Weekend Preview: Bracco Bolts, NCHC Conference Starts and Other Games of Interest

…And the age old battle rages on.

Highly touted Boston College forward Jeremy Bracco has decided to forgo his NCAA eligibility when he decided to sign with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League of the CHL.

Bracco, a second-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, had played in five games for the Eagles. He compiled three assists, all in last Friday’s win over Colorado College.

I have a few feelings about this topic. First, I want to preface this by saying I am a big fan of a school where this type of departure doesn’t happen often. I can name a few cases, but usually they came from not being able to make grades during a semester break.

I don’t view the CHL as the big, bad enemy; the Lex Luthor to college hockey’s Superman. It’s a different option for players and for some, it’s the best option. The presence of the CHL is why the NCAA recruiting landscape is the way it is. There are pros and cons to both.

However, it is a one-way street. Players can sample college hockey all they want, but once you go CHL, you can never come back. The NCAA views CHL as professionals. Why shouldn’t they? For instance, TVA reporter Renaud Lavoie tweeted how much the New York Islanders are paying Anthony Beauvillier to stay play in Quebec for the Shawinigan Cataractes. If that isn’t considered professional, I don’t know what is.

Many people are upset by his departure and for different reasons. Bracco was the subject of many rumors coming into the season on whether or not he will honor his commitment to BC. He even sent out a tweet denying those rumors. Many BC fans feel betrayed/lied to by his departure. Many feel it’s a trend with the National Development Program that many players decide to go the CHL route. Here is the thing; it’s an option for every player under 20. Both ways have proven to be successful.

What we have to remember that these are 18-year-old players, sometimes younger,  making career decisions. They have many people talking to them from all different areas. Agents, family, friends, etc. They don’t need some anonymous fan or alum harassing on twitter for something they don’t know much about. Let him make his decision. If it’s not one that you like, shrug your shoulders and move on.

The timing is very peculiar. Usually CHL departures happen after the semester break when grades aren’t up to par. Sometimes they happen when players feel they aren’t getting the playing time they deserve. They don’t often leave five games into the season.

I feel this is only a big blow for BC for one reason; a waste of a scholarship spot. BC has had a very soft schedule up until this point with wins over Colorado College twice, Wisconsin and Army. The lost was against a struggling RPI squad. That’s hardly enough time to gel with teammates or get used to the season. His loss isn’t that big of a blow to Boston College.

But losing a scholarship opportunity to a player who played for only five games is a harsh mistake. The Eagles would have loved to have him make that decision a few months ago, instead of sending out a tweet reinforcing a decision that didn’t turn out to be true. BC scratches talent players that may be on the second line on another team.

Shrug; and move on. The team plays Denver this weekend in a high profile clash on Friday. The Charmin schedule gets a lot more like sandpaper this weekend. The team doesn’t need the distraction.

Plenty of action this weekend as the NCHC starts conference play, the Ivy schools finally drop the puck, and the WCHA has a strong slate of games.

Miami University takes on the St. Cloud State Huskies at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in a rematch of last year’s NCHC championship game. The teams have developed a series of close games over the past few years. Huskies defensive captain Ethan Prow is doubtful for this season, as he is still recovering from a concussion he sustained from the Minnesota State series.

Omaha looks to continue a hot start when it heads to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan. Omaha has scored in the first period in every game this season; four of six games within the first ten minutes. That has led to a lot chatter on twitter about Omaha’s fancy stats and how they aren’t sustainable. I say wait until they are in a position to play in a close game before those assumptions are made. Omaha has only one game that ended by a one-goal margin, but they were up 4-1 earlier during that game. Everyone is going to focus on playing sound defensive hockey before stretching the lead.

North Dakota heads to Colorado College for a pair. The Tigers haven’t scored a goal since the middle of the second period against Mass-Lowell. Yes, they played a series last weekend.

The Tigers will have to try to solve Matt Hrynkiw (I barely know how to type it, much less pronounce it), has posted a .933 save percentage. It looks to be a long season for the Tigers.

Added note: Shane Gersich (Washington Capitals) is on the trip and may play in the series for North Dakota.

Other series that caught my attention:

– The premier matchup in the WCHA is an early season rematch between Ferris State and Michigan Tech. These teams split in Big Rapids two weeks ago. Early season rematches usually bring a lot of hatred with it, so get ready to count the penalty minutes.

