TMQ: Coaching longevity, more upsets and a big weekend for Hobey candidates

Todd: It was the predictable crazy weekend for college hockey conference tournaments, with 13 of the 54 games going to overtime — and seven of those OT games being the two-overtime variety. But I think we should start this week’s edition by acknowledging the big coaching news of the weekend. St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh, who missed this season while tending to health concerns, has decided to resign.

Marsh spent 26 seasons as the top man at St. Lawrence. We have a few coaches active who have been at one school for more than 20 years, but the numbers are dwindling. Do you think we’ll see a coach from the younger generation have that kind of longevity?

Jim: I’ve only met Joe a few times but have heard wonderful stories about him and how dedicated he has been to the sport of college hockey. He will be sorely missed.

To your question, though, I think you will see plenty of young coaches have long careers, but it is hard to imagine all the years coming at the same school. Every offseason we see the younger coaches bounce around in the coaching carousel. It is human nature to always want something better, so it’s hard for me to imagine guys like Joe Marsh or Jack Parker being commonplace in today’s landscape.

Todd: It almost seems like we expect good, young coaches at smaller schools to be interested in the big-time jobs, either in college or the pros. The first name that came to my head as a possibility for a long stretch at one school was Enrico Blasi, who is in his 13th season at Miami. Given his connection to that program, I could see him hitting 20 years in Oxford. But you never know what kind of opportunities are going to arise.

One last thought on Joe Marsh. I had only a few interactions with him, but my first is the one that will stick with me. On the day before the national semifinals in Providence in 2000, the NCAA brought together the coaches of the four teams for a joint press conference. It turned into comedy hour, and Marsh was the one leading things. I remember thinking that I hope he’s as humorous with his team as he was with the media, because that would seem to be a fun place to play.

Turning to what we saw on the ice last weekend, how about Bowling Green? The CCHA’s last-place team earned a spot in the semifinals by knocking off first-place Ferris State in overtime in Game 3, this after trailing 3-0 after one period of the deciding game. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised with upsets in this, a year of parity in college hockey. But I still am.

Jim: We had the opportunity to talk to Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron last week on USCHO Live!, and the one thing that stood out to me was how much he was bursting with confidence at the way his team played in upsetting Northern Michigan the weekend prior. So when I saw that BGSU won on Friday, I knew that confidence was for real. Granted, when the Falcons fell behind Ferris State 3-0 in Sunday’s Game 3 I thought that was it but hand it to this up-and-coming team. That was one impressive upset.

Another was Providence’s three-game victory over Massachusetts-Lowell. The Friars were crushed by the River Hawks a weekend earlier. But the Providence team that won this playoff series was almost like an entirely different club. The Friars did get back their leading scorer, Tim Schaller, and that seemed to give them stability and — here’s that word again — confidence.

It continues to amaze me how so often confidence in the playoffs can beat out talent.

Todd: I guess you have to take into consideration that we’re dealing with players age 18 to 25 (sometimes 26), not hardened NHL veterans. The idea of confidence being paramount makes sense to me in that context, given that emotion might play a little bit more of a role in pressure-packed situations at the college level than it does in the pros.

On the other side of the upset coin, the top four seeds advanced to the final weekend in both Atlantic Hockey and ECAC Hockey. You’d like to think that should provide for some pretty good semifinals, wouldn’t you?

Jim: Yes, you certainly would. Of those eight teams that advanced, really seven will be fighting for their NCAA tournament bids. Though Cornell is on the right side of the bubble right now, it could easily fall. Thus Union seems to be the only team that is secure in an NCAA bid. Thus, both the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey tournaments will be as much about punching tickets as winning titles.

Todd: Some of the drama in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals to me is in the Niagara-Rochester Institute of Technology game. The Tigers have never beaten the Purple Eagles at the Division I level, and with the geography involved, you know that wears on people on the RIT side of things. I guess the stat that tells me we’re in for some good hockey in Rochester is that first seed Air Force and fourth seed Mercyhurst were separated by two points in the final standings.

Jim: What strikes me about Atlantic Hockey is that all of the four teams remaining have made NCAA tournaments in the past. And though many people look at the AHA opponent in the NCAA tournament as a walkover, all of those teams except Mercyhurst have won at least one game in the Big Dance.

We talked about some of the upsets this weekend earlier, but which team among Providence, Michigan Tech and Bowling Green do you think could compete for their league title. Or could any?

Todd: I’ll argue that Michigan Tech has the toughest road with three games to win for the title. And those games could be against the WCHA’s top three — Denver in the quarterfinals, Minnesota-Duluth in the semifinals and potentially Minnesota in the final. Can you pick against Bowling Green right now? Michigan will go into that semifinal as a big favorite but there’s a never-say-die attitude about the Falcons that is just working right now. If I had to pick one, I’d go with BG. You?

Jim: I like your point about Bowling Green. That team feels unstoppable with a never-say-die attitude. That said, if Providence can play as solid against BC as it did against Massachusetts-Lowell it could have a chance at the Hockey East title. It has been a long time but back in the mid-1990s, Providence was perennially the upset team at the Garden. Man, I love this time of year!

Todd: Among the excitement of the conference finals this weekend, we also get the unveiling of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award on Thursday. We then get two more weeks worth of action before the votes are cast. We’ve seen it won and lost before in the final two weekends; is there anyone you think is poised to grab the trophy with a late surge?

Jim: I think this weekend if very key for Colgate’s Austin Smith. Smith is a great candidate, but if his team doesn’t at least reach the ECAC final — and with a lack of TV there, even the NCAA tournament — I’m not sure Smith will get the votes from the committee to make the Hobey Hat Trick. That said, this is easily the most important weekend for Hobey candidates to show why they are deserving. There is one more weekend — the NCAA regional weekend — to stand out. But with the top 10 being announced on Thursday, voters’ eyes should be on the candidates this Friday and Saturday!

Todd: Since you brought up what eyes will be on, let’s talk about what our eyes will be on this weekend. I’ll be in St. Paul at the WCHA Final Five but trying to keep tabs on everything. In the WCHA, you’ve got the potential for some dynamite atmospheres in the night games — North Dakota against St. Cloud State on Thursday, with the winner getting Minnesota on Friday. We’ve all seen at Frozen Fours that the Xcel Energy Center can get loud, and I would expect it each night. You’ll be in Boston; what are you expecting to see there?

Jim: Well, given how well the goaltenders played last weekend, I expect a few incredible games in Hockey East. There will also be a ton of scoreboard watching as both Lowell and Merrimack still have shots at making the NCAA field (Merrimack’s, I’ll admit, is pretty remote). But this always is the most exciting weekend of the year and I can wait for Thursday to arrive to get things started!