Sunday, May 19, 2013

Commissioner For A Day: College Hockey

I did this a few years ago, back before I had labels on posts, but you can find the 2006 series by searching the site for "Commissioner For A Day."

I'm bringing it back, largely because I'm tired of not writing on the site, and also because I think there are ideas to improve many of the pro sports I enjoy watching.

Oh, and because UMD's offseason is entirely too long because the season ended prematurely.

I figured it was natural to start the series with college hockey, because it's the sport I dedicate a lot of my winter life to covering. It should be noted that the majority of these ideas are mine and none are being blatantly stolen from anyone.

Your input is welcome, as always.

No more regionals at random sites.

The NCAA regional system is completely broken. Not partially. Completely. Inadequate facilities -- bad ice, small locker room areas, poor press accommodations, problems with internet access -- are hosting events in front of small crowds, while fans who can't afford the expensive short-notice flights are stuck struggling to find someone they know who has ESPNU or ESPN3 so they can watch games on television.

The TV ship has sailed. It isn't going to get any better. I've said for years that you need access to ESPNU if you want to watch the NCAA regionals. More than that, a die-hard college hockey fan should prepare themselves to do what is necessary to get BTN, NBC Sports Network, and CBS Sports Network if they want to follow the sport during the regular season. If you get those three channels, you have ESPNU, too. They're usually on the same tier.

So let's work to fix the regional site issue.

A few years ago (not sure the exact moment, but it was between when the funding for Amsoil Arena was approved and when it opened), the decision was made to move regionals to truly neutral sites. Before, places like Mariucci Arena and Ralph Engelstad Arena could host regionals. But the NCAA pushed away from that, deciding that arenas that served as a team's designated home facility wouldn't be allowed to host, and neither would facilities with Olympic-sized ice surfaces.

That rule should go away. Yeah, it's somewhat irritating to watch host schools gain spots in the Frozen Four while playing on home ice (Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota have all had this luxury in the past). But it's even more irritating to watch a team earn that spot with practically no one in the stands.

Ticket prices are a problem, yes, but if a St. Cloud State fan could afford to fly from wherever to Toledo for that team's regional this year (during Easter weekend on short notice), the $80 pricetag for a three-game pass wasn't going to stop them. That's pretty simple math.

Lowering ticket prices might draw more local fans to the games, which wouldn't be a bad idea if the NCAA insists on keeping the system as is. But I think a better way about gaining a championship atmosphere is allowing home rinks of 5,000 or more seats to host regionals. Let places like Amsoil Arena, The Ralph, Mariucci, Yost, Compton Family Ice Arena (Notre Dame), Conte Forum (BC), and so many others host these tournaments. Put the games in places where college hockey already has a following, lower ticket prices a hair, and see what happens, even if the host doesn't qualify.

(There is a push for best of three first round series on the campus sites of the high seeds. I like the idea, but it adds an extra weekend to the tournament, and I'm not sure it's feasible. I still think the best way is to give the top four seeds the options of hosting regionals on their home ice, provided some easily-met standards are reached. But there doesn't seem to be a ton of support for this, so I'll compromise and propose what is said above.)

Goodbye, dumb rule where a team that scores on a delayed penalty still gets the power play.

I started calling it the "Double jeopardy rule," after the law that prevents a person from being charged twice for the same crime. I have always thought it ridiculous that the powers-that-be in the sport thought this was a good idea.

Basically, the rule says that if a team scores a goal while on a delayed penalty, the penalty is still called and the power play still happens.

You'll notice that no other level of hockey has thought this was a good idea.

So how did it happen? I was told at the time that the rule basically slipped through because so much attention was paid to an even dumber proposed rule, one that would have kept teams from icing the puck while short-handed.

It's all about increasing offense, which is a fine endeavor, but it goes about it the wrong way. It really has no effect outside of being a dumb rule, because it's so rare that a team would score on a delayed penalty. It's even more rare that said team would then turn around and score on the ensuing power play.

If offense is the goal, let's try actually calling the penalties that are in the rulebook, especially those relating to obstruction. What a concept!

