Yellow Jackets Earn Some Stripes With NCAA Appearance

American International College entered Division One hockey in the 1998-99 season. Prior to this season, the Yellow Jackets were 160-461-68 in Division One. With a 23-17-1 season this year, it was the programs first winning season as a D1 team in history. It was also the first time the team won Atlantic Hockey in the regular season, the post-season, and locked in a spot for the National Tournament. Not only that, but it yielded the team’s first tournament win on Friday, as they beat St. Cloud State.

It’s a path that AIC head coach Eric Lang has paved in his three years behind the bench. It’s a path that he saw last season in the team as they seemed to have turned a corner within the conference.

“I think three years ago, we were hoping to win hockey games,” Lang mentioned before the tournament began. “I think last year we thought we can win some hockey games and I think our belief this year is every time we get on the ice, we have an expectation we’re going to win. It’s been really nice to witness the transformation from thinking and hoping to expecting.”

Of course, in a smaller school in a smaller conference, the pickings are a bit slim when it comes to wanting to be a Yellow Jacket. Prior to the year, AIC was 23-40-12, which didn’t really make the school desirable to some prospective student-athletes.

“Three years ago when I was making phone calls from a four, five, six-win team, it’s hard to get guys to call you back,” Lang mentioned after AIC’s loss Saturday. “It’s a little easier when you’re regular season conference champs, when you win your playoffs, and you’re making recruiting calls from first place. We’re squeezing in as many phone calls as we can in 24 hours from yesterday into today. You have to ride that momentum and recruiting. I think our program has a lot to offer.”

Lang continued, “It’s really important that we stay with an ‘A’ mindset player and we’re not tempted in recruiting anything else but the ‘A’ mindset. That supersedes everything. It actually supersedes our talent. If they’ve got an ‘A’ mindset, we know they’re going to develop, we know they’re going to be great human beings, and we know they’re going to get better.”

This AIC group will be losing three seniors: defenseman Ryan Polin, forward Shawn McBride, and graduate transfer player/mentor Ryan Papa. While all three were leaving after the loss on Saturday, all three had glowing reviews of the school.

“It was an awesome ride going from four years ago to where the program is today it’s unbelievable,” said McBride. “I was just fortunate enough to get a place to play college hockey and to be given lot of opportunity and I’ve met some many great people along the way. Tons of great memories and I feel very, very fortunate.”

“I was fortunate enough to extend my college career to six years,” mentioned Papa who came to AIC from St. Cloud State and had his career finish last season due to concussions. “This program shaped my life and I can’t thank the core staff enough for giving me a second chance here. I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to end my hockey career with.”

“We won seven games our freshman year and to see the program evolve, it’s been amazing to be a part of,” Polin added. “All the guys were buying into what coach Lang has put in our head.”

“I want to thank the athletic administration and coach Lang for revitalizing our program and made coming to the rink so much fun and helped us win games, which is so much fun,” McBride added.

With all these firsts out of the way and all of the national attention, it may be hard to replicate that for AIC if they don’t have the right mindset that coach Lang has put forth. However, he knows that the biggest thing for his team is to not be satisfied for just being there.

“You can’t be satisfied if you don’t win the last game of the year. You constantly have to have that carrot in front of you,” mentioned Lang. “We went from here (conference champions) to here (playoff champions) to here (NCAA tournament). Hopefully, I’m back in this seat next year and we’re moving on because that’s the progression of this program. We return a whole bunch of players next year, these guys will go in and like the taste of this and want to advance this thing another step. That’s really important that these guys stay hungry.”

The core of returned players like goalie Zackarias Skog, forward Joel Kocur, and defenseman Brennan Kapcheck, who all played amazing in the West Regional, the AIC Yellow Jackets have started a solid resume for their future. If nothing else, they won the hearts of the people at the Fargo regional. While it started as a foil for the St. Cloud State fans, the AIC bandwagon grew after the win, as their shirts were sold out before the end of the game Saturday night.

