Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

What will college hockey crisis mean for the CHL?It would be remiss not to highlight the great upheaval unfolding in NCAA hockey, since nothing is and of itself. As most people know, the creation of the high-roller Big Ten Hockey Conference has had a domino effect with several of the best programs across the Midwest, which has hastened the University of North Dakota to push for a second superconference, breaking up two of the best college conferences, the WCHA and CCHA.

There's no foresight with these developments so it is early in the game to predict what ramifications this could have for the Canadian Hockey League. Please bear in mind, though, that at time when the WHL in particular is making headway at recruiting in the expanding player pool in the western United States and is trying to crack the talent-rich, college hockey-crazy Minnesota market, several smaller programs could be severely diminished. First, the details, from Brad Elliot Schlossman:

At least five other teams will join UND in this league: Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and Miami (Ohio).

Notre Dame and an eighth school — possibly Western Michigan — also could be added to this group by the end of the summer.

... The league will begin at the same time as the Big Ten Hockey Conference, significantly changing the landscape of the college hockey world in two years.

Both the WCHA and Central Collegiate Hockey Association will be left with five teams — not enough for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They will likely have to combine under one of the league's umbrellas, but it is unknown which one. (Grand Forks Herald)

Picture Paul Kelly of College Hockey Inc. waking up with a severe migraine. This is more dystopia than utopia for NCAA buffs, and a little disheartening for those who believe all prospects in North America deserve at least two viable options. Having the big programs aligned together might be great for TV contracts and ticket prices. However, if more top players are concentrated among a select few teams, how does that help keep a blue-chip prospect away from the CHL if there is concern about being buried on the third or fourth line as a 19-year-old freshman?

Tom Reale also pointed out almost all of the left-out schools, including Bemidji State, college hockey's answer to Butler in basketball and Boise State in football, are those which are in NCAA Division II for all sports except hockey. Bemidji or St. Cloud State losing the luxury of being able to sell tickets to a game against Minnesota or Minnesota-Duluth could be very bad.

In the west, it almost certainly means a stratification of the sport — and potentially, the loss of some programs. The remaining schools of the WCHA and CCHA are going to have no practical alternative than to band together for survival, and the result is not pretty. (Without A Peer)

Point being, someone stands to tap the growth in American hockey and it might not be the NCAA. As Western College Hockey noted, it "hasn't been able to capitalize on that growth, and if anything, is moving backwards."

One should at least be open to the possibility this could help the USHL, although it would take many years, become a league someone could play in until it's time to turn pro at age 20 instead of going to the CHL or NCAA. Meantime, some major junior hockey people must be metaphorically licking their chops (it wouldn't do to be seen doing it openly, you understand) about this shakeup. Chris Dilks pointed out an unintended consequence of having two mega-conferences could be for more players to head (or stay) up north:

Today [Thursday] was a very bad day for college hockey.

I've seen plenty of speculation that this spells the inevitable doom for the schools left on the outside looking in. There's definitely very legitimate concerns for those schools right now, but I don't think anyone can say with absolute certainty what their future will be. What I can say with a great amount of certainty is that yesterday, there were 24 strong schools in the west playing major conference college hockey. Today, there are 12, possibly 14.

... does this move push the pendulum for players more in the direction of the CHL? Head to head, the NCAA still offers a better package, with the option to get an education AND play pro hockey, which the CHL doesn't do. But for a 16-18 year old player that has a CHL offer, but not an NCAA one? Is it worth taking that gamble and waiting for the opportunity to play major college hockey that may never come? If you take 10 teams out of the picture, that's 180 full scholarships that aren't out there anymore. (Western College Hockey)

For any U.S. readers, there is no glee taken in passing this such news. The principle here is that what's best for hockey is the greatest good for the greatest number. That means having all 60 CHL franchises and all 59 NCAA Division I programs thrive to their best ability. It's a little disheartening the agenda of a few athletic programs might put that in jeopardy.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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