Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Let's start with some non-realignment stuff. The Calgary Flames posted this video of former Maverick Tim Jackman talking about last season. He had his best year in the NHL, playing in all 82 games and compiling 10 goals, 13 assists and 86 PIMs.
Looks like Eric Rud is going back to being a WCHA assistant coach. The former Colorado College standout is returning to his alma mater to be an assistant for Scott Owens. He's already served one stint as an assistant there before going to the St. Cloud State bench for five years. Most recently, he worked as the head coach of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers (coaching a couple of Minnesota State recruits). It seems like an interesting career path for Rud, whose name had been linked to head coaching gigs at Michigan Tech and Western Michigan, unless this means he's the heir apparent at CC.
I wonder how Minnesota State feels about the consulting fees being thrown around by other MnSCU schools. Minnesota State-Moorhead is paying $60,000 for a consultant to help with its run to get Division I hockey. Earlier this year, St. Cloud State hired Gino Gasparini for $90,000. By the way, that $90K is getting a little more scrutiny now that the Huskies are among the leftovers not going to the new NCHC.
As for the possibility of Moorhead ever getting into the WCHA if it indeed meets its goals, Bruce McLeod says that it's way too early to make a commitment.
The WCHA is expected to formally add Northern Michigan for 2013-14 on Wednesday. The league needs to get a vote of all 12 teams (yes, including those who are leaving) to approve a motion to allow the remaining teams — MSU, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage — the ability to conduct business as it pertains to issues after the 2012-13 season.
McLeod said getting a sixth team was a must but that eight teams would be ideal. In a New York Times story, he said that two other programs have made inquiries. However, he declined to name them. It seems likely that Alaska (Fairbanks) would be one of them. I'm speculating here, but it seems like Western Michigan would make some sense — although, publicly, WMU officials have said they'd like to do what Notre Dame does (will they eve have that option?).
As for some other leftover teams, it looks like the CCHA is having discussions with Atlantic Hockey about the future. College Hockey News reports that Atlantic Hockey schools Robert Morris, Niagara, Canisius and Mercyhurst are exploring joining the CCHA, which will have Bowling Green, Lake Superior State and Ferris State remaining (providing, of course, that Alaska, Western Michigan and Notre Dame are heading out).
More PucKato guesswork here, but if that move happens, Air Force, which currently plays in Atlantic Hockey, will be looking for a home. It seems like that would be a good fit for the WCHA. Also, what's to become of Alabama-Huntsville? It seems like someone ought to bring them in now.
To listen to some good talk about the sport's changes, listen to this podcast on Inside College Hockey (special thanks to the INCH fellas for plugging my column from last week; by the way, here's a link to this week's column).
Finally, I'm not sure where else they would be going or if this was even a question but Minnesota State last week reaffirmed its commitment to the WCHA. So they've got that going for them.
Friday, July 15, 2011
The WCHA's release reads:
The CEOs (chief executive officers) of the five member teams that will make-up the men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) as of the 2013-14 season are supportive of Northern Michigan University's entrance into the conference. WCHA men's membership in 2013-14 will include University of Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State University, Michigan Technological University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, and St. Cloud State University.
In other college hockey happenings on Friday, Minnesota State-Moorhead held a press conference expressing its intent to add Division I hockey. The school has set a goal of raising $37 million for an endowment to fund the program. University president Edna Szymanski said that 40 percent of the goal has been committed. The school hopes to make a final decision within the next three months.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Meanwhile, the leftovers int hose leagues have a lot of work to do to try to figure out their future. As Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman said earlier this week, representatives from the WCHA schools will meet Friday in the Twin Cities to start planning, and in a statement released Wednesday, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said they have "a short-term plan that we will implement immediately." Curious to see how immediate "immediately" actually is.
It looks like Northern Michigan is already making efforts to get back into the WCHA and Alaska-Anchorage athletic director Steve Cobb said an expansion announcement will come on Friday. There are reports that there have been no talks of a WCHA-CCHA merger, but it seems like the WCHA would be better off with eight teams instead of six. Who could the other teams be? Alaska (Fairbanks) still seems like a possibility.
