World Junior Championship: Great Tournament That Lacks Exposure

The long, vast wasteland known as winter break has finally come to an end. I’ll now resume with my normal Tuesday/Thursday blog airing out my thoughts about the college hockey landscape.

Normally, I’d give my five thoughts about the past weekend, but I decided to focus a little bit on the World Junior Championships that have been going on in Helsinki, Finland.

The host country ended up winning the gold medal in a thrilling 4-3 overtime affair that was back and forth all game. The United States grabbed the bronze in a dominating 8-3 win over Sweden.

I can’t remember exactly when I started to follow it more closely. I don’t have to tell anyone reading how scarce not only hockey information is, but college hockey news even more so.

I think I became more aware of it in 2005. I was a sophomore at Saint Cloud State. The Huskies were having a mediocre season that would soon only get worse. But midway through the season, sophomore defenseman Casey Borer was not going to playing in the Florida Classic. He was participating in some tournament in Grand Forks.

This particular tournament is just one of the many things that make hockey so much different than any other sport.

I didn’t know what the big deal about this tournament was. Press coverage was very light. The teams were the usual powerhouse hockey countries: Canada, Russa, Finland, etc.

I didn’t exactly know whom these players Borer was going up against. “Alexander Ovechkin? Evgeni Malkin? Tuukka Rask? Shea Weber? Oh, well I’ve heard of Sidney Crosby. Cool. He’ll be there”

I’ve paid more and more attention over the years. Press coverage has improved. It’s been easier to get information. Not only are players tracked, but also message boards can into discussions about snubs.

And every year, the competition gets better. This isn’t a tournament were Canada and Russia are just trading gold medals like it has been in the past. Despite what may be said about popularity and TV ratings of NHL games, USA Hockey membership has grown steadily.

Hockey is getting deeper not only in the United States (where the next top overall pick will be from Scottsdale, Arizona), but internationally as well. Latvia has some of the most dedicated fanbases in the world. Can you pick out where Latvia is on a map?

This tournament is one that needs to be watched by not only every hockey fan, but sports fans in general. I don’t know if this should be marketed more by the NHL (as many of them are future draft picks/already drafted) or picked up by a major network, but this tournament can make new hockey fans and put hockey to new highs.

We all know how terrible the NHL is a promoting its product and even worse at promoting hockey in general (Women’s Winter Classic, for instance). So the NHL promoting a program that wouldn’t directly result in money in its pockets is a pipe dream.

However, the networks should step up coverage. NBC Sports seems like a logical spot. They have the on-air talent and the knowledge to put on a good show and would be the easiest fit with the NHL coverage already in place.

I can see the main drawback would be scheduling when both NHL games and World Junior games are on. Next year, the tournament is held in Canada, so many times would overlap.

As much as I hate the four-letter network, I do think ESPN would be a good fit. They already have the rights for the World Cup of Hockey (as big of a train wreck that is going to be), so adding another international tournament would even be a good move.

Is it realistic? No. ESPN shows worthless college football bowl games that get numbers just because it’s a football game that is on. I can’t see them bumping even the almighty Quick Lane Bowl for a USA-Latvia tilt.

So there isn’t an easy answer on HOW to get this tournament more exposure, but it deserves it. The Gold Medal game was an absolute classic and it’s a tournament that features some of the best young talent in the game.

I think anyone who is a sports fan can become a hockey fan after watching games from this tournament. It has everything I love about the sport with none of the aspects that drag me down. That should be your task for next season. Find a bar or a friend that has the NHL network, bring him or her to watch a game. Introduce someone to it and their thoughts. I bet they will walk away with a new appreciation of hockey.

One-Timers:

  • John Scott has been voted captain of the All-Star Game for the Pacific Division. I did vote for him for a few reasons. First, him being an all-star is as big as a joke as the game itself. I’d be okay if they got rid of it in general. Secondly, anything that has fan voting is just a popularity contest and shouldn’t be looked at by anything other than that. I hate it when Hall of Fame resumes include all-star, pro bowls, etc., because of that reason. Lastly, and most importantly, I voted for it because I know the NHL didn’t want him there. I’ve been through three lockouts and fully expecting a fourth. They took so many games away from me. I’m taking one away from them. It’s all I can do.
  • Stick tap to Ohio State as they win the Florida College Classic. In a tournament featuring the Buckeyes, Providence, Cornell, and Boston College, its Ohio State that sweeps and takes the tournament. I sure didn’t expect that.

