Archive for April, 2011

Be afraid… be very afraid…

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Over the last couple of days, I have become very anxious over the future of the sport I love — and cover.

Big Ten Hockey Conference aside, which I think has the chance to ruin the game as we know it, Penn State joining the college hockey fray is a great thing for the game. Had the topic of the BTHC never been broached, Penn State joining fellow Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in the CCHA would have been the best possible outcome for the college game.

But with the formation of the evil empire, Penn State, Jim Delaney and the Big Ten will ruin a growing game that has become more entertaining and exciting over the last 10 years.

That is my fear. Will it become reality? Only time will tell.

But there is growing fear that my worst thoughts may be coming true.

There is no question in my mind the WCHA would survive with the losses of Minnesota and Wisconsin. With flagship programs like North Dakota and Denver as well as Colorado College and reigning national champion Minnesota Duluth, the WCHA would be just fine.

The CCHA would need to adapt without Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. But growing powers like Notre Dame and Miami would provide the league with two solid anchors to build upon.

Now, reports are circulating that the two leagues may fracture even more, as reported by Kevin Pates of the Duluth News Tribune. According to the report, the buzz at the Frozen Four was around the formation of a new, six-team league featuring DU, UND, Miami, Notre Dame, CC and Nebraska-Omaha.

Full disclosure: I was at the Frozen Four and I never heard a single word about this. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t discussed.

If true, it would ruin college hockey. Division I would become much more regionalized, with programs like Michigan Tech likely joining Ferris State, Bowling Green, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and Western Michigan to form a “Great Lakes Conference,” while Minnesota schools like UMD, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Bemidji State would form a “10,000 Lakes Conference.” The problem is, with only four teams, there would be no automatic bid. Teams like Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska and Alabama-Huntsville would be left without a logical, geographic home. Could they join the Minnesota teams? Sure. But now there is an unfair financial burden on small state schools already crushed by budget cuts at their institutions.

The fact is, the Big Ten Hockey Conference is a reality and it will happen. But further fracturing the WCHA and CCHA would only put gas on a fire that could ignite the entire college hockey landscape as we know it.

Exodus begins for defending champs

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Winning a national championship is certainly a big thing for a program. Recruiting will improve, meaning the future is brighter.

The problem is, in many cases, the short-term becomes cloudy because your successful underclassmen become targets of professional teams.

As is the case with Minnesota Duluth. Already losing major contributors like Justin Fontaine, Mike Montgomery and Kyle Schmidt because of graduation, team co-captain Mike Connolly announced he had signed a max deal with the San Jose Sharks, bypassing his senior season in Duluth.

It’s likely just the beginning. At minimum, the team is expected to lose Justin Faulk, a blue chip defenseman likely to sign with Carolina any day now.

Freshman winger J.T. Brown could be a target as well after being named the Frozen Four’s Most Valuable Player. On the biggest stage, Brown was far-and-away the best player on the ice. He’s only 5-10, but he has NHL speed with an ability to play physical and score goals. He would likely benefit from at least one more season in Duluth, but the fact is, guys with his ability usually don’t stay four years. He’s undrafted, which will likely drive his price up, meaning it will be much more difficult for him to turn down the pros when the opportunity arises.

Junior Jack Connolly will probably be back when you consider he’s only 5-8, but it only takes one team to be interested. Would a guy like Connolly — who’s also undrafted — turn down an opportunity to move on? He’s won a national championship and just a year ago, wasn’t on many radars.

At 6 feet, 200 lbs, Travis Oleksuk provides good size at the center spot. He could also be a guy that gets a few professional looks.

So while UMD is bringing in a solid recruiting class, including four defensemen, replacing guys like Connolly, Fontaine and Montgomery will be no easy task. Should Connolly, Brown and Oleksuk also get offered, repeating as champs would be even more difficult.

Richards the perfect fit for Minnesota

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

The news of Todd Richards’ firing as head coach of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild is barely a day old. And while he will likely be able to land on his feet somewhere in the National Hockey League (or as a head coach in the AHL), it seems to me there is one job out there he is suited perfectly for.

Head coach, University of Minnesota.

I know what you’re saying: Yes, the Gophers already have a coach. But in case you haven’t read, or if you live in Minnesota and you’ve been under a rock, Don Lucia’s status isn’t exactly on the firmest of grounds. So if you’re Minnesota A.D. Joel Maturi and the pressure is on to make a move, the news of the last 24 hours should likely give you even more reason to pull the trigger.

This isn’t meant to be a referendum on Lucia. He’s a great coach. But with expectations at their traditional highs and results at a historic low, not to mention the graduation of four of the team’s top 5 scorers (and already one early departure), the time to cut an run might be now, especially with such a qualified candidate cleaning his office just 7 miles down the road.

To me, there isn’t a more perfect candidate anywhere. Consider:

- Richards is a Minnesota native, having starred at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School (Crystal, Minn.). He and his wife, Maryann, currently reside there with his two sons, Zachary (15) and Justin (13).

- He had a successful career as a player at the University of Minnesota and is one of the most prolific defensemen in the history of the Gopher program, scoring 30 goals and adding 158 assists in four years.

- Has head coaching experience with the Wild, going 77-71-16 over the last two seasons. He’s also been both a head coach and an assistant coach in the AHL and an assistant coach in the NHL.

- At just 44 years of age, Richards could be the face of the program for the next 25 years.

- He preaches an up-tempo style of play that is attractive to many recruits. He also has NHL credentials and connections that would be attractive as well.

- He was a high NHL draft pick as a player (second round) but stayed all four years in college, winning two WCHA titles and playing in a national championship game.

Now, I have no idea if Richards would even be interested in the job, but you’d have to think he’d consider it. He just recently returned to Minnesota two years ago, has his children enrolled in school there, playing hockey there and making friends there. The job would pay him in the neighborhood of what an NHL assistant would make and would allow him to keep his home and current lifestyle intact.

Sounds like a win-win to me.