The CCHA is going away, but its history will have a final resting place

Congratulations to the Miami RedHawks, the last regular season champions of the CCHA! Ever!

After losing 3-0 to Ohio State at home Friday, the RedHawks rebounded with a < a href=””>4-2 win over the Buckeyes on Saturday. It was a victory that was never really in question; the RedHawks were ahead 4-0 at the 15:50 mark of the third period.

“I don’t want to be sentimental at this point in the season,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said after the game, “because there’s still so much hockey to be played, but it’s a big deal. We can say that we won the last one.

“I’m sad that the CCHA’s going away, but everyone had to make a decision for the best interest of their programs, including Ohio State and Miami. It just so happens that we have to put an end to it.”

We have to put an end to it. Indeed, sadly.

My favorite quote of the night was something senior Curtis McKenzie said. “The trophy’s ours forever now,” he said. Technically, no. (See below.)

Metaphorically, I’ll give you that.

McKenzie’s classmate and team captain, Steven Spinell, said what really needed to be said.

“Of course it’s a huge honor to win the league championship,” Spinell said, “but we have bigger aspirations to come here.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Spinell’s words weren’t a bit prophetic. I hear Pittsburgh is nice in early April.

A tale of three commissioners

It’s only Tuesday as I write this, and already it’s been a long, strange week. I didn’t realize that this week’s column would be all about the commissioners — three of them, anyway — but sometimes the stories unfold in surprising ways.

The current guy at the helm

The last regular-season weekend of play brought us one week closer to the end of the CCHA for good. Commissioner Fred Pletsch said that it’s difficult to think about the eventuality because this is the busiest time of year for the conference.

“March 25,” Pletsch said, “I’ll be looking for a job.”

I caught up with Pletsch as he was driving to Oxford, Ohio, to deliver the regular season trophy to the RedHawks.

“We’ll let them have it for a year,” joked Pletsch, who had read what McKenzie said after Saturday’s win.

That unnamed trophy along with two others eventually will reside permanently at Bowling Green. When the CCHA ends, it’s not just a matter of the league going away; the CCHA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation and as such, its assets must be accounted for when it is dissolved.

To satisfy the state of Michigan’s terms of nonprofit dissolution, some of the corporation’s records must be stored for a period of up to 10 years. That’s where Bowling Green comes in.

“Bowling Green, as an original charter member of the CCHA, has volunteered to do that,” Pletsch said. “Their plan is to create a CCHA display.”

In addition to storing documents that need to hang around for legal reasons, Bowling Green has agreed to take some of the CCHA’s artifacts. While the university hasn’t solidified where it will house the display, some of what will be enshrined already has been identified.

In addition to the regular-season trophy, BGSU will also keep and display the Mason Cup and the Bill Beagan Trophy. The Mason Cup is named after legendary Michigan State coach Ron Mason and is awarded to the CCHA playoff champions; the Bill Beagan Trophy is named after the man who served as league commissioner from 1985 to 1998 and is given to the playoff tournament MVP.

“I’ve also offered them the 45-foot mural of the history of the CCHA,” Pletsch said. Those familiar with the league’s annual Fan Fest in Detroit have probably seen the mural. Pletsch said that the league is getting the final panel for the mural made and that panel will depict where each of the 11 current CCHA teams will go after this season ends.

The Mason Cup that will reside at BGSU — the one that teams have received since 2002 — is a replica of the original. According to Pletsch, that original was “smashed to bits” one night in 2001. The story of the trophy’s undoing is told by Ron Mason himself in the video of the history of the CCHA that the league is making, a video that will be shown at the league’s Celebrate the Legacy party in the COBO Center in Detroit the Saturday night of the CCHA tournament. Said Pletsch of Mason, “He doesn’t admit that there was alcohol involved.”

The original Mason Cup will go to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Hall of Fame has actively pursued CCHA artifacts for a display it intends to build that will include a video of the telecast of the final championship game.

“They’re actually going to have a representative at the championship,” Pletsch said. “They want the stick from the kid who scores the final goal and the game-winning puck.”

The league has more than just paperwork and artifacts with which to contend. The CCHA has a reserve fund that is worth in excess of $1 million. That money is in place to handle unexpected expenses and, once the corporation is dissolved, will be given equally to each of the league’s member schools.

“I’m expecting that’s how it works,” Pletsch said. “All the assets have to be distributed.”

You want a piece of the CCHA for yourself? Don’t worry. There will be plenty available throughout the CCHA championship tournament weekend in Detroit. Pletsch said that the league has everything from a 30-foot banner of former Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg to CCHA watches from the mid-1990s.

“We’re always finding things” while going through the offices, Pletsch said.