Weekend Preview returns Thursday with some great series like Boston University/Harvard, Union/Quinnipiac, and Denver/Omaha. My shift is over.

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Out with the Old (Gimmick), In with the New (Gimmick)

The college hockey season is coming up quickly, which means conferences released preseason polls and all-conference teams. Those can be found here for the NCHC and here for the WCHA. There is really nothing more I hate than preseason predictions or polls, so if you want to look at them, go ahead. Some fans enjoy them, so there they are if you are curious.

For future reference, the same goes for any other type of polls throughout the season. I’ll only write about the Pairwise and not until about January.

An interesting trend has been gaining steam over the past few years. Overall public opinion about the shootout has changed from an entertaining way to end a game to no way to decide a game.

The NHL started using the shootout to decide games after the 2004-2005 lockout (I originally typed just ‘the lockout’, but since there have been three since the mid-90’s I feel like I should clarify). One of the biggest complaints about hockey, and why it fell further and further in the ratings abyss, was public’s perception about ties. The shootout was initially thought of progression and a step forward for the sport.

However, more games have ended in the shootout and it wore out its welcome for a lot of fans, calling it a ‘skills competition’.

This year, the NHL has agreed to use 3-on-3 overtime format in order to have more games end during the overtime period. The point system will be the same.

Early pre-season results have been what was expected. The NHL hopes the trend will continue, but I’m not as optimistic.

When the NHL instituted 4-on-4 overtime, it was lauded the same way. Shootouts were originally down and fans loved on the faster pace and open ice. But as time went by, more games ended in the shootout. Once coaches got used to and saw the differences, the appeal was sucked out of it. Even though it may take longer, I feel that may be the case here.

We are already seeing it in Washington. Head Coach Barry Trotz is regarded as one of the best technically sound defensive coaches in the league. The biggest acquisition for the Capitals this season was shootout master TJ Oshie. While many coaches are getting a feel for the overtime using a center-wing-defensemen combination, Trotz has been utilizing more of a center-defense-defense unit, not taking chances, and then going to a shootout. Sure, it’s very early, but I can’t say I blame him. If you have a trump card in Oshie, why take a ton of risks in overtime and negate the advantage in the shootout?

I do agree the new overtime format will be a lot of fun to watch. The NHL is deeper than ever before with skill players and this will put them front and center. But I will argue it isn’t ‘more of a hockey’ way to settle things.

Overtime will now be rush after rush. Players will have to be more mindful of when changes take place. But how many times have you seen 3-on-3 during the course of a hockey game? I’ve only seen it a couple of times. But a penalty shot? I’ve seen that much more. Overtime will be an odd-man rush skills competition instead of a shooter versus goalie skills competition.

I don’t think hockey needs it to become a mainstream sport. In June of 1994, Sports Illustrated ran a story about how the NHL is on an upswing while the NBA is stumbling from an image perspective. While the article itself still had all the raw numbers in favor of the NBA, the important factor was the NHL didn’t capitalize on this momentum, but instead canceled half a season.

This was in a time where ties were prevalent. It didn’t require any overtime gimmicks. As entertaining as 3-on-3 will be, don’t be mistaken; it’s still a gimmick.

I realize we are far enough down the rabbit hole after drinking the ‘no ties’ kool-aid, but I don’t understand why ties are the big enemy. Look at the most popular sport in the world. Ties are commonplace. Soccer is gaining steam in the United States and English Premiership League (EPL) is getting more and airtime on U.S. soil.

What’s the big difference? In the EPL, the risk is worth the reward. Three points are awarded to the winner and each team gets a point in a tie. That extra point makes it more enticing for teams to take chances during the game without the gimmicks.

The problem with changing the point structure comes from the team marketing as the season winds down. The illusion of being only a few points out of a playoff spot but many teams to jump over. Teams can be only three points out of a spot, but six teams fighting for two spots. It creates the illusion of being closer to the playoffs, which can put fans in the seats.

The illusion is also troublesome when it comes to the trade deadline. Past few years have seen way too many buyers than sellers at the trade deadline because more teams think they are in the race. Last trade deadline only had a few teams actively selling. That drives up the price of players and makes it harder for trades to happen under a salary cap. Big trades at the deadline don’t happen anymore because of illusion more teams can make a push for the playoffs. Encouraging more teams to win in regulation with the incentive of that extra point would lead to better games and no ‘playing for a tie’.

If the NHL wants to continue with shootouts, three points for a regulation win would be the best for the league.

