I wouldn't worry about a bunch of people trapped in a narrative echo chamber of they weren't so bad for the sport. Burn it all down.
I've been patient.
My credentials as a certified college hockey fan are long. I have spent seasons seeing virtually every game Michigan has played. I have traveled to college hockey games in seven states, in venues as diverse as Omaha, Marquette, Minneapolis, Madison, and even Dayton. I come from one college hockey town (Ann Arbor) and I live in another (Duluth). I have attended two Frozen Fours and many NCAA regional games. I have written loving reports on great moments in the sport's history. So know I do not say this lightly:
I have a hard time calling myself a college hockey fan right now.
Yes, this is prompted by the recent, absolutely disgusting snub of Kyle Connor from the award. Jimmy Vesey is a nice player, but the Hobey Baker has allegedly never been a career award. Awarding it to Vesey this season on the strength of 46 points and 1.39 ppg over a player who scored 71 points and half a point more per game cannot be anything other than a career achievement award or a consolation for losing to another freshman who scored exactly the same number of points last year.
But it is far more than that.
College Hockey, as an institution, seems dead-set on destroying itself. And it does so with the eager approval of much of its groupthink intelligensia that exists east of Pennsylvania.
Let's consider, for example, the unjust and completely disastrous NCAA Tournament Regional system. Much effort has been wasted discussing it, including not inconsiderable amounts of my recreational time, because there is nothing quite so idiotic as broadcasting games on television that are alleged to be the most important of the season and seeing thousands upon thousands of empty seats on ESPN.
I used the word "unjust" advisedly, because the reason the regional system persists as it does is that it actually well serves two important constituents: Small, low-money schools, which predominantly exist in the East; and larger, bigger-money schools that are also in the East.
It serves the small schools well because an empty arena is an easier place to pull an upset, especially against a #1 seed that had to fly hundreds of miles because the closer arena happens to be reserved for the hosting team. And it serves the larger Eastern schools well because most of them are clustered in such close proximity that they have not one but two regionals that they may attend in easy driving distance.
Seriously. Since the four-regional system was introduced in 2003, all "Eastern" regionals save one (there are two per year; the sole exception is Rochester in 2007) have been located within in a quadrilateral encompassed by Albany, Bridgeport, Providence, and Manchester. (The favorite regional location, Worcester, is right in the middle of that space). The longest driving distance between those cities is 2.5 hours, between Manchester and Bridgeport; all other distances are shorter.
The result is that a team like Boston College almost never has to travel far for the NCAA tournament. In fact, since the four-regional system debuted, BC has attended a regional within an hour's drive of Boston in every season except two: 2011, when they had to travel to St. Louis, and 2009, when they did not make the tournament.
In contrast, teams like Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech can NEVER hope for a Regional closer than 2.5 hours away and if they make the tournament almost invariably have to travel much further. The Colorado teams only have a hope of a close regional in those rare instances one is placed in Colorado, and a team like Minnesota State can have a dream season ruined by a "luck of the draw" regional where the only available "Western" Regional is in South Bend, 8 hours away. And in this context regionals have been awarded to places like St. Louis and Cincinnatti, cities with zero college hockey support.
Plenty of better alternatives have been proposed. I've proposed them. Others have proposed them. The reason they have not been taken can no longer be attributed to "neutrality" or "let's see how this works." The reason is that the people making the choices don't care about the teams and the fans that aren't near the Eastern Regionals.
But the Frozen Four is great, right?
I dunno. Plenty of tickets are available for the Frozen Four in Tampa, which is hosting its second FF in four years. Other college hockey non-hotbed destinations include cities like Washington DC, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Since the turn of the century, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, and Detroit (the three locii of regional college hockey, flagships of states that have most of the best teams and fanbases) have been granted five Frozen Fours total. It has been a couple of years since the FF has even sold out ahead of time; if they cared about casual fan interest, they might hold the event in places where fans actually cared.
There is a serious fanbase for the sport out "west." Despite the indignity of distant regionals, fanbases like North Dakota and Michigan regularly send thousands of people on drives of three hours or longer to watch their teams play. Michigan Tech sends large groups of fans 8 hours downstate for a holiday tournament. Places like Duluth build fancy new arenas and give their teams the star treatment.
Yet, it is harder for these fans to engage with the way the sport is structured. Right when a dedicated fan of the sport should be getting most engaged, the games are taken away from them.
Burn It All Down
I could engage in serious western suspicion of "Eastern Bias." It's getting harder, in the wake of decisions like today's, to overlook it. But Occam's Razor suggests that the conclusions I should draw as a frustrated fan are less sinister, but more discouraging: A lot of people making decisions about college hockey honestly don't care. They don't care about the product, they don't care about the teams, and they don't care about the fans.
