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No, Not That Miami…

When Bemidji State emerged from the Midwest Regional after downing Notre Dame and Cornell, the Beavers became instant media darlings and the unofficial new favorite team of everyone whose true love wasn’t playing in D.C. this weekend. The George Mason basketball pep band even adopted them for the Frozen Four when BSU didn’t have the travel budget to bring its own band a good fit, since Beaver head coach Tom Serratore evoked the spirit of George Mason’s 2006 Final Four run post-game in Grand Rapids.

But Bemidji wasn’t the only upset team to win its way to the Frozen Four for the first time this year, and after the Miami RedHawks dispensed of the Beavers in Thursday’s early semifinal, it seemed as though the press corps was stumped regarding the team whose home is in southwest Ohio.

Said one reporter, “We’ve heard a lot of questions about where is Bemidji. A lot of non-hockey people ”

“Where is Oxford, Ohio?” asked Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, anticipating the enormous need of the assembled to process information that should not by any stretch of the imagination be new.

“It’s not in Florida, right?” said the reporter.

“It certainly is not in Florida,” Blasi said.

To be precise, Oxford is at latitude 39? 30? N, longitude 84? 45? W. In other words, 774 miles as the crow flies from Boston, a 40-minute drive north of Cincinnati, Ohio which borders Kentucky and about six miles east of the Indiana border. Oxford is roughly a 120-mile drive to the Ohio state capital and home of the Buckeyes, Columbus, but it’s closer to Louisville, Ky. (138 miles) than it is to Miami’s other Ohio CCHA rival, Bowling Green (178 miles).

So on Thursday when a reporter asked Boston University head coach Jack Parker what he knew about Miami and Parker joked, “I know it’s warmer there,” he spoke more truth than he realized.

As the RedHawks are playing for the first national championship of any sport in Miami University history and it is Miami University, not Miami of Ohio this trip to the Frozen Four is every bit as unique for Miami as it was for Bemidji, maybe more so.

“Right now,” said Blasi, “for our program, I hope that our community, our student body, our alumni, former coaches, everybody associated with the program are enjoying the journey.”

I’m not associated with the program, but as someone who has covered Miami hockey since 1995 for many years from a very close 120 miles until I moved last year from Columbus to Michigan I know that I’m enjoying the journey.

I’m also enjoying the confusion of my colleagues.

Bemidji Hockey: It’s the American Way

When Bemidji State upset Notre Dame and then Cornell in Grand Rapids, many among the Midwest Regional press corps groused about the way the Beavers wins would affect the television audiences for the Frozen Four. I have to admit that I expressed some of the same concerns after the Irish lost Saturday night.

Given the economy and the seeming lack of interest in our favorite collegiate sport, went the argument, college hockey needed big names in the FF to attract a television audience and earn publicity for the sport, especially in these hard economic times when too many potential viewers are distracted by other things.

But to echo the words of Tom Serratore you know what? Theres nothing bigger than Paul Bunyan, and theres certainly nothing bigger than the American Way.

The last question posed to Serratore, the BSU head coach, in the post-game press conference was about the meaning of the win over Cornell for Beaver hockey. What follows is Serratores response. I wish you could have been there to hear his fervent reply, so heart-felt, so genuine so completely right that I nearly had tears in my eyes, and not because of this wins meaning for Beaver hockey.

“I think this win is great for college hockey,” said Serratore. “This is what college hockey is about; this is what sports is about. Were not a BSC school. You take a look at college hockey, college hockey is predominately a bunch of mid-major institutions. The beauty of college hockey is that theres a small margin of error and theres a lot of parity. You know what? It was proven this weekend. It was proven last year. Thats the beauty of it.

“This is good. Holy Cross beating Minnesota is healthy; its good for hockey, its good for sports. George Mason going in college basketball is good for sports. It piques interest. Its great for the media. Its fan interest. Kids believe youre giving opportunities.

“You know what? I dont want to sit there and recite Rocky Balboa 1976, were the land of opportunity, but you know what? This is America and thats whats kind of great about it. And its sports. Its special. Franco this year, my brotherbeing an eyelash away from going to the Frozen Four. To me, thats just outstanding and thats what sports need. In hockey in general we need that, and its good.

“So what does that mean to our program? I dont know what that means for our program because our programs had a lot of success but I think its just great for the game and it gives everybody out there you know what? It gives them good feelthat it can be their day if its not next year then in two years of three years.

“I think we have to look at the big picture, you know, not the small picture there.”

And after a fantastic, all-American, upset-by-the-little-guy weekend that Bemidji was good enough to give to us, we especially dont need to be thinking about the small screen.

As it turns out, it is good for hockey. It is good for sports. Dont believe me? Okay. Read what The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have to say about it. The Sporting News writes, “Suddenly, everyone wants to know about Bemidji State.” Even snarky sports writers that have written to deride the Beavers accomplishment by way of belittling college hockey have, at least, mentioned both the Beavers and college hockey.

It is good for hockey. It is good for sports.

Who knew that a little school 250 miles north of the Twin Cities could melt even the most jaded of sporting hearts and remind us all of the real role that sport plays in the real American landscape?

Well, Tom Serratore and the Beavers knew.

And now the rest of us do, too.

Too Much for Two Days

My head is still spinning from the two days in Grand Rapids that changed the history of college hockey. A hearty congratulations to the Bemidji State Beavers, who earned every bit of their trip to the Frozen Four. What a great thing for that program, the incredible people associated with it and for college hockey. What an exciting thing to have witnessed.

And to those complaining about how this affects television ratings, go suck a lemon. Yes, bigger names like Notre Dame and Denver bring in more viewers, which allegedly helps us keep this sport afloat. But after this weekend, I’m just not buying it. I don’t think that spotty NCAA regional coverage so much depending on local cable providers and the whims of people who don’t give a fig about college hockey does anything for the sport we love, and an eclectic Frozen Four field may have less of a ratings impact than, say, general apathy towards college hockey.

As a fan of the CCHA, I was disappointed in the performance of two of the conference’s four teams. Both Michigan and Notre Dame played flat, emotionless, tentative hockey. Neither team seemed to show up for its game. That, my friends, is the essence of disappointment.

Of course, I’m thrilled that the Miami RedHawks are making their first trip to the Frozen Four thrilled that the CCHA has any representation in D.C. at all. And it’s good for the league to send its fourth different team in three years to the FF.

And how about those Buckeyes? Sure, they lost to Boston University 8-3, but they never gave up and they scored two more goals in that game than the Wolverines and Fighting Irish did in their single appearances, combined. What a great experience for a team with three seniors and a junior on its roster.

There is so much good stuff to share from the Midwest Regional that I just couldn’t write up because of the Saturday-Sunday schedule, but I will get to it all this week. Stay tuned.

"…and bring 15,000 of your closest friends."

When talking about the Midwest Regional with Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson, Jackson said that the Saturday-Sunday format was actually better for Notre Dame student fans. Because of the university’s strict attendance policy, students would be unable to leave classes early on a Friday to get to an early game two hours away in Grand Rapids.

Let’s hope they travel well for Saturday night’s contest, because there aren’t many people here for this game between Cornell and Northeastern 2,000 tops.

The Midwest Regional has no school host; rather the CCHA itself is hosting the event. There’s smart thinking behind the league’s rationale for hosting. Last weekend, CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos said that he wanted to keep the regional “within the footprint” of the CCHA, and I got the impression that last year’s Midwest Regional in Madison, Wis. well outside of the CCHA footprint rankled the league more than a little.

(The 2011 Midwest Regional is in WCHA country, too Green Bay, Wis.)

Back in September, the CCHA held its annual preseason media day here in Grand Rapids, and the league was pleased with the response to the event. The idea was the kick off and cap the year in GR, and the CCHA has been marketing the Midwest Regional very aggressively in Western Michigan.

Last weekend, when saying my goodbyes to Jackson, I told him I’d see him in Grand Rapids to which he responded, “Well, bring 15,000 of your closest friends.”

Un-4-gettable

Last year, the No. 4 team in the CCHA went to the NCAA title match.

In 2007, the No. 4 team in the CCHA won the NCAA title match.

Today, two No. 4 teams upset the No. 1 seeds in their brackets. And leave it to Michigan with its rich NCAA tourney history to make the record books once again, albeit in a way the Wolverines would have preferred to avoid.

Congratulations to the Air Force Falcons for their first NCAA tournament win. This reinforces what many of us have known all along, that Frank Serratore is doing something very right in Colorado Springs.

It was clear to anyone watching that game and I found a video feed, no thanks to my local cable service provider that the game was the Falcons’ from the get-go, and more specifically Andrew Volkening’s. Forty-three saves in a shutout victory? Yes, I’d say that’s a statement.

In Minneapolis, the No. 4 Miami RedHawks looked the very rested team that they are. Miami didn’t play in last week’s CCHA tournament, so they’ve had two weeks to prep for this game.

Miami also looked like the first-half RedHawks as in the first half of the 2008-09 season. When I saw them in the first half, I thought they’d be D.C.-bound. When I saw them in the second, I feared they’d lose their second-round CCHA playoff series after earning a first-round bye.

Maybe I’ll be correct on both.

What’s striking in both of these contests, of course, is the lack of effective offense from the No. 1 seeds, a drought that extends back to last weekend.

Michigan led Notre Dame 2-0 midway through the CCHA playoff championship game, and the Wolverines looked the sharpest I’d seen them this year. They were fast, closed every gap, won nearly every face off, beat the Irish to ever loose puck, and effectively shut down Notre Dame’s offense.

From the midway mark of that game on, there was nothing Michigan could do to score. So the Wolverines end their season having been shut out 77 minutes and 50 seconds of play, scoring their last goal of the season at 2:10 in the second period of the Mason Cup game.

For the Denver, the shutout drought lasted 111:28. The difference between Denver and Michigan is that the Pioneers can at least end the season having scored in their last game but the scoreless span lasted from the 6:01 mark in the third period of their 3-0 WCHA semifinal win over Wisconsin March 20 through the 17:29 in the second period of today’s loss. That includes 60 minutes of scoreless hockey in last week’s 4-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the Broadmoor Trophy game.

The No. 1 seed in the Northeast Regional, Boston University, scored the game-winning goal in the Hockey East championship game 18:38 in the first period in a 1-0 win over Mass.-Lowell March 21.

I am relieved to say that the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, scored five unanswered goals after being down 2-0 to Michigan.

After today’s results, how well do you think Jack Parker and Jeff Jackson will sleep tonight? And will the remaining No. 4 seeds Ohio State in the Northeast, Bemidji State in the Midwest gain a little optimism from two of Friday’s games?

And I wonder how the number “4″ will factor into the rest of the weekend.

I know I was happy to see a No. 24 show up on today’s score sheet in Miami’s 4-1 win over Denver. That number belongs to RedHawk Kevin Roeder, a senior who has been one of my favorite stay-at-home defensemen in the league for the last four years. He is a true blueliner, with five goals and 31 assists to his credit in his collegiate career.

But today Roeder was in the hunt, looking like a seasoned set-up man when he fed Alden Hirschfeld from behind the net on the second goal of the game at 18:04 in the first.

And the RedHawks really looked like winners.

Musings from Motown

Sitting in the recently renovated, bright and airy lobby of the Marriot Hotel in Detroit’s Renaissance Center that’s the Ren Cen to the locals it’s impossible to think about this year’s CCHA Championship Tournament without looking ahead to next year’s Frozen Four, to be played just up the road at Ford Field.

It’s not so much the Frozen Four or even the venue that occupies me today. Rather, it’s the backdrop for the 2010 tournament, the city of Detroit itself.

I love this town, having become smitten the very first time I covered the CCHA tourney in 1996. Those were some bad old days in Detroit, when the city and state of Michigan were in no shape to do anything to improve the place. Long before Hurricane Katrina showed us what can happen to a U.S. city that takes a sudden hit, Detroit was allowed to decay and suffer slowly, a city once so glorious that it rivaled Chicago and surpassed Toronto.

While there has been significant progress in downtown Detroit and pockets throughout the city a big city at 143 square miles, not counting the surrounding ‘burbs there are still areas of genuine blight, including the wretched area surrounding Joe Louis Arena. There are boarded up high-rises throughout the city, which radiates out from a central point along the Detroit River in the style of Washington D.C. or Paris. There is litter and garbage lining every thoroughfare leading into or out of the city. The roads are atrocious, as they are all throughout Michigan (as my pothole-busted brake line of a few weeks ago can attest).

Then there’s the local politics. It was hard enough to watch Detroit endure the ridicule brought on by the antics of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, but current council member Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas fame criticized Jay Leno for offering to give a free concert at The Palace of Auburn Hills because it’s outside of the Detroit city limits. Never mind that the NBA’s Detroit Pistons play there, clearly outside of the city limits.

And it’s harder still to know that those two episodes are symptomatic of an inept government in a city that needs real leadership.

Yes, the city has its issues. What I fear, though, is that college hockey fans will judge Detroit only by its flaws. Certainly, it’s a city more suited for adults than the families that plan their yearly vacations around the Frozen Four although Michigan, as I’m finding, has a lot to offer families, especially those who like outdoor activities. Detroit has casinos and restaurants, the suburbs have shopping. There are some safe parks and nature preserves within driving distance. Across the river, Windsor, Ont., caters more to adults as well.

