ice that have drawn attention this season. Boston College, Boston University, Maine, Vermont, Colorado College, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Michigan all have suspended or dismissed players for off-ice incidents. Out in the WCHA, North Dakota has twice been involved in brawls and head coach Dave Hakstol has has his share of problems, getting into a verbal tussle with Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves earlier in the season before recently being suspended for “flipping the bird” at an official during a series with Minnesota.

So the question at hand is what the heck if going on?

The answer may be difficult to find. In terms of off-ice issues, I personally believe that there have been problem similar to these occuring within teams for years. Before the era of real-time media, I think that most of these problems could be swept under the carpet.

As for the on-ice altercations, in essence everything that has happened is part of the game. There will be brawls at times. What will curb these incidents is how the league reacts. AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio has the chance to send a message that behavior such as what was witnessed on Saturday night isn’t acceptable. There were some automatic suspensions associated with the penalties that were handed out, but there when you have players leaving the penalty box, goaltenders skating the length of the ice to start fights and players beating other players with helmets, supplemental discipline is certainly warranted.

Beanpot Banter

Tuesday was the annual Beanpot Luncheon, officially kicking off the 56th Annual Beanpot Hockey Tournament, which will begin play next Monday, February 4. This yearly “kick-off” event brings together representatives from each of the tournament’s four schools – Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern.

The luncheon has become a bit of a schmooze-fest, though long-time tournament director Steve Nazro continues in his attempt to improve the event. This year’s luncheon featured a trio of inductees into the Beanpot Hall of Fame – former BU goaltender Dan Brady, who led the Terriers to consecutive Beanpots in 1971 and ’72; former Northeastern defenseman Jim Averill, an instrumental part of NU’s back-to-back ‘Pot winners in 1984 and ’85; and the late Bill Flynn, former athletic director at BC.

The event’s keynote address was delivered by Nashville Predators General Manager Dave Poile, who urged players to conisider careers in professional hockey, not necessarily as players, but as front office personnel. Poile had a quintet of Predators staff with him, all of whom had roots to college hockey in the Boston area, including former Boston University Terrier Jeff Kealty, the team’s newly appointed chief amateur scout.

Missing from this year’s affair, though, was legendary BU bench boss Jack Parker, who was home battling the flu. Said assistant coach Mike Bavis, who addressed those gathered in Parker’s absence: “For those in the media who are embellishing Coach Parker’s early demise, rest assured he’ll be back in the training room with Mike Boyle tomorrow at practice.”

A Well-Timed Affair

Two of the coaches who will lead their teams into the Beanpot – BC’s Jerry York and Northeastern’s Greg Cronin – both noted that the Beanpot comes at a good time in the schedule. Both, though, had different reasons.

“It’s like a ladder that you have to keep climbing,” said York of the college hockey season. He noted that his team can use the Beanpot to begin preparing for the high-pressure regular season and post-season games that lie ahead.

The Eagles enter the Beanpot as possibly the hottest team. BC has suffered just a single loss in its last 12 games, going 9-1-2 over that span.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Northeastern Huskies, which put together an impressive 11-game winning streak earlier in the season but hit a major road bump in January, going 1-4-1 in its last six.

Cronin is hoping that the Beanpot can turn the season back around for the Huskies, a team that hasn’t won this tournament in 20 years.

“It comes at a good time for us,” said Cronin. “You never want to use the Beanpot to turn around things, but this is a case where it just may.”

Now in his third year behind the bench for the Terriers, Cronin said that his club is approaching this year’s tournament in a different way.

“No one has talked about it,” said Cronin, noting that the fact that this year’s team doesn’t need to use the Beanpot as the defining moment for the season.

Banged Up Eagles

Though BC enters the tournament as the favorite, the club could be nursing some significant injuries come Monday. With Brock Bradford out for the season after re-fracturing his humeris, captain Mike Brennan took a big hit last weekend in the opening period of Saturday night’s game at Maine.

According to York, Brennan is suffering from headaches, even though baseline testing didn’t indicate that he has suffered a concussion. His availability for this weekend’s game against Providence and Monday’s Beanpot semifinal against Boston University remain unclear.

Asked if there was a forward who could move back to play defense, York said it’s likely the team would skate with just five defenseman if the inury is short-term. Should there be a need to find a more permanent replacement, senior Matt Greene would be the likely candidate.

Beanpot Notes

- Favorite or not, history says that Boston College is the underdog in Monday’s second semifinal game against Boston University. The Eagles have not defeated the Terriers in an opening round game since 1981 (0-8 since). In fact, BC has won just three of the 18 semifinal games against the Terriers, and of those three wins, the Eagles went on to win the title just once (1963).

