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)

‘It’s all my fault’: Mike Babcock takes responsibility for penalty box blunder

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Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is often regarded as the best coach in hockey, but even the best make silly mistakes sometimes.

During last night’s game between the Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Babcock’s error forced his team to play an extra 1:54 shorthanded.

Early in the third frame, Roman Polak was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand (Polak is scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning). Instead of sending someone to the penalty box to serve the major infraction, Babcock decided to leave the box empty.

Coaches aren’t obliged to send someone to the sin bin right away. During any stoppage in play before the end of penalty, they can send someone to finish serving the infraction. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Babcock never did.

So when Polak’s five-minute major expired, the Leafs couldn’t simply throw someone onto the ice from their bench, they had to wait for a stoppage in play.

Toronto players tried to ice the puck a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So finally, Brian Boyle flipped the puck into the Columbus bench to get a whistle, but not before his team spent nearly seven straight minutes shorthanded.

They ended up winning 5-2, but they held a slim 3-2 lead at the time.

Luckily for Babcock, his penalty killers did an incredible job, as they only allowed one shot on goal throughout the kill.

After the game, he took full responsibility for what happened.

“I’m doing better now, but can you imagine?,” said the Leafs bench boss, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s all my fault, me, the two assistants on the bench, two in the video room and 15 players on the bench. And we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in the box. It could have cost you. It will never happen in my lifetime again, I will never wait to put a guy in. But our penalty kill was really good.”

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).