– Arizona State heads to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers are a shell of what they used to be. Arizona State is the new program on the block. I am really interested to see just how bad things are in Madison. If, somehow, the Sun Devils sweep, I’ll be shocked if coach Mike Eaves is still there. Granted, I’m not sure Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez is even aware hockey still exists in Madison.

– The Ivy schools drop the puck this weekend and many eyes are on Harvard standout Jimmy Vesey, who led the NCAA with 32 goals last year. He is the preseason frontrunner for Hobey Baker.

Anywhere you are, try to catch a game. I couldn’t get to all the games I like this weekend. Halloween weekend is my favorite time to go to a game. College students come up with the most creative costumes. Atmosphere this weekend will be top notch, no matter where you go. My shift is over.

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Five Thoughts: NCHC Sweeps Good and Bad, Competitive WCHA

It was an eventful weekend with in college hockey, so let’s get right to the five thoughts you should know.

  1. Strong Opening Week in Omaha

The Omaha Mavericks opened up Baxter Arena with a 4-2, 4-1 sweep over Air Force. Friday’s game saw fourth-line freshman forward Steven Spinner (Washington Capitals) notched two goals while Austin Ortega added the game winner. Sophomore Jake Randolph also had a goal and an assist.

Saturday’s game was more of the same as Ortega added another goal along with an assist. Randolph also scored his second of the weekend and fifth of the season.

Make no mistake about it; Omaha is rolling to start the season. Ortega leads the nation in goals with seven and he has a knack for being the difference maker in any game he plays in.

Even with the accolades with the Maverick forwards, it’s the defense side that should be getting the most attention. This season has seen Dean Blais split playing time for the goalies and it hasn’t backfired yet. Junior Kirk Thompson’s three games have shown 2.33 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Freshman Evan Weninger scoffs at those numbers posting an insane .980 and a great 0.67 goals against average.

  1. Goaltending Tandem Working…For Now

Now, I know I wrote ’…hasn’t backfired yet’. I don’t expect it to backfire this soon in the season, but anyone who has been around a Blais coached team knows he makes interesting decisions with his goalies. Eventually, Weninger will ether drop off or his numbers will be too impressive to ignore. Rotating goalies are great for competition and seeing where your team stands. Once the back half of the season starts, it’s going to be fun to see what Blais will end up doing with this tandem. If a top goalie isn’t named by then, it opens up for a lot of second-guessing down the road.

  1. St. Cloud Drops Two Out East

While one undefeated NCHC team continued its winning ways, another had a weekend the team would rather forget. The Saint Cloud State Huskies dropped a pair to the Quinnipiac Bobcats by 5-2 and 4-1 scores.

On paper, this looks like an easy sweep for the defending ECAC champions. Both games offered big turning points that the Huskies weren’t able to overcome.

Huskies leading goal scorer Judd Peterson (Buffalo Sabres) scored two goals to give St. Cloud the 2-0 lead.

Huskies junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren didn’t allow a goal until the 10:34 mark of the second period. The wheels fells off wagon the next 6:13, as the Bobcats put three more past Lindgren. The Huskies never recovered.

The Bobcats learned its lesson and shot out of the gate in Saturday’s game with a 2-0 lead after one and peppered Lindgren with 15 shots in the opening frame. Junior Ben Storm’s (Colorado Avalanche) blue-collar goal cut the lead to 2-1. Later in the period, one where the Huskies controlled the play and dominated the shot total 20-7, the Huskies appeared to have scored the tying goal, but the referee lost sight of the puck and blew it dead. The Bobcats scored two more in the final period and cruised to a lopsided win.

The Bobcats’ senior Travis St. Denis had two goals each night and what a factor in seemingly every shift he had.

  1. Huskies Fans Shouldn’t Panic

No doubt this weekend was disappointing for the Huskies, but there is one trend I feel needs to be pointed out. With senior captain Ethan Prow out, the defensive squad got much younger. Only one junior was on the ice. The rest were sophomores and freshmen.

The Bobcats goals came in bunches. Friday’s second period saw two goals just 2:23 apart and another two goals 40 seconds apart. Saturday was more of the same with two goals 2:16 apart and another two 36 seconds apart.

