On Conference Realignment …

So I was hanging out on Twitter a couple weeks ago and asked followers to hit me up with any questions they might have. This was one of them:

It’s a legitimate question, one that couldn’t be adequately answered in 140 characters. I may not do much better using 20 times the characters here, but it’s worth a shot.

Even though we went through an entire round of realignment two years ago, programs that made a flip have a better idea how the current situation works for them. And I believe that, yes, the CCHA will come back in some form. It’s not that anyone is truly unhappy where they are right now.* But there’s going to a team or teams who think they can improve their situations by breaking away or, in the case of the CCHA, re-starting a league.

* Look, I’ve heard the rumblings about Notre Dame not being keen on Hockey East for a variety of reasons, but they’re a better institutional fit in Hockey East—that’s a big deal at Notre Dame—and they’ll draw better crowds against HEA foes than they would against opponents from, say, the NCHC.

Bowling Green and Ferris State landed in the WCHA after the CCHA dissolved two years ago.

If that happened, wouldn’t it make sense for nearby Ferris State to come on board? And might Atlantic Hockey members Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and/or Robert Morris be open to flipping to a new-look CCHA, lured by the opportunity to offer 18 scholarships as opposed to the 14-scholarship limit imposed by their current league?Bowling Green owns the rights to the CCHA—at least that’s my understanding, and I don’t really know what that entails. That said, is it far-fetched to think Bowling Green, which according to this CBSSports.com story from last November has an athletic department deficit of $11.4 million, wouldn’t explore rejuvenating the CCHA as a way to cut costs? Do you think Western Michigan, which the same article says has a $21.3 million athletic department shortfall, could be convinced to join based on finances?

That’s seven programs right there, enough for this imaginary league to get its playoff champion an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Getting to eight is easy, either by courting Lake Superior State or Miami.

Ah, the RedHawks, the wild card in this scenario. They’re one of the top dozen hockey programs in the country; getting them to commit a new CCHA would be a coup. Would Miami, owners of a $19.7 million athletic department deficit according to CBSSports.com, join fellow MAC members Bowling Green and Western Michigan in a new league? Or do the RedHawks think leaving the powerful NCHC would be a disservice to the hockey program? For that matter, does Western Michigan feel the same way about a move out of Natty Ice?

Arizona State joins the college hockey mix in a couple of years. Where will the Sun Devils land and, if they end up in the NCHC, does it open the door for, say, Minnesota State as that league’s tenth member? Now that the Big Ten has added Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member for men’s lacrosse, maybe that cracks the door for that league to go outside of its boundaries in search of more teams.

This is all just speculation, but the hunch here is conference realignment in the next couple years is more than just possibility, but a probability.

Advertisements

From the Crease: Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament, Day 1

Thoughts and observations from a day of watching three of the four games in their entirety on Friday (I unfortunately missed the Niagara/North Dakota matchup) and observing much of the conversation of the day on Twitter.

yale• While many who follow college hockey might have been shocked at the first result of the day (Yale’s 3-2 overtime victory over Minnesota), it shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise to listeners of the INCH Podcast. Mike Eidelbes has long mentioned that the Gophers were a supremely talented team, but one that didn’t appear to give the requisite effort needed on every shift, every night. The game-winning goal was a prime illustration of just how out-worked Minnesota was by a Yale team that has enjoyed a fair amount of success at this stage in the recent past under Keith Allain. That game served as an immediate wake-up call of just how wide-open this year’s tournament is. Continue reading

NCAA Midwest Regional Preview

TOLEDO, OHIO | HUNTINGTON CENTER
SATURDAY-SUNDAY, MARCH 30-31

Saturday: Notre Dame vs. St. Cloud State, 1:30 p.m. ET (TV: FSN North, ESPN3)
Saturday: Miami vs. Minnesota State, 5 p.m. ET (TV: FSN North, ESPN3)
Sunday: Regional Final, 4 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)

ndameNO. 1 SEED NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Location: Notre Dame, Ind.
Record: 25-12-3 overall (17-8-3 CCHA, second)
Qualified: CCHA tournament champions
NCAA Championships: None
NCAA Appearance: Sixth (most recent, 2011)
Head Coach: Jeff Jackson
Key Players: Anders Lee, F, Jr. (40 GP, 20-18—38); Bryan Rust, Jr., F (40 GP, 15-18—33); Robbie Russo, D, So. (40 GP, 5-18—23); Steven Summerhays, G, Jr. (21-11-2, 1.94 GAA, .922 save pct.)
Continue reading

INCH Writers 4×4: Version 3.0

Listen, I get that speculation is fun. It’s why people liked INCH Pick ‘Em, why we like mock drafts and handicapping the Oscars. But there comes a time when it gets to be too damn much.

