After a rollicking weekend of college hockey action, we’re down to four teams who will vie for the title in Tampa Bay nearly two weeks from now (more on that later). Boston College has been the dominant team of late and they will no doubt be heavily favored to win the Frozen Four. The Gophers looked damn good yesterday against North Dakota, but they will face a stiff challenge when they take on the Eagles in a semifinal matchup. The other semifinal meanwhile features two teams that few expected to see playing for a chance for a national title: Ferris State and Union. To put that into perspective, consider that both those squads participated in the 2011 Mariucci Classic. When the Gophers are extending invites to said tourney, they’re not usually going to the elite teams in college hockey. It’s almost like a homecoming football game, you want to try to schedule an opponent that you have a pretty good chance or vanquishing (although such a strategy hasn’t exactly worked out so well for the Gophers in Mariucci Classics of late). So it’s safe to say that not many folks had Ferris State and Union penciled in for a trip to Tampa.
Which brings us to the Fraters group in the College Hockey Pickem Challenge. Yesterday’s Gopher win and UMD loss sealed my fate. I correctly picked zero of the teams going to Tampa. But I really don’t care as the Gophers beating North Dakota and returning to the Frozen Four more than makes up for a busted bracket. The leader of the Fraters group goes by the mysterious pseudonym “Stillwater” (hmmm...I wonder who that could be?). Stillwater has proven that their hockey knowledge (or blind luck) does indeed run deep by accumulating 11 points so far. They picked two of the Frozen Four correctly with Minnesota and Union and still have a chance to pick up 12 additional points if the Gophers beat BC and then win the national championship.
In second place is rtork8 with 10 points. Even though he picked Michigan as the eventual champion, he’s still in the running to win the Fraters group. If BC beats Minnesota, but loses to the Ferris State/Union winner, he would finish with 14 points which would be enough to win the group.
Swamptown and Polks are tied for third with 9 points and both remain in the hunt for the group title. If BC beats Minnesota and then wins the national championship, they would end up with 21 points and tie for the title. All others below than who can still rack up points don’t have a scenario that would allow them to win. It is interesting to note that even though Union was a #1 seed and Ferris State a #2 seed, Stillwater was the only one in the Fraters group who picked Union to get out of their regional and no one picked Ferris State. Most people had Michigan (a few had Denver) and Miami of Ohio on that side of the bracket.
Okay, now for some rants on various tournament matters:
- USCHO had a good piece yesterday that asked Is NCAA ice hockey held hostage by ESPN?:
The Worldwide Leader in Sports – the self-proclaimed title given to ESPN – has done a lot to help grow the NCAA men’s ice hockey championship over the years. Now, though, it seems like “that network” is doing everything to hurt this tournament when interest in the event is at an all-time high.
The answer unfortunately is yes. The bigger problem is that ESPN doesn’t really care about hockey overall. Every since they stopped doing NHL games, their hockey coverage has become a joke. So now we’re in an absurd situation where a sports network that has nothing to do with college hockey all season, completely controls the NCAA tournament telecasts. Is it any surprise that the scheduling of games, availability of viewing the games, and quality of the announcing crews suffers as a result?
It doesn’t have to be this way. Besides all the regional channels that do a good job covering regular season games, we now have NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network showing college hockey games on a regular basis. Either one would do a far better job than ESPN with the tournament (especially NBC with its NHL connection), but as the USCHO article points out the NCAA just extended ESPN’s contract for another dozen years.
- Which leads to the next ranting point; is there a worse enemy for college hockey than the NCAA? The way they currently manage regional tournament sites is a joke. People here were disappointed and surprised that the West Regionals in St. Paul drew only 9,386 fans on Saturday and 10,974 on Sunday (I think the NCAA’s silly temperance rules probably helped hold the crowds down somewhat—more people went to last week’s WCHA Final Five where the beer flowed freely), but look at the attendance in the other regions:
Friday’s East Regional in Bridgeport 5090
Friday’s Midwest Regional in Green Bay 3465
Saturday’s East Regional in Bridgeport 5328
Saturday’s Midwest Regional Green Bay 3108
Saturday’s Northeast Regional Worcester 5925
Sunday’s Northeast Regional Worcester 4470
And if you watched any of the Green Bay or Bridgeport games you could see that there were probably half that number of fans actually in seats. What an embarrassment.
The NCAA should pick two sites for each region and rotate them every year. And make them in cities that people might actually want to visit. For example:
The West could be Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The Midwest could be Milwaukee and Detroit.
The East could be Philadelphia and Buffalo.
The Northeast could be New York City and Boston.
With the exception of Milwaukee, these are cities with NHL teams and well-established bases of hockey fans. They are all relatively easy to get to for any college hockey fans in the region and are places that you could plan a trip around that would include more than just the hockey games.
And serve beer. I can’t imagine how much easy money the NCAA forgoes because they won’t allow alcohol to be served at the games.
- Then, we get to the Frozen Four itself which will be held in the noted hockey hotbed of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay. Really? Here the NCAA suffers from the same delusional that the NHL does in believing that they can make hockey popular everywhere. The reality is that you can’t. It’s a regional sport with regional appeal. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Accept the fact that the game’s appeal in limited by geography and do what’s best to serve your real customer base. Quit trying to be everything to everyone. The NHL will never be the NBA and the Frozen Four will never be the Final Four. But real hockey fans don’t care.
The NCAA should make a relatively short list of Frozen Four locations and establish a rotation cycle among them. If you want to try to attract new fans to college hockey do it in places where it makes sense like Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York City. My Frozen Four list would look somewhat similar to the regional one:
New York City
If you wanted to keep it simple, I’d say Denver, St. Paul, Detroit, and Boston. And no more games in football stadiums either. Play the games in the venues and cities best suited for them. That would best for the fans, the players, and the sport itself.
- Finally, there’s the daffy delay between the weekend’s regional play and the Frozen Four itself. Ostensibly, this is to prevent having to compete against the Final Four. Two problems with this:
1. You just had all the regional games the same weekend as the NCAA basketball Sweet Sixteen rounds. If completion was truly a factor wouldn’t it also apply here?
2. To assume that having the Frozen Four at the same time as the Final Four would somehow distract from the attention it receives falls under the same delusion as my previous point. Do you think the hordes of media covering the Final Four are going to pack their bags after next Monday’s national championship game to head to Tampa Bay? Or that the millions of basketball fans across the country who watch the Final Four on CBS are going to tune in the following Thursday and Saturday to watch the Frozen Four on ESPN2 because their schedule is suddenly free? Get real.
If you’re really concerned about competition, schedule the Frozen Four around the Final Four, but on the same weekend. Have the two semi-final games on Friday and the final on Sunday afternoon/early evening. The ten days off between yesterday’s last two regional games and the semifinals drain all the energy and anticipation out of the Frozen Four for fans. And you have to wonder how it impacts the players who have gotten used to playing two games (or more) every weekend especially at the end of the season. In the last three weeks, they just had their conference playoff, conference tournament, and NCAA regional games. While the break might help heal injuries it’s got to hurt momentum as well. I’m sure the way they’re feeling right now, the Gophers, Eagles, Bulldogs, and Dutchmen would love to get back on the ice next weekend and determine who has the best team in the country. Instead we all get to wait until most people (even some hockey fans) have forgotten about the Frozen Four.
College hockey would be great if it weren’t for the NCAA.