That is a sign of a young defensive core. These lessons hurt now and will hurt the Huskies’ Pairwise near the end of the season, but the team will learn to stop the bleeding to control emotions and eliminate these occurrences in the future.

It should be noted Bobcats senior goaltender Michael Garteig played well all weekend, especially on Saturday night when he stopped 41 of 42 shots.

  1. WCHA’s Tight Competition

It may be shocking to see, but the only conference that doesn’t have a winless team is the WCHA.

(Sure, the Ivy League schools haven’t played yet so that’s a little unfair to the ECAC as every team that has played so far has a win.)

While Minnesota State took its lumps against the NCHC against Omaha and the Huskies, they didn’t have a problem sweeping Bemidji State after two 3-2 victories that vaulted them to the early top of the conference. Two surprising teams early on are Alaska Anchorage (4-1-1) and Bowling Green (3-1-1).

One-Timers:

Minnesota Duluth and Notre Dame skated to a pair of 3-3 ties. The performance of senior forward Tony Cameranesi (two goals and two assists) and freshman defense Neal Pionk (one goal and an assist) NCHC player of the week honors.

North Dakota swept Vermont 2-0 and 5-2. Freshman forward Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) had a goal and two assists in the series.

Speaking of North Dakota, the finalists for the new nickname were announced. The finalists are the RoughRiders, Fighting Hawks, and the Nodaks. Maybe it’s the fact I live so close to St. John’s and the many MIAC schools (Tommies, Johnnies, Auggies, etc.) in the area, but Nodaks works pretty well. At least it won’t be the Cobbers.

That’s all for now. The next weekend preview will be up on Thursday. My shift is over.

Weekend Preview: #TacoCannon (and an arena) Debuts

I can’t begin to explain how important this weekend is to the history of mankind. Every other moment in time is merely a prelude to what is debuting in Omaha on Friday.

Behold the Taco Cannon.

Much hype has been around Omaha since the announcement that locally owned Voodoo Taco will be firing tacos at Maverick hockey games. The hashtag #TacoCannon was trending on Twitter in Omaha when it was announced and has been getting a lot press from various news outlets. It even took on former Maverick goalie Ryan Massa in a Taco Cannon vs. Goalie challenge.

The Taco Cannon isn’t the only new toy for Omaha. The weekend series against Air Force will be the inaugural event in Baxter Arena. The beautiful 7,500-seat arena recently completed construction and is a welcome sight for Omaha staff, players and fans as they finally have a place to call their own.

There is no better time for Omaha to christen a new building. The team is off to a scorching 4-0 start and has achieved its highest USCHO (2nd) and USA Hockey (1st) ranking in school history. And, of course, a cannon that shoots tacos at a high velocity.

Arena debuts are always a tough game to predict. There is usually a lot of pageantry and uncontrolled emotion for players that come with an arena opening. Uncontrolled emotion can turn into sloppy play and turnovers the team isn’t accustom to doing. Not to mention, this Air Force team has already knocked off highly touted Denver earlier this year, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly.

In comparing Omaha’s opening to the opening games of some of the most recent arenas in the area, there is an important difference. Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, Amsoil Arena in Duluth, and the Sanford Center in Bemidji all saw losses it the opening game, but those teams went from a smaller arena to a much bigger one. This is the opposite. Omaha’s old home, the CenturyLink Center, sat around 17,000 for hockey. All the noise and atmosphere can get lost in the empty space. This arena will provide a much more intense atmosphere as the fans will be much closer to the action.

As for the match-up itself, Air Force will have to find a way to keep Omaha’s high-powered offense under control. Omaha forwards Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel has a combined 12 points after the first four games. Freshman standout Fredrik Olofsson has pitched in another five points and has had no problem adjusting to the college game.

Elsewhere around the country, the biggest battle will take place in Hamden, Connecticut where the St. Cloud State Huskies face non-conference foe Quinnipiac Bobcats. Both teams are a perfect 4-0 on the year.

These two teams have developed quite the history as of late. The Bobcats eliminated the Huskies in the 2013 Frozen Four semifinals. These two teams split last year in St. Cloud.

Both teams have plenty of depth on their side. The Huskies have 16 players register at least a point this season, with sophomore Patrick Russell leading the way with six points. The Bobcats have 17 players with at least a point, with junior Sam Anas and freshman Thomas Aldworth both with six.

