Random Thoughts: Playoff Edition

As we hit the playoff and college hockey heats up, I have some opinions, some suggestions, and some observations as I watch my 100th NCAA game this season.

As Dennis Miller always said, “I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but…”

Let’s start with the officiating. I think it has been better than it was last season. However the biggest issue is still consistency. The question is there and unanswered: What is a penalty in 2007?

In a recent game broadcast nationally on CSTV, one referee saw fit to put his whistle away and not call very much. Now, it was in distinct contrast to a game the previous week where whistles blew as if in the pickup lane at the airport. It was the same conference that the game was being played.

I understand what criteria determine what a penalty is and what isn’t. I totally disagree with the criteria on some obstruction-related calls like hooking. Putting a stick on a guy should not be a penalty. Hooking his arm or impeding his progress should be. Way too many calls are made where a player has his stick on another player, and is not obstructing or impeding that player, and hooking gets called and it just isn’t right.

Now, many coaches I talk to aren’t complaining about the enforcement of the rules, just the inconsistency of the administration of justice. Way too many calls are made because of the appearance of a penalty when nothing actually happened.

That is easy to say for me or a viewer on TV (or at a game) because we are reacting from a better angle than the official. However it does not change the fact that some referees are calling a lot of penalties and some aren’t, and there is an abundance of film available to show that the action on the ice was the same in both cases.

I did not get to do many games in the CCHA this season, and I missed the interaction with that conference. Like the other conferences, the CCHA has people who are great to work with in terms of game prep.

Andrew Cogliano and the Wolverines don't get to see much of Ohio State under the CCHA's current scheduling system (photo: Melissa Wade).

Andrew Cogliano and the Wolverines don’t get to see much of Ohio State under the CCHA’s current scheduling system (photo: Melissa Wade).

I’d like to see the CCHA schedule better. Michigan head coach Red Berenson said it best when he said that it is hard for Michigan and Ohio State to create that rivalry feeling when each team plays at the other in alternate years unless they are clustermates.

So what can we do? Okay, a suggestion.

Like the Big 12 in football, break the CCHA into two six-team divisions in one conference. You can do a division of Michigan-only teams (Michigan State, Michigan, Western, Northern, Ferris and Lake State) and another of Nebraska-Omaha, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Miami, Bowling Green, and Alaska.

The CCHA plays a 28-game schedule. If you play two home and two away in your division (20 games) then you have eight games left for six non-division opponents and the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry dies altogether.

So do you do a division based on teams that have traditional rivalries outside of hockey? Now you are looking at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State in one division with probably the other two Ohio teams included. However, that creates a division of Alaska, Western, Northern, Ferris, Lake State, and UNO.

Unless you re-seed in the CCHA playoffs, you are looking at the possibility of two of these four teams not being in the CCHA Final Four in Detroit (Michigan, MSU, ND, OSU) and the possibility of Alaska and UNO coming from their division to play for the CCHA title, and from a marketing perspective it just doesn’t work. Ohio State and Notre Dame will draw the casual hockey fan in greater Detroit because of their legendary school names and vast alumni support.

What I do know is this. CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos is a really bright and progressive guy and has made the CCHA a conference to envy in the way that it is run. He uses his people and his resources very well. The CCHA does not have the best buildings in college hockey, but every one of them is wired for video review and they are usually jam-packed with rabid fans.

Lastly, their “Road To The Joe” series is a great program, tied in with Hockey Day in Michigan, which is league-sponsored. As quite a few college hockey folks have said, “If Gary Bettman ever leaves the NHL, they should make the Anastos the commissioner before Bettman even finishes cleaning out his desk.” No argument from me!

So what about the OSU-Michigan situation on-ice, and the cluster format in the CCHA schedule? I don’t have the answer. Bet Anastos does!

I was told that NHL great Brett Hull will toss some money at Minnesota-Duluth’s hockey program as a donation when they hire an alum to coach the team. Will all those associated with the Duluth program submit your candidates, please? Not that I want to run the current staff out of there. Far from it! However, it just makes me laugh when people want to fire a coach and have absolutely no viable suggestion as to who replaces him that would upgrade the program.