Back to the NCHC, here are some links to yesterday's coverage, the best of which came from the post-press conference interview sessions:
The Grand Forks Herald's Brad Schlossman gets more reasons for the breakaway, including this quote from Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph: "We’re with schools that have a burning desire to win a national championship. They are willing to fund their programs to that level, staff to that level and build facilities to support that. From that perspective, it’s very exciting.” Added North Dakota AD Brian Faison: “(Each of the emaining WCHA teams) has some of those things at different levels of their programs. This is a combination that provides the best opportunity to continue furthering UND’s hockey program."
In Kevin Pates' coverage in the Duluth News Tribune, former UMD coach Mike Sertich was tracked down and said it appears the NCHC has abandoned other teams: “It is so hard to see a piece of history changed. I have very mixed emotions over all of this. I understand the reasons, but I feel for the ones left behind. We asked so much of these programs before admitting them to the WCHA and now it seems as though we have abandoned them. While I am happy for UMD, I feel saddened for teams like Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Michigan Tech."
Officials from the NCHC didn't say much regarding the many rumors of their dissatisfaction with WCHA leadership but Faison did try to debunk the notion that the teams had voted to stay together during last April's meetings. Still, the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot is reporting that there was at least talk (but no action) on removing McLeod as commissioner, and that some schools proposed levying heavy fines to teams that left the WCHA (the motion was eventually withdrawn).
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The open event didn't last long. It was mostly introductions, a brief history of the locale's connection to college hockey and a handful of softball questions directed at Denver coach George Gwozdecky and North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison (hopefully, more got asked during the one-on-one time allowed to media after the main event).
Both thanked the WCHA and CCHA and promised that the NCHC's team's will continue to be committed members of those leagues until they begin play in 2013-14. There were a couple of interesting nuggets, however:
• Faison said schools began having conversations about a new league as early as last falland that the league was not formed in haste.. This might have been the most surprising news of the day.
• Gwozdecky said the reasons for the new league included "uncertainty going forward, especially in scheduling and recruiting." He also mentioned that this is about "what makes the game better and what enhances hockey for these institutions."
• Faison said the league's steps include: 1. Setting up a nonprofit corporation. 2. Hiring a conference commissioner. 3. Researching and vetting additional members (Notre Dame is being pursued). 4. Media opportunities.
Meanwhile the WCHA finally issued a statement about the new league. You can read that here. Some comments from commissioner Bruce McLeod:
• "Obviously, it's a tough day for the WCHA and a sad one for me personally, and it's one that is not easy to put into perspective. We wish everyone well, but make no mistake, the (WCHA) is not going away. ..."
• "Our remaining institutions — Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State — are absolutely committed to both Division 1 hockey and the WCHA, and as an association we will continue — as we always have — to provide a first-class product. ..."
• "As regards to our future, the WCHA has a short-term plan that we will implement immediately. In the long term, we will continue to formulate a strategic approach that will ensure the well-being of the association and its member teams for the long run. As a group, we remain committed and we are 100% confident our future remains bright."
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Do you watch the Mavericks or do you watch their opponent? Is it more important to see a win or to see a so-called power opponent?
The answer may have a big impact on how you feel about the future of MSU hockey once the yet-to-be-named Breakaway League and the Big Ten start play in 2013-14. As others have suggested this week, the new WCHA may end up being OK for the leftover teams, as their chances of winning conference titles and earning NCAA berths will improve.
Even if MSU becomes the best of the rest, will Mankato's hockey fans follow?
• Over the last five years, Minnesota State is 16-49-9 (.277) against teams going into the Breakaway League.
• The Mavericks are 11-18-4 (.394) against Big Ten members Minnesota and Wisconsin over the last fiv years.
• Over that same span, MSU is 33-19-9 (.615) against the rest of the WCHA — St. Cloud, Bemidji, Anchorage and Tech.
If Minnesota State can continue to bring in quality nonconference opponents (i.e.: ex-WCHA members) regularly, they might be able to draw those big crowds and help their Pairwise ranking. That's a big if, though, as all three western leagues will be seeking quality nonconference games, and I've already heard worries about the possibility of an interlocking schedule between the Big Ten and the Breakaways.