The truly dreadful thing about this is that even corrupt leagues like the OHL seem to be better run and more authentic. They even took strong steps in a situation like what happened in Flint, leadership that does not exist in college hockey. And it sickens me to say it.
I'm never going to stop rooting for Michigan Hockey. And I'll probably continue to follow what goes on nationwide.
But I care less about the sport as a whole than I used to. And as long as the sport continues to wreck itself, many will feel the same way.
Do stupid stuff. Ruin the NCAA tournament. Choke out the Frozen Four. Let small schools with decent fans struggle and die. It's not worth my effort to pay attention. It's tempting to just say, "let it burn."
It's hard to care anymore.
I started photographing Michigan sports in Spring of 2012. I had just finished my Sophomore year of Undergrad in engineering and wanted to do something with my photography skills, so I joined the Michigan Daily. The 2011-2012 season was Michigan's 22nd consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Photographing this 2012-2013 team was obviously a very special opportunity for me and one that I was excited about.
But apparently I was a curse that led to a three year NCAA tournament drought. Or at least many have told me this. Sorry, guys.
But this weekend the curse was broken as Michigan played in the NCAA Tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Since most Michigan could not make the trip, I wanted to make a Diary that gives a feel for what the atmosphere was like. Away games/environements have always intrigued me. Unfortunately I chose the last game of the year to start one but better late than never, right?
The Notre Dame game was a fun preview of the years to come. Fans of both teams travelled well. When teams took the ice, it was a battle of the bands with the fight songs. "Let's Go Irish" chants were drowned out by "Let's Go Blue" chants, and vice versa.
Not every Michigan player dressed, but they did all travel. As a fan, it's tough watching your team go into overtime because there's really not much you can do. As a player though, it must be much worse. They looked far more nervous than any fan (as seen above).
Unlike the Big Ten Tournament, plenty of Michigan fans showed up to cheer on the team. This was to be expected, as Ann Arbor to Cincy is about 4 hours, versus 12 hours to St. Paul. The stadium still wasn't full and the upper deck was tarped off, but there were certainly enough there to create a decent atmosphere.
The hockey bands really gave the college sports atmosphere. The arena still played RAWK MUSIK (actually it was a lot of hip-hop mash-ups that they probably pulled from a YouTube playlist), but hearing Notre Dame and Michigan's fight songs back-to-back was a refreshing sound. Even the Northeastern band traveled quite well (as did their fans, though to a lesser extent than all the other teams).
Speaking of Northeastern, they were thoroughly handled by North Dakota. Despite scoring the first goal, they found themselves down 5-1 in the 2nd period to UND. The above photo pretty much sums up the game.
Steve Racine played lights out all weekend. This save above was a wrap-around by Notre Dame in overtime that was saved by the blade of Racine's skate.
Moments later, Michigan scored, players celebrated, and Notre Dame fans went home looking sad.
The next day, North Dakota fans arrived with strong energy. Though they are now officially the "Fighting Hawks", "Let's Go Sioux" chants echoed all game long.
Also in attendance: Michigan AD Warde Manuel. I don't think he changed facial expressions once all game.
Sioux Fighting Hawks had some supporters from Ohio, too, celebrating in front of some Miami (Oh) and OSU fans. Something tells me they were cheering more for not-Michigan rather than North Dakota.
"Fighting Hawks" doesn't appear to be catching on any time soon.
If you're looking for a moral victory, after the North Dakota player scored he got taken out by the ref. So there's that.
It took until the 3rd period for North Dakota to take a 4-2 lead in this game. They dominated most of the pace and you couldn't help but feel that it was only a matter of time until they went ahead. In the first period, shots were 22-5 in favor of North Dakota. The players received a lot of support as they left the ice, Racine especially.
Red Berenson gave no mention of retirement at his press conference. He did applauded the efforts of his seniors, and praised the efforts of North Dakota. Could this have been his last post-game press conference?
If you were unable to attend the tournament in Cincinnati, I hope this has helped give you a feel for what it was like! A thrilling overtime win over Notre Dame and 2.5 periods against one of the best teams in the country made for an exciting weekend of hockey. (This is also my first Diary post so go easy on me!) I'd like to make more of these when I travel to away games in the future.
See you in the Fall!
BIG TEN CHAMPS [Patrick Barron]
I thought Michigan's offense was very lively tonight. They played another skilled team and had the better scoring opportunities. The game went through stretched of carrying play for both teams, but it seemed that Michigan was able to consistently get deeper and closer to the slot for their chances. Shots on Target ended close to even, but I think Schierhorn stopped a few more difficult opportunities.
