Don't worry - The Land Grant Trophy isn't on the line......
While this move hasn't been met with open arms across the college hockey landscape, it certainly is generating a buzz that college hockey hasn't seen in a little while on a national level. A lot of new conferences are forming as follows:
Colorado College (WCHA)
Denver University (WCHA)
North Dakota (WCHA)
St. Cloud State (WCHA)
Western Michigan (CCHA)
(note: I don't think that's the actual NCHC logo - but it's all I could find at the moment)
Bowling Green (CCHA)
Ferris State (CCHA)
Northern Michigan (CCHA)
Notre Dame (CCHA)
Michigan State (CCHA)
Ohio State (CCHA)
Penn State (Ind.)
In case you're curious - overall winning percentage by realigned conference:
1. NCHC .574 (100-71-24)
2. Hockey East .525 (113-101-25)
3. ECAC .523 (106-95-39)
4. Big Ten .478 (57-63-19)
5. Atlantic .464 (105-124-34)
6. WCHA .462 (87-104-35)
NCHC certainly looks like a great conference on paper, and right now they have the record to prove it - the Big East and ECAC are a distant 2-3. The Big Ten sits with the fourth best win percentage - and they can thank Minnesota for that. At the bottom sits the Atlantic and the new WCHA.
As part of Penn State week, I sent some questions over to Kyle Rossi over at Thank You Terry - a great blog on Penn State Hockey. He was kind enough to send back some thoughts on these questions. Here is the first half, check back for part two later this week:
TMM: Penn State got off to such a great start winning 6 of their first 9 games - was the start a surprise to you? And how would you assess the season to this point given the team's recent struggles?
TYT: It was a huge surprise, and while it hasn't gone quite as well lately, Guy Gadowsky has stressed throughout that this season is about the foundation more than wins and losses. Which is fine for the room, but it's nice when you can do that and win too. Coming into the season, I thought PSU would be about equal to a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic Hockey team. So, in my head, I penciled in all of the major conference games as losses, all of the ACHA and Division III games as wins and split the rest down the middle. Really, my personal expectations were to hit that, except maybe steal a "big" win to stand as a season highlight. It's sort of worked out that way - we're 5-8-0 against Atlantic Hockey and have nice looking wins against Ohio State, Air Force and RIT (even though the latter two aren't doing well this year). And also, it sort of hasn't - we've lost twice to Division III teams and once to an ACHA team. But big picture, I'm happy with where things are, and beyond Michigan State and Wisconsin, the rest of our schedule is ACHA and Huntsville, so it's probably appropriate to start thinking about this first season as a whole.
TMM: Do you think it was important that Big Ten teams reached out to Penn State this year for games? Can you make anything out of the fact that only Michigan State and Wisconsin actually got Penn State on the schedule for a weekend series?
TYT: One of my friends participated in a Q-and-A with Coach Anastos, and actually asked him, essentially, "why bother scheduling Penn State when it doesn't really help you at all?" His answer, and he really deserves a lot of credit for this, was that he wanted to something for the good of college hockey and the Big Ten, even if his program doesn't have anything specific to gain from it. I'm glad he and Coach Eaves wanted to go above and beyond like that, because they're easily two of the highlights of our schedule. At the same time, I really don't blame teams for shying away, because if you're thinking pairwise or something like that, Penn State's not going to do a whole lot for you this year. While I'm not upset that we're not playing Michigan and Minnesota (although I wouldn't mind a shot at the former this year) per se, I do think it's nice to have a good relationship with a couple of Big Ten teams because they did something they didn't *have* to do.
TMM: Outside of Minnesota, the Big Ten schools have struggled this year, though Wisconsin is now on a bit of a roll, and Michigan State just knocked off the #2 team in the country a week and a half ago - what are your thoughts on the struggles of the Big Ten schools?
TYT: It's interesting, because there's been a little bit of a malaise over the whole thing ever since the announcement, and obviously a lot made of it by bitter people who want to see the whole thing fail. That first season, Michigan was the only Big Ten team in the NCAA tournament, even though they made it to overtime of the championship game. Last season was better with MSU, Minnesota and Michigan, but this year, it's starting to look like only Minnesota. One thing I've sort of learned in college sports is to trust tradition. With rare exception, programs with multiple national championships just don't disappear forever. Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin will all be fine in the long run - at the very least, I'm still scared to death of trying to compete in a league with them every weekend.
TMM: Back to Penn State - obviously they are very young this season, and they are paced by a pair of dynamic freshmen David Glen and Casey Bailey - what are your thoughts on their play so far this season? What are their strengths?
TYT: I think most people undersold Glen as a key player coming into the year, but he's been amazing. Generally, he plays with Curtis Loik and Kenny Brooks, and the three of them together, while not carrying the most pure talent in college hockey, just do not get outworked. The points are generally a product of that, but really, the most telling thing is that they're the line that generally hops over the boards during situations needing a momentum shift. Glen was captain of a very successful AJHL team in Spruce Grove, and he's easily the type of guy that you could see getting the C after Tommy Olczyk graduates.
Bailey was a little more on the radar, because he had a fantastic season in the USHL last year. He's really just a pure goal scorer. The thing that stood out to me about him almost immediately was his shot. He's a little like a bigger Phil Kessel in that he'll shoot from almost anywhere but somehow make it look like a good idea. Unlike most guys who do that though, he's also willing to get to the dirty areas - if I had to guess, he's actually scored more often that way than with a laser from the circle. Starting with the Three Rivers Classic, they put him together with Max Gardiner (Blues draft pick, Minnesota transfer) and Taylor Holstrom (Mercyhurst transfer). They accounted for four of our five against OSU and have been great since.
TMM: In goal it looks like Penn State has split time between Matthew Skoff and PJ Musico - what does each player bring to the table?
TYT: The book says that Skoff is the more technically sound of the two, while Musico is more athletic. Musico is all about Caliswag and enjoys surfing, Skoff is a low-key Pittsburgh guy. Skoff, it's probably fair to say, has the pedigree as a long-time solid USHL goalie who actually signed with Ohio State a couple years ago (that was important to me, because it's proof that a guy could have played for another major-conference program), while Musico came, most recently, from SJHL Flin Flon. Regardless, they've sort of jockeyed back and forth all season. Musico sort of took the upper hand by being outstanding in the win against RIT after Skoff had struggled against Buffalo State. Skoff got back on top when he beat Air Force, and actually played both of the Union games, but opened the door back up when we blew a late two-goal lead at Holy Cross. On balance, he's probably been the *slightly* better of the two (more recently, he has the OSU and national development program wins to his name), and I think the expectation of most is that we'll have a Skoff/Eamon McAdam tandem next year, but Musico's made that tough at times by playing well.
Regardless, it's a pretty safe bet that you'll see both of them against MSU. Will Yanakeff was actually in a tandem with Skoff in 2009-10 with USHL Sioux City before he was traded to Waterloo, so that will be a little bit of an interesting goalie matchup if it happens.
TMM: Coach Gadowsky seems to have done a great job this season getting Penn State to compete night in and night out - thoughts on his effort so far this year?
TYT: I'm going to have to disagree and modify that a little bit, because there was an admitted focus issues involved with a couple of our lower-division losses, to DIII Buffalo State and to Neumann, so I do think there's a little bit of a consistency problem. But at the same time, this team has done an amazing job bouncing back. Arguably our two best wins this season - RIT and Ohio State - came the day after two very, very ugly shutout losses. I'm hoping that same pattern holds true Saturday of course, with a big win over Vermont following a loss to Neumann. But it's not just a game-to-game thing, it's after goals, it's even after a bad shift. So focus and consistency aren't always there, and that allows bad things to happen, but resiliency is off the charts.
TMM: What do you feel are some of the more important things that Michigan State fans should know about this Penn State team?
TYT: Beyond the stuff you asked, about Glen, Bailey and the goalies, we're hammered with injuries right now - in fact, you probably won't see two of our three best defensemen. Luke Juha is out for the year with an abdominal injury, while Nate Jensen (upper body) is expected back "before the end of the season," so who knows what that means, but MSU seems like a pretty quick turnaround given the statement on him, which was just made Monday. Mark Yanis, the third, just came back last weekend after missing two months with a fractured ankle. So we're definitely a little bit wobbly on the back end, although a couple guys like Joe Lordo and Connor Varley have really stepped up to the point where our depth there hasn't been a huge concern yet. Jonathan Milley, a big forward who's done some nice things around the net in the little we've seen him, will probably be out as well.
Also, and I have to point this out as someone with roots in the ACHA team, we have eight guys on the team who came to Penn State with no idea that PSU was about to get NCAA hockey and just went for ACHA. Two of those guys, Michael Longo and Michael McDonagh, are essentially every game players, while George Saad and Eric Steinour also tend to be in most of the time. Brian Dolan and Rich O'Brien are in about half of the time. McDonagh will be the only one left after this year, but regardless, I think it's pretty cool that those guys are playing important roles on a team capable of beating Ohio State, and it speaks well to to the quality of hockey outside of NCAA DI. So does the fact that ACHAs and DIIIs can beat said team, but that's not as much fun to point out for me.