Sunday, March 26, 2006

NCAA Tourney Fallout: The CCHA

It was a rough weekend for the CCHA, and there's been quite a bit said about it. The conference went 1-4 on the weekend and was outscored 24-8. But let me be the first to say that most of the criticism is malarkey.

First off is the unnecessary bashing of Nebraska-Omaha. Coming into the tournament, everyone was saying that Denver and St. Cloud were more deserving of an NCAA tournament bid, and felt that the 9-2 loss to Boston University in the first round was just more evidence to prove that. But the question is, why weren't people saying the same thing about New Hampshire. New Hampshire lost by the exact same to Boston University last weekend, and like UNO, would not have made the tournament if the KRACH Ratings were used instead of the Pairwise Rankings. One game worth of evidence is not more powerful than an entire season's worth of evidence, no matter how much importance you place on that single game.

The fact of the matter is that the system worked to perfection this year. You can argue that the system for picking teams should be tweaked, but as long as they stick with a mathematic formula that is based on performance rather than opinion, the right teams will be getting into the tournament. The beauty of the system is that the more deserving team got in based on what they did on the ice this year. Not what they did the past two seasons, or what they did 40 years ago. That's the way it should be.

It's not fair to say that Denver would have done better than Omaha if they had made the tournament either. In a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen, and so much is based on how teams match up with each other. So it's not about who would do better against Boston University. It's about who deserves to be there more, and in this case, the answer was Nebraska-Omaha.

Miami had probably the most disappointing tournament of the CCHA teams. Some people thought they could go as far as winning their first NCAA championship this season, but those dreams never got off the ground. I didn't get a chance to see this game, but it sounded like things just weren't going to go their way. Again, I didn't get a chance to see Boston College's first goal, but the unanimous opinion was that the puck was clearly kicked in and shouldn't have counted. It's completely unaccpetable for a call of that magnitude to get blown in the NCAA tournament. The first goal of that game was going to be huge after the first period was scoreless, and for BC to score a tainted really hurt Miami's chances. After giving up a powerplay goal, Miami had another unlucky break when BC's Dan Bertram got a breakaway as he came out of the penalty to make it 3-0 and end the game for all intents and purposes. Two empty net goals made the score look a little worse than it really was.

Michigan's result was far from surprising, despite my boneheaded pick. They were a team that came limping into the postseason while North Dakota was playing their best hockey on the season. Michigan actually managed to play the Sioux pretty even. The differene was the goaltending though. Jordan Parise made big saves when he had to, and Michigan just didn't have a top-level goalie to match him. In a season of disappointing efforts, I actually thought Michigan played to their ability. They just ran into a tough match-up.

I thought the game was an extremely interesting contrast in recruiting styles though. North Dakota had more of the "quick fix" philosophy with a lot of super-talented freshmen, while Michigan had the more long-term approach of freshmen that will take a couple years to develop. Obviously North Dakota looked far superior. But I would love to see these two teams meet up in two or three seasons. Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie, and Travis Zajac, and probably a couple others will all be playing pro hockey and North Dakota will have to rebuild, while Michigan's four year players will just be hitting their stride. I think it would be a very different hockey game.

The final CCHA team was Michigan State. They did at least save some respectability for the CCHA by scoring early against New Hampshire and then hanging onto that lead like grim death. They weren't able to do that on Sunday as Maine jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Next year will be an important year for Michigan State. Drew Miller will be the last Ron Mason recruit left for Michigan State. Can Rick Comley's players pick up the slack once Booth, Fretter, and Potter leave? The Lerg cousins will be solid as always, but after that, I think there's some question marks.

So the CCHA is shut out of the Frozen Four for the fourth consecutive year. While that statistic is very disappointing from the league's perspective, I think that lack of success is cyclical and there's a lot of positive signs around the league that this downturn will soon be coming to an end, especially in places like Miami, Ohio State, and Nebraska-Omaha.


Anonymous said...

Nice wrap up. I watched all the games this weekend and have a couple points:

Was it really different recruiting philosophy, or did Michigan's stud freshmen like Cogliano, Johnson and Sauer just not turn out as well as the ND stud freshman. Legitimate question not a troll.

Here is my troll.
This weekend was just embarrassing. This league needs LSSU and BG back in their old form so somebody can show these clowns in the CCHA how to go to an NCAA tourney without looking stupid.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Michigan's high-end recruits turned out as well this season as we thought they would.

Well, Johnson, I would say, lived up to what I expected offensively and physically. His defense (pinching) needs some work, but he got better about it at the end of the season.

Cogliano didn't produce as much as I thought he would (compared to other top forward recruits like Hensick and Tambellini's 40+ points their freshman seasons). He struggled down the stretch (had a seven goal point drought and no points in the final four games), but hopefully with more playing time next season he'll come around. I think part of the reason for his lower output is because U-M already had Ebbett and Hensick centering their top lines.

Sauer had a great start to the season, but like the rest of the team, he hit a wall around Thanksgiving and Red started the whole goalie flip-flopping. He let in his share of softies, but what goalie doesn't? Some were his fault, some were not. Sometimes I felt he was getting thrown to the wolves (having to play against Colorado College at the Great Lakes Invitational when U-M was missing five players and we knew they'd get killed). I would have liked to of seen Red give him more of a chance to redeem himself, but it seemed like everytime he lost a game it didn't matter if he played well or not and Ruden would start the next game. I hope that didn't damage his confidence too much because I still think he's a great talent. You also have to keep in mind that he came in as a 17 year old and didn't even play a full season in the USHL as the #1 goalie for Chicago, so he really had his work cut out for him.

Chris said...

Cogliano and Sauer certainly didn't turn out as well as hoped. But I was talking more about freshmen like Jason Bailey, Tim Miller, Danny Fardig, Travis Turbull, and Zac MacVoy. Those guys will be good a few years from now, but were pretty overmatched this season.

Anonymous said...

Just curious. Why were all the games refed by Hockey East guys. The other three were by CCHA refs. And how did Michigan State mess up and not get Matt Shegos to ref their game with N.H. Shegos probably was pretty lonely the night before his gane, not being able to party with his MSU boys the night before aledgedly like he did at the CCHA tourney.

Anonymous said...

In the NCAA tournament, teams cannot have a referee from their own league calling the game. That's why no games involving CCHA teams had a CCHA ref, etc...

As for the rest of Michigan's freshman class, I think they will all be solid players in a few years as they grow physically and develop their games. For instance, Travis Turnbull reminds me of a young David Moss who can contribute offensively and is tough, just needs experience to learn how to put it all together. Lots of bangers, too... Fardig, Bailey, and Miller (who is really feisty) were fun to watch. They're all good role players. But ultimately U-M is going to need some players to bury the puck and I don't know how much offensive contribution we'll get from them.

Anonymous said...

Get over it.

Anonymous said...

I guess I don't buy the "just wait until a few years from now" thing... UND seems to get quality recruits every year based upon their needs. Michigan gets quality recruits based upon the four year outlook. That much I agree with. What I don't agree with is that, in a few years, UND won't have the type of players they had this year. Maybe they won't have the same cast, but I'm confident that both teams will have the same quality of play.

Chris said...

I wasn't doubting that UND would have great players, but they'd still be great young players going up against a veteran team, which I think is a very interesting match-up.