Any body contact foul that drives a player into the boards is an automatic ten-minute misconduct, optional ejection.

It's been a few years now since college hockey instituted a rule that called for mandatory major penalties and ejections for checks from behind that took place along the boards.

Have you noticed yet how the officials handle those?

If they don't want to call it a check from behind, it becomes a boarding penalty, or elbowing, or whatever.

Time for that to go. In order to truly promote safety, that discretion has to be taken away from the officials. But not completely.

There are times where an illegal hit simply doesn't rise to the level of an ejection because of mitigating circumstances. Players are deliberately turning their backs to draw illegal contact, which is beyond stupid because of the risk involved, but whatever. Players will also throw themselves into the boards to "sell" these hits. Yes, really. I've seen it happen.

To give the officials some discretion, any illegal hit along the boards should carry with it an automatic ten-minute misconduct, with the officials having the ability to eject the offending player if the hit is deemed to be severe enough.

Find a way to curtail embellishment.

Calling a coincidental minor for unsportsmanlike conduct on a dive isn't working, stripes. It just isn't.

How about putting a team short-handed because one of its players took a blatant dive to sell a penalty? Do that a few times, and see how that works.

Yeah, coaches hate it when players do something to negate a power play. They hate going short-handed even more, though.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Random Rabble: May 16

For those who can't get enough of me -- and I can't imagine there are many of you -- I'm covering Chicago-Detroit for SBNation's NHL hub. I'll have stories throughout the series. My take on Game 1 is here. At this point, I'm not sure I see anyone beating Chicago. The Blackhawks are playing at an exceptionally high level, and they have gotten the kind of goaltending championship teams need to get, no matter how well they're playing.

As for the Wild, anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I'm somewhat conflicted on what I've seen from head coach Mike Yeo. That said, he had to stay, for a number of reasons. I'm not sure it's totally fair to judge a second-year coach after a shortened season like this. The Wild made a slew of big changes over the summer, and the young players GM Chuck Fletcher set out to start acquiring when he arrived are just now starting to make a real impact.

That said, improvement is a must now for Yeo. I didn't think the personnel was handled exquisitely. It seemed too much faith was put in veterans, even when they were struggling. Not enough lineup changes were made during the playoffs when things were clearly going south. The power play never really got going, and it was 0-for-17 in the five-game series loss to Chicago.

Wisconsin racing legend and former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle died Thursday of an apparent suicide. I don't quote Wikipedia often, but here's the lowdown on Trickle's short-track career, much of which came in the Badger State.

A big turning point in Trickle's career happened at the National Short Track Championship race at Rockford Speedway in 1966. Trickle said, "The cars in that area were fancier and looked like they were ahead of us. The didn't treat us bad, but they sort of giggled at us kids with the rat cars. After two days, they look differently at those rat cars. I won and pocketed $1,645. Before, I questioned spending the money to travel that far. But if you could win, that was a different story." Trickle started the 1967 season by winning at State Park Speedway and ended the season with 25 feature victories including wins at Wisconsin Dells Speedway (now Dells Raceway Park) and Golden Sands Speedway (near Wisconsin Rapids).

He toured on the Central Wisconsin Racing Association (CWRA) tracks in 1971. The circuit consisted of larger asphalt track racing on most nights of the week.[9] CWRA regular drivers were able to run over 100 events in a year, and most did the tour with one car and one engine. Drivers would drive on Wednesday nights at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway, Thursday nights at State Park Speedway near Wausau, Friday nights at Capitol Speedway (now Madison International Speedway) near Madison, La Crosse, or Adams-Friendship, Saturday nights at Wisconsin Dells Speedway, and Sunday nights at Griffith Park. Tuesday nights were available for special events.

On Thursday nights at the quarter mile State Park Speedway, he won seven features and lowered his July 1 14.27 second track record to 14.09 seconds on the following week. On Friday nights he raced primarily at Capitol Speedway, winning most nights that rain or his car did not break. Trickle went to Adams-Friendship on July 23 and won the feature after setting the track record. He held the track record at six tracks: Adams-Friendship, Capitol, Wausau, Wisconsin Dells, and La Crosse. He raced at the newly opened third mile Wisconsin Dells Speedway on Saturday nights. By the end of the year, Trickle had won 58 feature events.