Aldworth is an interesting story. He was born in Keller, Texas and grew up a Dallas Stars fan; even watching some practices. He eventually played AAA before playing in the USHL. He switched to the BCHL and ended up scoring 56 points in 57 games for the Vernon Vipers. Originally a Providence College commit, his change of mind is the Bobcats’ gain as he is off to a hot start in his college career.

He and the rest of the Bobcats will have to solve Huskies junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren, as he hasn’t allowed a goal in his first three games. It’s important to note that the Huskies senior defensive captain Ethan Prow is not traveling this weekend due to a probable concussion.

Both teams are perfect so far this season on the penalty kill.

Here are a few other games I’m interested in.

Miami Redhawks at St. Lawrence Saints: St. Lawrence has been one of the surprising teams this season with a 3-1 start. Skeptics will point to the wins being against Niagara, RIT, and New Hampshire. This will be a tough test that will gauge where the Saints stack up. Miami swept Ohio State last week.

Minnesota Duluth at Notre Dame: The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs come off an impressive sweep against in state rival Minnesota, while the Notre Dame Fighting Irish split at Penn State. Notre Dame has already allowed nine goals combined in the first two games of the season, so look for the experienced Bulldogs to put a lot of pressure on the Notre Dame defense.

WCHA conference play continues this week with a pair of intra-state games. Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan play in a home-and-home series while Minnesota State and Bemidji State face off in Bemidji. The other conference series is Alaska Anchorage at Alabama-Huntsville. No way would that ever be a home-and-home. But I can guarantee there will be only one #TacoCannon this weekend.

That’s all for now. Everyone enjoy the games! My shift is over.

Five Thoughts: Battles Turned Into One-sided Affairs

My last blog was a Thursday preview of the weekend’s games as ‘wars’. That may have been a little misleading. The games turned out to be less of a battle and more of a beat-down. Here are my five thoughts on the college hockey weekend.

  1. Minnesota State’s scoring woes continue, failed to score against Saint Cloud State losing 4-0 and 3-0.

Minnesota State, just seven months removed from being the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, is off to a dreadful 0-4 start. The Mavericks haven’t scored since the 4:37 mark of the third period in the season opener against Nebraska Omaha.

At this point, it’s more of a mental block for the Mavericks than an inability to put the puck in the net. They had many chances to score in both games, but many instances involved pucks bouncing just wide or just out of the reach of sticks. Minnesota State is getting the chances (including a penalty shot) but just not converting. I feel once the dam breaks, the goals will come in bunches.

  1. Saint Cloud State junior goalie Charlie Lindgren’s extends shutout streak to start the season.

Lindgren hasn’t allowed a goal yet this year, posting two shutouts over Minnesota State and another shutout over the University of Alaska. Lindgren has 68 saves to his credit and at times have looked outstanding.

However, you can’t credit a shutout without talking about the defense. One big question mark going into the season for the Huskies was the youth on the blue line. Three freshmen have come in and have played very well so far in front of Lindgren. However, it looks as though senior captain Ethan Prow will be out for the Huskies’ battle against Quinnipiac with an ‘upper body injury’ (probably concussion). He was hit with a cross check in the back and, as he fell, collided with a Minnesota State’s players knee in the Saturday game. Three freshmen, two sophomore and one junior will be on the blue line next weekend for the Huskies.

  1. Minnesota Golden Gophers are also having trouble finding the net this year.

While the Mavericks have been shutout in the last three games, the Golden Gophers haven’t faired much better. Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs won both games of the home-and-home series by scores of 3-1 in Mariucci and 3-1 at Amsoil. Not only did the Gophers only score one goal, but also the whole offense looked out of sync.

Throughout the game, the Gophers were 0-for-7 on the power play and only had 21 shots all game. That’s not going to get it done against any opponent, much less a national power.

The Bulldogs came out on fire at the beginning of Saturday’s game, outshot the Gophers 17-2. Goals came from familiar players on the Bulldogs’ roster with junior Dominic Toninato putting in two during the weekend.

  1. The high scoring game in the West came from the North Dakota/Bemidji State home-and-home series.

The Bemidji State Beavers gave North Dakota all it could handle on Friday in an entertaining 4-4 tie. North Dakota had leads of 2-0 and 4-2 before the Beavers came back with two in the third period. The Beavers also had a goal waived off at the end of the second period when the horn blew very shortly before the puck crossed the line.

