Notebook Frozen Four: Could the tournament expand to 32 teams?
BOSTON – It’s championship day here in Boston and as Denver and Minnesota State prepare to battle it out, I wanted to dive into the future of college hockey in the United States.
A State of the Union press conference was held yesterday, with several conference commissioners and senior executives taking questions on a variety of topics. The most interesting for me concerns the expansion of the NCAA.
Right now we are seeing a big move in this area, with Long Island University and St. Thomas already in the mix, soon to be joined by Lindenwood (near St. Louis), Augustana in South Dakota and Stonehill College right here in Massachusetts.
“It’s huge,” said Mike Kemp, chairman of the men’s ice hockey committee and AD executive partner at Nebraska-Omaha. “Today we have more people playing the game at a younger age and creating more opportunities for young people to advance, grow and play at the highest level is very essential for growth and development. of the game. As a sport, we had to support the programs that emerge.
Kemp is uniquely skilled on the subject, having served as Nebraska-Omaha’s first-ever coach in 1996. Because he can understand what it takes to start a program, Kemp’s Mavericks made sure to schedule non-conference games against newbies such as Arizona State and Long Island in recent years.
The Sun Devils, who will be moving into an all-new arena next season (where the NHL’s Coyotes are expected to falter for a while), are a perfect example of what the game needs to keep growing: a flagship program in a ‘non-traditional’ market. Mike Snee is the executive director of College Hockey Inc., a group that promotes NCAA hockey and often makes cold calls to universities to see if they would be interested in adding the hockey at their school. He sees the bigger picture at Arizona State.
“They’re creating another inspirational team to inspire more five- and six-year-olds to choose our sport,” Snee said. “We’ve all seen the expansion of hockey in this country, from USA Hockey to the NHL – and hopefully we’ll come to a point where we don’t use the term ‘traditional market’ anymore; these are all markets of hockey. You may not have 100 NHL teams, but you can have 100 college hockey teams. That’s the goal, leveraging collegiate hockey in a country where collegiate athleticism matters so much. »
Both the NHL and the NHLPA play an important role here, as both entities pay for feasibility studies for any school wishing to add D1 hockey. Lindenwood, backed by the St. Louis Blues, is an example, as is the University of Illinois, which has yet to commit to hockey but came on the radar in 2017 when the Blackhawks of Chicago hosted the draft and held a press conference for the school. The Nashville Predators have also backed Tennessee State’s interest and ongoing feasibility study and the Tigers are intriguing because this program would be the first HBCU (historically a black college or university) in D1 hockey. .
“It’s exciting to see how much expansion we’ve seen and also how many other schools are considering it,” Snee said. “It starts with the support we get from the NHL and the NHLPA.”
One thing I’ve been thinking about for a long time now is when we’ll see more big-name West Coast schools join the mix. With the success of hockey in California and expansion NHL teams in Vegas and Seattle, the region looks ripe for a potential Pac-12 conference – of which Arizona State is currently the only program.
“As far as I know, nothing is being considered at this time in any of the West Coast states,” Snee said. “Our goal of shooting for the moon here is 25 years from now, Oregon and Washington face off with the Pac-12 title on the line.”
If college hockey continues to grow in the years to come, it’s worth wondering if the Frozen Four will grow as well. While 16 teams is fine, it’s a really tough tournament and some people in the industry think it’s too tough in a sport used to play in the post-season playoffs. An agent even told me about a Memorial Cup style format with a round robin at the end.
It occurred to me the other day that if it was college basketball, you would basically start at the Sweet Sixteen, but without upheavals – a very difficult path even for favorites. Now, this year, the cream has indeed risen to the top as Denver and Minnesota State were the top seeds – but that’s not always the case.
Right now we have over 60 men’s D1 programs, so how many would it take to expand the tournament to 32 teams?
“Boy, not having a calculator on me, I don’t know if I can do the math,” Kemp said with a laugh. “There would definitely have to be a lot more growth before I go from 16. I remember coaching when it was eight. We’re quite happy with 16, but we would definitely like to see him develop .”
Personally? I will say that 85 programs would be the minimum number to consider to go to 32 teams.
Conference internships are essential for many new programs and realignments can be a controversial topic. Hockey East commissioner Steve Metcalf laughed when he recalled an executive meeting with some downtime.
“A few years ago at the Frozen Four, we were spitting out what the college landscape might look like and redesigning the map just for fun,” he said. “We left the paper on a table and then panicked, saying someone should get that paper real quick.”
The Hobey Baker was awarded to Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay last night, giving the all-time shutout king his first Hobey in three tries. McKay, famously short by professional standards, certainly didn’t have an easy road to where he is today, but adversity builds character, doesn’t it? Here’s a kid who went to Corpus Christi, Texas to play in the NAHL and then played for bad Madison Capitols teams in the USHL.
“It definitely toughened me up,” McKay said. “I realized that if I wanted to go anywhere in the game I had to earn it. Especially as an undersized guy I had to learn to be consistent, that was the most important thing. In those teams , I was lucky enough to just play We might not have the best teams, but that probably helped – I was exposed to a lot of different situations and played against a lot of good players. wouldn’t have been successful in college if it wasn’t for those years.”
As for Hobey’s win, it’s fair to say that McKay recognizes the weight of honor.
“You kinda faint when you hear your name and all of a sudden you’re up there giving a speech,” he said. “I’m super honored and it’s very humbling.”
Now his team has the chance to bring Minnesota State its first national hockey title.
“We still have some history to write with the Mavericks,” he said.