Back to Class: Conference tourneys can’t keep Cinderella away

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 at 5 and 8 p.m. ET for the Hockey East tournament semifinals. 

While you’re all busy this week analyzing your basketball brackets, college hockey is busy whittling their field down to see who makes it to the NCAA tournament. While you’re checking out to see which 12-seeds can be the darlings of the tournament, a pair of college teams are making their push to wear Cinderella’s glass slipper.

Bowling Green headed into the CCHA tournament as the bottom seed, 11th overall in the conference. While being the bottom seed usually makes you cannon fodder for the big boys, the Falcons have shocked six-seed Northern Michigan and top-seeded Ferris State in back-to-back weekends to reach the conference semifinals at Joe Louis Arena. Bowling Green’s hockey program was near death three years ago and now they’re two wins away from pulling off an incredible run to the NCAA tournament.

It won’t be simple for Bowling Green though. They needed all three games of the best-of-three series to get past both NMU and Ferris State, now it’s single elimination in the semis and finals and they’ve got a date with Michigan in the semis. Since you’re wondering, yes, the Falcons already have a win over the Wolverines this season.

In the WCHA, eighth seeded Michigan Tech stunned everyone this weekend by going to Colorado College and sweeping the Tigers out of the tournament and punching their ticket to the Final Five in St. Paul. If the Huskies are to create some magic of their own, their road is a bit tougher.

The deck is seemingly stacked against Michigan Tech, but if there’s a team and a fan base that can play the part of Maximus in “Gladiator” and win the crowd, it’s MTU. From their rabid fans to their iconic band, they’re a program that exemplifies what it is to be a part of college hockey. If college hockey were re-enacting “Revenge of the Nerds,” MTU would be Lambda Lambda Lambda and not just because their SAT scores are gigantic, they’re a lot of fun too.

Elsewhere in college hockey:

For all the fun and surprises the CCHA and WCHA tournaments provided, both the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey tournaments saw all their top seeded teams hold serve. In the ECAC semis, Union faces Colgate while Cornell faces arch-rival Harvard. The AHA semis see Air Force take on Mercyhurst while R.I.T. meets up with Niagara.

Hockey East, meanwhile, had a thrilling weekend that saw BU and New Hampshire as well as Merrimack and Maine go to three games, with BU and Maine coming out on top. Boston University did so by coming back from being down 4-1 to win in double-overtime 5-4. (Boston Hockey Blog, The Mack Report)

If you want to play the part of the NCAA committee and play with the different ways things could shake out over championship weekend, both USCHO and College Hockey News have Pairwise tools to mess with so you can play with fate.

The Division-III final four is set and this Oswego State alum is on pins and needles for the third year in a row. (NCAA)

Finally, congratulations to St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh on his retirement from hockey after 26 seasons. College hockey loses a man with great class, dignity, and a much-respected tenure in the game. (INCH)

(Photo: Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune)

Dave Tippett joins Seattle NHL group as senior advisor

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At this point it simply seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the NHL officially moves forward to expand to Seattle in the coming years. In the meantime, the potential ownership group led by Tod Leiweke continues to take the steps necessary to ensure it becomes a reality.

One of their more recent moves was the addition of former Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett as a senior advisor for the group.

According to the Seattle Times “nobody is ruling out” the possibilty that Tippett could one day become the first head coach of the yet-to-be-named team, but for now he will help oversee development of the organization.

Here is Tippett talking about his new role, via the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“The challenge of trying to build a team from the foundation up is something not a lot of people get the chance to do,’’ Tippett, 56, told me last week in lower Queen Anne, near his new office at the NHL group’s headquarters. “That’s what makes it very intriguing to me.’’

Tippett, a former winger for 11 NHL seasons with Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, will bring a hockey insider’s voice to everything, from where to locate the training facility to how to decorate the dressing rooms at a revamped KeyArena.

“There are a lot of times where you need somebody with some hockey experience, whether it be infrastructure like the dressing rooms, the training facilities, or putting together the groundwork of what a skeleton hockey staff would look like,’’ Tippett said.

A player for more than 11 years in the NHL, Tippett most recently worked in the NHL as the head coach for the Arizona Coyotes, a position he held between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 seasons. During his time in Arizona he led the Coyotes to the playoffs three times, including a stunning run to the Western Conference Final during the 2011-12 season. But after five consecutive non-playoff appearances Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways following the 2016-17 season.

He also coached the Dallas Stars for six years, making the playoffs five times.

Tippett’s addition to the Seattle group seems reminiscent of the role former NHL player Murray Craven took on with the Vegas Golden Knights during their expansion process when he joined Bill Foley’s group as an advisor. After serving in that role for two years he was officially named the senior vice president of the team in August, 2016.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi making late push up draft boards

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Throughout the season, many draft experts mentioned that the top end prospects available in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft were wingers and defensemen. Teams looking for a center were out of luck. But that opinion seems to have shifted in the final few days leading up to the event.

That’s where Jesperi Kotkaniemi comes into play.

The 17-year-old was always going to be a first round draft pick, but his performance in the Finnish first division with Assat Pori (10 goals, 29 points in 57 games) as a teenager is pretty impressive.

Another reason why Kotkaniemi is getting so much positive press late in this process, is because he was one of the standout-players on Finland’s team that won gold at the under-18 World Junior Hockey Championship. He had three goals and six assists in seven tournament games.

“Here’s a guy who has been playing the whole season with men and against men and has played extremely well,” NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb said, per NHL.com. “He has improved his skating. His skating was always OK, but he’s improved and this is a guy with a guy with a very special understanding of the game. He makes very intelligent decisions on the ice. He can shoot, pass, score and is a very nice young man too.”

The fact that the Montreal Canadiens own the third overall pick in this week’s NHL Entry Draft has also helped connect the dots between Kotkaniemi and a top-three selection. You see, the Canadiens have been lacking a true number one center for decades. They remain thin down the middle to this day.

The Habs took Ryan Poehling in the first round last year, so that added a bit of depth in the pipeline at that position. Adding Kotkaniemi to the mix would arguably turn the center position into a strength when it comes to prospect depth. Every team that wins the Stanley Cup seems to have quality down the middle. Montreal needs to develop a franchise player there if they’re going to be competitive again.

“I think Kotkaniemi is the best center of the draft, I think he’s superb, I think he has a game reminiscent in style to (Los Angeles Kings center) Anze Kopitar,” former NHL GM and TSN’s Craig Button said. “I don’t know where you get (centers) if you don’t draft them. (Montreal Canadiens GM) Marc Bergevin has been looking for a center, he’s trying to take wingers and making them centers or take third line centers and make them first line centers. So now you have a guy sitting right there and maybe you can use the third pick to take him at No. 3.”

If Kotkaniemi ends up being one of the biggest risers on Friday night, it’ll be interesting to see what that means for Halifax winger Filip Zadina, who is still in play for the Canadiens at third overall.

For a while, Zadina was considered as the favorite to be selected third after Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, but all this chatter about Kotkaniemi has taken some steam out of the Zadina hype train.

Even if the Canadiens opt to pass on Kotkaniemi, he could still end up going to Ottawa at four, Arizona at five or Detroit at six, which would be higher than most expected him to go.

But as we all know, it’s hard to trust anything anyone says about prospects and their stock at this time of year. Teams won’t be honest and the players won’t reveal their true thoughts about where they think they’ll end up, so all most of us have to lean on are Youtube clips and independent scouting services.

Ahhhh you’ve gotta love this time of year.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Paralyzed Humboldt player’s family preparing for next phase

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AIRDRIE, Alberta (AP) — The parents of a paralyzed Humboldt Broncos hockey player are preparing for the next phase of his recovery – his return home.

Ryan Straschnitzki is undergoing physiotherapy at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia after being paralyzed from the chest down in a crash between a semi-trailer and a bus carrying the junior hockey team at a rural Saskatchewan intersection in April.

The 19-year-old is expected to return home to Airdrie, just north of Calgary, in a matter of weeks.

His father, Tom Straschnitzki, says he’s already gone through six training programs on how to care for his son once he’s no longer under the constant watchful eye of medical personnel.