The second game was very tightly contested until midway through the third period when North Dakota pulled away for a 5-2 win. Freshman Brock Boeser notched a hat trick in the victory.

However, injuries have started to rack up early in the season for North Dakota. The biggest question mark going into the season was replacing Zane McIntyre in goal. Sophomore Cam Johnson got injured during the second period in last Friday’s game with an apparent groin injury. Matt Hrynkiw let gave up two goals in relief, but played very well in his debut win in Grand Forks.

  1. Nebraska Omaha sweeps Vermont; all Austin Ortega does is score game winners.

In four games, junior Austin Ortega is off to a hot start with five goals and an assist, leading Omaha. To no one’s surprise, three of them have already been game winners. Ortega scored 20 goals last year and set the NCAA record with 11 game winning goals. If the early season is any indication, I don’t think 11 is safe.

I’ve also been very impressed with freshman forward Fredrik Olofsson. He has had no trouble adjusting to the college game with two goals and three assists. Olofsson led the USHL’s Chicago Steel in goals last season and was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round. Just what Omaha needed; more scoring power.

One-Timers:

  • The 2017 Icebreaker Tournament will be played at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minnesota. Joining the Bulldogs are the Michigan Tech Huskies, Union Dutchman and the Golden Gophers.
  • The University of North Dakota nickname ballot is officially online to select voters, which will finally put an end to the nickname debate. (Ha! Just kidding. I’m sure something will happen to keep this never-ending saga going.)

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading! My shift is over.

Weekend Preview: Wars Out West

Week two of the college hockey season is rapidly approaching. Without further ado, here is what I’m looking forward to this weekend.

There is no doubt the best match-ups are taking place out West.

As I was looking up and down the schedule for games this weekend, there were only a couple games that aren’t played in Minnesota (or Grand Forks, ND) that I find particularly interesting.

Two of the three series are inter-school system battles (if there is such a thing). In the battle of the 0-for-1’s, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers battle the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in a home-and-home series. These two teams have a well-developed rivalry over their years in the WCHA. Anyone who was worried about rivalries coming to an end can put that narrative to rest, as these two teams met five times last year, with the Bulldogs winning four of them.

Last weekend, the Gophers were shut out 3-0 its home opener against a suffocating Vermont team. Minnesota Duluth suffered a power outage of its own, but this one came when the electricity went out at Amsoil Arena. The schedule series was a home-and-home with neighboring Bemidji State. The first game has been rescheduled to mid-February. Bemidji State topped the Bulldogs with a go-ahead goal with just 22 seconds left in the second game.

Both Vermont and Bemidji State winning were labeled as ‘upsets’ and as my last blog post can attest to, I’m not a fan of that term this early in the year.

Other than the traditional ‘rivalry’ storylines I could spend hours and hours listing for you, I’m actually more concerned on how the two teams will bounce back after a clearly disappointing games. The Bulldogs return a lot of high quality scorers from last year and is pegged as one of the top teams in the NCHC. The Gophers have a big question between the pipes but seems to always be able to reload every year.

The Bulldogs will try to ramp up the pressure and keep the Gopher freshman goalie uncomfortable all weekend. This should be a fast skating and up-and-down series.

The MnSCU battle is between St. Cloud State Huskies are hosting the Minnesota State Mavericks. The two teams couldn’t have had a different opening to the season.

The Huskies are coming off two fairly easy victories in Alaska to win the Kendall Hockey Classic. While many people are focused on the fact the Huskies lost sniper Jonny Brodzinski to the pros, they are quick to forget the whole senior class at forward didn’t light the lamp often. The rest of the forwards that aren’t on the team have a combined 34 career goals over four players. To put that in perspective, that is on average losing four players that average a little more than two goals per game throughout their career.

The freshman for the Huskies sure made their presence felt in the first weekend. Robby Jackson debuted and scored two goals while Jacob Benson and Mikey Eyssimont both had an assist. The Huskies really moved the puck well, as seven of the nine goals had two assists. That leads to a lot of players having points.

On the flip side, the Mavericks had a weekend they would rather forget as they were swept by Nebraska Omaha 3-2 and 2-0. In the game Minnesota State was shut out, they outshot Omaha by a 40-18 margin.