The NCHC has also agreed to expand overtime to include a five-minute 3-on-3 for all conference matches. Tie games after regulation will have the normal 5-on-5 overtime for five minutes. If still tied, it will be recorded as a tie as far as the Pairwise goes. However, the 3-on-3 and shootout will determine extra points in the conference.

Looks like the NCHC is doing everything it can to mimic the professional game, which coaches and players have reacted very positively.  College hockey is divided in how to handle overtime and it can make things very confusing to some fans. For instance, the state of Minnesota has teams in three different conferences, all of which has different rules in how to handle overtimes. It has gotten to the point where fans need a flow chart to see how games at the same level are decided and which ones count in the big picture. Hockey is a niche sport and we shouldn’t make things harder for potential new fans to understand.

One-Timers:

-It was officially announced that Madison Square Garden will host a college hockey game featuring the University of North Dakota and Boston College.

-Michigan State originally painted the blue lines green at Munn Arena, but the NCAA didn’t take kindly to that and killed the idea. I’m a little bummed about it, because I felt like it was one step closer to painting the ice light blue like NHL ’94.

Once all rosters are added to collegehockeystats.net, look at each of the teams and give you a run-down of who is returning and freshman coming in. Shift over.

World Cup of Hockey Fever! Catch it, I Guess?

In a press conference held jointly with the NHL and NHLPA (working together for the first time I can remember), more details were released about the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

You can read the full release, complete with dates and match-ups. Here are the groups:

Group A                      Group B

Canada                       Finland

USA                             Sweden

Czech Republic          Russia

Team Europe             Team North America

 

Obviously, the biggest difference from this competition and other international tournaments is the collaboration teams. Team Europe will be comprised of European countries not specifically listed (Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia for Anze Kopitar, etc.). Team North America will consist of NHL players from United States and Canada that are 23 and under as of Oct. 1, 2016.

Make no mistake, the NHL and the NHLPA is bringing back the World Cup of Hockey after 12 years for a money grab (as they would split the profits) and a way for the NHL players to complete in a best-on-best tournament and not shut down part of a season like they have to during the Olympics.

It’s no secret the players love competing for national pride. However, the NHL and IIHF still haven’t talked regarding the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Is this a quid-pro-quo for the NHLPA (we will do a World Cup of Hockey if you give us the Olympics) or the NHL saying the only way you can play for your country is under our rules (and we get the profits).

I see both sides. For one, the NHL is the only league that shuts down part of a season to let players in the Olympics. Taking a two-week break in the later part of the season and letting its best players play for no monetary reason is a big sacrifice for the league. Owners don’t believe in a ‘ratings bump’ after the Olympics and any evidence suggests if there is one, it is short lived. Not to mention instances like John Tavares, where injuries in glorified exhibition games can shut down Stanley Cup chances (more on that below).

The other side is how much the players have fought for the ability to play for their country. Ever since these players were in their adolescent years, they played international competition. (Ivan Hlinka, World Junior, etc.) It was something they were grown up doing.

Side note: I can see both sides, but I hate it when NHL GM’s pick both. Islanders GM Garth Snow announced his displeasure when Kyle Okposo was left off team USA in Sochi, but quickly changed his tune when Tavares went down and called the IOC and IIHF a joke. Can’t have it both ways.

Back to the teams, the six big countries were easy to pick. The two other teams are what are making some people really question if this is a best-on-best tournament. Simply put, the remaining teams simply don’t have the numbers. Switzerland and Slovakia were the most represented countries in the NHL last season that weren’t included in the tournament, but both only had 13 players each. Germany has eight and no other had three. Some of the league’s biggest stars, such as Kopitar, would be left out. It is unknown at this time if non-NHL players will be used to fill out some of these teams.

A much more controversial decision is the inclusion of the North America team. This team includes the best players from USA and Canada that are 23 and under. Also, it was revealed that this team will trump the others when it comes to young players. For instance, Connor McDavid will not be selected for Canada, but to Team North America instead. So it really isn’t a best-on-best tournament if USA or Canada can’t select the best players, just the best players at least 24.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman picked these teams because he stated this team would be more competitive than any other country. This may be true, but there is one place this team will be severely behind all other teams.

Goaltending.

Sure, the opportunity of the North American team having McDavid and Jack Eichel centering first and second lines tickles my hockey insides like no other, it doesn’t mean a lot if the puck can’t be stopped. Only John Gibson (23 games) and Calvin Pickard (16 games) played significant time during last season that would be eligible for this team. I don’t think the young team has a chance, despite talks of trying to ‘make names for themselves’ or any other worthless narrative. (Robin Lehner will be 24 by the time the tournament starts).

