From the Mailbag

A look into our mailbag finds some questions in need of answering.

How do you account for Wisconsin’s discrepency between the polls and Pairwise Rankings, and how good are they really?

Wodon: Interestingly, there was once a big gap in the polls, where Wisconsin was fourth, and the Pairwise Rankings, which had Wisconsin around 11. But the KRACH, which is USCHO’s more advanced mathematical ranking method that does a better job of accounting for strength of schedule than the Pairwise, always had Wisconsin closer to the top. And just by playing a tough schedule over the last couple weeks has gotten Wisconsin to No. 7 now in the Pairwise. So fret not Badger fans.

Part of what’s hurting Wisconsin, though, is that the Pairwise doesn’t factor in strength of schedule when comparing two teams’ records vs. other teams under consideration. That, combined with the Badgers’ tie vs. Yale, is hurting them, for example, in comparisons with ECAC teams Harvard and Cornell. I think if Wisconsin survives this tough stretch of games with a .500 record or better, a No. 2 seed is assured.

How good are they? I think they’re very good, with a hard-nosed coach that the players will play for. Though they have few seniors, they get great leadership out of their fireplug junior Adam Burish. They have so many kids on that team that have overcome enormous adversity in their personal lives, that they have a mental toughness that belies their youth.

Starman: Wisconsin has proven it is a quality team, and don’t forget, the Badgers are the youngest team in the NCAA. They have an elite goalie in Bruckler, and Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski are as good a 1-2 punch up front as Eaves and Shannon at Boston College, Potulny and Irmen at Minnesota, or Tambellini and Hensick at Michigan.

When I judge a good team, one of the things I look for is their stats on the road. In terms of their games, they have a road split at Minnesota State (dissapointing), and sweeps at Alaska-Anchorage, Notre Dame and St. Cloud State. They were swept at Minnesota in their first road series.

I’d have liked them to have swept the Gophers to make a statement at home, but they did play well that weekend and lost the second game of that series in the last minute. This weekend, home against CC, will be most telling.

Wisconsin deserves to be in the Sweet 16, it would be a shame if they were left out. However, if they nose dive in the final month, then even they’ll admit they should have been left out.

Do you like the instant replay?

Wodon: Hockey is the sport where video replay is most effectively utilized. It’s a massively important usage — did the puck cross the line or not — yet it’s also so simple. That’s what makes it so effective and unobstrusive.

There’s a couple questions though: Should the replay allow for calling a man in the crease violation? … And is it OK to have replay when it’s only at certain rinks?

Replay should not be used to determine crease violations. The caveat being that they should change the rule so it’s referee’s discretion whether being in the crease really caused an interference. If the crease violation is on the book as an absolute, then you almost have to use replay to determine it, since it’s such an easy thing to spot with the cameras. How can you justify not using it when it’s on the books as an absolute? If it’s not on the books as an absolute, then don’t worry.

Finally, yes, it’s fine to have replay only in some arenas and not others. After all, it’s equal for both teams either way. Better to have it in some places than none. It is a little disconcerting though, I admit, and the goal should be to install it everywhere.

Starman: I’m all for it. Hockey is a tough game to officiate, I did it for a while and it was tough mentally and physically. The average referee skates about seven miles a game.

In the recent Beanpot, BU’s goal that tied the game 1-1 against BC was reviewed by replay and ruled a goal. That was the right call. It was the type of play that with no replay could have been waved off, as John Laliberte crashed into goalie Matty Kaltianen and pushed the puck into the net via his momentum.

Replay confirmed that a) the puck was never covered by the goaltender, b) Laliberte tried to stop and prevent crashing into the goalie, and c) that Laliberte was pushed into the goalie by a BC player. With the speed of the game, none of that might have been seen properly.

Replay is the greatest tool we have to officiate these situations.

Do you like the idea of playing a Frozen Four at Ford Field?

Wodon: I can understand the point of view of those who long for the day the game was played in intimate venues, and this only goes to the extreme the other way. But if officials are confident Ford Field could be filled, then why not accomodate as many college hockey afficionados as possible? Not everyone gets the opportunity to attend the event, so this gives more people a chance. I’d have some concern, though, that if the right teams don’t make it there, you could get some empty pockets. Don’t do this because it’s a novelty and because it would look cool — even though it would. Do it to increase the visibility of the sport.