Take Monday morning, for instance. Based on a few tweets I saw, there were people actively searching for a way Robert Morris could earn at at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Now it’d be a great story if RMU got into the NCAA Tournament; the Colonials had a darn good season. But according to Jim Dahl of Siouxsports.com—he ran each of the more than 393,000 scenarios that could play out in next weekend’s conference tournaments—Robert Morris has a less than one percent chance of earning an at-large bid. You’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime. Continue reading

INCH Writers Conference Playoff Preview

In lieu of those big, blown-out conference tournament previews we used to do at the old site—you know, back when we had actual writers and whatnot—here’s a pared-down version from your resident hack (WCHA rant not included.) Apologies to Yahoo college football/basketball hoops scribe Pat Forde for my blatant repackaging of his NCAA hoops league tourney previews. Besides, imitation is the most sincere form of something, someone said sometime. I think it was Carlos Mencia.

Continue reading

INCH Writers 4×4: Version 2.0

Welcome to another edition of the INCH 4×4, where you get all of the NCAA Tournament speculation with none of the math. And this time around, I’ve got an axe to grind.

We all know an NCAA computer somewhere in Indianapolis determines the 16 teams most deserving of an invitation to the NCAA Tournament based on concrete data. That’s fine, I guess. Letting the computer cull the field makes the selection committee’s job real simple. As long as they can read a spreadsheet, count to 16, and then divide by four, they’re pretty much in the clear. It certainly keeps the scrutiny to a minimum.

Continue reading

INCH Writers 4×4: Version 1.0

The INCH 4×4 represents how we think the NCAA Tournament field will look WHEN THE BRACKET IS ANNOUNCED Sunday, March 24 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

We’ve touted the INCH 4×4 as all of the NCAA Tournament speculation with none of the math. Like we’ve said a million times before, the PairWise rankings are relevant on just one day—the day in March the selection committee sits down and actually plots the field. Focusing on the week-in, week-out fluctuations is an exercise in futility. Besides, in some highly unscientific research Joe Gladziszewski and I did a while back—I think we looked at previous tourney fields one afternoon we were bored—the computer rankings tend to line up with winning percentage the vast majority of the time. In most cases, it doesn’t matter who you beat, just as long as you beat ’em.

One thing that bothers me about this first projection is there’s only two ECAC Hockey representative in the field (Quinnipiac and Yale). Ultimately, I think you’ll see a third team work its way into the mix—one of Colgate, Dartmouth, and Union. Nothing based in hard data, but a hunch. Continue reading

INCH Writers Rankings: The Top Whatever

Any time you try to put people, places, or things in order from best to, uhh, less best, you’re bound to elicit reactions from those who disagree with your opinion. For example, leaving Nebraska-Omaha and Boston University off this list won’t go over well with some people. But, hey, the line had to be drawn somewhere and this time around those two teams were just below it.

Quick note about BU: You know how we’ll sometimes say a team is greater than the some of its parts? The Terriers seem like less than the sum of their parts. I don’t have an answer for why that is; just throwing it out there. Anyway, on with the countdown …

1. Minnesota (17-3-4): “He loved the Golden Gophers but he hated all the drawn-out winters,” sang The Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn, who grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs. If Don Lucia’s squad keeps playing like this — unbeaten in its last 10 and 12-1-4 since Nov. 9 — fans won’t care about the cold and snow.

2. Boston College (14-5-2): The Eagles are 3-4-2 in their last nine games since Nov. 30. Last season, BC went 2-5-1 between Dec. 9-Jan. 21 … then won 19 in a row.

3. Quinnipiac (18-3-3): The Bobcats’ record against foes from the CCHA, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East, and the WCHA is 16-1-3. They’re 2-2-0 against Atlantic Hockey opponents following Tuesday’s win against UConn. Jeremy Langlois (pictured, right) had a pair of assists in that game.

4. Western Michigan (14-6-4): Got to thinking about college hockey in Michigan. If I was asked to rank Michigan’s college hockey teams, I think it’d be Western, Ferris, Lake Superior, Northern, Tech, Michigan, and Michigan State. If you’d been away from college hockey for 15 years and saw that list, you’d be floored.

5. New Hampshire (14-5-2): Here’s a sign your penalty kill is pretty good: The Wildcats have allowed five power-play goals and scored four shorthanded goals. Has a team ever broken even or finished in plus territory in that regard for an entire season?

6. North Dakota (13-7-4): We put Danny Kristo on our 60-Percent Season Review All-America team, but linemate Corban Knight, who enters his team’s weekend series against St. Cloud State with a 19-game point streak, is just as deserving.

7. Miami (13-6-5): Since reeling off an eight-game unbeaten streak from Nov. 3-Dec. 7, the RedHawks are 3-4-2 in their last nine games and, perhaps more alarming, have scored a total of 11 goals during that span.

