Minnesota Duluth hockey team

NCAA hockey going with new “super conferences” a dangerous route to take

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With college hockey becoming more well known to mainstream sports fans with the proliferation of the Frozen Four and more games appearing on cable TV, many people around the NCAA feel like it’s their time to seize the day. The first shot in this happened when Terry Pegula gave Penn State $80 million to help start the varsity program there that will begin play in 2012.

Penn State joining the varsity ranks helped give rise to the Big Ten Conference in hockey, a group that will pull teams out of both the CCHA and WCHA to form their own little party as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State will team up with Penn State to form their own league.

That drastic move that awaits in a few years meant that the WCHA lost two of their biggest earning and drawing teams and the CCHA essentially lost their lifeline with the two Michigan schools. Everyone else that will be left behind in 2013-2014 when the Big Ten comes to order would be left trying to figure out what in the world they’re going to do. As it turns out, six schools figured things out on their own and will form a “super conference” of their own that will see North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Western Michigan, and Miami University form the Collegiate Hockey Conference that will start in 2013-2014 as well.

Left on the outside looking in are the rest of the teams from the soon-to-be-defunct WCHA and CCHA (St. Cloud, Mankato State, Bemidji State, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Western Michigan, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage; Alabama-Huntsville is already independent) with a future that is uncertain at best. Ryan Lambert from Yahoo’s! Puck Daddy says that the start-up of this new conference along with the Big Ten Conference means that pain is on the way to those who are left behind.

What they’ve essentially done is left other programs for dead. Far be it for me to advocate a welfare system in college hockey, but what the hell, one has existed for years anyway. The NCAA has been giving autobids to shall-we-say undeserving conferences for years, and how much good has it done them? Next to none. Teams and conferences have been folding left and right in the last few years, and no one seems particularly concerned about the state of the sport at the college except for people who want to write weepy eulogies to teams no one cared about at relatively small schools that can’t support the team without the money brought in by bigger teams. Imagine what a weekend’s worth of gate receipts against Minnesota or NoDak means to teams like Michigan Tech.

By creating this new conference, the six teams are ensuring their own insulation from the fallout created by the Big Ten by shoving smaller teams into its path.

On the opposite side of this view, there are those that think by doing things this way that college hockey can become more of a draw for television and that by breaking everyone into this odd sort of caste system will make life better for those who are able to keep up. Minnesota-Duluth radio play-by-play man and former Fanhouse writer Bruce Ciskie makes his case for why this isn’t the death knell for college hockey.

It’s a chance for the schools in Minnesota and upper Michigan to build new rivalries that will excite the fans. It’s a chance for all of them to get into a situation where they are battling peer schools for recruits, as opposed to trying to recruit against North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan.

We could end up not losing programs, giving more teams a real chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and we are setting up a league structure that allows for future expansion if it becomes feasible for someone to add the sport. If this scenario plays out, tell me how this isn’t a good thing for college hockey, a sport that simply needs to find ways to expand.

The possibilities are there for this pan out well and pay off for college hockey, but by creating groups of “haves” and “have nots” which is what this new set up will do is dangerous for a sport that’s both expensive for schools to budget and one without a definitive television presence to help pay the bills. With these conferences all breaking off and doing their own thing, doing so and seemingly having it happen without regard to the schools struggling to stay afloat isn’t wise.

College hockey is the ultimate niche in what’s a niche sport as it is. With the NHL being fourth among the professional sports and college hockey being on very few radars, potentially losing programs to send players to reeks of cutting off the nose to spite the face. You can argue about the merits of the schools that might fail and disappear (Bowling Green and Alabama-Huntsville top the short list) but in a world that sees the number of FBS football programs slowly increasing and the number of D-I college basketball programs on the rise as well, having programs fail and reduce the playing field is brutally unwise.

Perhaps things will work out the way Ciskie sees it and things will work for the betterment of the game and see a rise in the number of programs and a rise in attention for the sport, but with so many things up in the air right now it’s hard to believe that smaller schools can withstand the blow of losing all of their big money conference rivals. Creating a second class in a sport that needs all the help it can get is a dicey proposition. For college hockey fans and supporters, they’ll have to wait to find out who’s right in the end. Here’s to hoping those in charge have their act together and aren’t looking for the neck-saving cash grab.

Flames see a ‘style fit’ with Stone

Michael Stone #26 of the Arizona Coyotes passes the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on February 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames wanted to add depth to their defense, and they didn’t want to wait until the last minute to get it done.

So, after signing Matt Bartkowski last week, they added Michael Stone yesterday in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.

The trade deadline isn’t until next Wednesday.

“We have five games before the deadline, so we tried to get out ahead of it a bit,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said, per the Calgary Herald. “We’re deeper than we were a week ago, so we’re happy with it.”

Stone, a right shot, is expected to skate on the Flames’ second or third pairing with T.J. Brodie or Bartkowski, respectively. He may replace Dennis Wideman, who logged just 13:35 in Saturday’s OT loss at Vancouver.

“T.J. has some tempo to him so that could be a good fit. Whether it’s him or Bartkowski, we feel there’s a style fit,” Treliving said, per Arizona Sports. “We have some left-side guys who can skate and when Stony is at his best he’s playing with a partner who can skate and retrieve pucks so he can stabilize.”

The Flames play tonight in Nashville.