Minnesota State is tabbed as one of the top teams in the WCHA but lost a lot of high-powered offense from the likes of Matt Leitner (the best Leitner in the state) and Jean-Paul Lafontaine. However, Bryce Gervais returns for his senior season and sophomore Brad McClure is looking to build off a terrific freshman season. I’m interested to see how the Huskies will take advantage of the late line change to dictate the line match-ups. I’d imagine Huskies coach Bob Motzko would love to test the depth of the Mavericks.

Lastly, the Bemidji State Beavers and North Dakota battle in a home-and-home series. North Dakota overcame a shaky start against Lake Superior State and tied Maine to win the Icebreaker tournament. The Beavers, as I said earlier, beat Minnesota Duluth.

Bemidji State is always a tricky team to play against. They are a very strong positional team, which can make it very difficult to score. It’s not often I hear how Bemidji ‘beat themselves’ in a game. They are a smart team and goalie Michael Bitzer is one of the more underrated goalies in college hockey. In his career, he posts a 1.81 GAA and .930 save percentage.

North Dakota is loaded with scoring talent and showed some of that ability during the first game again Lake Superior State. North Dakota rattled 44 shots on goal and ended up coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win 5-2. Like the Gophers, North Dakota also has a big question in net, but freshman Cam Johnson played both games and only allowed three goals all weekend. Also, North Dakota put up 45 shots on goal against Maine. No shortage of shooters on that squad.

This will be a tightly contested game. I’m not sure if Bemidji has the firepower to keep up with North Dakota, but North Dakota will sure have its hands full.

Here is a list of a few other games I’m looking forward to and a brief explanation why:

Nebraska Omaha at Vermont: Omaha is coming off a sweep of Minnesota State and Vermont shut out Minnesota last weekend. Omaha has one of the more potent scoring classes returning in college hockey and Vermont is a great positional team. It’s a classic high offense meets stout defense match-up.

Notre Dame at Penn State: Penn State has been way ahead of schedule in building up a quality program and could very well finish in the top half of the Big Ten. Penn State handled Canisius 6-1 in the opener.

Michigan State at Denver: Denver is coming off of a split of Air Force that caught many people by surprise. Michigan State was also involved in the Icebreaker tournament, beating Lake Superior State and tying Maine.

Michigan Tech at Ferris State: The WCHA conference play gets underway when these two teams take the ice. Michigan Tech looking to build off last season’s success (and forget about the heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss) and challenge for the MacNaughton Cup. This will be the opener for Michigan Tech (other than two exhibition games), and they are wasting no time getting into conference play. Ferris State lost and tied Western Michigan last weekend so they will be looking for a bounce back.

That’s what I’m looking forward to this weekend. Some good early season games on the schedule. Enjoy the weekend! Shift over.

Five Thoughts: First Weekend in the Books

Ah, the start of the college hockey season is officially upon us. Dust off your Pairwise simulators because these games count. I have some thoughts about how the weekend shook out. Without further delay, here are my five thoughts.

  1. This early in the season, there are no upsets.

Anyone who looked on twitter during the weekend saw the stat about how the ‘top teams’ in the country had a bad weekend. How can that be said of any team this early in the season? We have NO idea how anything will shake out during the season. We don’t know who the favorites or the underdogs are. It’s the first weekend.

Fifty voters put the USCHO poll together. They may as well throw darts at any of the teams to decide where they should be placed. The preseason poll is based on nothing more than last year’s roster, hype of freshman, and the name of the institution. “Oh, well Boston College should be ranked up there because…well… Boston College.”

So please tell me how Vermont over Minnesota, Bemidji State over Minnesota Duluth, or even Air Force over Denver can be labeled as upsets. Maybe you can say it was surprising, but we shouldn’t be shocked by any of these results. It is early in the season and we have no idea how any of these teams will fare.

Don’t overreact if you’re on the losing end of one of these decisions. It’s all fluff this early in the season.

  1. TV exposures effect on attendance.

I live in Minnesota. Saturday, I was able to flip the channels between Vermont at Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth at Bemidji State, and Nebraska Omaha at Minnesota State.

Of the three games, clearly the best atmosphere was at Bemidji State. Part of that could be because the two teams are within driving distance. But it makes be wonder if TV exposure has anything to do with declining attendance of the games in Minnesota schools.