8. Yale (11-4-3): The Bulldogs don’t lose often, but there’s been a complete absence of defense when they do. In their four defeats they’ve given up 19 goals, compared to 29 goals allowed in their 14 non-losses.

9. UMass Lowell (13-7-1): Who’s hotter than the River Hawks, winners of nine in a row? How about UML freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck — he’s been victorious in each of his last seven starts and has a 0.95 GAA and a .964 save percentage during that stretch.

action_scsu_leblanc10. St. Cloud State (14-10-0): NoDak’s Knight has some competition in the scoring-streak department from the Huskies’ Drew LeBlanc (pictured, right), who enters the weekend with a 13-game point streak. LeBlanc has two goals and 18 assists in those 13 matches.

11. Denver (13-8-4): It’s almost unfathomable to think that prior to last weekend’s back-to-back losses at St. Cloud State, the Pioneers hadn’t been swept by a WCHA opponent since Nov. 14-15, 2008. Back then, Justin Bieber was only annoying to people in his hometown of Stratford, Ont., not the entire world.

12. Notre Dame (15-9-0): For a team that’s far better playing with a lead, the Fighting Irish picked a bad time to struggle offensively — they’ve scored 10 goals in their last five games. On the year, Notre Dame is 2-6 when trailing after one period and 0-9 when behind after two periods.

13. Minnesota State (15-8-3): Since taking over as the Mavericks’ starting goalie on Nov. 10, freshman Stephon Williams has amassed a 12-4-1 record, a 1.69 GAA, a .930 save percentage, and four shutouts.

The 60-Percent Season Review

We’re now into mid-January, which is a little more than halfway through the college hockey season. And being sticklers about facts and whatnot, it seemed a little disingenuous to call this a mid-season review, since we passed that mile marker a couple weeks ago. And while we intended to put together some sort of look back at the first half of the season, we opted to enjoy a couple weeks of down time during the holiday break.

(We occasionally get e-mails from readers asking why we don’t post more often here. The simple answer is because posting all the time is what drove the editors at INCH into the ground. An even simpler answer is because we’re doing other stuff.)

So instead of a mid-season review, we here at The INCH Writers bring you the 60-Percent Season Review, or the Three-Fifths Season Review if you’re down with fractions.

SURPRISE TEAM

It’s gotta be Quinnipiac, right? One month into the season, the Bobcats were 3-3-1 after losing to American International in Hamden. Since then, they’ve gone 14-0-2, moved into the top five in both national polls, and, more importantly, are 11-0-1 in ECAC Hockey play — the Bobcats, who’ve outscored league foes by a 44-16 margin, enter the weekend with a 10-point edge over second-place Princeton. Senior goaltender Eric Hartzell’s been a force, posting a 1.42 GAA and a .934 save percentage in his last 16 starts.

TEAM PEOPLE ARE WRITING OFF THAT WILL FINISH STRONG

Would you believe Wisconsin? We had the Badgers in our preseason top 10, but they got off to a terrible start. Among other occurrences, touted freshman forward Nic Kerdiles was suspended for the first 10 games for a violation of NCAA rules, leading scorer Mark Zengerle (pictured, right) missed a half-dozen games with a broken finger, and assistant coach Bill Butters tendered his resignation a month into the season.

Saying the Badgers have turned things around might be a tad premature, but the signs are there. Kerdiles and Zengerle are back, junior forward Michael Mersch is on a hot streak, and the goaltending tandem of Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel have been terrific. Wisconsin enters this weekend’s non-conference series with Miami with a 10-game unbeaten streak, its longest since the national title season of 2005-06.

SURPRISE INDIVIDUAL

Quinnipiac’s Hartzell is a natural choice; with 17 wins this season, he’s more than halfway to matching the number he amassed in his first three seasons with the Bobcats. So, too, is Nebraska Omaha forward Ryan Walters, who has 36 points in 24 games for the WCHA co-leaders.

We’ll go with Ohio State goalie Brady Hjelle, however, because no one could have predicted his rise at the start of the season. The senior from International Falls, Minn., played sparingly in his first three seasons — he made 18 starts over two years at Minnesota Duluth before transferring to OSU, where he started five times last season. Hjelle comes into this weekend 6-6-4 with a 1.44 GAA and .952 save percentage. In league play, he’s 6-3-2 with a microscopic 0.92 GAA and a .968 save percentage. The Buckeyes’ 8-9-5 mark isn’t pretty, but at 7-4-3 in the CCHA, they’re in a great position to challenge for a first-round conference playoff bye.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Good thing the Michigan basketball team is playing well, because the Wolverines’ hockey team has floundered through the first 22 games of the season and enter the weekend tied for eighth place in the CCHA standings, six points behind seventh-place Alaska and 17 points behind first-place Notre Dame. Not where a team with 11 NHL draft picks on its roster expects to be in mid-January.

