For the second year in a row, CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos met with members of the press over brunch on Saturday morning to talk about the state of the league and the state of the game.
This year, the topics of discussion were the new arena at Notre Dame, this year’s NCAA Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids, the 2010 Frozen Four at Detroit’s Ford Field, the four-man officiating system, the shootout, Bowling Green, Alabama-Huntsville and the increasing difficulty in keeping college players in college.
Here is some of what Anastos had to say.
On Notre Dame’s new arena:
“It’s not only great for Notre Dame and really great for the CCHA, but frankly, having a vibrant, successful, highly visible Notre Dame is great for our sport.”
On the league hosting the regional:
“One of the reasons we do it is to bring the regionals into our footprint so our teams can play within the general geography of where our league’s at and our fans. So, hopefully that will go very well; we expect it to go very well. Pretty easy location for many people to get to.”
On the 2010 Frozen Four:
“When the concept was conceived many years ago, it was to try to use a bigger stage to open up the hockey championship to a broader audience. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we’d be in the worst economy since the Great Depression, but it is what it is.
“The good thing we have is [that] this is a fabulous sports town that embraces big events.”
On the four-man system:
“That was a transition that has been gradual, and was gradually discussed over the last two years. You probably know that the NCAA rule book is changed now only every year, not every single year, so this has been talked about for a while.
“Lots of challenges. Lots of heartburn. We put guys on the ice who didn’t have tons of CCHA refereeing experience. They had refereeing experience in other placed but not in our games. It’s a real tough job.
“Our guys are very committed, very professional, and they’re going through a huge change. We have issues this year where a guy’s right on a call and watching and his partner blows the game down. Those are issues that those guys are wrestling with as much as the fans upstairs in the stands are wrestling with. Those are part of the growing pains of adjusting to a system like this.
“I think it’s here to stay. I don’t hear any discussion nationally of trying to revert back … and the NCAA rules committee very specifically pulled all of the other systems out of the book to force everybody to move into this.”
On the shootout:
“I think it’s hard to argue reasonably that fans don’t like it. I’m an advocate of it, and the reason I’m an advocate of it is that I’m not a big fan of ties.”
On Bowling Green:
“I do know that hockey is vitally important part of the athletic culture at Bowling Green so things would have to be pretty darned serious for them to consider dropping that program.
“It came a bit out of the blue. All of a sudden it’s moving that, geez, hockey might be dropped.
“I’m very confident that Bowling Green will continue and move forward and create a plan that will keep their program moving ahead and try to improve it.”
On the demise of the CHA:
“We have received an application from Alabama-Huntsville. I’ve made it real clear to them that we’re going to process it and do our due diligence and keep an open mind. I want them to understand that the reality is that we wouldn’t even be contemplating expansion today if it wasn’t presented as kind of, we’re trying to be a good partner in college hockey.
“To say that doesn’t mean that we’re going to necessarily expand. It creates a whole different set of circumstances. There’s travel issues, and obviously we’re all living in an economy that creates new challenges for schools.
“I know that Nebraska-Omaha was pursued pretty heavily by Bemidji [to join the WCHA to make it a 12-team league] and they told Bemidji that they’re not interested. I know that Michigan Tech has contacted Northern Michigan.
“As we stand here, I don’t anticipate any changes in our league makeup.”
On competing with the Ontario Hockey League for players:
“More than three NHL GMs or scouts — half a dozen or more — have said to me, ‘We’ll sign five guys and hope that one of them makes it.’ To me what’s really driving the bus is the agent or the family representative.
“Years ago, if a family rep was working with a kid and he was at a school and a team really wanted to pull him out, they had to pay a lot to pay him out. So the kid makes money, he gets a good contract, he’ll get the rest of his school paid for in his contract and the agent makes five percent of a great contract.
“Today, that’s not available. What the agents are doing is that they’re playing bigger pools. They’re going after kids younger because they have to. They’re getting kids that are 14, 15 years old. Sixteen years old is kind of late now.
“I think that’s going to be a trend. Unfortunately, more kids are leaving when they can really make an impact on the sport.
“We are having a dialogue. It’s not an easy discussion because the NHL’s position is, ‘Let’s see how this works over a period of time.'”