I’m wondering, though, if people will judge Detroit less harshly in 2010 because of the current economic hard times across the U.S. While Detroit looks like its taken one of the hardest hits of all, many communities are suffering. When we all suffer, perhaps we jump to judgement a little less quickly.

After CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos’ briefed the media about the seating configuration at Ford Field at last year’s CCHA tourney, I was all on board for the Frozen Four in Ford Field. My biggest concern before that was the fan experience, but that meeting with Anastos settled those apprehensions. This morning, Anastos had the media to brunch again, and again the Frozen Four was a topic and I’m even more confident that the venue will be up to the task.

But will people come? And when they do, will they see what I do in Detroit, a city with many good-hearted people who recognize the enormous potential here and who work hard to realize that potential? Or will fans be put off by the swaths of blight and other evidence of decades of neglect?

Maybe just maybe fans will see an American city that suffered a fate that no city deserves. Detroit isn’t New Orleans, undone in a week by Mother Nature, but Detroit was undone by forces greater than itself in ways that it couldn’t control.

That’s what I’m hoping fans will see when they come head to Ford Field next year.

Goodbye, Mike

Like many people who knew Mike Lockert, I’m struggling this week to come to terms with his death. Now I know what the grief counselors mean when they say that the first phase is denial, because I just can’t believe someone as wonderful and full of life as Mike is gone.

Mike, the voice of Notre Dame hockey for seven seasons, was only 43 years old. He died of an apparent heart attack in his sleep, some time last Thursday night or Friday morning. It seems so unreal because of his vitality. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago. He’d just become serious with his girlfriend. He was looking for an agent. He was looking for a tenant for a duplex. He’d just posted on Facebook about how he was looking forward to the arrival of the Michigan State hockey crew for last Friday’s game between the Spartans and Irish.

I simply cannot wrap my brain around this.

Someone else in the business who knew Mike wrote to remind me that at least Mike got to experience the highs of Notre Dame hockey these past few seasons. Another hockey friend of Mike’s told me that this is yet another reminder that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

I do sweat the small stuff. I sweat all of the stuff, a major character flaw of mine. And I can’t stop thinking about bigger pictures, like how Mike’s death contributes to a framework for this season of CCHA hockey.

The 2008-09 season began with two incidents of violence when Michigan junior defenseman Steve Kampfer was assaulted Oct. 12, and Michigan State sophomore defenseman A.J. Sturges was assaulted Oct. 19. The season ends with the death of Brandon Gordon, the 16-year-old cancer patient befriended by the MSU hockey team, and with the death of my friend and colleague Mike Lockert.

Again, I simply cannot wrap my brain around this. My rational side tells me that the each of these events is distinct, unrelated; another side of me can’t but help to see this in the altogether.

Ultimately, I think of how I just moved to Flint, Mich., last August, and how much college hockey helped me get through these past six months – as it has in previous years during other transitions and genuine hardships. I didn’t know a single person when I arrived in Flint and although I was lucky enough to make friends quickly here, I was never happier last fall than when I was at Munn or Yost, among people who knew me longer than a minute.

And now I’m intensely grateful for Notre Dame’s trip to the Frozen Four last year, without which I wouldn’t have gotten to know Mike Lockert even better. Everyone associated with the CCHA knew what that Frozen Four appearance meant to Irish hockey and to the sport in general. How could any of us have known the real significance of Notre Dame’s improbable trip to Denver?

I’m just so glad that Mike was along for that ride.

The Fighting Irish and Just My Luck

As an early Christmas present to ourselves, one of my hockey-loving girlfriends from Mott, Liz, and I made the trip from Flint to Detroit on Monday, Dec. 15, to see the Red Wings take on the Avalanche. It was the first NHL game I would attend as a fan no press box, no laptop, no agenda in 19 years, and it was the first hockey game that I would attend without credentials since the Chill departed Columbus in advance of the Blue Jackets in 1999.

I was particularly eager to see former Notre Dame player, Brett Lebda (2000-04), for the first time in person in a Wings uniform.

Two minutes into the first period, the Avs led the Wings 2-0. At the 1:51 mark of the third with the score tied 2-2, Lebda was called for covering the puck in the Detroit crease and Colorados Jordan Leopold (University of Minnesota, 1998-2002) beat Chris Osgood on the ensuing penalty shot for the game-winning goal.

The gentlemen that surrounded me gentlemen is a loose term, but its Christmas loudly protested the penalty shot and wondered aloud wondered aloud is also a bit generous about why it was called.

I said, Because Lebda covered the puck in the crease, and no one but the goalie on the defending team can do that.

They all paused, turned, looked at me. One asked, Is that a new rule?

Not as far as I know, I said. Its like, Rule 55 something.

The debate ended, the gents nodded appreciatively, one offered to buy me a drink. The fact was that I had looked it up the week before because someone had asked me about it.

Moments later, the 30-something guy sitting two down from me blushed when his attempt to embarrass me backfired. I said something about Detroits inability to penetrate the Colorado defense, he said, She said, Penetrate, and everyone laughed at him when I didnt blink. He mumbled something apologetic about Beavis & Butthead, another offer of alcohol was made and Liz who missed the penalty shot and my quiet (and totally lucky) conversion of the locals, and who had feared for my safety in her absence arrived just in time with fresh vodka-tonics.

I learned several things from this game:

  • It was fun to sit in the stands again and pull for one team over another, as long as I made it clear to fellow fans that I was rooting for their team, too.
  • It was fun to know more about hockey than the guy fans with season tickets.
  • It was fun to have a friend deliver vodka-tonics during a game.
  • It was fun to see a penalty shot converted in an NHL game, even if the infraction that led to it was made by a former CCHA player and the shot scored by someone who once graced the WCHA.
  • Its always more fun in the press box, even without the vodka-tonics.

Its Christmas Eve, and Ive left snowy Flint for unseasonably warm and sunny Beverly Hills, Fla. For every year that I travelled from Ohio to Florida to spend Christmas at Hacienda Weston, I seemed to bring the chilly weather with me. My family would complain about the temperatures in the 50s, which were not much warmer than what Columbus experienced.

It was seven little degrees in Flint last weekend, and it was 80 here today. I can only believe its the Universes way of balancing things out especially since theres no one from the CCHA playing in Florida this week. Cornell, Maine, Colgate and St. Cloud round out the Florida College Classic in Estero just after Christmas, and the Tampa Bay Lightning abruptly withdrew its sponsorship of the fairly new Tampa College Classic earlier this year, forcing founder Notre Dame to reinvent the tourney as the Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Jan. 2-3.

This also forced me to look up the word shillelagh, which is a short club meant to be used as a weapon. I like it.

This year, Ill be returning to Flint in time to see the second day of the Great Lakes Invitational and that genuinely will feel like coming home.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks.

Unintended Consequences

Sunday was the three-month anniversary of my move from Columbus, Ohio, to Flint, Mich. Three short months, and yet I feel as though Ive been here forever. Perhaps thats a side effect of moving from one state to another to begin a job immediately.

Of course, one glance around my apartment lets any visitor know that I have been here exactly long enough to unpack three plates, one coffee mug, two bowls, a cake pan and some vintage Pyrex, a pot, a strainer, and a few utensils.

And the only truly warm winter jacket I own, a bright red number with an enormous Ohio State logo on the back, a gift from friends a decade ago.

One unintended consequence of my move was my exposure to a whole new gene pool of germs. When a teacher starts at a new school, its not uncommon for his or her immune system to take up to a year to adjust to the new spectrum of available assailants. Being the victim of what my doctor in Columbus and I used to call my wiggy thyroid, its not uncommon for me to experience the same immunity issues by crossing the street.

My punishment for crossing state lines, however, was a five-week, mid-semester battle with The Great Ick. This coincided with a seasonal cold spell, which necessitated the donning of the warmest coat I own.

My colleagues reaction to this coat was swift, dramatic, loud in short, delightful. By wearing this jacket that is now Scarlet and Tan (the Gray faded long ago), I have managed to outrage Wolverines, Spartans, a few scattered Fighting Irish and one loyal Bronco.

Today, my vice-president for academic affairs the woman second-highest in the chain of command here at Mott Community College called me a traitor on my way into the monthly faculty meeting.

I have to wear this jacket all winter long.

I rarely wore this coat in Columbus, in part because I so rebelled against being identified as a Buckeye. Even though I spent time in grad school at OSU, I never bought into Columbus community identity that is essentially a cult of Buckeye football. But now that Im in Michigan a state where I sought employment, to which I moved willingly, in which I recently voted Im suddenly a Buckeye.

It reminds me of when the USCHO staff pegged me a “westerner” because I cover the CCHA. When I first met my colleagues from out east, they all treated me as though I couldnt spell “Atlantic,” all because I was then landlocked in Ohio me, the woman who still refers to herself as a New Yorker 19 years after leaving her beloved home state.