Meanwhile, here's another statistical curiosity: Miami has been one of the nation's best teams over their last several years, and its desire to leave the CCHA makes some sense with that conference's Big Ten losses. But why is that school more attractive to the Breakaways than the current WCHA programs? The RedHawks play in a new arena, albiet one that seats just 3,600 people.
Last year, Miami drew an average of 3,024 per game. Minnesota State in a down year drew 3,711. (In 2008-09, MSU had an all-time high of 4,552, ranking 15th in the nation; Miami was 32nd that year with 2,491.)
Lets look at some college hockey average attendance figures from last year (ranking is overall national place):
1. Wisconsin 13,226
2. Michigan 12,291
4. Minnesota 9,544
11. Michigan State 5,353
18. Ohio State 3,829
3. North Dakota 11,756
5. Nebraska-Omaha 7,994
6. Colorado College 6,687
9. Minnesota Duluth 5,810
12. Denver 5,292
25. Miami 3,024
8. St. Cloud State 5,935
17. Bemidji State 3,876
19. Minnesota State 3,711
22. Alaska-Anchorage 3,319
36. Michigan Tech 2,345
26. Alaska 2,954 (possibly going to WCHA)
27. Western Michigan 2,926 (waiting for Notre Dame's move)
29. Notre Dame 2,801 (courted by Hockey East, Breakaways)
32. Northern Michigan 2,541 (possibly going to WCHA)
39. Bowling Green 2,169
40. Lake Superior 2,103
44. Ferris State 1,734
Monday, July 11, 2011
The new league issued a press release today saying that its press conference will be held at noon (CDT) Wednesday from Penrose House in Colorado Springs, Colo. It will include representatives (ADs and coaches) from North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and Miami and is expected to be shown live online.
"I think it will be interesting to see what they will reveal," Buisman said. "Will they talk about their plans for TV exposure, the name of the conference and branding?"
Buisman said ADs from the remaining WCHA teams will meet on Friday in the Twin Cities to discuss their future.
There have been reports Monday of Northern Michigan going to the WCHA and possibly Alaska (Fairbanks), too. Buisman had no comment on those moves. However Alaska-Anchorage's suddenly outspoken AD Steve Cobb issued a press release about his school's situation and certainly advocated for the other school in his state.
Asked Cobb's "really sneaky back-door deal" comment from last week, Buisman used a more diplomatic statement:
"There were some contentious moments and some uncertainty (at April's league meetings), but we definitely felt like we were in a good place. Our plan was to move forward and expand the league. To have (the breakaway group) strike out on their own, the timing was certainly interesting."
Finally, Buisman said concerns are starting to be raised about the fate of the WCHA women's conference. The league is made up of MSU, St. Cloud and Bemidji from the WCHA; Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State of the Big Ten; and North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth of the Breakaways. The league is facilitated by the WCHA. Will hard feelings get in its way?
Saturday, July 9, 2011
The schools in the new Breakaway Conference made it official today, issuing a joint press release announcing the formation of their new league. The release was three paragraphs long. To read the release click on the link on my Twitter feed at right.
Friday, July 8, 2011
"Nobody said they were unhappy," Cobb told the Daily News. "We left the April meeting and basically some of them contacted Notre Dame and Miami and said, 'Don't take the WCHA invitation; we're going to invite you to join our super league.'
"I blame everybody for being less than honest with their own league members. It's a really sneaky back-door deal."
Cobb said he will be flying to Minneapolis next week to meet with ADs from the other WCHA leftovers, including Minnesota State, to discuss their future.
Meanwhile, St. Cloud State has said it will not be joining the Super League (there have been rumblings of them being a bubble team as the breakaways await word from Notre Dame). According to the St. Cloud Times' Mick Hatten, SCSU president Earl H. Potter III said the school expected to be involved in Super League talks ... "But as we looked at it we intended to say no." Potter said SCSU wasn't invited to the league but it sounds like officials had access to, as the story says, balance sheets, attendance projections, strength of rivalries and several other items.
