It seems appropriate to take one final look at the last 366 days of college hockey before the page is turned when the first games of 2013 are played. 2012 had a bit of everything. If you went back and tried to explain to someone who didn't follow the sport, it would be hard to pick a place to start. The college hockey world saw some new beginnings, ends of sorts and of course a few surprises along the way.
For a few teams, this past year was a bit of a rebirth.
The landscape changed along different ebb and flows in ways no one could imagine, so in no particular order here are 12 of the stories that shaped college hockey in 2012.
North Dakota drops the "Fighting Sioux"
The battle over North Dakota's "Fighting Sioux" nickname is nothing new. In fact, there have been attempts to see the school drop the Sioux-head logo and nickname going back to 1999 while the entire process has been drawn out and full of controversy. But this was the year that fans and players finally said goodbye.
After initially dropping the nickname and logo on January 1st, the team removed the Sioux-head logo from the Ralph Engelstad Arena's center ice and wore new "North Dakota" jerseys during the NCAA Tournament. However, the University brought it back a month later when more than 17,000 North Dakotans signed a petition to send the issue to a vote in June. That vote resulted in the University once again retiring the Fighting Sioux nickname and going without one until 2015 at the earliest.
One thing that the ongoing issue off the ice didn't affect was North Dakota's play on it. UND went on to win their third consecutive Broadmoor Trophy and advance to the West Region final despite having a lineup depleted by injuries.
Boston College cements dynasty status
A single-elimination hockey tournament is exciting because of its unpredictable nature. Every game is a must-watch because there is no tomorrow; a hot goalie can shut down an explosive offense or a solid defense can dash Cinderella's season. However, it is that same unpredictable nature of the NCAA Hockey Tournament that we enjoy which also makes it difficult for the best teams to win and create dynasties.
Then there is Jerry York's Boston College team.
The Eagles cemented dynasty status in 2012 with their third national championship in five years. Led by Chris Kreider and Johnny Gaudreau, BC ended the season on a 17-game winning streak (last losing January 21st against Maine). They've continued playing well this year by spending a good portion of the season ranked #1 and best of all ended 2012 getting York his record-breaking 925th win.
Ferris State makes their mark in Frozen Four run
If Boston College was the status quo standing tall at the Frozen Four, then their national championship opponent Ferris State was the quiet kid in class who never speaks yet set the test curve. The Bulldogs were almost forgotten when they lost to Bowling Green in the second round of the CCHA Tournament and ended up in a region with Michigan and Denver. That didn't faze them, however, and Ferris State defeated the Pioneers, Cornell and Union behind goalie Taylor Nelson and forward Jordie Johnston.
Unfortunately the Bulldogs' attempt to become the second straight national champion with that nickname ended one game short. While FSU's Garrett Thompson answered Boston College's first goal, that was all they could muster despite challenging for most of the game. Nelson's run of giving up one goal (as he had in all 3 NCAA Tournament wins) ended as the Eagles scored three more (including an empty-netter).
They came up short of their first national championship but regardless, Ferris State made their mark in 2012.
Minnesota returns to its standing as a national power
Another story to come out of the 2012 Frozen Four was the rebirth of Minnesota. The Gophers, who had missed three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, were picked to finish 6th in the WCHA before the season started. They were not given much of a chance to do enough to save head coach Don Lucia's job.
Instead they did just that and more. Minnesota, who has the second-most NCAA Tournament appearances, went to their 33rd on the strength of goalie Kent Patterson, forward Nick Bjugstad and winning their first MacNaughton Cup in 5 years. After defeating Boston University in the first round, the Gophers avenged an embarrassing loss to North Dakota one week earlier in the WCHA Final Five and advanced to the Frozen Four; their first since 2005.
Their run ended with another embarrassment - a 6-1 loss to BC - however, Minnesota's standing as a national power has continued into the rest of 2012. The Gophers ended the year as the #1 team in the country while avenging that loss to the Eagles.
Happy Valley becomes Hockey Valley
October 12th saw the debut of college hockey's 59th team when Penn State, the beneficiaries of an $88 Million donation from alumnus Terry Pegula, squared off against American International University. Although the Nittany Lions lost that game in overtime, they won their first game the next night. There have been growing pains for Guy Gadowsky's squad, who is playing as an independent this year before joining the Big Ten in 2013, in its inaugural campaign but with wins over Army, Air Force and Ohio State, Penn State has not been a pushover.
Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly wins the Hobey Baker
How do you follow up winning a national championship? If you're Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly, just finishing second in the nation with 60 points (20G-40A) and winning the school's fifth Hobey Baker Award (the most in college hockey) sounds right. Connolly helped lead UMD, who lost quite a few players from their national championship team, to a 17 game unbeaten streak. The Bulldogs also returned to the NCAA Tournament where the 2011 national champs fell to the eventual 2012 national champions Boston College in the Northeast Region final
Unfortunately, the end of 2012 hasn't gone as well for the Bulldogs. Without Connolly and J.T. Brown, Minnesota-Duluth currently is 7-10-3 this season.