Stamkos resumes skating, but still no date for return

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the New York Rangers during the first period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Pleasant sight for the Bolts this week, as captain Steve Stamkos returned to the ice.

Stamkos, who has been out since undergoing major knee surgery in mid-November, took to the ice ahead of the team skate this morning, per the Times. He did stickhandling, shooting and fired some one-timers with assistant coach Brad Lauer but, according to GM Steve Yzerman, there’s still no set date for Stamkos’ return.

The 27-year-old was initially put on a 4-6 month timetable. If Stamkos’ recovery is closer to the four month estimate, there’s a chance he returns this season. If it’s closer to six, he could be done for the year.

Tampa Bay has struggled without Stamkos in the lineup, going just 16-18-7 since he got hurt. The team has experience a bit of an upswing lately, however, and head into tonight’s action just six points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Julien: ‘My job’ is to make Galchenyuk better

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) The Montreal Canadiens skated hard, battled and worked, and that’s just how new coach Claude Julien wants the practices to be.

Julien finally got to put the Canadiens through a full workout with no distractions on Monday. It was aimed mostly at convincing his struggling team that tighter defense will lead to more scoring chances on attack.

“He wanted it to be 40 minutes of high pace, high intensity, so when it comes to game time it’s second nature,” said defenseman Jeff Petry.

Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien last week, will be seeking his first victory since returning to Montreal when the Canadiens face the Rangers in New York on Tuesday night.

His debut saw the club fall 3-1 at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

He had only one practice with the team before his first game and it was something of a circus, with fans jammed into the viewing areas at the team’s suburban training center and two all-sports TV stations covering the event live.

Another practice Sunday at the Bell Centre was a promotional event in front of 10,000 shrieking kids.

It added to the challenge for Julien to put into effect the changes he hopes will snap the Canadiens out of a 1-6-1 slump in which they have scored only 10 goals, four of them by captain Max Pacioretty and another two from his linemate Alexander Radulov.

Julien wants his team to spend less time in its own zone and more time harrying opposition goaltenders. That starts with getting the puck more quickly on defense and holding onto it longer in the opponent’s end.

“What we want to try to do, and what we did today, is to try to be better defensively for goals against and chances against,” he said. “But more than that, if we’re better defensively we can (get) the puck quickly.

“I want us to play with the puck, not without it. I’m looking for puck possession time. It’s not necessarily about analytics, it’s that if we have the puck more, our chances are much better of winning.”

It’s a formula that worked for most of the 10 seasons Julien spent with the Boston Bruins before he was replaced by Bruce Cassidy two weeks ago.

Boston won a Stanley Cup and reached another final during his time there, although they fell short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

The Canadiens started the season 13-1-1 and maintained a decent record despite a run of injuries through December and January, but they’ve hit a wall of late.

That prompted general manager Marc Bergevin to fire fifth-year coach Therrien and bring in Julien, whose first NHL coaching job was with the Canadiens from 2003 to 2006.

There is much that needs fixing. The Canadiens have got no goals and not even many scoring chances or sustained offensive zone pressure from their second, third or fourth lines in the past eight games.

They’ve also been lax defensively and at times had spotty goaltending, although Carey Price was sharp against the Jets.

“We’ve got enough skill here, (the offense) will come back,” said Julien. “I’m not worried about it.

“We have enough players on this team that can score goals, but we’ve got to start in the right place and that’s when we get the puck back quickly. It remains to be seen, but that’s my belief.”

What he hasn’t had enough time for yet is to work on line combinations.

Mostly, he has used the units Therrien had in place. He moved Alex Galchenyuk to center on the first line to start against Winnipeg, but had Phillip Danault back in that spot by the third period.

Now Galchenyuk is back to the second line with Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.

“I know he’s a very talented player; my job is to make him better,” Julien said of Galchenyuk. “Now I want to work with him on the little aspects of the game that will make him even better.”

The slump has narrowed the Canadiens’ lead in the Atlantic Division to only two points ahead of Ottawa, which has two games in hand.

“It’s what happens when you don’t win games,” said Gallagher. “Everyone else in the league seems to be winning except for us and they’re gaining ground.

“If we get back to playing winning hockey, playing our style and doing all the little things Claude and his staff are trying to get across, then we’ll be where we want to be.”

With Marner out again Maple Leafs recall Frederik Gauthier from AHL

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs cuts in for a scoring attempt on Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be without prized rookie Mitch Marner on Tuesday night when they take on the Winnipeg Jets.

The officially placed him on injured reserve Tuesday morning retroactive to Feb. 15. He suffered an upper body injury that night against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he took an awkward fall into the boards and has not played since.

With Marner placed on IR, the Maple Leafs made a corresponding roster move to recall forward Frederik Gauthier from the the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Gauthier, a first-round draft pick (No. 21 overall) by the Maple Leafs in 2013, has spent most of this season with the Marlies where he has one goal and five assists in 26 games. He has also played 18 games for the big club, scoring two goals and an assist. He last played for the Maple Leafs on Jan. 31. He was skating on the team’s fourth line between Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov at the morning skate.

With 48 points in 56 games Marner is still the second leading scorer on the Maple Leafs, just one point behind No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews. Even though he is out tonight he will still be eligible to return on Thursday night when the team takes on the New York Rangers. Toronto has briefly fallen out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, sitting one point behind both the Florida Panthers (third spot in Atlantic Division) and Boston Bruins (second wild card spot).