Of the five Division I schools, four broadcast on basic cable in High Definition (Minnesota Duluth on a RCA Camcorder). Ticket prices have gone up in order to pay for amenities and cost of attendance, but the arenas look someone empty.

I am concerned about this when it comes to the national stage. Games on ESPN U or CBS Sports Network will have a hard time getting casual fans to watch when the buildings are nearly bare. The casual viewer will look at games in front of a half-empty barn and incorrectly think the teams playing are subpar. I wonder if the TV exposure is a double edge sword for some of these schools.

  1. Congratulations to Arizona State on the program’s first win.

The Sun Devils played in the season opening Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska. Friday, the Sun Devils went to overtime with Alaska-Anchorage, but eventually fell 3-2.

Saturday was a different story. Against the Alaska Nanooks, Ryan Belonger converted on a breakaway with just 34 seconds left to go in the game.

Congratulations to the Arizona State Sun Devils on the good showing in Alaska. I’m really interested to see how they do the rest of the season.

  1. Wisconsin didn’t lose this weekend.

Sure, this is a little misleading since Wisconsin didn’t win either. But Wisconsin played to a weekend stalemate with Northern Michigan with ties at two and three, respectively.

Give credit where it is due, though. Grant Besse tied the Friday game with only 42 seconds left. Wisconsin had to battle a little bit more on Saturday as the Badgers were down 3-0 about 11 minutes left in the third when the Badgers rattled off three goals in 2:48. It feels weird to say two ties struck me as interesting this weekend, but nothing has been the norm for the Badgers for the past few years.

  1. Colorado College’s rough previous season carried over to the first weekend.

While Wisconsin was able to come back to force ties, the Colorado College Tigers was on the other end of the comeback to Massachusetts. Saturday saw Colorado College up 3-0 going into the third when the senior Shane Walsh turned the game inside out with two goals and an assist just 2:35 into the third to get the game tied at three. Freshman Austin Plevy scored the game winner for the Minutemen at the 16:53 mark.

The Minutemen ended up putting 10 on the board over the weekend. UMass isn’t exactly known for a prolific offense; only four players have scored over 10 career goals. However, Plevy may be quite the add as he debuted with four goals and an assist. Hell of a debut.

Colorado College needs to find some kind of answer on defense. Jaccob Slavin was the lone bright spot for the Tiger’s blue line last year, but he signed with Carolina during the offseason. Someone will need to step up or it will be another long season in Colorado Springs.

Every Monday during the season, I’ll plan to pick five things that caught my eye. Look for this to be a recurring theme. Thanks for reading. Shift’s over.

The NCAA Tournament to Campus Sites Fallacy

The 2017 Regional sites were announced Thursday. No new sites entered the bidding war, which is important to note regarding the Midwest and West Regionals. In fact, those two were the only neutral site to bid.

East Regional will be hosted in Providence (fifth time), Northeast Regional in Manchester (seventh time), Midwest Regional in Cincinnati (will be for the third time), and West Regional will be in Fargo (second time).

Attendance is always the biggest question regarding regionals. With that comes the seemingly yearly discussion to move the regionals back to campus sites.

I am a believer that we need to do everything we can to keep NCAA tournament games at a neutral site. It is a lot tougher to do in the west landscape of college hockey. Many college teams and fan bases are in driving range of where the Northeast and East Regionals are usually played. Naturally, those buildings will have a much higher attendance. In the West, it’s not so easy.

That’s where the biggest push for moving regionals back on campus comes from. Many people point to the 2013 West Regional where University of North Dakota fell to Yale 4-1 in front of a generously listed attendance of 1,918 people in Grand Rapids as a reason this change should happen. The move to neutral sites was greeted as a step in the right decision. I don’t believe we have done enough to make neutral sites succeed. Here are two changes I think should be discussed more before we look at moving back to college sites.

  1. Timing

To me, this is the biggest issue that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. The current format has the NCAA Regionals announcing the field a day after all the conference tournaments have concluded. On that Sunday, teams and fans alike are notified where the team plays. That gives fans roughly five days for many teams to plan trips to one of the regionals, look at sight-seeing options, book flights and hotel rooms, gather funds (for college students that provide the best atmosphere), etc. The week after is an off week, followed by the Frozen Four.