The programs include basics of day-to-day care, medication his son is taking and warning signs if something goes wrong.

”Because he can’t feel anything, if there’s a wrinkle, he’ll turn all red and his blood pressure will drop. We’ve got to figure out the signs and try and fix the problem,” Tom Straschnitzki said in an interview at his home with The Canadian Press.

”It’s scary. Hopefully we’ll know what to do and they’ve trained us pretty good.”

Tom Straschnitzki says the family home is about to be renovated to accommodate his son. An elevator is being installed, walls are being knocked down, doorways widened and bathrooms adapted. The reno could take up to six months and, during that time, they’ll need to find a new place to live.

”It’s daunting,” he said. ”It’s a lot of work, like building a brand new house.”

The basement where his son will be living is crammed with souvenirs he collected growing up and a lot more that have come in since the accident.

”That’s Connor McDavid‘s stick over there,” he said as he pointed to a corner in the basement. ”There’s boxes and boxes of letters and we ran out of room here so we put the rest in his room.”

Two books on the floor included ”99” by Wayne Gretzky and ”Against All Odds”, the untold story of Canada’s university hockey heroes.

A fundraiser to help with the family’s costs was scheduled for Saturday night at the Genesis Centre in Airdrie.

Cody Thompson, Ryan Straschnitzki’s former trainer and the event’s organizer, said it’s important the young man have access to treatment and resources.

”Any time you talk to anyone with a spinal cord injury, the first thing they will tell you is the younger you are, the more expensive it becomes, because of the longer time you will live with that injury,” he said.

”If you have the financial wherewithal, the likelihood of you coming out of this with more meaningful movement, mobility and strength to lead a normal life is exponentially higher (than) if you don’t have that ability.”

This time last year, Thompson said, Ryan was focused on playing with a junior A hockey team.

”Now he’s focused on gaining his ability to walk again and gaining full control over his body.”

Sixteen people died, including 10 players, and 13 others were injured as a result of bus crash.

PHT Morning Skate: How to create more offer sheets; Who will win Hart Trophy?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Andrew Berkshire breaks down the Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi trade that the Canadiens and Coyotes made on Friday night. Their skillsets are different, but both players can become valuable contributors to their new teams. (Sportsnet)

• Also on Friday, the Bruins re-signed defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to a two-year contract extension. (Boston Globe)

• Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen struggled to produce at different times last season, but his advanced metrics show that he’s an incredibly useful player for his team. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Caps forward Devante Smith-Pelly is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but his goal is to re-sign with Washington. “On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I’ve been in. Obviously, never know what’s going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.” (NBC Sports Washington)

• Top 2018 draft prospect Quinn Hughes has been shaped by his relationship with his brother, Jack, who could be the top pick in the 2019 draft. (Sportsnet)

Taylor Hall, Anze Kopitar and Nathan MacKinnon are all up for the Hart Trophy this year, so the NHL.com staff debated who they thought should win the award. (NHL.com)

• The Toronto Marlies came away with the AHL’s Calder Cup this year, so Pension Plan Puppets break down which players on the Marlies roster they think have a chance of cracking the NHL. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Offer sheets could be a fun way to make the NHL offseason even more fun, but general managers don’t seem to want to go that route very often. Sean McIndoe looks at how he would fix this broken system. (Sportsnet)

• If the 1998 NHL Entry Draft was to be done all over again, Vincent Lecavalier wouldn’t be the top selection. That honor would go to Pavel Datsyuk. (NHL.com)

• Lightning forward Ryan Callahan has been talked about as a buyout candidate, so Raw Charge looks at the difference between buying him out this summer vs. next summer. (Raw Charge)

• In the latest edition of his “Off-season Game Plan” series, TSN.ca’s Scott Cullen breaks down what the Capitals have to address during the upcoming offseason. (TSN.ca)

• The NHL Entry Draft gives struggling teams a chance to turn their fortunes around in the future. Toronto Sun writer Micheal Traikos writes about the potential for turnaround and he answers some of the hot topics surrounding this year’s draft. Will the Sens make a trade or two on Friday night? (Toronto Sun)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.