The primary culprit has been lousy goaltending; the Wolverines rank tied for 54th nationally in scoring defense. Most observers expected a dropoff after Shawn Hunwick departed, but Michigan’s three netminders have combined for a 3.47 GAA and a .874 save percentage. Freshman Jared Rutledge, who was expected to pick up most of the slack in Hunwick’s absence, has a .847 save percentage and a 4.57 GAA — an acceptable number if you’re the third starter in the Colorado Rockies’ rotation, but not so much for a no. 1 goalie.

BEST MOMENT OF THE FIRST HALF

With his team’s 5-2 win over Alabama-Huntsville in Minneapolis last month, Boston College coach Jerry York notched career win no. 925, surpassing Ron Mason for the all-time lead in that category. Based on his record over the last decade — the Eagles have won at least 24 games in nine times in the last 10 seasons — reaching 1,000 wins is a mere formality.

A salute, too, to Michigan Tech, which beat Michigan and Western Michigan to win its first Great Lakes Invitational title since 1980. Head coach Mel Pearson was a senior on that team.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR-TO-DATE

Boston College has been at or near the top of the national rankings the entire season and while the Eagles are loaded with talent, sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau (pictured, right) has been the best player in the country from day one of the season. The country’s leading scorer in terms of points per game, Gaudreau started the season with a 12-game scoring streak during which he scored 10 goals and 21 points. And not only is he a productive player, but he’s arguably college hockey’s most dynamic skater. There are others in the POTYTD mix — most notably Quinnipiac’s Hartzell, UNO’s Walters, and North Dakota’s Corban Knight and Danny Kristo — but as of right now, Gaudreau’s the player to beat.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR-TO-DATE

With the departures of high-scoring forwards such as Carter Camper, Andy Miele,Alden Hirschfeld, and Reilly Smith over the last couple seasons, Miami has endured fairly significant change up front. Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Mullin helped make the transition smoother last season, and it looks like coach Enrico Blasi has found another keeper in forward Riley Barber. The Livonia, Mich., native leads NCAA freshmen with 24 points, has at least one point in 10 of the RedHawks’ 11 wins to date, and has a negative plus-minus rating in just one of the 20 games he’s played.

Also worthy of consideration are Northeastern forward Kevin Roy, Michigan defenseman Jacob Trouba, and a trio of WCHA rookies — Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox, Minnesota Duluth forward Tony Cameranesi, and Minnesota State netminder Stephon Williams.

COACH OF THE YEAR-TO-DATE

With just 10 ECAC Hockey regular-season games remaining and a 10-point lead over second-place Princeton, Quinnipiac is a prohibitive favorite to win the league crown for the first time in school history and earn its second-ever NCAA Tournament bid. The Bobcats have ridden Hartzell to 17-3-3 mark, but coach Rand Pecknold has gotten contributions from virtually every player on the roster — 17 skaters have at least one goal, 10 have scored on the power play, and nine have netted a game-winner. That’s the sign of a coach who trusts his lineup from top to bottom, and the players have rewarded Pecknold for that trust by embracing their roles and, more importantly, producing.

INCH WRITERS 60-PERCENT ALL-AMERICANS

F: Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College — Has a point in 14 of the 16 games he’s played to date.
F: Danny Kristo, North Dakota — The Count has been red hot as of late with eight goals and eight assists in his last seven games.
F: Ryan Walters, Nebraska-Omaha — The junior has already eclipsed his career highs in goals, assists, and points and is on pace to surpass his scoring output from his first two seasons combined.
D: Andrej Sustr, Nebraska-Omaha — Pro scouts have long been enamored with the 6-foot-8 Sustr’s frame. With six goals and 17 points in 24 games, he’s proved he’s more than just a big body.
D: Trevor van Riemsdyk, New Hampshire — The Wildcats are 9-0-1 when van Riemsdyk scores a point, and he’s a major reason UNH is ranked eighth nationally in scoring defense and bounced back from last year’s funk.
G: Eric Hartzell, Quinnipiac — Ranks first nationally in winning percentage, tied for second in shutouts, and third in GAA, all while playing more minutes than all but one NCAA goaltender.

FROZEN FOUR FRONTRUNNERS

Boston College: Here’s a scary thought regarding the defending champs — they don’t usually start playing their best hockey until the final third of the season.
Minnesota: The Gophers handled the first half of their schedule with relative ease; the road gets significantly tougher starting with this weekend’s series against North Dakota.
North Dakota: Like Boston College, North Dakota doesn’t typically hit its stride until February or so. Getting a finally healthy Michael Parks back in the flow will help.
Notre Dame: With Steve Summerhays in net, goaltending hasn’t been an issue. Consistency on offense is another story. Thought about flipping Western Michigan into this spot, but sticking with the Irish … for now.