Revamp The NCAA Tournament

Jan. 31, 2007

By Dave Starman

Special to



Dave is a CSTV game and studio analyst, and contributes regular insight to E-mail here!

Some thoughts on college hockey as January turns to February...


Going Gophers: The WCHA continues to be a fascinating story. Minnesota spirals downward and now is 2-6 (1-3 at home) in its last three weekends, and heads to Anchorage this weekend as a team that looks exhausted.


Here's where Minnesota stands out. Their coaching staff might be the most honest on the record staff I can think of. Whether asked in a walk-off interview, by reporters, TV folks, rarely if ever feel that Don Lucia or John Hill is blowing smoke. They tell it straight, and you feel like you have a feel of what Minnesota is up to. 


Lucia told us earlier last week that Minnesota's first half was the byproduct of a soft schedule. 


"Not that team's were soft, but some of the teams we played, who are good teams, hadn't found their groove or were banged up," Lucia said. "CC is never an easy team to play, but we got them at home at the right time. There were other weekends like that. Now were at a point in the schedule where things are going to be a lot harder. Guys are back from the WJC, and they are still sluggish. The guys that were here playing are tired.  We have a general team fatigue factor, and are really looking forward to that weekend off after Anchorage."


Minnesota has played through adversity, losing talented defenseman Nate Hagemo to a career ending injury, and Tyler Hirsch for a variety of "unique" issues. He was dismissed from the team, and his absence eliminates any veteran experience Minny had on its power play. Evan Kaufmann has been hurt, and that hasn't helped. 


They are young, skilled and get along well. It is a team that if their goaltending holds up, will be a very tough team to play in a short series/single game elimination situation in the post season. They are definitely the most interesting story in the conference because they are undoubtedly the biggest wildcard out there.


Super Sioux: Wow would be the first word that comes to mind after watching North Dakota dismantle the Gophers this past weekend. 


I know that Jonathan Towes and T.J. Oshie are high end kids, and first round picks. However, if anyone thinks that Ryan Duncan doesn't make that line significantly better isn't watching.


Duncan, all 5-foot-6 of him, has about as pure a scoring touch as anyone in the NCAA. Good angles, bad angles, top shelf, five hole; doesn't matter. He finds openings and hits them. His stick skills are very good, and he can dart in and out of traffic very well. Responsible away from the puck, Duncan has opened many eyes this season.


Towes and Oshie are clicking on all cylinders, which is great news for Dave Hakstol's crew. Supported by three good units behind them and a mobile defense, and a now healthy Phillipe Lamoureaux, NoDak will make the Frozen Four for the third consecutive year. There are still many ifs with NoDak, but they are in a different category when it comes to contenders.


The Logo/Name Issue:  An informal poll of people I talked to in NCAA nockey circles feel the NoDak logo and nickname are no big deal.


Here's why I agree. Unlike some Native American nicknames or logos, the Fighting Sioux are represented in a very distinguished logo on a very classy uniform. There seems to be a very sincere connection between the University and the Fighting Sioux nation. The Fighting Sioux nation has supported NoDak athletics use of its heritage from what I hear and read.


I felt the St. John's Redmen were totally out of line before changing to the Red Storm. I was somewhat ok with the Quinnipiac Braves, but feel Bobcats is much better. I think Florida State makes a total mockery of the Seminole tradition with the Indian in war regalia on a horse during games, but the name and logo are fine. The Seminoles is fine as a nickname, as long as the name is continued to be used appropriately. 


Same goes for the Fighting Sioux. Ralph Engelstad's politics and world view were a little skewed with his Hitler fascination, but he is dead. I like the name and logo in NoDak, so let's move onto more pressing issues.


Historic Feat:  Until told otherwise, I'm putting it in the bank that Phil Kessel is the only NCAA DI player to score his first NCAA goal on a penalty shot.


Here is another first that will never be duplicated. Vermont defenseman Kenny Macaulay is the only player in DI history to play in three conferences in consecutive years. He was at Findlay when the program disbanded, and transferred to Vermont.  Because he didn't transfer out of an existing program, he could play right away, and did for the Catamounts who were members of the ECACHL. The next season they moved to Hockey East, and Macaulay had played three consecutive seasons in three different conferences.


A proposal:  This is a controversial topic, but one to explore. To my friends and colleagues in Atlantic Hockey and the CHA, I'm apologizing in advance!


The NCAA tourney is a 16 team tourney. Four regionals of four teams, the winner of each regional goes to the Frozen Four. 


The CHA and Atlantic Hockey each receive an automatic bid by winning their conference. Those two conferences made some noise recently in the big show, as Bemidji State almost upset Denver in a first round game. Denver needed OT to oust the Beavers en route to a second national title, and the Beavers were that close to winning.


Last season, Holy Cross ko'ed the powerful Gophers in the North Dakota regional.


While Cinderella stories excite the mind and stimulate the senses of sports fans, they are few and far between. In the NCAA hockey tourney, they are a huge rarity. Also at stake here are two bids that while deserving of a conference champion, also put teams in the Sweet 16 that have a very small chance of winning.


So here's a thought. Have Atlantic Hockey and the CHA champion's playoff at one regional in a play-in game. That allows one more team from the Big Four conferences to get in that probably deserved to. That winning team plays the No. 1 overall seed. That guarantees that both conference winners in the CHA and AHA make the tourney. They'll just have an extra game. The negative is that they'll play three in three or three in four days to get out of the regional.


I say this for two reasons. The first is this: Marketing. Let's say Michigan, or Wisconsin, or Ohio State, or Boston University is the 15th seed in the final pairwise. They'd miss the tourney. "So what" you say?  Well, ok, you are the NCAA selling tickets and TV advertising. Would you rather market Minnesota against Michigan, or Minnesota against Bentley? Would you rather advertise a regional where the No. 1 seed, let's say its Notre Dame playing Alabama Huntsville? How about Notre Dame and Michigan? Sounds much better.


With no disrespect intended, my feeling is that college hockey needs marquee names in its big tourneys, and that if you have a big name team on the bubble in the 15th or even 16th seed spot, get them in the regionals.  Wisconsin maybe having a tough season, but people want to see them play. Maybe it's Cornell sneaking in at 15. Or Harvard. Or Maine. Or Michigan.


The second is this: bottom line is that a .500 team in the WCHA has a better chance to pull an upset in a regional than does the champion of the CHA or Atlantic Hockey Conference. Want the casual viewer watching the regionals? Make sure teams' they can identify with are in them. There are a lot of real good bubble teams this season in the Big Four. Maine is having and up and down year and is tied for fourth in Hockey East.  Wisconsin is struggling, and they are middle of the pack in the WCHA. 




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