While their season didn’t end the way they wanted to Saturday night, it’s one that they won’t soon forget.

“I’m proud of this group, I think they’ve changed the landscape of AIC hockey. And I told them as you get a little older in life, life’s about making memories and these guys made a bunch of memories this season for each other,” Lang mentioned. “They made a bunch of memories for me and my family, and I’ll be forever grateful to them. The tough part about this group is that I don’t get to be with them for another couple of weeks. So, selfishly I want to be with these guys. I have been with them since August 30. I haven’t had a bad day since August 30. I love these guys and just very proud of them.”

NCAA WEST REGIONAL: Denver Makes Clock Strike Midnight for AIC

FARGO, ND– In what was the probably the most unlikeliest of match-ups to determine the West Regional, the American International College Yellow Jackets took on the Denver Pioneers for a berth into the Frozen Four. Both teams played a defensive game in their Friday match-ups and it was looking like it would be quite the chess match for this Regional Final.

The first period seemed that way, but a speedy chess game. Both teams had plenty of chances, though Denver would outshoot AIC 10-4 thanks to two power plays, but Zackarias Skog was solid in the first period. AIC has some chances, but could not get it past Filip Larsson. Both teams played like they knew if they got the first goal, they could lock up the game defensively from that point forward. The period ended 0-0.

Much of the same in the second period, though AIC got more of the chances in the early going. Plenty of blocked shots, odd bounces, and great saves were seen on both ends of the ice. The sustained pressure didn’t yield much until Ryan Barrow, while taking a skate around the net, found Colin Staub camped out in front, as Staub went high blocker on Skog to break the stalemate.

“We were able to get some defensemen active and started creating havoc in front,” mentioned Staub. “The puck bounced out and luckily, Barrow was able to capitalize on the turnover. He was driving to the net and found me. I wasn’t even looking at the net, I was just trying to get it off as quick as possible.”

AIC was pressing most of the third with two power plays at their disposal, but they couldn’t get it past Larsson. While they pressed hard, a mental mistake with under five minutes left. On a breakout, AIC’s Jared Pike passed back to his defense, but Liam Finlay was able to break out the second clearing attempt  which gave Finlay a mini-breakaway, which he put passed Skog to make it 2-0 and made the clock strike midnight for the Cinderella of the NCAA tournament. Jarid Lukosevicius added an empty-netter for good measure and sealing the 3-0 win.

It will be the third time in four seasons going back to the Frozen Four. An interesting note is that Denver only combined for three third period shots in the two games of the regional. All those shots went in, though only one was with a goalie in net. It’s something that head coach David Carle doesn’t seem too bothered by.

“That how we draw it up,” Carle quipped after the game. “Yeah we’d like to shoo the puck, we’d like to generate a little bit more. At the same time, our puck pressure and our ability to defend was outstanding and our team’s commitment to defense, I think as you saw for 90% of the weekend was very good. We’re pretty proud of that and our team has bought into what we need to win hockey games.”

NCAA WEST REGIONAL: Denver’s Lockdown, AIC Upset Headline Fargo’s Regional

FARGO, ND– The NCAA West Regional kicked off in Fargo on Friday. While the University of North Dakota did not make the tournament, there were plenty of green in the stands for those who decided to make the trip.

In the early match-up, they were able to watch a familiar foe in Denver University taking on THE Ohio State University in the first round match-up.

The first twenty minutes were a bit of a feeling out point, but Ohio State gradually got better as the period went on. However, despite the traffic in front of Denver’s Filip Larsson, there were no goals to be had. On the other end, Tommy Nappier had little work, only facing five shots in the first frame, the most challenge was a double-tip in the beginning, as well as a Tyson McLellan shorthanded chance that sailed over top of the goal, as McLellan was trying to go high short-side on Nappier.

A neutral zone battle took place for most of the second frame, with both Denver and Ohio State playing tighter hockey. The most chances came in the second half of the period, with both sides exchanging quality chances, but it wasn’t until late in the period when Denver broke the draw. With less than a minute left, Emilio Petterson feathered a pass over to Les Lancaster, who then beat Nappier on the glove side to make it a 1-0 game.