Boston University's culture being shaken by arrests
It's safe to say 2012 did not show Boston University in its best light. Sure, the Terriers made the NCAA Tournament last season - losing to Minnesota in the first round - and ended the year ranked ninth but the problems off the ice overshadowed the efforts on it.
In September, the University released a report from a task force covering the "culture of sexual entitlement" the hockey players have at Boston University. The task force stemmed from BU hockey players Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro being separately arrested for sexual assault in a span of two months and also caused other players to leave the program. While no NCAA infractions were found and the recommendations offered will help in the future, the off the ice culture and arrests damaged the perception of the program.
College players making the jump and an impact in the NHL
Last season for the first time ever, more than 300 former college players played at least 1 game in the NHL. It's an achievement for sure - the percentage of college hockey players in the league has risen over the last decade - but so is the number of former college players making waves. This past year saw Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (UMass) win the Conn Smythe and the two biggest free agents, Zach Parise (North Dakota) and Ryan Suter, (Wisconsin) were both WCHA alumni (and ended up signing big money contract smack dab in the middle of it).
However, there was plenty of noise made in the NHL by players in college during 2012. Chris Kreider went from winning a national championship with Boston College straight into a New York Rangers uniform for the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals while Kreider set a record for scoring the most playoff goals (5) before playing a regular season game.
Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz, meanwhile, usurped the free agent energy from Parise and Suter when he declined to sign with Anaheim and became a free agent. "Schultz Watch" attracted offers from all 30 teams as fans throughout the league followed every move and rumor about a player ready to jump right into a NHL lineup. The end result was Schultz hearing from a number of finalists before choosing Edmonton.
The woes of the Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines have been the most consistent team in the sport throughout the last 20 years under legendary coach Red Berenson. If there was a perfect attendance record for NCAA appearances it would be named after Berenson as a lifetime achievement; he's made the tournament with Michigan each of the last 22 years. That includes the 2012 tournament in which they were a #1 seed after being the CCHA Tournament runner-up.
But the only consistency since then has been in the other direction.
Beginning with an upset by Cornell in the first round, the Wolverines have found themselves in the "L" column more than the "W." Michigan is currently 7-10-2 this season and 8th in the CCHA despite being ranked third in the nation during the preseason. They aren't the only team struggling - that group includes fellow Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Michigan State - but given Berenson's consistency, Michigan is the most surprising.
There's nothing EZ about the ECAC
The ECAC went another year without winning a national championship in 2012; further extending a streak that goes back to 1989. It hasn't helped the perception of the league that's seen multiple teams from the CCHA, Hockey East and WCHA win championships. However, the two ECAC teams which made the NCAA Tournament both had good showings. Cornell, a fourth seed, upset Michigan in the first round while ECAC champion Union advanced all the way to the Frozen Four.
This year has been an even better showing. The conference currently has six teams who are challenging for a tournament berth and if the season ended today 5 ECAC teams would be in (more than any other conference). Quinnipiac, who has made one NCAA Tournament appearance in their history, is on a 12-game unbeaten streak and has a 7 point lead. Union, meanwhile, has recovered from their Frozen Four appearance and is tied for second with a top-ten offense.
While 2013 means we're another year away from 1989, the ECAC did a lot to shed the EZ label in 2012.
Michigan Tech turns on the lights
If the old fictional philosopher Harvey Dent is correct, Michigan Tech truly entered the dawn this year. After winning four games total in 2010-2011, the Huskies turned things around under first-year head coach Mel Pearson. The team finished with 16 wins last year, including wins over Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State and Colorado College, to advance to their first WCHA Final Five since 2007.
Though they're currently tied for tenth this season, the Huskies regardless finished 2012 with a statement. For the first time in 32 years Michigan Tech won their tournament, the Great Lakes Invitational, last weekend. Regardless of the goals still ahead of them, this is the year Michigan Tech got out of the WCHA cellar.
Growth of college hockey games on TV
Although the first game on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) was played on December 30, 2011, this past year has seen the growth of college hockey on national television. NBC Sports Network broadcasted the Hockey East finals for the first time and has shown 10 games from teams across the nation this season. Despite showing the 2012 Frozen Four championship on ESPN2, the WWL will have it back on the main channel in 2013 along with John Buccigross calling the games.
Meanwhile, BTN continues to increase the number of games before the Big Ten conference begins hockey play in 2013. Last but certainly not least, the CBS Sports Network, which is in its tenth season of broadcasting college hockey, signed a deal this year with the newly formed NCHC to broadcast a minimum of 18 games.
And of course there are all the local RSNs and student-run broadcasts. It's possible to get 9 or 10 games some weekends depending on what cable package you have, which would have been unheard a couple years ago.