That isn’t the only concern I have about the tournament. One is the big four-letter network: ESPN.

The press conference was partly emceed by Steve Levy. I miss him talking hockey. I also miss Gary Thorne doing play by play. I know people have their feelings about John Buccigross, but you can’t deny his passion for the game. That isn’t what I’m worried about. I’m more worried about the coverage surrounding the tournament.

NBC has done a fantastic job and improved year after year in regard to quality of NHL games. Pregame and postgame shows offer good inside and opinions (whether I agree with them or not) and the production has come a long way since the days on OLN.

But on ESPN? I’m not so sure. I can’t imagine the same network that canned NHL 2night and has barely said anything about hockey since the rights changed hands. The ESPN product itself has become so watered down than actual news. I’m thinking ESPN only shows the USA games and nothing more. Possibly the remaining games on ESPN3. Nothing ESPN has done has made me think that network would treat hockey otherwise. And if you look at it from ESPN’s points of view, why should they? Hockey doesn’t get the ratings and even if you knock it out of the park, all you would be doing is pushing potential hockey fans to another network.

Lastly, I’m worried about the point of the season the games are being played. The tournament will be before the season starts. In what shape will the players be in? Will this be treated like a bunch of All-Star games? Will it take some time to skate the rust off or the chemistry of the teams be a hindrance on quality? It’s not for sure how seriously the players will take this, but if this is used as a replacement for the Olympics, it’s not going to go over nearly as well.

Yet strangely, I’m more excited for the World Cup of Hockey than I was when it was announced. I think it has potential if taken seriously and all the games should be relatively competitive. I still hope the NHL is able to agree to send players to the Olympics, but some of the best players competing on a big stage is always exciting.

One-Timers:

Colorado Avalanche third jersey was leaked. I really like it as a nod to the old Colorado Rockies. I’ve always liked the Avalanche’s logo and colors, but the jerseys have always been a mess. This is an upgrade.

Planning on previewing the Big Ten, NCHC, and WCHA over the next three weeks leading up to the college hockey season. Stay tuned for that.

 

That’s the end of my shift.

Hockey Lost A Legend

There are a few staples of hockey history I feel everyone should know. Examples include the Miracle on Ice, the 1972 Summit Series, Richard Riots, and a general knowledge of the dynasties over the years.

The head coach of the best one has recently passed.

Al Arbour coached the New York Islanders for a total of 19 different seasons, most notably during the Islanders dynasty during the early 80s. He won four straight Stanley Cups starting with the ’79-’80 season until the ’82-’83 season. Combined with a trip to the ’84 Finals, he led the team to 19 straight playoff series wins, a record that still stands, and especially during the salary cap era (where the Blackhawks have a ‘dynasty’ with three championships in six years) will never be matched.

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Arbour’s last full season was in 1994 with 1,499 total games coached. In 2007, Islanders coach at the time Ted Nolan took a back seat to let Arbour coach number 1,500. The Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2. He finished with the second most wins and games coached of all-time following Scotty Bowman. He won three Stanley Cups as a defenseman with three different teams (Detroit, Chicago, Toronto). He was elected in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.

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Arbour passed at the age of 82.

Friday Dump-and-Chase:

In the next chapter of the saga that will never end, the University of North Dakota officially announced the process for the voting of a new nickname. UND announced the process and dates for voting on the remaining options of Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders, and Sundogs. The ‘no-nickname’ option has been completely eliminated, as that option would be unofficially keeping the Fighting Sioux name that was deemed hostile and abusive by the NCAA.

One of my future columns will discuss my thoughts about the saga. Look for that before the season officially begins. The vote will take place in October and will be voted on by students, alum, faculty, donors, and season ticket holders of all sports.

Lastly, the Chicago Steel fell 5-2 to Sweden’s Djurgarden in the Junior Club World Cup semifinals. They will play at 5 a.m. Sunday morning against the host team of Avto, the same team that the Steel beat 6-1 Thursday and ended with a brawl. Should be an exciting rematch.

That’s the end of the shift. Have a great weekend!

U.S. Club Team Brawls In Russia

It was quite the scene at the Junior Club World Cup earlier today.

Taking on host team Avto (Russia), the USHL’s Chicago Steel earned the victory 6-1 in front of 5,500 in attendance. However, the score isn’t the reason people are taking notice.

Most hockey fans are aware of “The Code” when it comes to fighting, No such code was exhibited; just pure emotion.

