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Back To Class: The WCHA did the right thing for Alabama-Huntsville

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night as No. 12 Yale takes on No. 16 Cornell. 

Back in the fall of 2011, the University of Alabama-Huntsville interim president was set to cut the hockey program entirely only to see it saved by alumni and fans of the program alike. Their only problem was they didn’t have a conference to play in. They were the only school to play as an independent the past  few seasons. They wanted into the CCHA after the CHA closed up shop only to see that conference vote to keep them out.

Fast-forward to today and we see the CCHA will no longer exist thanks to the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference as well as the NCHC and those left behind there are joining the new WCHA. Funny thing about the WCHA is they had an odd number of teams and it made too much sense not to approve bringing UAH aboard. That’s precisely what they voted to do last week, saving the program.

It was the right move by the WCHA to extend the invite and while it comes with some big risks, making the effort to save a program in desperate need of partnership was needed. College hockey is as niche as it gets amongst big time NCAA sports. With 58 programs participating, losing teams does the sport no favors and allowing one to wither and die would’ve been egregious.

Yes, the travel will be rough in the new WCHA with not just UAH but also both Alaska schools there. The costs will be high and that’s where the risk comes into play. But they had to try and make it work. The travel costs can and will be covered and college hockey saves a supported program in need. It’s the feel-good story folks in Huntsville have been praying for, now we can just hope it all turns out for the best.

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Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry ends in a thrill: The Golden Gophers and formerly Fighting Sioux duked it out in classic fashion in the Twin Cities as the Gophers came away with a big win Friday and a classic 4-4 draw on Saturday. With each team heading to different conferences next season, they won’t see each other for at least the next three seasons putting a sad end to a classic rivalry. Here’s to hoping they’ll meet in the NCAA tournament the next three seasons instead and save Don Lucia a bit of grief.

River Hawks are flying: Look out for UMass-Lowell in Hockey East. They’re winners of nine in a row including a big win over BU on Saturday night. They were an NCAA tournament team last year losing to Union in the East Region final. Sophomore forward Scott Wilson has been lighting it up and goalies Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr have buckled down. With UNH cooling off and BU riding a roller coaster of sorts, Lowell is poised to shake things up.

Speaking of roller coasters, the ECAC: What a wild weekend in the ECAC. Yale continues to play strong sweeping Harvard and Dartmouth. Cornell dealt Union a harsh blow to their hopes of making a run at first place beating them on Friday, but then stumbled themselves losing 3-2 to RPI on Saturday. RPI’s weekend sweep over Colgate and Cornell got them up to 7th in the standings. Meanwhile, Quinnipiac is in first by eight points with Yale lurking behind them.

Remember how I said this conference would cannibalize itself? It’s dinner time now.

(Photo: Jim Rosvold – USCHO.com)

Strome saga continues, will be a healthy scratch for Game 3

Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk
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Ryan Strome‘s tough year just got a little bit tougher.

After seemingly re-establishing himself in the Islanders lineup, Strome will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

Head coach Jack Capuano will drop Strome in favor of Josh Bailey, who returns from a two-game absence due to injury.

“I try to be a good team guy and I don’t want to draw any negative attention to myself,” Strome continued, per Newsday.

The fifth overall pick in 2011, Strome endured a difficult campaign that included a three-week stint in the AHL.

Those difficulties have carried over to the postseason. After playing the first four games of New York’s opening-round playoff series against the Panthers, Strome was dropped for Games 5 and 6 — but Bailey was hurt in the clincher, meaning Strome drew back in for the opening two games of the Bolts series.

It’s hard to say what exactly got him scratched. In Game 1, he assisted on both of Shane Prince‘s goals, helping the Isles to a 5-3 win — despite fairly limited ice time (12:26, third-lowest among forwards.)

In Game 2, his numbers weren’t as good — no points, two shots on goal, minus-1 rating, 35.9 Corsi — but his ice time jumped to 17:59, easily his biggest of the postseason.

The decision to park Strome probably isn’t about numbers. Following the Game 2 loss, Capuano said the Isles were “a little soft,” which has been one of the complaints about Strome’s game this year.

In fact, the 22-year-old alluded to it today.

“Last series [the message was] I needed to be a little harder to play against,” Strome said. “Points don’t always tell the whole story. I’m always confident in my game, but unfortunately I don’t make the decisions.

“I have to live with it.”

Boudreau wants a new job right away, and it sure looks like he’ll get one

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Bruce Boudreau doesn’t like being unemployed.

“I’ve always worked,” Boudreau said this week, per the O.C. Register. “Since I was 17 years old, there was never a time I never had a job. In the hockey jobs when I’ve gotten fired, I’ve tried to get back into work right away.”

You don’t say.

Back in 2011, Boudreau was out of a job for 48 hours when — after getting fired by the Caps on a Monday — Anaheim hired him that Wednesday.

Now he’s looking at a similar situation.

Last Friday, Boudreau was fired after Anaheim’s disappointing opening-round playoff exit to Nashville.

Today, the Ottawa Sun reported the Senators have officially received permission to speak with Boudreau about their vacant head coaching gig.

