Now that the college hockey season is over, it's a good time to take a look back through what was another memorable season of college hockey. This week, we'll be counting down the top 20 stories in college hockey this season. Here is our first installment, which counts down moments 20 through 16.
#20 Alaska Hit with NCAA Violations
In the grand scheme of things, this story didn't draw much attention, but Alaska's decision to cut two hockey scholarships as punishment for NCAA violations provides a great look into what NCAA athletics has become.
The crime? Through an administrative oversight, 17 players from various sports over a four-year period played in games, despite not taking the NCAA-required number of credits, or formally declaring that they were switching majors, which made them technically ineligible.
The infraction has become a somewhat common occurrence at D-2/small D-1 athletic departments that aren't heavily armed with compliance officers to make sure every T is crossed and every I dotted like some of the big name NCAA schools do.
As a self-imposed punishment, Alaska will have to add some compliance staff, and in order to help offset that cost, they docked themselves a number of scholarships across the athletic department, including two from the hockey team over a three-year period.
#19 Mike Hastings Turns Around Minnesota State
In his first season behind the bench in Mankato, Mike Hastings took a Maverick squad coming off a moribund 12-24-2 season and led them to arguably the best season in the school's Division I history. They set a D-I school record with 24 wins, hosted their first WCHA playoff series since 2008, and made trips to the Final Five and NCAA tournament for just the second time in school history, and first time since 2003.
The success came at the right time for Minnesota State as well, with the team transitioning into the new WCHA next season. The Mavericks seem poised to be one of the top teams in the basically new league next year--they were the only new WCHA team to make the NCAA tournament-- and rightly or wrongly, their success this past season against the more traditional powers of the old WCHA will help give legitimacy to any future accomplishments in the new WCHA.
#18 Mixed Results at Outdoor Games
Three college hockey games were played outdoors this year. On February 10th, North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha took the ice at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha in a game that ended up being a bit of a fiasco. Some direct sunlight--who could have guessed the sun would be in a factor in a game with no roof--led to extremely slushy conditions, and a gigantic pool of green stuff flooding one crease as rink workers drilled into the ice during the second intermission. Somehow, the game was completed, but the barely playable conditions left a sour taste in nearly everyone's mouth.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame faced off against Miami, followed by Wisconsin facing off against Minnesota in the Hockey City Classic at Chicago's Soldier Field. The event drew pretty well, about 52k fans, and was generally viewed pretty positively, but again, conditions weren't exactly ideal, and it probably wasn't a wise idea to have valuable conference points on the line. Those points Minnesota lost, by the way, would have been enough to give them an outright conference title.
#17 Regional Attendance Disasters
This year's NCAA tournament West and Midwest regionals were held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and just outside the state of Michigan in Toledo, Ohio. That meant it was a pretty bad year for no team from the state of Michigan to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in forever. That, combined with outrageous ticket prices, combined with the fact that the regionals were held over Easter weekend, led to extremely embarrassing attendance totals for the two regionals.
In Toledo, official attendance for the first day was 2988 for the two games combined, but having been in the building, I'm not sure there were ever 2988 teeth in the building at any given time.(Not an Ohio/St. Cloud joke. Mostly.) Attendance dropped to 2460 for the regional final, though photographic evidence again makes that look extremely generous. Things were even worse in Grand Rapids, where Minnesota was the closest participant at just under 600 miles away. Less than 2000 people watched the regional final between North Dakota and eventual champion Yale.
It is worth noting that attendance was much better in the Northeast, where host New Hampshire and local UMass-Lowell brought in huge crowds, and in the East, where Boston College and Union were moved by the committee to provide better attendance. Still, widely varying amounts of travel between teams, and the non-existent crowds for some of the biggest games of the year spurred a good deal of discussion about a regional system that clearly appears to be broken.
#16 Drew LeBlanc Takes Home the Hobey
St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc capped off a marvelous 5th year, returning from a devastating leg injury he suffered early last year, by taking home college hockey's top individual honor. LeBlanc was college hockey's best playmaker, and a fantastic leader, captaining the Huskies to their best season ever.
The decision was not without some controversy and debate though. LeBlanc beat out Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell to become the 9th winner from the WCHA in the past 12 years. It's become fairly well-established in Hobey voting over the years that a star skater from the WCHA is going to get the nod over a goalie from the ECAC with eye-popping numbers. But if ever there was a year to break that pattern, it seemed to be this year. LeBlanc had great stats, but was only 7th nationally in scoring, including being behind four players from his own conference, and tied for 92nd nationally with just 13 goals scored. Hartzell, meanwhile,separated himself from ECAC goalie Hobey losers of the past by not just having great numbers, but by playing on a great team that was ranked tops in the country for much of the year.