On The Flip Side: Fan Fest

Perhaps fueled by the success of the NHL shootout, college hockey will hold a skills competition at the 2006 Frozen Four. Fastest skater! Most accurate shot! Best breakaway artist! Come one, come all to the greatest show on ice.


Skills competitions are fun things to do at the end of practice. Players love garnering those bragging rights among their peers. And it sure beats a final 10 minutes of skating. But when will the powers that be recognize that these contests, once the novelty wears off, are nothing but exercises in tedious, overhyped, overpriced salesmanship?

Does any fan of the game have a burning desire to see just how hard Brett Sterling’s shot is? Without a true national television contract, the Frozen Four may be the only opportunity I have to watch him play (not that I’m predicting anything for the Tigers). I want to see the sniper who has torched college hockey for the past few seasons, not watch a person skate drills.

I could care less if he can break all of the plates posted in the corners of the goals. Now if Sterling went to local diners and started shooting at the dinner plates, I might watch. Or if we took Reid Cashman into New York City and had him fire slapshots at lawyers, it just might capture my attention. Bonus points for hitting a partner.

Even that would get boring after a while, unless the NYPD got involved.

Skills competitions turn hockey players into figure skaters or speed skaters wearing more masculine clothing. As fast as T.J. Hensick may fly around the ice, he will never prove as fleet as Apolo Anton Ohno.

Give Brian Boitano a stick and some pads and let him attempt a triple lutz against the Cornell defense, and you can place that on pay-per-view. Otherwise, let’s just play hockey.

Remember major league baseball’s Home Run Derby? Philadelphia slugger Bobby Abreu “wowed” everyone by hitting 24 home runs. By the end of his round, I wanted him to strike out. He sure did not hit enough home runs down the stretch for the Phillies. Remember the last NHL skills competition?

That’s right — you don’t.

Sure, there’s a moment in a skills competition, when Al MacInnis breaks 100 mph on the radar gun, or Cedric Ceballos dunks the basketball blindfolded, that elicits a momentary “ooh” and possibly an “aah.” But that is hardly worth the price of admission.

In addition to boring most of the fans in attendance, the skills competition will cheapen the most important weekend in college hockey. Hardest shot. Hobey Baker. National Championship. One of these things is not like the others.

The Frozen Four does not need a cornball gimmick to make it the highlight of the hockey year. It just needs three good games. If you require additional excitement in Milwaukee, order some Miller and start arguing over who is the most skilled player in college hockey.

Quick Hits

• The gauntlet has been thrown down. Can any coach attempt something more unwise towards the officiating than Lake Superior State head coach Jim Roque’s compiling a videotape of the crew’s missed calls this past Friday night — and handing it to the officials before Saturday’s game? (CCHA correspondent Paula Weston does a nice piece of reporting on the original incident in her weekly column.) Come to think of it, if we have to have a skills competition, can we add ref-bashing to the extravaganza? We could have a fan division and even bring in Jim “Eat Another Donut” Schoenfeld as celebrity judge.

• College hockey is starting to resemble every other sport with the number of players running afoul of the long arm of the law. With the drunk-driving allegations at UVM and assault charges at Maine, the guys are steadily climbing the felony ladder. USCHO.com may have to find an .mp3 file of the theme from “COPS” before long.

• It certainly is an odd year when No. 17 Bemidji State outranks No. 18 Michigan State and No. 20 Boston University. And did Martin St. Louis reenroll in college? Vermont is ranked fifth overall in the nation. Kudos the great job Kevin Sneddon is doing with that program.

• Things that excite me: No. 14 Harvard 5, No. 6 Boston College 3; Harvard 2, Boston University 2; and next weekend’s BU-BC matchup. The Thanksgiving Beanpot preview always whets my appetite for the February tournament, and it would be glad tidings indeed to have a real contest among three rival schools all close to each other in skill.

• Speaking of Thanksgiving, I sincerely hope that all of you had a bountiful holiday with friends and family. And that you escaped with only a few shopping-cart bruises from Wal-Mart on Black Friday.