Changes aplenty in NCAA hockey for 2013-14

By DJ Powers
Riley Barber - Miami University

Photo: Washington Capitals prospect Riley Barber and his Miami University teammates will play in the newly-formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013-14 (courtesy of Tim G. Zechar / Icon SMI)

 

The NCAA college hockey landscape, as we knew it six months ago, will look vastly different this season with two new conferences making their debuts and the demise of a storied one.

The CCHA ceased operations after 42 years. The 11 member schools that made up the conference scattered into four conferences, including the newly formed Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).

The Big Ten is comprised of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the former CCHA, Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA, and Penn State, who played their Division I inaugural season as an independent last year.

The NCHC is made up of former CCHA members Miami and Western Michigan, along with former WCHA members Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State.

Notre Dame, who was also a part of the CCHA last season, has moved to Hockey East.

The remaining members of the former CCHA and last season’s WCHA – Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato and Northern Michigan, along with former independent Alabama-Huntsville, make up the revamped WCHA this season.

Hockey’s Future recently spoke with four former CCHA head coaches -  Red Berenson (Michigan), Bob Daniels (Ferris State), Jeff Jackson (Notre Dame) and Andy Murray (Western Michigan). Although all of them are extremely excited and very much looking forward to playing in their respective new conferences, they also shared some of their memories of having played in the CCHA.

“It was just disappointing the way the CCHA fell apart,” said Berenson. “It was there a long time and there were a lot of good players that came through it.”

“I was really disappointed that we were going to say goodbye to the CCHA just because of the history, the teams and the rivalries that we had built up,” added Daniels.

“The CCHA was a great conference and there are a lot of memories having played in it,” said Jackson.

“The CCHA was a tremendous league and we’ve never had an easy game in that league,” said Murray. “We’re coming from a great league and moving into another one.”

The only conferences to remain intact for 2013-14 are Atlantic Hockey and the ECAC.

Tweaking the tournament selection process

In addition to realignment, another significant change this season is to the selection process into the NCAA Tournament.

Known as the Pairwise Rankings (PWR), it determines the seedings as well as the selections of the at-large berths into the NCAA Tournament.

Prior to this season, the PWR was based on two statistical computations – the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and Teams Under Consideration, or “TUC”, criterion. The RPI is based on three factors: the team’s winning percentage, the average winning percentage of each of their opponents, and the average winning percentage of their opponents’ opponents. Teams with an RPI of .500 or higher are known as TUC. Records versus TUC, which is part of its criterion, impacted how at-large berths were determined when calculated into each team’s PWR.

This season’s changes are to home-road “weighting” when calculating each team’s RPI as well as adding a bonus to “quality wins”. The Quality Wins Bonus or “QWB” awards points for wins over opponents whose PWR ranking is in the top 20. The QWB was actually first used from 2003-07. But this season it will be slightly different in that it will be against top 20 teams and used on a sliding scale. Another change will be the elimination of the TUC criterion. While all of this won’t affect the seedings, it will have an impact on how the at-large berths are selected.

The teams that look to benefit most from these changes are the smaller schools that play the majority of their non-conference games on the road. And in some cases, these are games against teams that have consistently ranked in the top 20. But with the main determining factors now being the RPI (which includes the QWB), records versus common opponents, and records in head-to-head matchups as well as more emphasis on road wins, the changes will benefit all teams.

NHL well represented in NCAA this season

The NCAA will feature 201 NHL prospects, representing all 30 NHL teams and 40 of the 59 member schools in all six conferences.

Among NHL teams, the Florida Panthers and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have the most prospects represented with 14 apiece.

The NCHC conference has the most prospects with 54, followed by Hockey East with 53, and the Big Ten with 50. All of the member schools in these conferences have at least one NHL prospect on their respective rosters this season.

North Dakota leads all NCAA teams with 15 prospects, followed by Minnesota with 14, and Michigan with 12.

Hello, my name is…

This season also marks the debut of seven new head coaches.

The most notable is David Quinn, who succeeds legendary head coach Jack Parker at Boston University. Parker announced his retirement back in March after 40 years of guiding the Terriers. Quinn played for Parker from 1984-88 and served as his assistant coach, and later associate head coach, from 2004-09. Quinn’s hiring didn’t really come as a surprise to those who have followed the program, as many believed that he was being primed to one day succeed his former coach and boss.

“It’s really exciting and humbling to be named Jack’s successor, obviously with going to school there and having coached with him,” said Quinn. “Jack has been such a big part of my life for a long time. And to be able to be the (new) head coach at BU makes me appreciate how lucky I am.”

Quinn isn’t the only new Hockey East head coach this season. The other is Dennis “Red” Gendron, who succeeds Tim Whitehead at the University of Maine. This is actually Gendron’s second stint with Maine. He served as an assistant coach to legendary Black Bears head coach, the late Shawn Walsh from 1991-1993. Prior to arriving in Orono this season, Gendron served as an associate head coach at Yale for two years, helping to guide the Bulldogs to their first National Championship last season. Gendron is widely considered as one of the best educators of the game, and his expertise and wisdom will greatly benefit Maine moving forward.

“When I was (first) here, it was at a rather special time,” said Gendron. “A lot of the wonderful things that have happened to myself and my family after I left in 1993 would not have been possible without my time here. I feel as though I owe this program and the community an awful lot. So, I’m delighted to be back in Orono.”

Over in Atlantic Hockey, The University of Connecticut named Mike Cavanaugh as their new head coach in May. Cavanaugh succeeds interim head coach David Berard, who took over for longtime head coach Bruce Marshall in January. Cavanaugh served on Jerry York’s staff at Boston College for 18 years before arriving in Storrs. He is among the best recruiters in college hockey and his ability to bring in top-level talent will be a huge boost to the UConn program, especially when the team moves to Hockey East in the fall of 2014.

“I knew that there was going to be a transition period, but everybody here at UConn have been very supportive and helpful in making it smoother for me” said Cavanaugh. “With all the talk about our team moving to Hockey East next season, our primary focus right now is to compete for and win an Atlantic Hockey title.”

What was perhaps the most stunning coaching change this past offseason took place at the University of Denver when head coach George Gwozdecky was dismissed last spring. Gwozdecky, who has since been named an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, was at the helm for 19 seasons. Gwozdecky’s successor is former Maine standout and NHL player Jim Montgomery. Montgomery comes to Denver after three successful years with the Dubuque Fighting Saints that included the USHL’s Clark Cup championship last season and in 2011.

Another surprising coaching change took place at Ohio State when head coach Mark Osiecki was let go last April. Osiecki was at the helm for the Buckeyes for three seasons. Ohio State didn’t have to go far to find Osiecki’s successor, however. Steve Rohlik, who served as Osiecki’s assistant coach for the last three years, was promoted to head coach.

When the revamped WCHA opens their season, there will be two new head coaches in Mike Corbett and Matt Thomas.

Corbett becomes the third head coach in as many years at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, succeeding Kurt Kleinendorst, who left after one season. Prior to joining the Chargers program, Corbett spent 10 seasons at the Air Force Academy as an assistant, then associate head coach. The area where Corbett’s hire will tremendously benefit Alabama-Huntsville is their defense. Corbett was the architect of the Falcons excellent defensive corps that has ranked among the best in the nation in recent years.

“With everything that has happened with the program in the last two or three years, I can honestly say that we’ll be sort of starting out from square one,” said Corbett. “My predecessors did a great job of doing everything they could and what was needed to keep the program going and keeping the kids excited about playing. So that’s what I’d like to build on.”

Thomas succeeds Dave Shyiak at Alaska-Anchorage. Shyiak was released last spring after eight losing seasons. Thomas, who played his college hockey at RIT, comes to Anchorage after successfully leading the Stockton Thunder to an appearance in the Kelly Cup Final this past spring. In all, Thomas spent four-and-a-half years as the Thunder’s bench boss and leaves Stockton as one of the most successful coaches in ECHL history.

“I think what my time in Stockton did for me was really create some momentum for me in my career and helped prepare me for this job,” said Thomas. “I had a strong desire to return to the college hockey game and I’m very glad that it has worked out for me here in Anchorage.”

Outdoor contests and challenge tournaments among this season’s must-see events

Four outdoor contests and two new Challenge tournaments highlight some of the must-see events this season.

The weekends of Oct. 18th and 25th will feature the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge. 11 of the combined 17 member schools will be participating in this event. All Big Ten schools except Ohio State will take part. Six Hockey East schools – Boston College, Boston University, UMass, UMass-Lowell, New Hampshire and Vermont will also be taking part in the event. The games will be played at the various teams’ arenas except the Oct. 26th game between Penn State and Vermont, which takes place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the site of the 2014 Frozen Four. At the conclusion of the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge, a Challenge Cup will be awarded to the winning conference.

The other Challenge tournament is the North Star Challenge Cup, which takes place at the Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 24th and 25th. Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato will face-off in one game, and St. Cloud State and Minnesota will face-off in the other game. Bemidji State, which is also part of this event, will not be participating this year, as one team will sit out on an annual rotating basis.

Among the outdoor events, intrastate rivals Niagara and RIT kick things off in the Frozen Frontier on Dec. 14th at Frontier Field, home to the Minnesota Twins’ AAA affiliate Rochester Red Wings.

The granddaddy of all NCAA holiday tournaments, the 49th annual Great Lakes Invitational (GLI), moves outdoors to Comerica Park on Dec. 27th and 28th. This year’s GLI features tri-hosts Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech, as well as invite Western Michigan. It will also be a part of the Winter Classic festivities that concludes with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings facing off at Michigan Stadium (aka “the Big House”) on New Year’s Day.

The Citi Frozen Fenway event gets underway at Fenway Park on December 28th with Atlantic Hockey foes Bentley and Holy Cross kicking things off. The event continues on Jan 4th and 14th, with eight of Hockey East’s 11-member schools participating. The first Saturday features Merrimack and Providence College in the early game, followed by Notre Dame and Boston College in the late game. The second Saturday will feature UMass-Lowell and Northeastern facing off in the early game, followed by Maine and Boston University in the late game.

The following Friday, on Jan. 17th, Big Ten rivals Ohio State and host Minnesota will face-off in the 2nd annual Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium, home to the Golden Gophers' football team.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF