Sorenson: Off The Top Of My Head, Puck TalkAnalysis
Okay StitchHeads, it looks like I will have to put the “Gone Fishing” sign up on the door once again. As most of you guys who have been reading my garb over the years know I am a pretty big college hockey dude too, always been a fan of the puck. Well the kind folks at ESPN have given me the on-site assignment of covering the Frozen Four this coming weekend down in Tampa. It’s my first actual game assignment from them, not just a weekend wrap-up type of column as I’ve been doing the last couple of years. So it’s gonna be fun to cover that for the MotherShip.
In case you guys are wondering, the two semifinal games are on Thursday and the championship game is on Saturday night. It will be Boston College vs. Quinnipiac in game one and North Dakota vs. Denver in game two for Thursday.
Oh and FYI, the only team we all should be hoping to lose are the Denver Pioneers because the other three schools do field a baseball team among their athletic programs.
So that’s where I will be this weekend, in the frozen wonderland of Tampa, Florida (?) following my puck dreams. I’m not sure how much college baseball stuff I will get to in the next few days so bear with me. Of course there will be plenty of good content to follow right here at D1baseball.com while I’m chasing the national title on the frozen pond, so be sure to follow my colleagues here in my absence. And worry not, I’ll try to be back with you on Sunday for the weekly Ouch List if all goes well.
With all this in mind, let me do a quick comparison here between the major differences in college hockey as opposed to college baseball, both as a sport in general and how covering it as a member of the media is so much different.
THE DIRTY DOZEN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COLLEGE BASEBALL AND COLLEGE HOCKEY
1- Smaller in number.
While D1 college baseball has 300 teams, Division I in college hockey has only 60. There is no Division II to the sport and Division III has 75 teams in its affiliation.
2- Lots of Club teams in college hockey.
But don’t be fooled, although the number of Division I varsity programs seems low, there are numerous college hockey “club” teams out there, including many in the Pac 12 and the SEC. In fact, Kentucky’s club team is well known for having some of the best schedule posters ever made. UK alums like Ashley Judd and Rebecca Gayheart have appeared on their alma mater’s hockey schedule posters in the past.
3- There is not much Division I college hockey outside of the Northeast and Great Lakes.
Unlike the wide distribution of college baseball to all corners of the country, there is very little college hockey played west of the Rockies. Other than Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks having D1 programs, schools like Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Air Force are as far west as D1 hockey’s footprint stretches. That is, until this year when…
4- Arizona State is the big experiment for the success of college hockey out West.
There are reportedly a couple of Pac 12 hockey programs that are watching what happens with ASU’s new D1 hockey program with a keen eye. The Devils had won a couple national ‘club’ championships – yes, they have a national club tournament each year to crown a champion – and made the jump to D1 this year after getting over $32 million in private donations. ASU head coach Greg Powers told me he heard from a couple of Pac 12 programs and said they are waiting to see what becomes of the Sun Devil hockey program before they start to look at pulling the sport up to the varsity level at their school.
For further explanation of it, here is the column I wrote about Arizona State’s hockey program after they opened the season with a successful weekend in Alaska at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage:
5- College hockey players are usually older than college baseball players
College hockey players have the same kind of elite ‘travel teams’ in high school that baseball does. But most of the better players go on to play one or two years of ‘Junior Hockey’ which is sort of a minor league for the NHL and is played in many cities around the country. For instance, the Omaha Lancers (now River City Lancers) are a junior hockey team.
After those junior hockey years are played the best of the best players go on to the NHL. A large portion of the good players go on to play college. There are numerous cases of high schoolers going straight to play college hockey as well.
As an example of the age difference in college hockey, the youngest team in Division I this season is Boston College whose average age of its players is 21.04 years of age.
6- The NHL Draft.
Unlike baseball, when a junior player or a igh schooler gets drafted by an NHL team, he can go on to play college hockey and the team that drafted him still holds on to his rights for three years. And that player also has the right to leave college hockey and go to the NHL at any time. Yes, one-and-done happens in college hockey just like in college basketball. But most players, unless they are amazing like last year’s Jack Eichel of Boston U. who played one year and is now in the NHL, will stay for at least two and usually three years.
7- College hockey attendance is much better than baseball
Programs like North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin play in NHL-style arenas with home ice capacities of 11,600, 10,000 to 17,500 respectively, and attendance is really good, especially when they are having banner seasons. But even some of the lower echelon programs get ‘decent’ crowds. Put it this way, while Air Force baseball might get 100 fans at a game, their hockey team will still get 1,000-plus fans for their games at the 2,502-seat Cadet Ice Arena.
8- College hockey teams play about 30-35 games a year.
Like college baseball, hockey is played mostly on weekends. And that usually only entails Friday and Saturday games. But unlike baseball, there are rarely mid-week games. The regular season stretches from early October to early March, and that includes a couple weeks off for Christmas break. It’s not like baseball which jams as many games as possible into 13 weeks of action.
9- College Hockey Regionals are all at neutral sites.
There has been talk of moving the Regionals to campus sites – for instance, the crowds for home games at Minnesota and some of the bigger arenas would be huge. But college hockey still does it the right way with neutral site weekends. However attendance at some Regionals has been a little on the light side even though they are all played at some pretty nice minor league hockey arenas.
10- One and done.
Of the 60 teams in D1, only 16 make the NCAA Tournament. And once you are into the Big Dance, there is no margin for error. The entire tournament is single elimination, from the four-team Regionals to the four-team Frozen Four. This is one aspect that college baseball is MUCH better about – there is double elimination all through baseball’s Big Dance. But college hockey is like college basketball, even though the pro version of the sport requires at least a best-of-five playoff scenario, the college basketball and hockey version is a one-and-done deal. I wish college hockey could play some kind of best-of-three at least when it comes to the post-season.
11- Hockey is well-represented media-wise.
Below is a shot of the Media Room at the Northeast Regional in Bridgeport, Connecticut that I covered back in 2014. It was packed to the gills, including numerous television cameras at the back of the room that didn’t even make it into the frame of my camera. Rarely have I seen a college baseball Media Room with more than a handful of people. Even when I’ve gone to Regionals at Texas or Florida.
12- The members of the media dress much better for hockey games.
Every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man, right? Note in the picture above from the Bridgeport Regional press conference how nearly everyone is wearing dress clothes. A good bit of them in suit and ties even. Not like in college baseball, where, at the College World Series you see all of the media schlubs wearing shorts and golf shirts with gross hairy legs everywhere and some even in flip flops. And yes, that includes me. Ugh. (well, not the flip flop part).
QUICK, NAME A PROTESTED GAME THAT WAS UPHELD.
I’m sure you guys will find this to be sot so shocking at all, but protested games in baseball are rarely rarely rarely rarely reversed. According to this article that showed up in the New York Times after the Yankees opening day loss, a protested game has only been upheld 15 times in MLB history, only once was that in the 21st century. Here is the rather interesting, but not surprising protest column…
ANOTHER HIT FOR THE CYCLE.
Coming on the heels of Tennessee’s Jordan Rodgers, who hit for the cycle in last weekend’s 14-5 win over Kentucky, we have our second cycle in four days as UC Davis senior Cameron Olson pulled the trick in Tuesday night’s 15-3 win over San Francisco. Olson got the hardest one out of the way with a first inning triple. He then settled in and doubled in the second inning, singled home a run in the sixth and then hit “a towering home run off the right field foul pole in the seventh” as Aggie Baseball SID Jason John Spencer put it in his write up of the game. This was the first cycle to be completed by an Aggie batter in the program’s D1 era. The last Davis player to hit for the cycle was Ryan Coultas, who did it on March 24th of 2002 in a game against Concordia.
A GOOD TRIBUTE TO THE BEST STADIUM P.A. IN COLLEGE BASEBALL
Miami baseball SID Camron Ghorbi sent this column from the Miami Herald to me Wednesday afternoon. It was written by Walter Villa, who was a fellow ESPN freelance college baseball writer with me a few years ago. The only complaint I have with Walter’s column on JayRo is that I wish it could’ve been a mile long. But you know how newspapers have such a limit on the length of their columns.
None-the-less, here is Walter’s piece on Jay Rokeach that is set to run in Thursday’s Miami Herald:
HARD TO BELIEVE THIS WASN’T PATENTED ALREADY
You always see pitchers wearing a jacket with just one arm covered, right? So how come it took so long for someone to patent a pitcher’s one-armed jacket like this? Here you go people, here are the millions of dollars you missed out on…
THIS WEEK’S EIGHT FOR OMAHA
If the season ended today, here are the teams that would be fighting for that chance to get showered in confetti which was awkwardly shot by NCAA interns as the teams are dogpiling in the middle of the field.
– UC Santa Barbara
Yes just two SEC teams and two ACC teams get in this week. I’m sure that makes me some kind of wild heretic to most of you reading this out there in Stitched-ball Land. Just trust me, there may be more weeding out of the field as the weeks go on.
Okay you StitchHeads, have a great college baseball weekend. There are plenty of good matchups to keep an eye on. I’m off the my winter wonderland here in April. I’ll be back with more for you soon, I promise.