One of my Mott colleagues posted “Paula Weston is the biggest Michigan fan” signs around my office door the day she saw the coat, complete with a big “M” logo. I laughed and told her she should talk to some of my readers, who would completely back her up on this, citing dates and quoting lines. I dont think she saw the Red Berenson bobblehead on my desk.

Im heading to Columbus for Thanksgiving and Friday night Ill see my first game of the season at the Schott, the rink that was my winter weekend haunt from Jan. 2, 1999 until this past February which was exactly when I applied for the job I somehow landed at MCC. Ironically, I wont be wearing my OSU jacket.

And after I see Ohio State play Nebraska-Omaha Friday night, I will have seen all but two CCHA teams play this season. The Divorce Anniversary Tour of the CCHA continues another unintended consequence of this transplant.

They Talk Hockey Here

Im living in Flint, Mich. and I love it.

After years of deliberation, I decided to put myself on the academic job market last January and Ive landed at Mott Community College in Flint. Sure, Id seen Roger & Me before I applied for the job. Yes, I know that Flint has lost over 80,000 jobs from the automotive industry in the past three decades, and Id heard about the crime.

But I also knew one very important Flint fact before I applied: Flint is equidistant from Munn and Yost Arenas, and within easy driving distance of several other CCHA teams.

When looking for jobs, I didnt limit my search to CCHA territory, but I didnt apply outside of the reach of college hockey. Were it not for college hockey, I never would have found Mott Community College, with its diverse and dynamic student body, dedicated faculty and staff and commitment to community service.

And two snakes named Bo and Red.

During my whirlwind week of new faculty orientation and professional development in late August, I discovered that Bo and Red are the names of the boa constrictors in Motts zoology lab. Since I had been cornered by a colleague from the math department to discuss Notre Dame and Michigan State hockey during our faculty cookout, when I learned of the names of Motts boas I jumped to the natural conclusion for college sports fans, that they were named in honor of two great coaches associated with the University of Michigan, Bo Schembechler and Red Berenson.

Theres a branch of the University of Michigan here in Flint although Im not sure that its existence is acknowledged by the general populace of Ann Arbor so I had another reason for making the connection.

Alas, I was wrong. Theyre red boas, hence the rather unimaginative names.

But theres still plenty of hockey talk here in Flint, one of the reasons why I love it here. Many of my colleagues and students are not only hockey fans conversant in both the Red Wings and the local IHL Detroit affiliate, the Flint Generals, but theyre also avid CCHA fans with loyalties that span the state. For most college sports, the town is divided between Michigan and State and its never Michigan State in local conversation but when it comes to college hockey there are plenty of Ferris, Western, Lake and Northern fans here, as there are alumni of each institution all over Flint.

Last week, two different students wore CCHA sweatshirts to class, and a colleague poked his head into my office to say something pithy about the Red Berenson bobblehead on my desk. Yesterday, another colleague stopped me on my way in from the parking ramp to ask how the Spartans could have been swept by the Buckeyes over the weekend.

And in September, there were two Flint Journal stories about former Spartan goaltender Chad Alban, who sometimes plays for the Generals. Chad Alban, right there on the front page of the local sports section.

In order to appreciate why all of this adds up to such a big deal, you have to understand what its like covering hockey to be a hockey fan, I suppose in Columbus. There was no Blue Jackets chatter there let alone anything pertaining to OSU hockey. CCHA? Forget it. For the general populace in Columbus and 90 percent of the local media, the only game in town is Buckeye football.

Last weekend, when OSU pulled off another miracle on ice and swept MSU at the Schott, there was no one reporting from the local daily newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, to mark the event, no one from local television and because of an unfortunate set of timing coincidences only one OSU hockey beat reporter, Craig Merz, in attendance, and only on Friday night.

OSU isnt alone. Miami hockey doesnt get much coverage either, in spite of its consistently excellent performance of the past few seasons and its proximity to Cincinnati, an alleged sports town.

No, they dont talk hockey much where I used to live but they do here in Flint. And although Flint has a lot more going for it than most people think a small but first-class arts scene, great local music and restaurants, a wonderful farmers market, beautiful parks, a surprisingly resilient community spirit and clear sense local identity, several excellent colleges including Mott that connection to the sport I love has made my transition from Ohio to Michigan so much easier than I imagined.

And the transition itself, from part-time academic employment to full-time work for a terrific college, never would have happened were it not for my passion forcollege hockey. Wild.