This was definitely a game for the CCM line, most of the damage coming on the Power Play. However, the game-tying goal in the early third was something to behold. Compher has just been a wizard with the puck the entire season. With a guy in his sweater, he had a cross-ice pass to an open Connor who just ole'd Schierhorn (who probably played the situation correctly) from inside the dot and beat the charging defenseman to the post, sneaking the puck in the open net. Adam will have fun with that one. It was the Hobey cherry on top of his Hobey sundae season. He has 35 goals and 34 assists. He is NOT JUST A SHOOTER. Connor now has an nine point lead on the second place point-getting...his center, JT Compher, who has a six point lead on their linemate, Tyler Motte. Compher also leads the nation with 46 assists, 8 more than 2nd place. Connor and Motte are first and second in goals with 35 and 31, respectively. Michigan has NINE players with double digit goals; nine players with 20 or more points; and six skaters with 30 or more. I don't know what else to say about this offense.
Another terrific game defensively for the Wolverines. Again, they allowed 33 shots to get to Racine, but -just like yesterday- most of them came from a distance and away from the dangerous areas near and in front of the net. Minnesota does have quality players and did generate a few nice scoring chances, but Michigan limited them -for the most part- to what Racine was able to see and stop. Also, Piazza looked just fine playing for a suspended Downing. Compher talked about the first goal in the intermission, saying that it was on a forward not locking up the trailing Bristedt (who notched his 20th of the season...no slouch there). The defensemen seemed to have dramitically improved in the second half of the season (minus the OSU series), looking more comfortable on the puck, riding attackers away from the net, and staying sound defensive position. I'm starting to believe that this level of defense can take them far.
Goodnight Minnesota [Patrick Barron]
Michigan top Power Play line is just bonkers. The entire Power Play is nuts. They were 14 of 25 in the last five games entering the B10CG. And went 3 for 4. 17 of 29, 59% in last six games, now. The top line gets all three goals, tonight, as Motte, Compher, and Werenski all score...Werenski with the winner late in the 3rd. Its really not even just the goals. There were multiple opportunities where the puck could have easily gone in before it actually did. The puck movement and passing is just incredible. Each player knows where to be and seems to be in slow motion as the pass always seems to go to the open player...the entire point of a power play. You honestly just cannot take penalties against this team.
Michigan did a fantastic job staying out of the box, tonight, conceding only one man advantage. Unfortunately, they were unable to get the kill. Minnesota kept the puck in the zone the entire time and eventually Compher lost his stick. The puck soon found its way to an open shooter on JT's side and Racine really didn't have much of a chance. You don't like to give up Man Advantage goals, but if you're only in the box once, I can live with that.
Steve Racine was fantastic, tonight. And actually, he has been for a while. He's been criticized for a few clunky goals allowed -and he's had a few- but he's also saved the day on more occasions than are credited to him. Again, the defense was sound for the most part, keeping the majority of shots away from the dangerous areas, but Racine was up to most of the ones that leaked through...including flashing the glove and stoning Tyler Sheehy midway through the third to keep the game tied. He also had a ridiculous kick save off a deflection a few minutes later.
You can probably place a little blame on him for the second goal. While it does appear that there was some contact to his pad/skate, he looked a little gumpy and slow trying to get back across the crease to defend the wraparound. I don't think it was entirely on him, but that was definitely very awkward. It also might have been Martin that hit him, making the entire sequence rather unlucky. Other than that, he was very strong to start and end the game
BONUS: ODD MAN RUSHES
I only had two. There were a couple I was close to tallying but decided against it. The first was late in the opening period, a 3v2 with De Jong and Piazza back. Nothing of note came of it. The second was a little dicier. A neutral zone turnover lead to a 2v1 that Martin made a perfectly time dive to smother the pass and take the puck to the corner. This is very good. I will keep taking this.
This happened a lot (Patrick Barron)
The 2016 Hobey Baker Finalists were announced today, and not surprisingly, all three of Tyler Motte, Kyler Connor, and JT Compher were selected.
This is the first time all members of a complete line have all been named finalists, is only the third time ever that three members of the same time have been selected as finalists (it has been awarded 36 times), and is the first time since 2000 that it has happened (Boston College).
Michigan was the first team to achieve this feat. In 1994 David Oliver, Steve Shields, and Brian Wiseman were all chosen.
The Hobey Hat Trick (final three) will be selected later in March, and the winner is chosen in early April.