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.

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NCAA East Regional Preview

BRIDGEPORT, CONN. | WEBSTER BANK ARENA
FRIDAY-SATURDAY, MARCH 28-29

Friday: Vermont vs. Union, 2 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Friday: Providence vs. Quinnipiac, 5:30 p.m. ET (TV: ESPNU)
Saturday: Regional Final, 3 p.m. ET (TV: ESPN2)

NO. 1 SEED UNION DUTCHMEN

Location: Schenectady, N.Y.
Record:
28-6-4 overall (18-3-1 ECAC Hockey, first)
Qualified:
ECAC Hockey tournament champion
NCAA Championships:
None
NCAA Appearance:
Fourth (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach:
Rick Bennett
Key Players:
Daniel Carr, F, Sr., 35 GP, 22-23–45; Daniel Ciampini, F, Jr., 37 GP, 19-16–35; Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Jr., 38 GP, 8-21–29; Colin Stevens, G, Jr., 32 GP, 24-4-2, 1.96 GAA, .931 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Bennett is Union’s current head coach, but he’s not the only East Regional bench boss to man the helm in Schenectady. Providence’s Nate Leaman guided the Dutchmen from 2003-11 and Vermont’s Kevin Sneddon was Union’s pilot from 1998-2003.

Burning Question: Does Union need to change a thing? As long as the Dutchmen keep on keepin’ on, it’s hard to see them failing to advance to Philadelphia in two weeks. No team in the country is playing better than Union is right now and while that may not make them the favorite to win the NCAA title, it certainly makes them the clear-cut choice in this region.

Most Recent Union Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
9-Daniel Carr 21-Mike Vecchione 17-Daniel Ciampini Carr enters the NCAAs with an eight-game point streak during which he’s scored nine goals and added six assists. He’s recorded 11-10–21 in his last 13 games.
23-Cole Ikkala 11-Sam Coatta 7-Michael Pontarelli
15-Matt Hatch 18-Max Novak 16-Kevin Sullivan
19-Matt Wilkins 12-Eli Lichtenwald 8-Nick Cruice
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
22-Matt Bodie 24-Sebastien Gingrasi 30-Colin Stevens Scoring offense: 3.68 GPG (2nd)
Scoring defense: 2.08 GPG (4th)
Power play: 21.4% (11th)
Penalty kill: 82.3% (31st)
14-Shayne Gostisbehere 2-Jeff Taylor 31-Dillon Pieri
28-Noah Henry 6-Charlie Vasaturo  1-A. Sakellaropoulos

NO. 2 SEED PROVIDENCE FRIARS

Location: Providence, R.I.
Record:
21-10-6 overall (11-7-2 Hockey East, third)
Qualified:
At-large bid
NCAA Championships:
None
NCAA Appearance:
10th (most recent, 2001)
Head Coach:
Nate Leaman
Key Players:
Ross Mauermann, F, Jr., 37 GP, 19-15–34; Nick Saracino, F, So., 37 GP, 9-17–26; John Gilmour, D, So., 37 GP, 5-13–18; Jon Gillies, G, So., 32 GP, 18-8-5, 2.20 GAA, .929 save pct.

What You Need To Know: Since the Friars’ last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001, every other Hockey East team has made at least one trip to the national playoffs.

Burning Question: Can Jon Gillies channel his inner Chris Terreri? It’s been nearly three decades since Terreri turned in one of the greatest performances in NCAA Tournament history, carrying a lightly regarded Providence team to the brink of a national championship. For the Friars to get to Philly, they’ll need a similar effort from Gillies, the college game’s most talented goalie.

Most Recent Providence Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
22-Brandon Tanev 24-Noel Acciari 19-Derek Army Mauermann, the Friars’ leading scorer, has just one point in his last nine games–a goal in a conference playoff quarterfinal win vs. Maine on March 15.
12-Stefan Demopoulos 10-Mark Jankowski 9-Trevor Mingoia
18-Nick Saracino 14-Ross Mauermann 20-Shane Luke
15-Steven McParland 21-Kevin Rooney 7-Drew Brown
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
5-Kyle McKenzie 28-Steven Shamanski 32-Jon Gillies Scoring offense: 2.97 GPG (23rd)
Scoring defense: 2.30 GPG (10th)
Power play: 13.9% (53rd)
Penalty kill: 87.0% (3rd)
3-John Gilmour 2-Kevin Hart 35-Nick Ellis
6-Tom Parisi 16-Anthony Florentino 31-Brendan Leahy

NO. 3 QUINNIPIAC BOBCATS

Location: Hamden, Conn.
Record:
24-9-6 overall (12-6-4 ECAC Hockey, third)
Qualified:
At-large bid
NCAA Championships:
None
NCAA Appearance:
Third (most recent, 2013)
Head Coach:
Rand Pecknold
Key Players: 
Sam Anas, F, Fr., 39 GP, 22-21–43; Kellen Jones, F, Sr., 39 GP, 18-24–42; Zach Tolkinen, D, Sr., 35 GP, 3-19–22; Michael Garteig, G, So., 39 GP, 24-9-6, 1.89 GAA, .912 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Bobcats are one of two teams (Boston College is the other) to rank among the top 10 nationally in the four major statistical categories: scoring offense, scoring defense, power-play success rate, and penalty-killing percentage.