Starman: I think it is a neat idea, but I worry about sightlines and the view from way up. However, they have played NCAA Final Fours in that type of venue and it worked well.

I like a grand venue for a grand event, and to play that type of event in a great hockey state like Michigan would be something special.

What about the idea of playing a series instead of single-elimination to decide the national championship?

Starman: I like a series to settle a championship in any sport.

Series are exciting because they develop trends, especially a long one. For the NCAA Hockey Championship, I’d like to see a best of three.

In a series, you can lose a game and recover. Coaches can make adjustments, and they can also play a cat and mouse game with line matchups, changes in personnel, or a change in goal if need be. You can focus in on different players on the other team to wear them down or try to exploit them over the course of a series.

In a single game, one team can catch lightning in a bottle and win the Frozen Four. Yes, you need two wins in the FF to win it all, one in the semis and one in the Finals. However, in a series, you need to beat the same team twice in a neutral site and that seems more of a challenge to me.

Maybe because I spent nine years in the minor leagues and saw some great series, I’m partial. One series I remember coaching in was between Macon and Memphis in the CHL playoffs. It was the Spring of 1997, and we were an expansion team in Macon facing a league-owned team in Memphis in a best-of-five opening round series.

We won Game 1 in Memphis, 6-1, however our opponents made a change in goal and won Game 2, 3-2. We won Game 3 in Memphis after trailing all game, and then with a chance to wrap up the series, gave up a late tying goal and then lost in OT, 3-2, in Game 4. Back to Memphis for Game 5, where we rallied from 3-0 down with two goals in the last five minutes but could not get the equalizer. We lost the game and series, 3-2.

The series featured great hockey, many momentum swings, and some typical minor league shenanigans before it was all over. However, it was the most exciting postseason I ever coached in.

My vote would be a best-of-three for the finals. Play Game 1 and 2 on back-to-back days, and if the series is tied, a 30-minute mini-game to settle the series. Now, that would be exciting!

Wodon: Dave, did you eat a brain tumor for breakfast? Something being exciting is not an excuse to do it if it’s a result of gimmickry. Putting flaming pylons on the ice would be exciting, too. So let’s eliminate the mini-game idea right here and now.

A series has its merits. I agree with Dave on that count, having also witnessed many a classic minor-league scrap. But neverminding that it will never happen (NCAA being worried about more missed class time and things like that), one of the beauties of “March Madness” is the one-and-done urgency of it. This is not the pros, and so this method provides the contrast. Logistically, in regards to selling tickets, and so on, it would be a difficult thing to accomplish and assure the satisfaction of fans.

Of course, there are series in the conference tournament playoffs, in the early rounds. Those are fun, but a big majority are won in two games. And all three games have to take place at the same location.

How are things going at CSTV?

Starman: Working the studio show with Adam and Adam has been a blast this season. Before the season, the powers that be at CSTV informed me that I’d be the Barry Melrose of college hockey this season as opposed to the John Davidson role I played last season when I was the color analyst for just about every game.

I think we have developed a great chemistry in the studio, and every night, whether the game on air is a classic or a dud, we just laugh from the time we walk in to the time we leave.

Wodon is a long time and respected college hockey broadcaster and scribe, and Adam Zucker has become “one of us, a hockey guy” this season. His knowledge of NCAA hockey has gotten much better, and he watches as much hockey as he can when we are in studio.

Wodon and I talk almost every day, updating each other on news and trends. He is so plugged in to the NCAA hockey scene, so I rely heavily on him for news. On the flip side, he asks a lot of questions regarding team’s style of play, strengths and weaknesses, and other technical things.

This has been a fun experience for all of us in studio this season. I think we have done as good a job with NCAA hockey as the national shows that cover pro hockey have done with the NHL.

Wodon: You’d think because of the nice things Starman said, that I’d be obligated to return the favor. But as a journalist, I really can’t lie.

But things are great, the station is spreading the college hockey gospel, and hopefully, the opportunities will become bigger and better. Just make sure to hurry home from whatever game you’re attending to call during our phone-in segment on the post-game.