“That was a heck of a pass by him,” mentioned Lancaster of Petterson’s pass. “He has some great vision. I think a big part of my game is speed and I saw an opening to go up the ice and he found me. Nappier robbed me early in the period so it was good to get that one behind him.”

Ohio State had a solid chance to tie the game after Larsson had an adventure around his net, but could not bury anything in the open cage. Denver played a very tight game, in fact– they did not get any shots on Nappier with their only goal being an empty netter by Colin Staub to seal the game and advance to the Regional Final on Saturday.

Denver Wins/Photo Jen Conway

“I don’t know how many tickets were sold tonight with that game,” joked Denver coach David Carle after the game, “But I thought it was a really tightly contested game. Not a lot of open ice for either team since both teams are heavily involved on defense

————-

In the second match-up, the upstart American International College Yellow Jackets looked to give the St. Cloud State Huskies a run for their money. All the while, the Huskies tried to not be eliminated in the first round by an Atlantic Hockey team– like what happened last year against Air Force. It was also AIC’s first ever tournament appearance, which could be daunting to some, but for AIC– they seemed to take it in stride.

“I think we just had to play our game, the same way we played it all year,” mentioned Brennan Kapcheck. “We came in with big dreams and see the big crowd, which is not something we see all the time, but we played our game and it goes the right way.”

AIC was under the microscope, but were attacking early with plenty of chances, including one that rang off the crossbar. However, Joel Kocur found the back of the net, getting the first goal of the game by plugging away at a rebound around David Hrenak’s net and chipping it in for the 1-0 tally. After that goal, AIC went into a trap defense, which lead to more chances, as St. Cloud couldn’t get a good clean breakout, but the period ended 1-0 for AIC.

Knowing they needed to continue the pressure. AIC was able to play the trap defense perfectly against the Huskies, creating more turnovers and then creating another goal for the Yellow Jackets, as Brennan Kapcheck picked up the puck, threw it on net, and it squeaked through Hrenak’s five-hole to make it a 2-0 game. Despite power plays, the Huskes couldn’t put one past Zackarias Skog. Though AIC only put four shots on in the second, they were able to withstand the pressure of St. Cloud late in the period.

The Huskies, not wanting a repeat of last year, got off to a quick start, trying to get one goal back and start a rally. But thanks to stingy defense and Skog standing tall, their first onslaught was for naught. SCSU cut the lead in half on the power play, as a weird bounce off an AIC defender’s helmet went past Skog and was credited to Easton Brodzinski. After that, the Huskies went to work trying for the equalizer, but Skog and his defensemen in front were able to stave off the Huskies, upsetting the #1 overall seed by a score of 2-1.

It was AIC’s first tournament win in their first appearance during their first winning season, no less. It was also the second time in the entire athletics department that they have defeated a #1 seed, as the women’s soccer team defeated Saint Rose in Division II action.

“St. Cloud is a tremendous team,” mentioned AIC coach Eric Lang. “I could only take them in small doses. They’re as skilled a team that we’ve ever seen. But you know what, sometimes the puck bounces your way. I would say it’s puck luck, but in this sport in you earn your luck.”

AIC and Denver will take on each other on Saturday night to see who will represent the West Region in the Frozen Four in Buffalo.

Black Bears Adding Local Flavor in Tender Signings

Maryland Black Bears Salute/ Jon Pitonzo, FOHS Media Faction

When I spoke with Maryland Black Bears owner Murry Gunty early in the season, he mentioned to me that the goal of the Maryland Black Bears was to give area players a chance to play closer to home and keeping the mid-Atlantic talent in the mid-Atlantic rather than have those players migrate to the Northeast and beyond.

In one of the two tender signings that happened yesterday, it seems that the vision is continuing to take shape as the Black Bears announced that Finn McLain of Woodbridge, Virginia had signed his tenure with the Black Bears. The other tender signed was that of defenseman Nick Hauck of Ham Line, Minnesota, as the Twin Cities region becomes a pipeline for the Black Bears, as well, with Hauck joining Luke Posner (Mahtomedi), Max Borst (Edina), and Luke Mountain (Woodbury) as players from the Twin Cities region to sign with the Black Bears.

For Hauck, he had a breakout year with Blaine High School notching 28 assists and 31 points for the Bengals, as well as three assists in the state tournaments– despite coming up short to Edina in the championship game. Hauck only had two assists in his previous two seasons with the Bengals and this season could be the jumping off point he needs for his future.

However, with the McLain signing, it adds to the DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) feel to the Black Bears roster. McLain will join George Vonakis (Abingdon) and Andrew Takacs (Bowie) as local players to be signed with the Black Bears. Of course, you may not see a landslide of players over the off-season or into the next off-season, but what the Black Bears are doing with the local players will have an effect down the line– especially as the younger Team Maryland teams are able to get immersed into the NAHL game and see where the alumni head off to after their tenure in the league.

Now, before you start checking stats– yes, McLain was born in Honolulu, Hawaii– but he grew up in Woodbridge, went to Woodbridge High, and played in the Washington Little Caps system before going to the Kent School in New Jersey. McLain has the size at 6’0 and 205 at 19 years old, but the question is what his role would be. While he’s not overly offensive by the looks of his stats, but at the same time– his size could create him some space and perhaps give him more opportunities.

While there’s only the spoiler role to play, the Black Bears are looking to the future– not only in the immediate setting, but maybe in the future setting as a pillar for mid-Atlantic hockey players.

Wright, Savoie, and Exceptional Status

In Canadian major junior hockey, the exceptional status is given to a 15-year-old player who the league deems good enough to play an entire season at the major junior level. Otherwise, the player would only be able to play five games at age 15 in major junior until they turned 16. Before this season, the only players who were granted exceptional status in the Canadian Hockey League were Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day, and Joe Veleno. Of all of them, only Veleno wasn’t playing in the Ontario Hockey League; he was a Quebec League player.

This season, two players applied and only one was granted the status. Shockingly enough, it was a player from the OHL that was given the status in Shane Wright. The other– Matthew Savoie– was not given status, despite him having been compared to Sidney Crosby at age 14. It also continues the Western Hockey League not granting players exceptional status. Due to this, Savoie said that he committed to the University of Denver for the 2021-22 season. It should be noted that Jack Hughes also applied for exceptional status two years ago, but was denied and is now on his way to University of Michigan next fall….maybe…if he doesn’t get to the NHL before that, as he is projected to be one of the top two picks in this Draft.

There’s two way to think about this whole situation. The first is that it’s a travesty that the WHL isn’t letting this kid, who has 31 goals and 71 points in 31 games playing a year older than he should be. The second is that it’s good that the WHL isn’t rushing a kid who may not be able to deal with the grind of travel and physicality that the WHL often presents, not to mention the mental and maturity factor of it all.

It’s easy to see both sides of the coin. You don’t want to have a kid who’s obviously head and shoulders above his peers in bantam or midget hockey, risk him getting bored or even seriously injured, or embarrass the competition. In most of the exceptional cases– the players were able to succeed with three of the five of them being 1st overall picks in the NHL Draft and four of five being in the first round. Sean Day was the player who didn’t get pick in the first round, though he was also the only defenseman of the group who was given that status.

Some believe that Day’s performance was the reason why Hughes wasn’t given the status, but that’s subjective as hell and you could counter that by saying it takes defensemen longer to develop than forwards.

On the flip side, it’s almost good for the younger players not getting bigger than they should be if they aren’t ready for it. Again another subjective aspect of the judging process, but at the same time– to hold off on a player who the committee may have the slightest doubt of it is erring on the side of caution. You may lose a player or two– like with Savoie and Hughes– but it might be better than burning them out at a young age or having them flame out when such high expectations were placed onto them. Plus, when I mentioned maturity– these kids at 15 may or may not be ready to take on a pro-like schedule, away from home all the time, and growing up before they may be ready to.

While it could be the CHL’s loss, the NCAA does have the ability in something great. Of course, Hughes may not make it to the college level, while Savoie could be using his as a bluff or doing the same thing as Jack Eichel in playing the year before his draft year and then leaving after a season. Many claim that the major junior route is the quickest route to the NHL– and it’s probably true– but at the same time, if Savoie and Hughes can play in the NCAA, even for a year, and dominate before going to the NHL; it may change some opinions…but probably not.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Photo via GoMustangSports.com

This week on Chesapeake Hockey Week, I mentioned that the Stevenson University Mustangs Women’s team will be using their Saturday game against Neumann University as their Mental Health Awareness game. All the processes from the attendance goes toward the National Alliance of Mental Illness or NAMI for short. The game will have raffles, silent auctions, and a meet-and-greet with the players after the game.

So, let’s talk about mental health because the stigma is still strong and as many Bell Let’s Talk campaigns and as many HASHTAG Sick Not Weak things go around– there’s still things about mental health some people are not putting out there– rightly or wrongly.

I am someone who suffers from mental health issues. I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and a form of Bipolar Disorder. It is rough to live every day of my life in a “normal” manner, but that’s part of the high functioning part of this disease– you deal with it when it hits you, but even then– you shrug it off until it consumes you.

For all the things going around, for all the people who support the mental health initiative when it comes around, there still is a stigma to it. Whether it be people who think they are just stronger than the disease or people who don’t want to burden other with what’s going it– the epidemic is real and needs to be addressed in a strong fashion. The stigma around mental health is something that, while there is support for it, is also one of the most taboo things to talk about.

According to NAMI, 43.8 million adults suffer from mental health issues. In that, 9.8 million people suffer from a serious mental health issue that interferes with the life they live. Even with all of this data, people seem to push it by the wayside purposely or not. This effects work life and social life due to the crippling effects it create in people.

Yet, even after all this…it seems like something people deal with for a day or two and then it falls by the wayside, rightly or wrongly.

In hockey, there is a bigger situation. Obviously the story of Robin Lehner that’s going on is something that is huge. An active player with struggles of mental health that lead to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as suicidal thoughts. Patrik Berglund is another higher profile player who walked away from the NHL because of his mental state, mostly because he lost the drive he once had for the game he loved. With the losses of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak— the NHL has seemed to turn their tone on mental health awareness; but is it enough??

Yes, in the last link dump– I put my old work in there (ESPECIALLY THE RYPIEN PIECE), but it still holds true today. The fact we still have to have these talks is enough to realize– shit’s fucked up. We aren’t getting the mental health we deserve, whether it be because of pride or because of fear or because of any excuse you can think of. The reality of the situation is that if you’re not feeling great mentally, it shouldn’t be any different than if you’re feeling poor physically.

Look, if you’re feeling poor mentally– you’re pain is valid. There’s no reason why you should feel remorse or regret for not being able to perform mentally. While people shouldn’t abuse it– there are still people who do, which makes it harder to break a stigma because it’s hard to judge the reality of hurt and the need to get out of work. It’s not like a broken or sprained limb– it’s something deeper and more neurological than that.

Will there ever be a situation where the stigma is gone?? Maybe not, but you can keep pushing. There be a feeling of burden, there may be a feeling of vulnerability– but it’s okay. No one can be strong all the time. It’s not possible and if you think it is, maybe take a step back and see if you’re true in your convictions or if you’re saying/doing it because you’ve been told to be like that.

Forty-three point eight MILLION is a hard number to dispute against. It’s a hard number to hide. And odds are it’s higher just because of people who don’t feel like taking about what they’re going through or admitting their mental state matters. It does. It’s the starting block to all of your health. If your brain isn’t great, the odds that your body isn’t great are much higher.

In 1952’s “Viva Zapata,” the character Fernando said, “Cut the head off the snake and the body will die.” I feel that’s a correct quote when it comes to mental health because once your head is in a whirlwind, it affects other aspects of your bodily health. Many forget how vital mental health is to everyday life. The brain can play tricks on you and could lead you to rash decisions or comments– trust me, I know.

At the end of the day– when I say, “Take care of yourself and someone else,” it really is a way of life. Make sure you put yourself first– it’s not selfish, it’s preservation. And you hate to do it alone– so take care of someone else who you can trust and you hope can trust you.

Personally, my life in my head sucks and is very self-destructive to me. That’s why I’m re-entering therapy because it’s affecting my career, my relationships with people, and I still don’t know what direction to go in my life. You’d think by this time, nearing 36-years-old, I would– but I don’t…and that’s okay. Regardless of our age or experience, we need a little help. It’s hard to ask for it because you don’t want to be a burden, but it’s good to get another perspective on things since a lot of people are very set in our ways.

But here’s the Stevenson University Women’s hockey team for doing an event like this and hopefully, people will go out to the event in Reisterstown, Maryland on February 9th and donate to a noble and worthy cause.

The Spengler Cup is the Best Holiday Hockey Cup

It’s holiday time, which means it’s time for the greatest tournament of them all– the Spengler Cup!! Look, I understand how people enjoy the World Junior tournament, but for me– the Spengler Cup really is the bee’s knees of holiday tournament. Some love the idea of rising talent– me?? I’m about the randomness of some of these rosters and how it’s an invitational format makes it’s quite the exclusive tournament.

To start, the Vaillant Arena in Davos could be the most scenic arena in the world. The arena itself is an old world masterpiece with half the arena being seated, the other being standing room in supporter sections, as they chant to give it an atmosphere of international soccer. I don’t have much on my bucket list, but going to the Spengler Cup is one on that list.

20.03.2017; Davos; Eishockey National League – Training HC Davos; Die Vaillant Arena in Davos (Steffen Schmidt/freshfocus)

The teams are another great thing. The hosts HC Davos have five other teams invited to the tournament…well, four other teams as Team Canada is another stalwart of this tournament. In this edition, the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of Germany (hopefully wearing Chris Sabo rec-specs as visors), KalPa Kuopio from Finland, Metallurg Magnitogorsk from Russia, and Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Republic will be taking part of the round-robin tournament. In the past, the AHL’s Rochester Americans, Dinamo Riga, Team Switzerland, and a USA Select team have participated.

The rosters are also an eye-opener when it comes to guys who are still playing. Canada’s roster is the one that’s really amazing this year with Kevin Bieksa, Torrey Mitchell, Daniel Winnik, and Dominic Moore represent the old guard, with Zach Fucale, Dante Fabbro, and Colt Conrad being the new blood. Players like Tom Gilbert, Milan Jurcina, and Anders Lindback are a few of the old NHLers making appearance here, while Sami Kapanen coaches the KalPa squad. It’s a great “Oh, hey!!” moment when you see the names of yesteryear on the ice again. Hell, this was a tournament Sergei Fedorov came back to play after being on the sidelines for a couple years. It holds that kind of stroke in the international hockey community.

While there isn’t much of a broadcasting presence in the US, there’s places you could probably go to find a feed of the game. I only with the NHL Network would show a game or ten to give this underrated tournament the respect it deserves.

Arizona State Finally Finding Their Own Footing

Photo by Heather Weikel/TheSunDevils.com

This is a team that is more than just the EXCLUSIVE GREY that they tout in their jerseys. While some will say that they haven’t faced the competition that other programs have, some of that is really not their fault. The Arizona State University Sun Devils have climbed up through the dregs of club hockey, the struggles of their first couple of years in Division I, and now are 13-6-0 at the end of the semester, have the leading goal-scorer in the NCAA (Sophomore Johnny Walker with 17), and have beaten some names in college hockey. 

It’s a welcome change from the first three years of the program, who had a total of 21 wins in their first three seasons. They already have a franchise-high 13 wins, though after the semester break, they have quite the schedule with Clarkson, either Duluth or Mankato, Boston University, Boston College, and Cornell. While they’re ranked in the top-20, ASU seems like they can hold their own– but can they do it for the long haul?? The win against Penn State kind of brought them into the limelight, but losses to THE Ohio State and then losses to Omaha take the shine away. 

That’s not to say they aren’t building. To have someone like Walker on the team gives them a cornerstone to build on. Greg Powers has stayed on track and it’s paid off for him. They have a good mix of upper (11) and underclassmen (16) to help mentor and build for the future and lead them maybe into something bigger. While it took Penn State quicker to be successful– they had the help of powerful alumni to give money in building a new rink, they were in a power conference, and they were in an under-served area of the US for recruits to go. 

The Sun Devils only check one of those boxes with the under-served market. They’re still without a big money donor to improve on their arena situation, while also being without a conference. The WCHA was an option for ASU, but the money they’d have to pay to other teams for travel costs is something the Sun Devils didn’t think was wise on their side of things. The NCHC has said that they don’t have plans to expand from the eight teams they have. My UND press-box colleague Eric Burton had an interesting take on the NCHC situation

The NCHC has a good thing going. Adding a couple of team changes that dynamic. More teams means less non-conference games. Bottom line, playing 10 non-conference games helps a team’s Pairwise Rankings. If your favorite team has a good non-conference record. Lastly, here’s another angle, think back to the old WCHA before re-alignment, big schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin wanted to control the terms.  During the formation period, the NCHC walked away from Notre Dame because of this. ASU is a big school and is going to want to have the same influence.

While I understand the idea with bigger schools wanting influences, I don’t think that ASU is as into themselves as Notre Dame is and wants influence when it comes to hockey. They just may want a fairer shake with a conference that would be a little less travel overall and they won’t get screwed out of money. However, you’d also have to find another team if they wanted that even-numbered conference.

This puts them in a weird spot because they’re freelancers who may have a good record, but if they can’t get bigger schools to play against them– then they might be hooped when it comes to wanting to be in the national tournament. However, if they keep winning and climb up the standings as they are, it’d be hard for them not to have people pulling for them to get an at-large bid. 

The upside of the Sun Devils’ play, as well as Penn State’s meteoric rise in college hockey is that it gives the NCAA options to look at other club teams to join the D1 ranks. They’ve already have those NHL studies looking at how feasible it is at the University of Illinois (which they’ve found the team would flourish) and Oakland University in Michigan (again, good results). It gives club hockey teams hopes of an upgrade, especially in the mid-Atlantic and South– something I’ve stumped for for a while. It gives players more opportunities at a D1 college career, which would help them get exposure they may not have gotten playing in lower levels. 

Winnipeg’s WHL Dilemma

The rumors about the Kootenay Ice leaving for Winnipeg have been around for a majority of the year, while also getting louder and louder as the days go onward. So, much so that there was a press conference set for Monday that never went off. The fact Kootenay’s future in Cranbrook, BC has been in question for the past few years may show that it’s almost time to fish or cut bait with the Southeastern BC city. With the latest owners of the Ice being from Winnipeg, naturally there’s going to be questions on how much longer it’d be until they picked up and moved east. 

Of course, when the team was sold to Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, the idea was for the team to remain in Cranbrook. However, the allure of the big city and being back home seem to be too much for Fettes and Cockell to pass up on. While the attendance in Kootenay has bumped back up from seasons previous, it is still a half-filled arena and towards the bottom of the league. With Winnipeg being a hot market for hockey, why wouldn’t the hometown boys come home with a junior hockey team?? 

For one, the biggest debate that is coming up is if three teams– the Winnipeg Jets, Manitoba Moose, and this WHL team– could coexist and be successful. While the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marlies, and Mississauga Steelheads seem to coexist, Winnipeg is not the Greater Toronto Area. While the NHL and WHL work in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver– the added AHL could make it a little rough for the WHL to work and be successful in Winnipeg. 

