The end is coming, people. We’re down to just four names in our Western League best name showdown and it’s a competitive bracket. But who will break through to the final? The choice is yours. Head to our Twitter page to vote and take note: Voting ends Tuesday at noon, with the final head-to-head ending Friday. Here are the semifinal match-ups:
Ryan Kennedy is the associate senior writer and draft/prospect expert at The Hockey News. He has been with the publication since 2005 and in that span, Don Cherry, Lil Jon and The Rock have all called his house. He lives in Toronto with his wife and kids where he listens to loud music and collects NCAA pennants.
The first time Duncan Keith played in the Olympics, he returned to Chicago with a gold medal and then helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years while averaging about 27 minutes of ice time in 104 total NHL games between the regular season and playoffs. Last year he earned his second Olympic gold with Canada and would have won his third Cup had the Hawks not lost a heartbreaking Western Conference final to Los Angeles (admit it, New York…). You would think the compressed NHL schedule in those Olympic years would be tough to shoulder, but Keith sees things the opposite way.
It’s a bombshell of a story and one that nobody is going to delight in. Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson is going through bankruptcy and the path to financial ruin seems to have been blazed by his own parents.
Ever since Arizona State announced that its successful ACHA club team would be making the leap to Division 1 hockey, coach Greg Powers has been fighting a war against his inbox. See, every time the Sun Devils bench boss finishes reading an email, five or six more pop up. Powers has received about 600 emails in the past day from potential recruits, family advisors (ie agents) and other ACHA coaches who want to know how his school did it.
“We expected it was going to be big news,” Powers said. “I’ve been pushing Arizona State as the most unique college hockey experience in the country for four years.”
Arizona State has national name recognition thanks to it affiliation in other sports with the Pac-12 conference, it’s a huge school (80,000 students) and it has that great Southwestern climate to boast. The Sun Devils also had a nice model in Penn State, a similar school (minus the weather) that went from the ACHA to Division 1 just a few years ago and is already thriving in the newly-formed Big Ten conference.
“Penn State is awesome,” Powers said. “Their blueprint for success has worked. It’s real, you can do it. We did it.”
In fact, when the Nittany Lions were in their transition season, they hosted Powers’ Arizona State team and the Sun Devils came away with a win. The victory put the school on the map and that’s when the rumblings began in the greater Phoenix area.
So if other club-level schools are calling Powers, we may not be done yet with college expansion in the near future. But which schools would bring the most buzz with them? Here’s a top 10 based on national prominence, geographical uniqueness (so if your state already has a team, too bad) and conference links, if any. As a bonus, I’ve included young local players from each area.
When Jonathan Ericsson made his eight-game debut with Detroit during the 2007-08 campaign, the Red Wings blueline was filled with big-time names such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski. That team went on to win Detroit’s most recent Stanley Cup.
Two years later, Ericsson became a regular on the Wings back end and the team still had a huge veteran presence with Lidstrom, Rafalski and Brad Stuart, not to mention an ascending Niklas Kronwall.
Now Kronwall and Ericsson are the big names and the two Swedes are helping guide what is becoming a very solid defense corps once again for coach Mike Babcock. It’s all pretty startling for a player who was the last overall pick in the 2002 draft, in a ninth round that no longer exists.
The rumors had been out there, but now it’s official: Arizona State is joining college hockey’s top ranks.
It was a glorious weekend of Michigan hockey for me, as I took a road trip to Ann Arbor to take in games featuring the National Team Development Program (NTDP) and University of Michigan. The NTDP got two wins over United States League opponents while the Wolverines capped off a weekend sweep of American International on Saturday. All three games gave me a great look at some top prospects and here are a few of them below, plus more kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL some day.
Yost Arena in Ann Arbor can be a fun place to play. With nine minutes to go before the game starts, the fans at the University of Michigan rink begin to sing the Canadian national anthem, even though only three Canucks are in the lineup that night. They even have a Maize and Blue-colored Canadian flag. The locals had a Texas flag when Chris Brown (now with Washington) skated there and New York Rangers speedster Carl Hagelin got a Swedish flag. Hagelin, who captained the Wolverines in his junior year, made such an impact that the team all signed that flag for him and the pep band learned Sweden’s anthem for his final game.
But with success comes attrition and after making the NCAA tournament for more than two decades without missing, the Wolverines have been left at home the past two seasons. If they hope to return to the promised land, they’re going to do it with youth.