Burning Question: Will Quinnipiac try to win the title all at once? A bit of a vague concept–think of it as trying to hit a five-run home in baseball. After playing for the national championship last season, one wonders if the Bobcats will be hyper-focused on getting another crack at the title this time around. As long as they don’t press, the Bobcats pose the most serious threat to Union in the East.

Most Recent Quinnipiac Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
7-Trevor Moore 10-Connor Jones 15-Kellen Jones Connor Jones has at least one point in 12 of the Bobcats’ last 14 games. He’s scored 8-7–15 during that stretch.
12-Bryce Van Brabant 6-Cory Hibbeler 19-J. Samuels-Thomas
26-Travis St. Denis 20-Matt Peca 11-Tim Clifton
2-Brayden Sherbinin 18-Soren Jonzzon 23-Tommy Schutt
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
27-Zach Tolkinen 4-Connor Clifton 34-Michael Garteig Scoring offense: 3.62 GPG (4th)
Scoring defense: 1.97 GPG (2nd)
Power play: 22.7% (6th)
Penalty kill: 90.1% (2nd)
22-Danny Federico 14-Derek Smith 31-Adam Cowley
5-Devon Toews 8-Alex Barron

NO. 4 SEED VERMONT CATAMOUNTS

Location: Burlington, Vt.
Record: 
20-14-3 overall (10-10-0 Hockey East, tied for seventh)
Qualified: 
At-large bid
NCAA Championships: 
None
NCAA Appearance: 
Sixth (most recent, 2010)
Head Coach: 
Kevin Sneddon
Key Players: 
Chris McCarthy, F, Sr., 37 GP, 16-24–40; Mario Puskarich, F, Fr., 36 GP, 19-16–35; Michael Paliotta, D, Jr., 37 GP, 5-22–27; Brody Hoffman, G, So., 19 GP, 10-7-1, 2.01 GAA, .927 save pct.

What You Need To Know: The Catamounts enter the regional with 3-10-1 record against teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field and 17-4-2 mark against non-qualifiers.

Burning Question: Does Vermont have a chance against Union? On paper, the odds are pretty slim. The Catamounts struggle to score; among tournament teams, only Denver averages fewer goals per game, and UVM’s power play ranks 44th in the nation. Unless goalie Brody Hoffman turns in a Tim Thomas-esque performance–with his play, not his political ramblings–the Catamounts’ NCAA Tournament experience will be brief.

Most Recent Vermont Line Chart
 Left Wing Center  Right Wing Notes
20-Brendan Bradley 3-Chris McCarthy 21-Mario Puskarich Hoffman and Santaguida have each played 19 games in goal, but Hoffman has started the Catamounts’ last eight contests. He’s posted a 1.85 GAA and a .936 save percentage during that span.
22-Brady Shaw 17-Jake Fallon 6-Colin Markison
23-Connor Brickley 19-Matt White 14-Anthony DeCenzo
11-H.T. Lenz 8-Jonathan Turk 16-Pete Massar
 Defense Defense Goalies Team Statistics (NCAA Rank)
25-Nick Luukko 4-Nick Bruneteau 37-Brody Hoffman Scoring offense: 2.78 GPG (33rd)
Scoring defense: 2.27 GPG (T-8th)
Power play: 15.7% (44th)
Penalty kill: 85.8% (7th)
5-Rob Hamilton 2-Michael Paliotta 1-Mike Santaguida
26-Caylen Walls 15-Yvan Pattyn

INCH Writers Conference Playoff Preview

Anyone else feel thrown for a loop this month because of the calendar? I suppose it’s because there are five full weekends in March, because it seems like we should be prepping for conference finals this weekend and tuning in to the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday. But, no, it’s league tournament quarterfinal weekend for everyone except for the Big Ten, where they’re still playing regular-season games.

We’ll take a glance at the Big Ten tournament next week. Front and center now are the playoffs in Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East, the NCHC, and the WCHA. By the way, here’s your link to tournaments results for all six leagues.

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