Trickle started his 1972 season by winning at Golden Sands Speedway near Wisconsin Rapids. Wisconsin's short track racing season starts in April. By May 13, he had twelve wins in thirteen events. He got this fifteenth win in twenty starts on May 27. Trickle became the winningest short track driver that year when he won his 67th race.

Trickle won numerous special events outside of Wisconsin in 1973, including a 200-lap feature at Rolla, Missouri in April, following by winning a 50-lap feature the following day at I-70 Speedway near Odessa, Missouri. In May he won a 50-lapper at Springfield, Missouri and two more features at I-70 Speedway. Trickle used his purple 1970 Ford Mustang to win at the Minnesota Fair and at Rockford Speedway in September. He had a total of 57 wins in 1973.

Trickle became well-known nationally during his NASCAR Winston Cup career. The old ESPN SportsCenter pair of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann always made a point to mention where Trickle finished. Maybe they liked his name or something. Olbermann noted the following on Twitter upon word of Trickle's passing.

Awful news: Dick Trickle is dead ... No sports figure Dan + I had fun with took it more graciously. In fact, gratefully.

Olbermann went on to credit Trickle for helping increase NASCAR's visibility on SportsCenter. He said the attention they gave Trickle eventually trickled down (pun intended) to the races themselves, whether Trickle raced in them or not.

His name probably made him famous more than his driving, but Dick Trickle was one hell of a race car driver.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

UMD Hockey Awards; Other Offseason Notes

We have a few things to clean out of the proverbial notebook regarding UMD hockey.

For starters, UMD announced its annual player awards Tuesday night. Senior Mike Seidel is the team MVP. Seidel led the team with 17 goals, tied for the team lead with 34 points, and was named the Fan Favorite Award winner during the last weekend of the season.

Forward Tony Cameranesi was voted the team's top rookie. He tied Seidel and fellow freshman Austin Farley with 34 points, scoring 14 goals and making an impact on the UMD power play.

Freshman Cal Decowski was named the most improved player. Six of his eight points came over the final nine games of the season, as Decowski found a role on the second power play and developed chemistry on the fourth line.

Senior defenseman Drew Olson won Most Inspirational Player honors, and rightfully so. Senior Keegan Flaherty got the Community Service Award -- also richly deserved for all he did. Junior defenseman Tim Smith got the Bob Junkert Award for leading the team in plus-minus.

It appears that UMD's 2013-14 schedule is even closer to getting finalized. The Bulldogs have added an Oct. 7 exhibition against Lakehead University of Thunder Bay. That Monday night game comes four days before UMD's season opener against Michigan Tech at Amsoil Arena.

UMD's series at Minnesota could still be altered. Games are scheduled for Nov. 22 and 23, but Minnesota's football team is scheduled to host Wisconsin on Nov. 23. It's possible that the second game of the series could move to Sunday as a result. And, yes, it seems the "Main U" still insists on fielding a football team for reasons I can't articulate.

The Bulldogs' first taste of NCHC action comes Oct. 18 at Colorado College. The conference home opener isn't until Dec. 6 against St. Cloud State.

Last week, it was announced that forwards Joe Basaraba (senior) and Adam Krause (junior) will serve as co-captains for the 2013-14 team. Solid choices. I've known Basaraba was captain material from about the midway point of his sophomore season. Krause's effort and work ethic -- along with his classroom prowess -- make him a very good leader.

But as much as I like the choices for captains, it's worth pointing out that no good team relies solely on captains for leadership. There are a slew of guys -- specifically, I'm talking about players like Justin Crandall, Smith, and even Caleb Herbert and Andy Welinski -- who should be able to provide leadership, either vocally or by example with their play and work.

By the way, this offseason sucks. It's already been going on too long. The losses to Wisconsin were an incredible buzzkill, and the excitement about the future is ramping up. Let's get started already!