Me, I hope to find a replacement for my original CCHA sweatshirt, the one that I finally ripped beyond repair and stopped wearing about five years ago. Or another CCHA backpack, since mine is ripped.

I guess coming apart at the seams is another unexpected theme this week.

The gent known as The Commish

One of my favorite CCHA stories ever is one about former Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone, told by former commissioner Bill Beagan. Well, it’s not so much the story, but the punch line is worth it.

The CCHA coaches were at an annual meeting in Ann Arbor, when the league offices were located there. The specifics of the discussion are irrelevant. In the meeting, though, coaches from around the league were offering assistance to Anzalone, whose reputation for being difficult is widespread. I prefer to think of Anzalone as misunderstood. Incidentally, so does Anzalone.

Anyway, coaches were offering assistance and Anzalone was stubbornly refusing it. The punch line comes from Beagan himself, who in frustration told Anzalone, “Frank, you’re the only man I know who’d like to die in his own arms.”

I don’t know if that line is a completely accurate portrait of Anzalone, but I do know that it’s pure, vintage Beagan.

This week, The Commish emailed me a letter that he’d previously emailed to John Tuohey of FSN Detroit. To be honest, I’d received the letter last week via a third party, but this time Beagan it emailed to me as well.

It is not a happy letter. Not at all.

In it, Beagan likened the CCHA to the RMS Titanic and its commissioner at the time of the announcement of the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos, to Captain Edward Smith. Beagan’s take on the end of the league is that it didn’t have to happen, that had some planning and foresight occurred the CCHA would remain intact — much like the Titanic could have avoided disaster had Smith heeded warnings about icebergs.

Beagan ended his letter with this: “Sadly, and unlike the RMS Titanic, there will be no movies, books, folk songs or memorials established to memorialize the once-proud CCHA, only an obituary which should read: ‘It didn’t have to happen.'”

I can understand Beagan’s disappointment, certainly. As commissioner of the CCHA, Beagan did much to heighten the profile of college hockey during his tenure from 1985 to 1998, especially in terms of recognizing the importance of televising the game. He did a lot, too, to promote college hockey as a legitimate path to the NHL.

As I have written repeatedly, I am saddened by the end of the CCHA. Unlike Beagan, however, I do not see Anastos as someone to be vilified. While I said at the time that I was a bit jolted by the timing of Anastos’ resignation as CCHA commissioner, I cannot fault the man for doing what he thought was best for himself, his family and even his alma mater. Tom Anastos is not the villain in the story of the ending of the CCHA.

In fact, there is no villain. I hate to disagree with my old friend The Commish — a man of whom I am personally very fond and one who has earned my unending respect — but sometimes things just happen. When Penn State announced its decision to join the ranks of Division I hockey, that forced Big Ten hockey into existence. While I wasn’t happy with the speed of Miami’s departure from the CCHA nor with Western Michigan’s immediate solicitation of other conferences, I did then and do still respect each program’s right to be self determining, as much as any Division I team can be.

During the months following the announcement of Big Ten hockey, Pletsch was criticized for what people perceived to be his inaction in regard to keeping the CCHA together. I talked with Pletsch several times during that period, and from our discussions, it was clear that the fate of the league lay with its member teams. Not to pile on the RedHawks, but once Miami decided to leave the conference, the conference was destabilized; people associated with individual programs needed to make decisions best for those individual programs. From what I can tell, every program did what it could to make the best of the situation.

Most of Beagan’s letter is about how planning could have saved the CCHA in some form, but I’m not sure at all that anything could have done so. The league doesn’t exist in hockey vacuum and there are factors beyond what the average fan can see that affected everything about the break-up of the CCHA — and everything about its decision to deny Alabama-Huntsville admission prior to that, and I do not see the two as unrelated.

Beagan isn’t the average fan. His disappointment is understandable. The CCHA was his baby for a long time and he helped it grow into something formidable in the world of hockey.

Beagan was the commissioner of the CCHA, but he wasn’t the commissioner of the CCHA when Big Ten hockey arrived. As mighty a man as he is, I don’t believe that even the great Bill Beagan could have saved the CCHA.

That other guy in between

While covering the Western Michigan-Michigan State game Saturday night, my good friend and hockey writer extraordinaire, Neil Koepke, told me about an interesting rumor that was making the rounds in East Lansing. As many as 20 fans, Koepke said, approached him while he was on the concourse during the game and asked him if it was true that Anastos intended to step down as coach at Michigan State to become the new commissioner of Big Ten hockey.

Um, what?

Koepke brought this up in the postgame news conference, which gave everyone a big laugh. First of all, there will be no commissioner of Big Ten hockey. The Big Ten itself has a commissioner, Jim Delany. He will have someone working under him, I’m sure, who oversees hockey, but there will be no Big Ten hockey commissioner.