Oh, and guess what else happened today? Calgary fired Bob Hartley, just one year after Hartley captured the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.

Almost immediately, Boudreau was floated as a potential replacement in Calgary — or, depending how you look at it, part of the reason GM Brad Treliving decided to turf Hartley.

There’s another team believed to be interested in Boudreau’s services as well — Minnesota.

Sportsnet reported that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher reached out to Anaheim about interviewing Boudreau. But the Minnesota situation seems to be on hold, until all discussions have wrapped with interim bench boss John Torchetti.

There’s little surprise teams are clamoring to get Boudreau on board.

Playoff failures aside, his resume is stacked. He won eight division titles in nine years with Washington and Anaheim, boasts a 409-192-80 career record, and won the 2008 Jack Adams Award.

In firing Boudreau, Ducks GM Bob Murray lauded him as a “good coach” and “very passionate hockey guy.” Boudreau’s also earned the reputation as a player’s coach, largely because of his communication skills — he comes by that “Gabby” nickname honestly — and open door policy.

“He was a friend, you could talk to him at any point and time,” Corey Perry said following Boudreau’s dismissal, per the Ducks website. “The door was always open. He coached this team, and I can’t say enough about him.

“He did a lot for my game.”

So yeah, all signs certainly point to Boudreau being back behind a bench next year.

Unless he’s not.

The coaching world is fluid, and constantly changing. Ottawa’s got a lengthy list of candidates aside from Boudreau, Minnesota could easily stick with Torchetti and, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Calgary’s decision to turf Hartley wasn’t about who’s available, but rather about getting a new voice behind the bench.

So it’s probably too early to say what the Flames want to do next.

Boudreau, though, knows exactly what he wants to do next.

“I love the game,” Boudreau said. “I love the people involved in the game. There’s no place I’d rather be than a hockey arena.

“I just know that’s me.”

IIHF president is pessimistic that NHLers will go to the 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman, Rene Fasel, Don Fehr
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IIHF president Rene Fasel puts the chances of NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics at just 40 percent.

Fasel’s pessimism is a result of the IOC’s decision not to cover millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the NHL players that would’ve been headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the games,” Fasel told the Associated Press. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

But Fasel is not giving up. His plan now is to go “do some begging” from the national Olympic committees of the hockey-playing countries.

Just don’t count on the NHL to cover any shortfall. The owners already don’t like shutting down the league to risk their star players’ health. If there’s no Olympic participation in 2018, they won’t be devastated.

Related:

Bettman unsure if Beijing Olympics represents ‘an opportunity to grow the game in China’

Fehr: Players want to be in both Olympics, World Cup

Ovechkin will ‘definitely’ go to South Korea for 2018 Winter Olympics

For Blues, Pietrangelo is playing ‘heavy minutes,’ and a lot of them

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Alex Pietrangelo is used to playing a lot – especially this time of year. The St. Louis Blues linchpin defenseman plays with a high motor and appears to have no issues piling up the ice time.

Pietrangelo is fourth overall in the playoffs averaging 30 minutes, 34 seconds, including more than 35 minutes in the Blues’ overtime victory in Game 2 in Dallas on Sunday. Among the surviving eight teams, he’s at the top of the list.

“The more you play him, the better he plays,” coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday, a day ahead of Game 3 against the Stars (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in a series knotted at a game apiece. “I think he keeps his focus razor-sharp, and when he’s like that, he’s going to help us.”

A key to Pietrangelo’s success is channeling attention deficit disorder and putting excess energy to good use. He’s constantly talking, compensating for soft-spoken defensive partner Jay Bouwmeester.

“He is go, go, go and guys sometimes wish he had a muzzle on him at times,” Backes said. “He’s a big reason why we’re still playing.”

Pietrangelo leads the rush at times and has a goal and five assists in the playoffs for a team savoring its first victory in the second round since 2002.

Several teammates believe Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in 2008, was the Blues’ MVP in the first round. He was instrumental in holding down Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

“I like having the opportunity to play on a big stage,” Pietrangelo said. “Sometimes it’s hard minutes, but I’ll take that as long as it’s going to help us.”

All of the minutes leaders still in the playoffs are defensemen, with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang right behind Pietrangelo at 29:24 per game. The Islanders have two players getting heavy rotation, Nick Leddy (28:33) and Travis Hamonic (27:03). Nashville’s Roman Josi (27:22) and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (27:02) also are high on the list.

Two mainstays are watching now, Chicago’s Duncan Keith (31:27) and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty (30:49).

Pietrangelo’s minutes stand out even more given he’s not on the first power play unit, duty that’s not usually as taxing as regular shifts.

“You have to recognize that those are heavy minutes he’s playing,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s getting challenged, he’s playing against top players, he’s killing all the penalties.”

The odds of Pietrangelo getting more extremely heavy duty would seem to be high, given the Stars and Blues have met seven times with four going to overtime and one decided in a shootout. He can be a calming influence, although inside he’s going 100 mph.

“I’m still amped up, you can ask my teammates,” Pietrangelo said. “I’m always on the go.”