"We intend to stay in the WCHA and take a leadership role to continue the legacy of the WCHA," Potter said.
Back to Cobb, the next two years in the league are going to be interesting after reading this quote:
"I'm not offended at all they want to start a conference. I'm very offended at the way it was handled. We've got two years left, and I assume it's going to be very tense and very uncomfortable."
Anyway, it's been a crazy day in the college hockey world, and several people are trying to make heads and tails about the future. Here are some links to stories all around the remains of the WCHA:
Here's the link to my story for The Free Press. Kevin Buisman repeated some of the same things he said in Thursday's paper, but it's clear that MSU and others need to put their "contingency plans" in place ASAP.
The story includes information from the Associated Press, including one no-comment quote from Troy Jutting (who did not return a phone call to the Freep): "I don't involve myself with speculation." The WCHA is also not responding as of yet. Spokesman Doug Spencer said via email: "We are aware of rumors but have seen nothing officially released yet. Until that time, and until the league feels it is appropriate, the WCHA will reserve comment."
The story that started it all by crack hockey scribe Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. He's been on top of this story all week. Kudos to him. He also wrote an analysis piece saying this could actually be a good opportunity for the leftover teams, opening the door to better chances at conference titles and national-tournament bids. This isn't the first time I've heard that theory floated and I may have more to say about that next week.
The Colorado Springs Gazette's Joe Paisley confirmed that Colorado College is part of the Breakaways. Interestingly, CC athletic director Ken Ralph, who would not confirm, said "if" there is a press conference in the Springs next Wednesday, as reported, that it would not be held on the CC campus. (By the way, the World Arena is not on campus. Just a thought.)
The Denver Post's Mike Chambers got some telling comments from Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky before the Herald's story broke: "We want to be aligned, and want to continue to be aligned, with schools of like-minded thinking (that) operate as we do. If that means the WCHA schools, that's great. ... Our intention is continue to be a strong partner with the other members of the WCHA while the process continues."
College Hockey News has some full-scale coverage, including Adam Wodon's wondering why exactly this is happening.
And there's more on USCHO, including Todd Milewski's look at some comments WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod made on Tuesday. Among them: "There's going to be some awful, awful hard feelings."
UPDATE: More links!
Kevin Pates of the Duluth News-Tribune has one of the most extensive articles of yet, with quotes from Bruce McLeod, a report that Western Michigan apparently is out and the possibility of Versus (!!!) being a TV home for the Breakaways.
Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal says, "Don't blame the Big Ten." PucKato tends to agree with most of his opinions on this well, thought-out piece.
Chris Dilks of the Western College Hockey Blog, adds to the list of questions that will have to be asked next week in Colorado Springs. (Seriously, Colorado Springs?)
Thursday, July 7, 2011
The Grand Forks Herald is reporting that the "Super League" is a done deal and that five teams will leave the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to start their own conference with Miami of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association starting in the 2013-14 season, the same season as the Big Ten starts its hockey conference.
UPDATE: Read Shane Frederick's Free Press story here.
"We have to have contingency plans for several possible outcomes," Buisman said. "Our discussions focus on the schools currently aligned with the WCHA and are committed to a future in that league."
You can read more about Busiman's thoughts on the future of the WCHA here. But here are a few extra tidbits from my interview with him:
• Buisman said all of the schools in the league are in exploratory mode. "It's important for us to have contingency plans in place. There's been a lot of speculation. All we can do right now is stay abreast of the discussion and keep making decisions form an informed position."
• Buisman acknowledged that the history and tradition of the WCHA and college hockey are important but said, in the end, those things don't necessarily make money. He then compared the happenings — preliminary discussions — to that of the major college conference mashups that are happening around the country, the Big Ten starting hockey in two years (the first domino to fall in all of this) and even the Division II conference changes that forced Minnesota State to end up in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. "Change is inevitable in college athletics," he said. "(MSU) has seen all kinds of changes in recent years."
• "At the end of the day we're going to have to evaluate our options and put ourselves in postion to win conference titles and earn national-tournament berths," he said. "I think (the Super League talks) is something that has to be taken seriously. We aren't in a position to just sit back and react. We have to be proactive."
• Meanwhile, the story is growing legs in Omaha, Colorado Springs and on the Web.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Pates names mores schools in the yet-to-be-proposed league, including WCHA members North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha and CCHA members Notre Dame, Miami and Western Michigan. However, he said it's not known who exactly is leading this charge.
Duluth athletic director Bob Nielsen didn't comment specifically about a superleague, but told the News-Tribune: "We're concerned about the college hockey landscape. We're looking at all the options of what could happen. Our hockey program is very important to our school and we want to be proactive.
"Our approach is to be active and examine potential opportunities and have conversation about the future of Division I. Our intent is to be a member of the WCHA, but we're considering options."
1. Competitively, the WCHA should still be pretty strong without Minnesota and Wisconsin. With North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota Duluth (the national champs), Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College, that's a pretty strong upper tier. As for the rest, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and Minnesota State have been to NCAA tournaments. So, really, what's the problem?
2. The idea of a power conference has always bugged me. Hey, North Dakota, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College, Notre Dame and Miami and others: You realize someone's going to finish last, right? When's the last time that happened to you in your current league? You realize that you can't all make the NCAA tournament every year, right?
3. If there is a string running through the schools rumored to be in a new league, it's that they're the remaining western, across-the-board Division I schools, right? Well, except that Colorado College is Division III, and another DI school, Bowling Green, is never mentioned in these scenarios. Why? From a rivalry standpoint, CC probably needs to do whatever Denver does.
4. Schlossman's article mentions the conference being made of remaining hockey powers. Why wouldn't Minnesota Duluth be considered? (Or are they?) The Bulldogs are, after all, defending national champions, and they also have a brand-spankin'-new arena. Plus, coach Scott Sandelin is now being paid like a coach at one of those others schools now after making approximately the same as MSU's Troy Jutting last season.
5. Where will the money come from? The WCHA is already suffering a blow by losing the Gophers and the Badgers. As it stands, it's hard to imagine the conference's big money maker — the conference tournament and the Final Five — making as much money for the schools as it did before. What will happen after another pullout? It would be devastating to MSU and the remaining WCHA schools (basically the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Hockey Conference), but, other than having a conference tournament at Ralph Englestad Arena every year, how is this new conference expecting to rake in the dough — especially when you take all of the Minnesota fans out of the equation (there's a reason why the Final Five's been held in the Twin Cities since 1999)?
Finally, I opined a little more on this subject in Tuesday's Free Press. Read that column here. Long story short: The WCHA leadership can't allow the demise of the conference on their watch.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Will North Dakota and others also be jumping ship?
According to an article by the Grand Forks Herald's Brad Schlossman, North Dakota appears to be well beyond just initial discussions about forming a new hockey conference along with, as the article says, "remaining powers in the WCHA and CCHA" ... "schools that have similar philosophies about their hockey programs and are willing to invest in them and create new media opportunities."
Schlossman reports that it's believed that eight teams could be in the mix and mentions WCHA members Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College and CCHA members Notre Dame, Miami and Western Michigan. Presumably, Denver would be one of the teams, too (although DU is not mentioned in the article), and there are rumors of a Hockey East team.
Who else might be in the mix?
If this happens, the WCHA would be left with Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Alaska Anchorage and Michigan Tech, while the CCHA would have just five teams — Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Alaska, Bowling Green — one less than the six required for NCAA postseason eligibility. Independent Alabama-Huntsville, however, is still looking for a conference home.
Earlier this year, rumors of a so-called "super six" conference were dismissed, now Schlossman reports that something could play out by the end of the summer.
North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison said in the piece that he has concerned with the WCHA's current administration and also called the situation "an emotional decision," and "a business decision." So is this really on track or is it just a bluff?
The WCHA is also looking into the possibility of adding new teams. Both Notre Dame and Miami have been mentioned, but WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said in the article (as he has in the past) that he wants to be careful and is not interested in ruining the CCHA. Notre Dame is rumored to be being courted by Hockey East, too.
I'll have some more thoughts on this later this weekend and, hopefully, some local reaction after the holiday.