Second … um, what? There is no earthly reason for Anastos to leave his job. When he heard the rumor, he jokingly asked, “How much does it pay?” He also mused about the greater control over scheduling he’d have.

Anastos isn’t going anywhere. As for that rumor, Koepke said that the concerned MSU fans who brought this to his attention claimed they’d heard it on the radio.

Officially speaking

There were some interesting doings regarding officiating around the CCHA last weekend. In the overtime period of the 1-1 tie between Ferris State and Michigan Saturday night, the Bulldogs had seven men on the ice at one point, the extra attacker in place of goaltender CJ Motte and, well, an extra extra attacker.

The officials missed the too-many-men call, but there was no harm done — and there would have been no harm done even if FSU had “scored.” Pletsch told me that director of officials Steve Piotrowski assured him that a goal in that situation would’ve been disallowed after review.

Yes, Michigan’s chance of securing home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs was on the line in that overtime. Yes, Michigan should have earned more points earlier in the season so as not to have to depend on the last regular season game for the points it needed to secure home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

Down the road on Saturday night, late in the third period of Michigan State’s gritty 1-0 win over Western Michigan, the Broncos were fighting for position among the top three teams in the league. Before the last game of the season, WMU was two points behind first-place Miami. Every point mattered, without question.

With 1:40 remaining in regulation, Dennis Brown fired from near the MSU blue line and the puck went into the net. His teammate, Dane Walters, was in the crease as the puck crossed the line. I watched this video repeatedly. Walters was in the crease. He was not pushed there by a Spartans player. The goal was disallowed and it was the right call.

Yes, the Broncos had a beef about the fact that the call wasn’t reviewed. Yes, the Broncos should have scored more goals earlier in the game so as not to have to rely on the power play with goaltender Frank Slubowski pulled for a two-man advantage to score on the league’s last-place team. And — yes, like the Wolverines — the Broncos had opportunities earlier in the season to earn more points.

When officiating is an issue, complain. When it’s a non-issue — and when your team hasn’t done enough itself to steer its own destiny — don’t.

And speaking of officials, one of the lingering questions I have as the CCHA prepares to dissolve is about the on-ice officials. What’s going to happen to them? No one has been contacted about officiating anywhere next season, which in a way is understandable because the realignment requires some rethinking about geography and officials’ league affiliations.

I did talk to Pletsch about this during our chat on his drive to Oxford. Piotrowski has been tabbed by the Big Ten to be the coordinator of men’s ice hockey officials for the conference, but Piotrowski can take only so many guys with him. “With six teams in the Big Ten,” Pletsch said, “he’s not going to need as big a staff.”

So what about the rest of the guys? Well, there’s great overlap of conference territory in Michigan and Ohio, states in which many of the CCHA’s on-ice officials live. There are rules regulating how many games an official can work within a given league before he becomes affiliated with that league. I wonder how college hockey will adapt to its new landscape regarding on-ice officials.

The officials wonder too, I’m sure. These are guys with lives. I do hope that decisions are made quickly after the current season ends so that the CCHA guys in stripes know where they’ll be skating next season.

Players of the week

This week’s honors are dominated by the young.

Rookie of the week: Michigan goaltender Steve Racine, who had 46 saves in a series against Ferris State, a 4-1 win and 1-1 tie. Racine also stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout, helping the Wolverines earn that extra point. Racine’s season-long numbers are not an indication of how well he’s playing lately; he’s 3-0-1 in his last four contests with a .926 save percentage in that span. It’s the first POTW award for Racine.

Offensive player of the week: Notre Dame freshman forward Mario Lucia. Lucia had two goals an assist in the Irish’s sweep of Bowling Green. Friday night’s marker was the winner, his first of the season. Lucia has 12 goals in 27 games.

Defenseman of the week: Ohio State freshman Craig Dalrymple, who had a goal and two assists in the Buckeyes’ split with Miami. He also blocked six shots against the RedHawks in the series.

Goaltender of the week: Northern Michigan’s Jared Coreau, a junior and the only non-rookie in this week’s honors. Coreau stopped 82 shots in NMU’s split with Lake Superior State, including 50 in Friday’s 3-1 win.

My ballot

1. Minnesota
2. Boston College
3. St. Cloud State
4. Miami
5. New Hampshire
6. Quinnipiac
7. North Dakota
8. Western Michigan
9. Yale
10. Minnesota State
11. Denver
12. Nebraska-Omaha
13. Notre Dame
14. Massachusetts-Lowell
15. Niagara
16. Wisconsin
17. Rensselaer
18. Dartmouth
19. Providence
20. Alaska

More hardware next week

There are more Girl Reporter Awards coming. I’m still researching.