As for pucks actually going into the net, Wisconsin commit Max Zimmer scored two. Ohio State commit Tanner Laczynski also had a great game with three assists.

Not many people are aware of the Junior Club World Cup, so I’ll just give you the quick rundown. The tournament is in its fourth year and pits junior teams against each other from all over the world. The United States hasn’t won the tournament, but has earned a medal in the last three tournaments. The Waterloo Black Hawks earned the silver medal in 2012, losing to Canada’s Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. The Dubuque Fighting Saints and Sioux City Musketeers received Bronze the next two years.

The Chicago Steel breezed through the group portion going undefeated and will face Sweden’s Djurgarden in the semifinals. The game is at 5 a.m. Friday, so get the coffee going.

One-Timers:
The AHL schedule has been released.

Saint Louis Blues forward Patrik Berglund out approximately four months, as he needs shoulder surgery.

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano likes his gig as he signs a six-year extension worth $40.5 million.

That’s the end of this shift. Thanks for reading!

Former SCSU Player To Coach Sweden in World Cup

Sweden recently announced former Saint Cloud State defenseman and assistant coach Rikard Grönborg as head coach for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. Grönborg has been a mainstay with Sweden’s national teams, with his coaching pedigree includes two U20 World Junior Silver Medals, World Championship Gold and Bronze Medals. He was also the assistant coach during the Olympics in Sochi, where his team earned a Silver Medal.

While details are still thin regarding this installation of the World Cup of Hockey, slowly and surely more details are being released. Eight teams will be competing from September 17th until October 1st, 2016. The teams will be the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, Team Europe (players from European countries that aren’t the aforementioned), and North American Youngstars. The event will be hosted in Toronto, Canada.

The World Cup of Hockey has been dormant since 2004, which happened to be the last NHL sanctioned event before the lockout that killed an entire season. It is still unknown whether the NHL will okay its players to go to the 2018 Olympics, so this may be the only international competition NHL players may have. The NHL controls the timing, the regulations, and (more importantly) the revenue. Also, ESPN will be showcasing the event. So… look forward to that…

Don’t be surprised if this is the first time you see ads on jerseys.

One Timers:

Sports Illustrated recently published a list of the “Seven Wonders of the Hockey World”. While some of them are fairly easy to predict, it was nice to see College Hockey get some love. Matthews Arena, the current home of the Northeastern Huskies, made the list.

The North Star College Cup, a yearly hockey tournament featuring four of the five Minnesota Division I college teams, recently announced a slight change in the dates the tournament will be held. The first two years of the tournament were a Friday/Saturday affair. This season, it will be a Saturday/Sunday tournament. First game will feature Saint Cloud State playing Minnesota State at 1 p.m. and defending champion Bemidji State facing the University of Minnesota at 4 p.m. The consolation game will be played at 1 p.m. on Sunday with the championship game to follow.

Lastly, logos were leaked for this year’s Stadium Series games. Puck Daddy has a mock up of the designs for the Wild, Red Wings, and Avalance. The Stadium Series has always had a unique twist on uniforms. This is no different.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Team-by-Team School Breakdowns

If you’re like me and can’t wait for the college hockey season (exhibition games only 40 days away), head on over to the College Hockey reddit page. Right now, redditors are in the middle of doing 60 Teams in 60 Days feature. Reading the rundown of all the teams and facts about the school has really gotten me excited for the season. The teams are sorted by conference. Here is a rundown by conference:

Big Ten: Done, except for Michigan State

WCHA: Done

ECAC: Brown was today, remaining teams go until 9/4

Arizona State 9/5 (will go into more about my feelings about ASU in a future blog)

Atlantic Hockey: 9/6-9/16

NCHC: 9/17-9/24

Hockey East: 9/25-10/6

Some school write-ups are better than others, but I’ve learned something about every school from them. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series. Gets me excited until puck drop!

One-Timers:

Minnesota Wild Assistant Coach Darryl Sydor entered a treatment center in California for at least 30 days after drunk driving and child endangerment charges. Sydor’s blood alcohol content was .30 and was pulled over while driving his 12-year-old son to a hockey practice.

Bidding closed last Friday for 2017 Regionals. Regional sites for this coming year are in Albany, Worcester, Cincinnati, and St. Paul. It should be announced sometime in the next month or two. With the recent push by some of the bigger schools to put regionals back on campus, it will be interesting to see the bids, especially in the Midwest region.

That’s all for now. I have a few ideas for future posts as well as other staples I’ll do during the season. Thanks for checking it out. I hope you stick around!