Friday, December 7, 2012

Gainer's Hockey Withdrawal

I've officially gone from mellow to upset to whatever about the ongoing NHL lockout that is consuming my favorite sport.  I desperately wish I could bring you fascinating news about how many games the Columbus Blue Jackets are losing.  Unfortunately Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, the owners, and the players all suck huge donkey balls.  So without going on a rant about that, I'm going to bring you other Ohio hockey news in teams you probably didn't know existed.

Let's kick it off with...

Ohio State Buckeyes 

Featuring a men's and women's squad, the Buckeyes are very  competitive each year.  Currently the men's team is 7-4-3 overall and 6-2-2 in the CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Association).  If you are unfamiliar with NCAA hockey, it is not broken down by your typical conferences such as the Big Ten, SEC, Big East, Pac 12, etc.  This year there are 57 teams in five conferences and two independent programs.  21 of the schools are normally Division II/III schools but "play up" to Division I competition.  The conferences are as follows:
  • Atlantic Hockey
  • Central Collegiate Hockey Association
  • ECAC Hockey
  • Hockey East
  • Western Collegiate Hockey Association
The two independents are Penn State who just started hockey this year and Alabama-Huntsville who is a good program but stuck in the football-loving south and continually battle getting shut down on a yearly basis.  Ohio State plays in the CCHA along with fellow Big Tenners Michigan and Michigan State as well as Ohio programs Miami and Bowling Green.  They are currently tied for second in the conference.  The conference championship is played throughout the month of March as typical NCAA hockey games play back-to-back Friday/Saturday so games are only played on weekends.  The winner gets an automatic bid to the field of 16 in the NCAA Tournament starting the final weekend of March.  The five conference champions get automatic bids and there are 11 at large bids.  Similar to its basketball counterpart, the Frozen Four is the marquee event of the year with the final four teams playing for the national championship as well as announcing the Hobey Baker Award for the year's top player.  The Frozen Four is played in April and in 2013 will be played at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh (home of the Penguins).  The games are typically televised on the ESPN network and feature EA Sports and former NHL on ESPN Commentator Gary Thorne who is great!  ESPNU televises the selection show in late March and while not as controversial or popular as basketball, it's all great fun.

The most popular poll in men's ice hockey is the poll featuring the top 20.  Currently the Buckeyes are on the outside looking at #21 based on the fact they are the team with the most votes outside the top 20!

The women's squad is 12-5-1 and 9-4-1 in the WCHA (Western College Hockey Association).  They are currently second in the conference only behind last year's NCAA Champion Minnesota.  However, there are only 34 total women's programs made up of four conferences and one independent school.  Conference champions are not automatic qualifiers to the elite eight championship tournament as all bids are at large.  The Women's Frozen Four will be played in Minneapolis in 2013.  The same poll is used to rank women's teams but they only rank 10 total.  OSU is currently sitting at #11, again, thanks to the most votes outside the top ten.  

Here are some famous Buckeyes to play professional hockey:
  • Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks and is considered one of the best two way forwards in the NHL.
  • Dave Steckel of the New Jersey Devils is best known for his hit on Sid Crosby in the 2011 Winter Classic.
  • RJ Umberger of our Columbus Blue Jackets and our alternate captain.
Starting in 2013-14, the Big Ten will officially add men's ice hockey to its sports and the conference will sport six squads including Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and newly formed Penn State.  On the women's side, there are four schools sponsoring hockey and could get Big Ten status if they gain 2 more programs.  Over the next decade, look for more Big 10 schools to add ice hockey.  The winner of the Big Ten tournament, to be held at the Xcel Energy Center in two years (Home of the Wild) will get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  The current CCHA will be disbanded.  That leads into the next program...

Miami Redhawks

Miami ice hockey has been quite the power house over the past few seasons having made the NCAA tournament 6 of the past 7 seasons including their first Frozen Four appearance in 2009 (where they lost the championship in an OT heartbreaker to Boston Univ).  Currently they are 9-2-3 overall and 6-2-2 in the CCHA. That is good for first place in the division and they are also ranked #3 in the polls.  Look for this team to do some damage come late March.

Since the CCHA will be disbanding and Miami not being Big Ten, the team will join the newly forming NCHC (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) with 7 other programs.  The winner of that conference will also get an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament.  

Notable Miami players in the NHL:
  • Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks - a defenseman who wears an "A" for the Sharks was apart of the Lightning Stanley Cup winning team in 2004.
  • Ryan Jones of the Edmonton Oilers - He is most known for his garbage style of play and only career hat trick against the Blue Jackets last December.
  • Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings - a young, promising defenseman for Stanley Cup champs
  • Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils - another defenseman, has been a consistent piece of their 6 man rotation having spent his entire career with the Devils

Bowling Green Falcons

This team has fallen on some hard times having finished near the bottom of the CCHA the past several seasons.  Once one of the top notch programs in NCAA hockey, BGSU is looking to gain traction once again in the national spotlight.  Again they are currently dead last in the conference at 1-6-2 and overall 2-9-3.  Realignment also struck BGSU as they will be joining the WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) starting in 2013.

Notable Falcons in the NHL:
  • Kevin Bieska of the Canucks- defenseman who dropped 44 points this past season
  • Rob Blake (retired) - a member of the Triple Gold Club having won the Olympic Gold (2002), World Championship and Stanley Cup (2001) with the Avalanche.  Won Norris Trophy as top defender in 1998.
  • Dan Byslma - current head coach of my Pittsburgh Penguins, holla!
  • Todd Reirden - assistant coach of my Pittsburgh Penguins, holla!
  • George McPhee- a Hobey Baker award winner and current GM of the Washington Crapitals
  • Mark Wells and Ken Morrow - members of the 1980 US Hockey team that won Gold.  Morrow was apart of the 4 in a row Stanley Cup winning NY Islanders squads as well.
  • Mike "Doc" Emrick - NHL on NBC play-by-play announcer a.k.a. all-round stud

Cincinnati Cyclones

This team is apart of the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League) or for you idiots out there, a double A hockey team (baseball reference).  They are affiliated with both the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators franchises.  Since finally gaining financial backing in 2006, the Cyclones have had plenty of success with ECHL Kelly Cup Championships in 2008 and 2010.  

Currently they are ranked 1st in the North Division of the Eastern Conference with 28 points and 3rd overall in the East.  

Lake Erie Monsters

This team is located right here in Cleveland and plays at the Q.  They are the AHL (American Hockey League or Triple A) farm club of the Colorado Avalanche.  I attended a game earlier this season and it was a great time even though they lost in OT to the Grand Rapids Griffins (from the state up north). 

Currently they are second in the North Division of the Western Conference and the 4th seed in the West.  They began play back in 2007 and are named after Bessie, a creature of Lake Erie folklore.

There you have it folks!

I just covered all the ice hockey that matters here in the great state of Ohio.  I'll recap them as frequently as I can throughout the season but the focus will be towards the end of February and early March as the collegiate teams prepare for their conference tournaments and the pro teams hit crunch time during their playoff runs.

In the meantime, if the NHL does start up again, I will definitely be all over the Blue Jackets.  Fingers crossed!