Due to an illness in the family I'll be leaving town for a couple of days and I wanted to unload some thoughts before I do so. Have no fear, Dean and I have WHL and OHL playoff previews already in the can which will hit your screens later today and tomorrow. Plus our pal Nathan White might have a QMJHL preview for us as well so there won't be any shortage of stuff to check out here at Coming Down the Pipe while I'm away.
But here's a handful of items that have caught my attention lately starting with a look back at the trade deadline day swap between Phoenix and Colorado...
When the Coyotes picked up Wojtek Wolski for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter, most people declared the Desert Dogs to have won the deal based on the production of Wolski and the dramatic drop for Mueller. I've insisted all year that Mueller's problem was that he was just a square peg to Dave Tippet's round hole and that if a team could pry him out of Phoenix, they'd be pretty happy.
A quick look at how the trade stacks up now, a little over 10 days later:
Wolski: 6GP 2-4-6Pts +3
Mueller: 7GP 4-7-11Pts +4
Porter: 3GO 0-0-0Pts -2
Not only has Mueller almost twice as many points as Wolski but the former Everett Silvertip has scored in every game since joining the Aves - a 7-game scoring streak that includes a 3-point performance last night against St. Louis. It's a very small sample size but considering Mueller has picked up a little more than a third of his 28 points in just the last ten days, I'd say I was right to believe he just needed a change of scenery to find his form again.
- A request/question for the stats wizards out there: Is there a "points/ice time" number out there? And if so, where does Gilbert Brule rank? Just curious.
- Some NCAA watchers are miffed because the CHA conference will have two entries in the year ending 16-team National tournament. Most expect Bemidji State to win the Conference and claim the automatic entry but the sub-.500 Alabama-Huntsville Chargers did it instead. Bemidji State will claim an at-large bid based on their pairwise ranking but having UAH in there means a team with a winning record will miss out.
Dean and I agree that the fact that UAH won their conference means they deserve to play in the National Tournament. You play the regular season to set up the playoffs and you play the playoffs to get to the National Tournament... sort of. We have less of a problem with UAH getting there because they got hot at the right time than a team like Yale making it in based on their regular season record. (Yale lost in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs).
If you only want the top 16-ranked teams to have a chance at the National Title, fine... then scrap the automatic bids and just go with the Pairwise to determine who those 16 clubs will be. Otherwise you're saying the conference playoffs mean less than the regular season and to us, that's bass-ackwards.
- Did you know that Union College and Quinnipiac played the longest NCAA hockey game in history this past weekend? Game 1 of their ECAC series lasted five hours and 57 minutes (150 minutes and 22 seconds going by the game clock) and didn't end until after 1:00AM. The game ended midway through the 5th overtime period when Bobcats forward Greg Holt scored giving Quinnipiac a 3-2 win. Final shots on goal were 75-55 in favor of the home team Union Dutchmen who would bounce back and go on to win the series in 3 games.
- The consensus top netminder in NCAA hockey this year has been Denver's Marc Cheverie. The leading point getter for NCAA defencemen is Brendan Smith from Wisconsin. The overall scoring leader thus far is Gustav Nyquist from the Maine Black Bears. In case you're wondering, that's two Canadians and a Swede.
- I've been reading a lot of articles lately from various sources that are making comparisons between NCAA and CHL development. As Dean and I have painstakingly tried to make clear on our show, we are huge fans of both routes to the NHL. We both agree that Major Junior and NCAA have a their own list of pros and cons and that deciding which is "best" has to be done on an individual basis according to the specific player.
Our friend and frequent Pipeline Show contributor Paula Weston wrote a piece back in early January touching on the reason many players in CCHA territory have opted to detour to the CHL instead. It's an excellent read (SEE HERE) and she does a masterful job of pointing out how geography could easily play a role in the decision making process for the specific players she lists. The reason I single out this article is that I know Paula is a staunch supporter of the NCAA path but in this piece she doesn't (at least to me) come across as biased in order to get across the point she's making in her story. That's terrific.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I was perusing the new College Hockey Inc. website and came across a special feature that was initially published in The Hockey News a few years ago. It's now being used by the pro-NCAA organization. (Here is the link to the feature).
It starts with an example of second generation kids following in their father's footsteps and playing NCAA hockey. It's a nice read. On the 3rd page we're presented with a round table article featuring some heavy hitters like New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello, Atlanta GM Don Waddell, current Harvard head coach Ted Donato and three others. All of them played NCAA hockey and therefore all of them can hardly be expected to be unbiased. It's another terrific read and there are a lot of excellent points brought up in support of the NCAA development model.
