Monday, July 11, 2011

Alaska Nanooks Possibly to Join the WCHA (UPDATED: Not True (UPDATED AGAIN: True after all))

Sources have indicated that Alaska may be close to striking a deal to join the WCHA effective 2013-2014, in the wake of the announcement of the Big Ten and the aforementioned CBHA (or "Super Conference", depending on how politically correct you want to be). Dispelled.

College Hockey News is also reporting that Northern Michigan is in a similar situation, meaning that the new conference--if everything pans out--would be:

Bemidji State
Michigan Tech
Northern Michigan
St. Cloud State

I would suspect that 8th seat may be held for Western Michigan, should they need a home.

UPDATE: Thanks to Forrest for spending a good half hour on the phone with me this evening. I know he has a family, and I'm thankful for that time he spent on this well outside of business hours.

That said, the first topic of conversation was pretty obvious. UAF is NOT in talks to join the WCHA. It's likely that the information was confused before it got to me. After a conference call this past Friday between the CCHA member schools, Forrest made a point that intentions are to meet with WCHA representatives in person, but plans have not been made yet. WCHA AD's and officials are converging in St. Paul to hammer a lot of this out. After that, I would expect the two groups to come together.

The sad part is, a lot of conversations are happening one on one. School officials including our own are having one on one meetings with the head office. What this means for the league, who knows. Forrest is committed to his peers at the CCHA, and is actively searching for the best possible place to be. Whatever it is, I know he's not sitting around on his hands.

Regardless though, this new 6 team conference isn't realistic. A 20 game conference schedule leaves 14 games to look for. I would expect that these games initially will be scheduled among the Big Ten teams, who will also be searching, but the bigger teams are just going to use the smaller ones to schedule home games, it only makes sense. Forrest did say that we would be hearing another team moving next week, although he declined to mention which. Certainly the obvious choice is Notre Dame, apparently Northern Michigan, and possibly Western Michigan considering their panic attack of a marketing campaign. While the website and slide show are notable, it's all about the program's value that they bring to the table. Certainly the Nanooks should have a seat at the proverbial table.

With a very high caliber coaching staff, and competitive play that has averaged 17 wins per season since Dallas took the helm, that's very respectable. The only mark against our program is travel, which again I believe is negated with the exemption. With an 8 team conference, 7 2-game series would be played in Fairbanks with a 28 game schedule, exempting 2 games from each conference members' schedule to capitalize on however they see fit. Games at home, TV coverage to generate ad revenue, etc. A 6 team conference would be a 20 game schedule with 14 games to fill. That just doesn't seem realistic to me. If they played 6 games against each other, that's 30, also not very realistic...

2ND UPDATE:  8/24
Several sources have received word that the talks in Chicago between the WCHA and CCHA have reached "a conclusion". Doesn't seem like a conclusion as much as it looks like a hostile takeover by the WCHA.

Adam Wodon, the man behind College Hockey News has reported that all 5 of the remaining CCHA schools (Notre Dame excluded, since they've already said they're leaving, but not sure where yet) have been extended official invitations to join the WCHA beginning with the '13-'14 season.  Teams have been given a 30-day window in which to accept said invitation.

I don't anticipate that our school will decline this invitation. I'm sure it will have to be discussed, and likely the travel arrangements may be an issue, but I'm sure that can be all worked out later. Exciting times!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Black Clouds On The Horizon, Silver Lining Announced

So USCHO has reported that this, what I'm going to call the Cry Baby league (CBHA, for short...), is essentially confirmed for announcement on Wednesday. The league will feature 6 teams, North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, and Miami. Invitations are open to Notre Dame, and a potential 8th team presumed to be Western Michigan. Whether Western stays in that spot now that head coach Jeff Blashill has jumped ship and landed in an assistance coaching position with the Detroit Red Wings with the NHL. I can't discredit his move either, a college and a pro coach's salary don't really compare.

I still have yet to decide whether to be optimistic or not. That 8th invitation on the table is potentially still in the air, but who knows. It could be anybody. I certainly laid out reasonable justifications for UAF to get that spot. Selling a trip to Alaska though is a hard thing to do. But at the same time, a lot of CCHA players have said the trip to Fairbanks is one of their favorite trips of the year.

Changing gears, I'm going to be blunt here. We kind of knew that this shake up was going to happen, but how does this make Tom Anastos look now? For those that don't remember, Anastos left in the wake of the Big Ten announcement from his position as the CCHA commissioner to become the head coach for Michigan State, his alma mater. Granted, from a personal standpoint I understand the move. But to have your conference leader abandon ship when times get tough is more frustrating now. I'm not saying Fred Pletsch isn't doing a good job, but unlike we've seen from the WCHA, who have been quite vocal and transparent as to whats going on, nobody has heard a single peep from the CCHA or any of its constituents. Forrest hasn't returned my attempts to contact him yet, which is probably favorable. I'd rather have him involved in trying to keep the ship afloat versus talking to me at the moment.

That said, whats left of the WCHA athletic directors are embarking to Minnesota to meeting with WCHA officials to try to hash things out. The Anchorage Daily News has an interesting piece including quotes from UAA AD Steve Cobb, especially the closer "I'm not offended at all they want to start a conference. I'm very offended at the way it was handled," Cobb said. "We've got two years left, and I assume it's going to be very tense and very uncomfortable." (Source). Yup. Imagine how uncomfortable North Dakota should be over 2500 miles from home playing a tournament against two teams that they cast away. 2012 Brice Goal Rush, mark your calendars should that invite still stand.

In all likelihood, expect to see a "leftovers" league with both UAA and UAF in it. I'd still like to see UAH reeled in here as well, not a lot of talk has included them, but it seems as if it's every team for theirselves. As horrible as that sounds, it's certainly the way it looks. Plus, a 4 game Governor's Cup series is certainly positive. Then UAA has nothing to complain about after the flight home empty handed.

Regardless, I think a lot of these moves, whatever way they go may attract more teams to start college hockey. Paul Kelly with College Hockey Inc. admitted in an interview back in December with USCHO that he had been working with a few institutions who were exploring the option of making the move to Division I. While the possibilities weren't discussed, the plausibility that another team making the jump would certainly be a welcome way to get to 60 DI teams.

Anyway, the silver lining in all of these black clouds is a nice breakaway from all of this mess. The Athletic Department broke news yesterday that Dallas Ferguson has signed a contact extension through 2016, which I find very satisfying. Knowing that he's committed to staying on board through all of this makes me very confident that our team is in good hands and ready for whatever this mess is going to throw our way. Dallas is not just a great coach, but a great guy with great connections to the community. To know that UAF is committed to him just as much as he is to the program, I would hope that he could write his own salary

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Feeling Neglected? Stanley Cup, Recruits, and Conference Chatter

First off, before we dive into this, thanks for sticking around, my loyal readers. It seems like its been forever since the last update, since the schedule for next season was released, and its been some crazy times around my place. Fortunately, I didn't forget about you.

I hope everybody caught the monumental collapse of an otherwise excellent season for the Vancouver Canucks. What a Finals series. After the first two games in Vancouver, I thought my predictions for the series was coming to fruition. Early on, there was some incredible hockey being played. Then the extensive drama fueled by an incident starring Alex Burrows lingered over their heads that had no purpose but to fuel the fire that was lit under Boston's rears. And they would go on to win 4 of the next 5 to win it all. Honestly frustrating for two reasons:

1) I respect the hell out of Vancouver as a team. They're not my team of choice, but I really enjoy their style of play and their (typically) unrelenting pressure in both zones.
2) Arguably the emotions were fueled largely by a non-hockey related incident. It wasn't until that biting incident that Boston really kicked it into gear. You'd think that Lord Stanley himself would be reason enough to give 110%, but apparently not.

In other news, Coach Ferguson and his staff have added two more quality players to the list of newcomers for this coming season. Matt Gates, a center, co-captain, and top scorer for the Bismark Bobcats (NAHL). As well as Nolan Youngmun, a strong grinder style forward from the Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL).

Gates, a 21 year old center will bring some leadership experience with him after serving as a co-captain this past season in Bismark. He's got an impressive scoring record to boot, averaging over a point per game, over 56 points and a +13 on the stat sheet. He lead the team with 58 points and 27 goals, in power play goals (9), and shorthanded goals (1). When asked about his decision to come to Alaska, Gates told the Bobcat front office:
“A lot of things went into my decision, but first and foremost is that with Alaska I’ll have a chance to play for solid playing time as a freshman,” said Gates, “but not only that, you look at the CCHA, the teams and the history of that conference—I’ll be playing against some of the best programs in the country.”
A Chicago-area native, Gates will be playing nearly 2,800 miles from his home town.
“I look at it as a challenge, and I’m actually really looking forward to it,” added Gates, who was twice named NAHL Central Division Player of the Week in 2010-11. “To me, it’s the next phase of my life, the next part of my development as a player.”
Check out the full press release from the Bobcat's site.

Nolan Youngman, an Anchorage native will come in looking to provide some physical support for a team comprised of some (mostly) smaller guys. He spent his junior career playing with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, and is likely making the move to play hockey a little closer to home. With Ryan Hohl graduating, I would expect Youngman to kind of step into Ryan's traditionally physical role. Nolan has a bigger frame which should in turn give us another big hitter in the line up.

Now with the elephant in the room, with all of these articles springing up talking about realigning conferences, and the topic of pulling the bigger non-Big Ten schools out of the WCHA and CCHA and forming their own conference.

For those that don't know anything about what I'm about to talk about, read this USCHO article, and this article for the Grand Forks Herald penned by Brad Schlossman. The latter has some good quotes from WCHA headman Bruce McLeod, which I may borrow as we go along...

Are ya caught up? Good...

OK, so UND and Denver are going to conspire and swindle away the other notable teams in both conferences, and leave out both Alaska teams because hey, its not about money, right? Great, because players won't have to deal with travel in the pros... I would say that more than most, Alaska teams prepare the travelers the most for some of those types of challenges.

Anyway, so UND, Denver, Notre Dame, Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, and ("maybe") Western Michigan, if Blash doesn't go one-and-done will all split off and form their own conference. Great, so that leaves...

Minnesota State
Bowling Green
Ferris State
Lake Superior State
Northern Michigan
Bemidji State
Michigan Tech
St. Cloud State

And for the sake of my southern friends, Alabama-Huntsville should probably be included in this conversation as well...

Oh, did I leave out Anchorage? My bad... McLeod told USCHO that the WCHA has once again opened the gates to allow new teams to apply for membership, so that certainly leaves an open avenue to go, should the need arise.

If I were involved in this proposal, I would certainly look to include St. Cloud State and Alaska to their 8 to make 10, which would give exemptions those that travel up here every year, something that the Big Ten conference can't have. This will allow them to help fill up the Big Ten's non-conference schedule, while giving them more opportunities to play against more opponents, potentially earning more pairwise points. If you want to talk money, hosting institutions get to reap the rewards of hosting non-conference games.  Let's say North Dakota sells out Engelstad for some hypothetical non-conference game. So let's figure this out, 11,634 seats at around $16.50/each (averaged of about $15 general, $20 reserved), that's nearly $200,000 for one game.

If teams like that can play their cards right with our team in that conference, they can see their revenue increase by approximately a million dollars a year. Seems to me like a financially sound decision. Money talks, right?

So, using similar logic, you could form the rest into a separate 9 team conference:

Minnesota State
Bowling Green
Ferris State
Lake Superior State
Northern Michigan
Michigan Tech
Bemidji State

I still think I'm forgetting someone... Anyway, before someone yells out that it's an odd number of teams, having 9 teams is actually a somewhat simple scheduling algorithm. With the CCHA last year, 11 was a bit difficult to determine the rotation from last year, but with 9, you've got 3 clusters of 3. Assuming you have to have 18 conference games, one team would play each team from the other two clusters twice for a total of 12 games, and play the other two in your own cluster 3 times for a total of 18. This model could give half of the conference exemptions every year to try to bring someone to town to help make up revenue.

Anyway, who knows what could happen. I think the Nanooks are a bit tougher to play than Anchorage right now, which I think could pull us up in those talks of that "higher conference" should they go to 10. When all of the dust settles, all I can say I'm hoping for right now is a conference to be affiliated with, and in an ideal world, the travel stipends given up for visiting teams.

UAF AD Forrest Karr has not returned my email or call yet, but I suspect that he will tomorrow, so check back for an update.