Just with the NHL and AHL in the same town, the Moose have taken a hit at the box office since they came back, steadily declining over the last four years. When you consider that this WHL team won’t be under the True North Sports and Entertainment banner either– they’d be fighting a very uphill battle trying to get people out to the arena, especially with playing at the University of Manitoba until a proposed new arena on the edge of the city is built. 

Winnipeg is just under 750,000 people in the city and plenty to do– three hockey teams could be a breaking point for even the staunchest of hockey fans. Coupled with the lack of True North involvement, the WHL team would be destined to fail from the onset. Some would suggest that the team would be better off staying where they are than trying to make it in Winnipeg. 

Even though a team in Winnipeg would help Manitoba and give an even closer rival for the Brandon Wheat Kings; the ends may not justify the means. The odds seem against them from the start with the rewards not justifying the risks. The idea of the big city over the small town may be great, but you’d not only be letting those small town fans lose their identity, but you’d also be going into hostile territory without any affiliation to the big fish in the city already.

If the owners were smart enough, they’d find a way to sell the team to local interests or maybe see if some alumni who were/are in the NHL would want to buy the team. Because trying to go back and face those fans in Cranbrook and trying to get forgiveness would not go over entirely well. 

How To Influence Stock Holders and Ruin Young Player’s Trust

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If you haven’t heard of the USA Central Hockey League, and judging by the numbers– you haven’t; it’s a new junior league that was announced in March of 2018. By all accounts, the league was going to be free of USA Hockey involvement and was marketed as a “free-to-play” system much like the USHL and NAHL, while players are able to keep their college eligibility– but much, much poorer.

This seems to be a branch off the horribly planned Central 1 Hockey League, which also was supposed to be the next big thing in junior hockey with no USA Hockey affiliation and the same stuff that this USACHL wanted to be. However, it was announced in 2016 and never hit the ice, taking a lot of bigger markets in Oklahoma City, El Paso, and Fort Collins out of the WSHL and into obscurity.

While the USACHL promised six teams at their announcement by league owner Bill Davidson– they currently have three teams, which could be down to zero by the time this is published. The Texas Lawmen folded when players left, the coach resigned and money was owed to a lot of people; while the Wichita Falls Force having been locked out of their building and according to billets, their kids have packed up and left. Davidson says that the Force are not folding, but it doesn’t look all that great either. Parents of players in Laredo are trying to get their kids home as they have been told the league is done.

A great write-up about what’s going on was done by Cilla Hagle of JuniorHockey.com, though it’s to be said that a prime writer for the website, Stephen Heisler, was a paid consultant for the league and had a number of his clients put into the league. His and people who go to him for comment may have their opinions skewed on what they experienced. However, where there’s smoke, there’s fire– and after reading a lot about this– I’m tending to agree with Heisler’s words.

Forget for a second that this whole thing was a disaster from the word go because of the fail ventures of previous incarnations of Central Hockey Leagues, but this is something that affects the players who trusted Davidson to give them a place to play and give them exposure into the NCAA ranks and beyond. You want to ruin a player’s trust and make them question the decisions they have made and will make in the future– this is a prime example of how that is to happen. Hell, it could cause these kids to lash out against their next coaches, GMs, owners, and so on. There’s a lot of collateral damage being done by a league like this. While this shouldn’t matter to teams looking for solid caliber players, especially when they went to this league on the hope of getting the exposure they were initially told was there.

Not only the players, but the parents of these players are going to start protecting their kid more– and rightfully so. There’s been no transparency from the league, not one member being upfront about what’s going on with teams and players– it’s just the CEO in Davidson trying to say it’s not his fault, it’s everyone else’s. Newspapers are learning from Facebook posts, billets are keeping fans and families up to date when the teams and league aren’t.

This is how you push people away– not just from playing, but from supporting hockey. It’s snake-oil salesmen like Davidson who really give people the wrong impression of hockey people and if they’re well-meaning or not. This whole thing is a case of how not to build, promote, or have anything to do with the hockey world.