Thoughts On Day One

Some general observations and thoughts from the early games on opening day of the regionals that will make you angry, indifferent, or just provoke some thoughts.

To start with, most exciting game I saw Friday was at the Junior B National Tourney, being hosted by the Eastern Junior Hockey League in Marlborough, MA. The New York Apple Core won an 8-6 opening round game over the Boston Junior Bruins in which they trailed 2-0, 4-3, and 6-5. The game was decided with :46 left.

To college hockey.

Let’s begin with Michigan. It is unfortunate for seniors like Tim Miller, Travis Turnbull, Mark Mitera, and Billy Sauer, but this loss has to be declared a bit of a disaster. While head coach Red Berenson in his 25th year at UM probably did one of his best coaching jobs this season (along with assistants Mel Pearson and Billy Powers), this team failed big-time.

The adversity they went through with losing Mitera for the entire regular season and the two injuries suffered by Steve Kampfer (one that could have been career-ending and the other the result of an on-ice attack in a regular-season game) could have been enough to put Michigan into a tailspin that the Wolverines couldn’t get out of, but they rallied and challenged for both CCHA regular-season and playoff titles.

As mentioned in a previous column, Michigan has taken great teams into the national tourney and in this decade suffered some losses that boggle the mind, but this one takes the cake. While not demeaning the gutsy effort by Air Force, this is a loss you can’t have if you are Michigan hockey.

Name Game: Returning to the Division III national tourney for a moment, I am proposing a new rule. The D-III title game has been on CBS College Sports for a few years now, and there is nothing more infuriating than showing up for the D-III Frozen Four and seeing teams with no names on the backs of their sweaters.

It is not like we see these teams all season, so names would be a huge help, and in this age of modern communication and maximum exposure, what coach in his right mind would deprive a player of having his name on the back of his sweater so that people know who he is immediately, especially on a national broadcast in a championship game?

I’m all for team first and have walked that mile a few times with teams, but having a name on the back of your game sweater should be a rule by the NCAA for all hockey tourneys that will be televised. This isn’t the 1970s anymore — get with it! Princeton is guilty of this also, and it has to change.

Can I Open My Eyes Yet? Miami and Denver was a tough watch (though Clay Matvick and Jim Paradise were very good covering the game). I know Denver was banged up a lot this season but this game was dull from the outset.

Not every game is a classic like the Michigan-Air Force or Holy Cross-Minnesota upsets were, but a Friday early-afternoon game in front of no people was not exactly what college hockey needed. There weren’t enough people in the stands to get a good game of checkers going.

If there were ever a case to be made for all of these college hockey regionals being played on weekends only, like Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday afternoon, this was it. The game had no jam, no atmosphere, and a lot of empty seats. In a case like this, fewer crowd shots on television would have been a smart idea.

Now, you say that you don’t want too many games at the same time because you can’t watch them all. ESPN has about 50 channels and the technical ability to regionalize games to certain geographic areas.

I know that they own the NCAA men’s hockey regionals and Frozen Four, but maybe it’s time to farm out the regionals to other outlets so that all games can be played on Saturday and Sunday only, and can be seen by many fans on many different stations. Just a thought.

Fox Sports North, CBS College Sports, the Big Ten Network and NESN would be great choices. All do a great job with college hockey.

Not Reality, But Food For Thought: I’ll toss this out for argument’s sake. To guarantee attendance and really reward No. 1 seeds, how about not pre-setting regional venues and allow the No. 1 seeds, determined by the regular-season records and/or PairWise, to host the regionals.

Denver has a great rink in Magness, Yost is a classic, Agganis is awesome but the argument-killer this season is Notre Dame. The JACC just can’t be used in this type of format, but the Fighting Irish do have a new rink coming and Notre Dame could be in the Frozen Four for the next 50 years.

I know this regional-setting scenario can’t happen for many reasons, but for the good of the game we need to figure out how we can get better attendance in the regionals and better reward No. 1 seeds. There’s no way Denver should have had to schlep back to Minneapolis after playing in the WCHA Final Five last weekend.

Why would you put Michigan in Connecticut when the state of Michigan is hosting a regional? Princeton would have been a great draw in Bridgeport. Like I said, it’s just there for discussion. I’m open to good answers!

Glass Slipper: Cinderella stories, in my opinion, are a bit overrated and tend to blow up later (the 1980 Olympics notwithstanding). However, I’m having trouble classifying Air Force as a Cinderella and don’t think Miami beating Denver is that big an upset.

Air Force is the three-time Atlantic Hockey champion and that has to disqualify the Falcons as a flash in the pan. Miami is a really good team that got beat by a better team in the CCHA playoffs (Northern Michigan) and few teams play between the blue lines better than the RedHawks. Denver, for whatever reason, seems to have a few bad postseason losses on its resume this decade, similar to Michigan.

Missing Champs: It’s time to pump Denver’s tires a moment as back-to-back NCAA champs earlier this decade. The Pioneers are the only one of the last eight national-title teams to be in the NCAA tourney this season (this stat provided to me by Boston College coach Jerry York).

BC, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have won every title since 2001 (except the two won by Denver) and they all missed the big dance.

Miami’s Challenge: An interesting topic came up regarding Miami, and that is whether the RedHawks need to make it to the Frozen Four in the near future to be considered an elite program. The answer is yes, and I believe head coach Rico Blasi can get them there. On that note, a CCHA playoff title would be a good start.

Assistants Brent Brekke and Chris Bergeron are top-notch and the Miami staff from top to bottom is a very good one. That being said, Jeff Jackson took over a decent corps of players at Notre Dame, won a CCHA regular-season title, a CCHA playoff title, and went to an NCAA title game.

Tim Whitehead has gotten Maine to the Frozen Four after taking the reins from the late Shawn Walsh. Don Lucia took over at Minnesota and won two titles. Mike Eaves led Wisconsin to a national title, and likewise Rick Comley at Michigan State.

After watching Miami take out Denver, you would think this is the RedHawks’ year to possibly get to the Frozen Four. However, Minnesota Duluth will be a stiff test. Rico needs to get Miami there or the RedHawks will always be that really good program from the CCHA that couldn’t get past the big boys.

They are just too good a program for that to happen. He’ll have his chance Saturday.


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