- This year’s field of Beanpot goaltenders do not exactly ooze with experience. Northeastern’s Brad Thiessen leads the dufflebags with two Beanpot games played, both coming last season. Harvard’s Kyle Richter has one game, last year’s semifinal loss to BC. BC sports a freshman goaltender in John Muse and neither Karson Gillespie or Brett Bennett at BU have made a Beanpot start in their careers.

- Each of this Monday’s opening round games will be broadcast on New England Sports Network (NESN). Tom Caron, Andy Brickley, Bob Beers, Tim Sweeney and Kathryn Tappen will comprise the broadcast team. NESN will also carry the Beanpot championship game on February 11.

Slow News Week…

It really is true that news is cyclical. Well, at least that’s how I feel. One week after we had everything from Magness-gate to a pact between the WCHA and Bemidji State, we have little in the form of news to report.

I even dug into the NCAA’s Website to see if there was anything exciting in the world of college hockey, and all I found was that a wrestling meet was under scrutiny for not checking the participants for a staph infection prior to the event.

That doesn’t mean it will be a dull weekend for college hockey. There are many interesting games throughout, most notably the always-exciting renewal of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry.

Though the Wolverines enter number one in the USCHO.com poll and the better team on paper, for the first time in a long time, Michigan State enters the series as the defending national champion. Though in the ‘what have you done for me lately’ world of college hockey being the defending national champ often means nothing, trust me that the Wolverines, who haven’t donned championship rings since 1998, are relishing the chance to knock off the champs.

The series kicks off in Ann Arbor tonight before traveling up the road to Lansing tomorrow. Both teams own better road records than home, so it will be interesting to see if either team is able to hold serve.

The WCHA Bubble?

Anyone who takes a look at the current USCHO.com PairWise Rankings, which made their official debut last week, might be surprised to see that only three WCHA teams are currently in tournament positions. Colorado College, Denver and North Dakota are 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively, and seem pretty decent locks to head to the national tournament (baring collapses).

But the most interesting are of the PairWise right now is the bubble. Barring conference tournament upsets, the 14th position is the final that receives an NCAA berth. Those teams 15 and lower come season’s end can head for the golf course.

Currently, #15 is St. Cloud State, while WCHA bretheren Wisconsin, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth all sit tied for 16th.

Thus, a quick flip of the PairWise, which everyone knows is a pretty volitile ranking system, could mean the WCHA gets anywhere from 3 to 7 teams in this year’s tournament. Crazy, yes. Impossible, no.

Upcoming: Beanpot chatter

For those who are in tune with the ever-popular college hockey scene in Boston, you’ll be happy to know that yours truly will have all of the insight from Tuesday’s Beanpot luncheon. Check back next week for the early scuttlebut of the annual Boston classic, which this year boasts a field in which any of the four teams could earn a victory.

The First Save of Many?

The CHA’s demise seems all but a foregone conclusion. After Air Force departed in 2006, leaving the league with five teams, and Wayne State’s announcment that it will drop hockey at the end of this season bringing the enrollment down to four, it seems impossible for college hockey’s sixth conference to remain.

The pending question then is what happens to the remaining four members.

One answer came down on Friday as the WCHA and Bemidji State announced a scheduling agreement beginning in the 2010-11 season. Timed to coincide with the opening of the Bemidji Regional Events Center, the WCHA has guaranteed the Beavers program that its teams will schedule games home games for Bemidji. While this is far from a long-term solution for the Beavers or the remaining three programs – Nigara, Robert Morris and Alabama-Huntsville – it’s the first showing of guaranteed support by any of the remaining five men’s hockey leagues.

The release issues by Bemidji State’s athletic department states that the agreement with the WCHA would account for 12 non-league games, six at home and six on the road. The question that begs, then, is where will the Beavers find the remainder of their schedule. That is not addressed anywhere in the school’s press release.

At this point, there’s strong question about where the four remaining CHA members will even play hockey next season. The NCAA granted the conference the right to have an autobid despite being below the usual minimum of six teams. But it seems questionable whether the Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Committee will continue allowing that bid to exist.

There appears to be a no-room-at-the-inn mentality among all of the remaining five league. Atlantic Hockey, for one, has placed a moratorium for expansion on its league after adding Air Force and RIT at the beginning of the 2006-07 season. That moratorium will continue, at least, through the 2008-09 season.

None of the other conferences have shown any interest in expansion and even the WCHA’s efforts to help out Bemidji (the Bemidji women are members of the WCHA women’s league) though admirable, do not offer a long-term solution for the school.

There’s a part of me that believes that college hockey is about to see it’s first large batch of Division I independents in a long time next season. Even if they’re veiled as the CHA, a four-team league truly is nothing more than a scheduling alliance.

Much of this will not play out until after this year’s NCAA tournament when the respective league meet at the AHCA Convention in Naples, Fla., in late April.

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