I think it would be worth it to investigate switching the off week and the first round of the conference tournament. This will give fans more time to plan trips to the regional sites, college students to save up money to afford the trip and tickets and teams to rest up and give more time to look at film and prepare for the sprint to the finish. The only downside I can see to this would be ending a regional on a Sunday and the Frozen Four would start on the following Thursday, but that can be solved by moving the East and Northeast Regionals to a Thursday-Friday series and the West and Midwest to Friday-Saturday.

  1. Price

The people who won the bid set the price for the Regionals. Because there is no standard, price can wildly fluctuate from region to region. Over the past few years, the West Regional has been very expensive for fans just coming off the conference tournament. Conference tournaments have become a strong tradition for many fans. It feels like a family reunion of college hockey fans. The conference tournament is also much easier on the wallets. There have been a few instances where the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul should have been packed, but ticket prices have really stopped some people from attending. Look at the 2014 West Regional Final between Saint Cloud State and Minnesota. That game had the potential to have the greatest atmosphere and a packed arena with two teams very close to each other. The attendance was a very disappointing 8,893. Why? Game prices were over $75 for the game. Not exactly enticing fans to show up.

While some will be quick to point out that Saint Cloud isn’t the best traveling fan base (although those two teams played in the same arena in 2006 in front of 19,353 and in 2008 in front of 19,232), let’s switch to another team.

North Dakota and Minnesota have one of the fiercest rivalries in college hockey (many Youtube videos can highlight the rivalry). In 2012, they played the WCHA semi-final game in front of 16,738. A mere nine days later, they again played in the same building, but attendance was only 10,974. Almost 6,000 fewer fans attended a game that will guarantee to end a rival’s season? Main reason was due to the price. That needs to be more affordable.

Those two changes should really be looked at before we abandon the idea and go to back to campus sites.

The West Regional is going to back to Fargo after being there last year. I am a huge fan of regionals in USHL arenas. A full USHL arena looks better on TV and creates a better atmosphere than a half full NHL arena. However, I’d love to see Sioux Falls put in a bid for a regional. They have a nice, new arena and in a town that is easy to get to for many teams in the West. However, as long as UND is going host a regional, they are going to put the regional as close to Grand Forks as possible. That is a smart decision on their part. That way, they control a majority of tickets and give their team the best chance to win. Chris Dilks of SBNation’s College Hockey came up with a good stat that top seeds at 11-1 in regionals located in their home state. I would love for another school to host and try to bid for Sioux Falls.

Not only was Fargo a pain for fans of opposing teams to get tickets, but also improvements need to be made in the press area. Dave Overlund of 1390 KFAN in St. Cloud stated the press row was a nightmare. The arena wasn’t ready for all the media, not enough seating or power outlets. I’m surprised that was an issue when the arena personnel knew how many passes was given out. Maybe those issues would have been fixed if the timing of the region was pushed back a week. Hope Fargo can fix those problems next year.

I think these issues need to at least be looked out before we explore going back to on campus sites. People are under the impression that is the solution, but I’m not convinced that will automatically put people in the arena.

One solution people will often say would be to award the regional to the top seed. While this is all good in theory and some arenas would work out well (Grand Forks, Duluth, and Minneapolis to name a few), but many other arenas are just not equipped to handle the logistics of planning a regional in five days. Where are the teams going to stay? Where is the locker room space for the teams? Is there media room? Can the town handle a regional? It takes a lot of planning and some teams don’t have the resources.

Hockey is a niche sport. This is no shock. If campus sites are used again and Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis wins the bid, but the Gophers don’t make the NCAA tournament, why would you think attendance would be boosted? Look at any midseason tournament where the host school doesn’t play. The arena is a wasteland. When midseason and holiday tournaments are going on, look at attendance for the games where the host schools aren’t playing. That is what arenas could look like for a regional. Moving back to campus sites isn’t like waving a magic wand. Other factors need to change, and to keep as much integrity of the tournament in tact as much as possible.

One-Timers:

I shouldn’t need to tell you that exhibition games start today. I’ll be giving my opinions on how freshman look at first glance. Remember, today is the first full practice for many times and a game is tonight, so don’t look into the result at all (even less than a normal exhibition game).

Shift over. Enjoy hockey tonight!