I do have a beef with two things that were said though.
The first item that stuck in my throat was this beauty quote attributed to Waddell who in answer to the question "what are the advantages to playing college hockey from a developmental standpoint?" responded by pointing out the weekend games allow for practice time during the week. He then goes on to say that "players that go to college have the opportunity to not only perform on their skills but mature as people." By saying that, is there an insinuation here that players who do not go the college route somehow fail to grow up as human beings?
I look at the number of reported infractions, suspensions and sometimes legal fines being handed out around NCAA hockey programs for alcohol related reasons and wonder just how much more mature those guys are than their CHL counterparts.
Players in both the NCAA and the CHL are involved in community charity work, it's not as though one or the other has a monopoly on the concept of giving back to the communities that they live in.
The other line, also from Waddell, that struck me as silly was his response to a question regarding the NCAA style of having a head coach, two assistants and a volunteer coach. "Colleges have done a tremendous job of providing skilled staffs to the players so that when they get ready for a game, the coaches can spend lots of time going over the power play, penalty kill, forechecking, and defensive systems, etc."
Again, while this statement is true, it's certainly not something that is found only in the NCAA. There are excellent coaches at the college level, no one can deny that. however, a look at the names of coaches across the CHL might startle some people who apparently think CHL coaching somehow ranks lower.
Don Hay (Vancouver), Marc Habscheid (Chilliwack), Kelly Kisio and Dave Lowry (Calgary), Lorne Molleken (Saskatoon), Dave Hanson (Prince Albert), Mike Johnston and Travis Green (Portland), Rocky Thompson (Edmonton), Doug Soetart and Craig Hartsburg (Everett), Mark Lamb (Swift Current), Guy Charron (Kamloops), Rich Preston (Lethbridge)and Curtis Hunt (Regina) are all current or recent coaches in the WHL and ALL of them have experience at the NHL level. That's just one of the three CHL leagues remember.
The fact that the NHL and AHL are looking to the CHL for coaches, Peter DeBoer in Florida for example, should be a sign that coaching is by no means a weakness of the CHL.
In my opinion, the best way for pro-NCAA supporters to promote the college route would be to stop attacking the CHL and start talking about what the positive are of choosing NCAA. The fact that players are playing against 19-23 year old competition instead of 16-20 year olds... the fact you don't have to worry about getting traded... NHL teams can hold your playing rights until you graduate so if you're a late bloomer, you have more time to develop... the electric atmosphere of a passionate (and possibly alcohol fueled) crowd including a students section and the uniqueness of a marching band... the unbelievable training facilities that some programs have for their teams (see North Dakota)...
There is a lot to promote about the NCAA but for me, too often I see college supporters trying to hammer the CHL instead of trumpeting what they have to offer.
- Not sure how I feel about it but I keep hearing rumors that the WHL has plans to head back to Vancouver Island "sooner than people think" and via expansion by two teams. Victoria is an obvious destination but I'm told there isn't another city there that has a facility up to WHL standards (including Nanaimo). A lot of people think the league is watered down now with 22 clubs, how would you feel about a 24-team league?
- It seems to me that the biggest untapped hockey market in North America is California. The WHL reaches as far south as Oregon but does draw players from the Golden State. The NCAA's most Western teams are two States East in Colorado and the USHL is even further away than that. Either the NCAA or one of the junior leagues is eventually going to find a way to put a franchise or two down there or else a new league is going to start up. The game has grown enough there to warrant it.
- Jordan Weal ended the year with 102 points, he's the first 17-year-old to do that in the WHL since Pavel Brendl did it with the Calgary Hitmen back in 1998-99. The Russian went 4th overall in the NHL draft but only appeared in 78 NHL games; he's currently playing in the KHL. I haven't found a scout yet who has told me that he sees Weal going in the 1st round.
- Two guys who can really help their draft day stock even though their teams didn't make the playoffs? Prince George's Brett Connolly and Edmonton's Mark Pysyk. Both should be playing for Canada during the World U18's in Belarus next month after missing time this year with injuries.
- Great story that I don't think was ever reported this year (or at least I didn't see it): The Tri-City Americans allowed Belarus import Sergei Drozd to leave the team during the regular season so that he could play in the World Junior A Challenge in Summerside PEI. GM Bob Tory told us recently that he felt it would help Drozd who, at the time, was feeling homesick. Drozd joined his countrymen for the week-long tournament and then returned to the WHL rejuvenated. I don't know how many GMs would have done that but it's one reason why Tory would get my vote for executive of the year (if I had a vote).
That's it for now, have a fun but safe St. Patrick's Day everyone! It's not Irish but it's funny anyway: