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Expect CHL-NCAA rivalry to heat up

Will the Air Canada Centre play host to the NCAA's Frozen Four in 2015? (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Will the Air Canada Centre play host to the NCAA's Frozen Four in 2015? (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s no secret tension between the NCAA and the Canadian League has been high in the past couple years, but just wait until the next few seasons. That’s when the two venerable agencies have designs on literally invading each other’s turf – and fortunately, fans will be the winners.

Though nothing is written in stone, two high-profile events will be the accelerators. For major junior and, specifically, the Ontario League, the Winter Classic planned for Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich., will be the point of entry. Obviously the OHL already has a few teams in the state, but with the NHL’s Red Wings and Maple Leafs playing at the University of Michigan’s Big House, an opportunity for undercard games sent pundits buzzing with possibilities. No way would one of college hockey’s biggest programs allow major junior kids to play on their outdoor ice, but since Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also lays claim to the deed at Comerica Park in Detroit, a second venue has been tabbed for open-air goodness.

Teams rumored for a double-header at the home of baseball’s Tigers include Michigan squads Plymouth and Saginaw, with nearby Canadian teams Windsor and London as potential opponents.

The idea of Windsor – whose Spitfires have enticed American talent such as Cam Fowler, Jack Campbell and Kenny Ryan away from the NCAA in recent years – playing a showcase for major junior on such a big American stage can’t be a nice one for the college game, but the NCAA is not without its own bullets.

The Frozen Four, college hockey’s championship tournament, may be coming to Toronto as soon as 2015. Tampa hosts this year, with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia following (Penn State will be a full-fledged Division I school by the time the tourney hits Philly and though it’s a lot to expect the Nittany Lions to qualify right away, it will add to the overall buzz of the new Big 10 conference they helped form).

Bidding is still open after that and the idea of Toronto playing host is appetizing for all involved. Though the Air Canada Centre has proven less than ideal for tenants not wearing blue and white – the CHL’s Prospects Game last year was not well attended – the Frozen Four has an ace up its sleeve. Because the event is a destination for hardcore college fans, a majority of tickets to the showdown are generally sold well in advance, even before the combatants are established. So the onus on the locals to turn out is lessened greatly.

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Toronto is always painted as a Leafs-or-nothing town when it comes to hockey, but I wonder what the Frozen Four dynamic would mean if some future Buds were involved. Tyler Biggs, a 2011 first-rounder currently with the Miami RedHawks, would be a senior in 2015, while fellow draftees Tony Cameranesi (committed to Minnesota-Duluth for next season) and Max Everson (a freshman at Harvard) would also likely still be in school. There’s no rush on any of those prospects and with Miami and UMD both evolving powerhouses, the chances of at least one of those teams making it are pretty decent. The Leafs also have three more drafts to bring in other NCAA prospects and it goes without saying there will be some of those in the future.

There’s a war going on for the hearts and minds of the best teen hockey players in North America and with the stakes so high, it is no surprise marquee events may become the latest weapon. At least it’ll be fun for fans to watch.

Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.

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