The CHA situation is about to unravel, and it bothers me because there are good coaches facing bad situations because of the unstable status of the league. Derek Schooley has done a very nice job building Robert Morris, and Tom Serratore is just a flat-out great coach who has carried on a wonderful tradition at Bemidji State.

Dave Burkholder has made Niagara a very good and competitive program that does what all teams need to do to survive — win at home (they are unbeaten there this season). Bill Wilkinson has quite a record of accomplishment at the Division I level and has done well in a tough situation at Wayne State. Lastly, the fact the college hockey has done well in Huntsville, which has gone through about four different pro teams in three different leagues in the last 20 years, is a small miracle for which we can partly credit Doug Ross.

However, Bemidji State has applied to the WCHA (where the Beavers absolutely belong for many reasons) and Wayne State has applied to the CCHA (another very logical move). Without going into moratoriums, financials, and other assorted bureaucratic nonsense, don’t you think that we could find spots for Niagara, Huntsville, and Robert Morris?

Niagara would be perfect in Atlantic Hockey. Robert Morris would be as well, though both are closer geographically to the CCHA. Where do you put Huntsville? Believe it or not, the WCHA would actually be okay travel-wise because Memphis, the closet air hub to Huntsville (through Northwest Airlines), flies direct to Minneapolis (connect to Bemidji, Duluth, Anchorage) and Mankato is an easy bus ride from Minneapolis, as is St. Cloud. I also think Northwest goes direct to Madison from Memphis. From what I remember from coaching the Memphis RiverKings, you could also get to Denver direct from Memphis.

Okay. Would the CCHA take Bobby Mo and/or Niagara? Would the ECACHL reconsider and take Niagara? With RIT in the AHA alongside Canisius, Bobby Mo and Niagara have geographic rivalries. I’m probably not the first person to think of any of this, but I’m hoping those who get paid to do so pow-wow on this in Naples, Florida, during the annual coaches’ meetings in April for the betterment and continued growth of Division I college hockey.

Regardless, the future is later and there is a title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line when the CHA gets together in Des Moines this weekend. The title game is 4 p.m. ET on CSTV.

For those who want a shootout in college hockey, please keep your voices down. I could not think of anything that annoys me more than ruining the last bastion of pure hockey in America than adding a shootout to college hockey.

Most teams end their Thursday practices with a shootout competition in college hockey, and when judging those against some of the shootouts I have seen this season, the ones in practice have more drama. I might be in the minority here, but there is really nothing wrong with a tie. Want to better the odds of a winner in OT? Play a four-on-four period, and make it 10 minutes instead of five.

Having seen a lot of hard-fought and well-played ties this season, I have no problem ending a game 2-2. Most teams in the NCAA do not play to avoid losing late in a tight game. Teams go for it, and if they don’t get it, so be it. Shootouts are a novelty anyway and some friends of mine who thought the shootout would revolutionize the NHL game have told me they are bored of it already.

I’m a big believer in “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” There are things in college hockey that need fixing, but this is not one of them.

On those lines, here are some things I’d like to see that will just never happen.

• How about Alaska and Anchorage in the same conference?

• This violates every rivalry spiel I have ever written, but how about Harvard in Hockey East?

• How about Michigan State and Michigan playing the same night as their football teams’ annual game, at the other team’s barn (if the football game is in Ann Arbor, the hockey game is in East Lansing)?

• Could we have a mandatory weekend series between the teams that reached the NCAA championship game to open the following season?

• Wouldn’t you love a tourney where coaches Red Berenson, Rick Comley, Jack Parker, and Jerry York square off? That’s over 2,800 coaching wins combined in the same building.

• I’d like to see an annual tourney at the arena in Bridgeport, Conn., which would help teams advertise their programs to New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut kids, and there are a ton who are being developed in that region.

Enjoy the playoffs.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here