Tuesday, February 11, 2014

College Hockey Musings: Tournaments Approach

A few random quick hit thoughts from around college hockey ...

--> Is there a better league race than the NCHC? The first-year league has produced some serious drama heading into the final four weeks of the regular season, as the top six teams are separated by just four points. First-place St. Cloud State faces second-place UMD this weekend in St. Cloud after taking four points from Denver -- then tied for second -- last week.

And it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that this could very easily not be the last time the NCHC's top two teams meet in the final four weeks of the season. If UMD overtakes the Huskies and North Dakota has a good weekend against Miami, we could see it again next weekend, when UMD and UND meet in Duluth.

If UMD doesn't overtake St. Cloud State, it's conceivable that SCSU-UND in two weeks in St. Cloud could be a battle for first place. Final-weekend series featuring Nebraska Omaha at UMD and Western Michigan at North Dakota could also be 1/2 matchups, depending on how things play out.

The NCHC isn't the only good league title race going. The WCHA is still led by a Ferris State team that has games in hand on Minnesota State, but the Mavericks seem to be rounding into form, and the home-ice race with Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Bowling Green, Alaska, Bemidji State, Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior State (keep in mind, one of these teams won't make the WCHA tournament) looks entertaining, too.

In Atlantic Hockey, the top five teams -- Mercyhurst, Bentley, Air Force, UConn, and Bob Morris -- are separated by a mere four points.

Then there's Hockey East, where, well, Boston College has pretty much clinched the thing already. Never mind.

League tournaments will be bonkers. But will anyone attend them?

The NCHC Frozen Faceoff will be at Target Center in Minneapolis. UMD and St. Cloud State look like they have at least a reasonable shot of being there, along with North Dakota. With SCSU's proximity, UND's nutso fans, and UMD's strong Twin Cities alumni base, there's no reason this can't be well-attended, especially with the affordability of tickets.

Hopefully, the NCHC folks took good notes at the Final Five. Even as that tournament stagnated a bit (at least in my opinion, it did), it was still a great event. Anything remotely close to the Final Five's worst years would be a great start for the NCHC's championship weekend.

--> I'm not sure there's anything that can happen over the final few weeks of the regular season that would prevent Johnny Gaudreau from being the prohibitive favorite for the Hobey Baker Award. Well, Gaudreau could be caught in a cheating scandal or something, but it seems unlikely. Outside of that or a collapse of historical proportions, this award goes to "Johnny Hockey," in my opinion.

Hard to argue with two points per game on the best team (potentially) in the country.

St. Lawrence forward Greg Carey deserves a nod, too, as does Nebraska Omaha's Josh Archibald. But this is Gaudreau's award to lose. Don't hold your breath waiting on that to happen.

--> There were a lot of negative comments Thursday night when BTN aired Minnesota-Wisconsin at a half-empty Kohl Center. But many missed the mark on this.

A national TV game on a Thursday is not a bad thing for a niche sport that relies on die-hard fans to tune in. Where are die-hard fans on Friday and Saturday? They're at games. Can't attend games when they're not being played. Why not throw a game on when it might actually attract a bigger audience than normal?

Despite the poor attendance, the game didn't look horrible on TV. Probably looked better than UMD-Western Michigan did at Amsoil in December, when the student section was largely empty while kids "studied for finals," and the lower bowl was full of empty yellow seats because people were out touring Bentleyville or whatever. That'll only help, especially when the Kohl was jammed for Friday's game, which was also on BTN.

Now, I thought the broadcast itself was clunky, but I like what BTN is doing here, and I wish others would try it. That doesn't mean we need to have a big-time college hockey game every Thursday, but the occasional showcase game wouldn't hurt anyone. In fact, it might give us a chance to grow the game a little bit. And that isn't bad for anyone.

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