Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why TPS Covers the NCAA

Recently Dean was asked why we seem to dedicate so much of our live show to talking about NCAA hockey. Afterall, we're based in Edmonton Canada... about a million miles away from the nearest NCAA hockey school, so who really cares?

We're located in what is now a WHL city and our radio home is the TEAM 1260, the rights holder station for the Edmonton Oil Kings. I've been asked before if it's a conflict of interest for The Pipeline Show to be talking about NCAA or the USHL or even the AJHL in light of the fact that all of those leagues could be seen as competitors to the CHL and the WHL in particular.

The answer is No. It is definitely not a conflict of interest and I can assure everyone of our listeners that The Pipeline Show will not cease our coverage of those other leagues. We strongly believe that covering the NCAA, USHL and Canadian Jr.A is what makes us different and that's one of the reasons why it's a priority for us.

The fact that we dedicate a segment each and every week to the NCAA has brought in a lot of dedicated listeners from well outside of the TEAM 1260's broadcast range. We get a ton of traffic to the blog and the main site from listeners south of the border, many of whom tell us that it's great to hear coverage from outside the immediate NCAA media.

Keep in mind what we do here at TPS; we bring you interviews with the players, coaches and media covering the next wave of NHL stars. A large percentage of that next wave comes from the Canadian Jr.A leagues and the USHL via the NCAA. Here are some numbers to ponder:

The last 5 NHL drafts have had this first round breakdown with the percentage being players who were in or have since gone the NCAA route:

2004 – CHL (12), NCAA (7), Euro (11) = 23.3%
2005 – CHL (17), NCAA (8), Euro (5) = 26.7%
2006 – CHL (16), NCAA (7), Euro (7) = 23.3%
– CHL (16), NCAA (11), Euro (3) = 36.7%
– CHL (21), NCAA (4), Euro (5) = 13.3%

5 year average = 24.7%

Going by that, one could argue that 24.7% of our show should consit of NCAA content... right? That said, Dean and I both feel that not covering NCAA, USHL and Jr.A would be neglecting a huge chunk of our demographic including those geographically nearest to us in Western Canada. Confused?

I don't think the general fan is actually aware of just how many Canadians that there are on NCAA rosters. To that end, I undertook the painstaking task of going through every individual NCAA team's roster (according to and doing the calculator work to find out.

By NCAA Conference, here is what I found: (Canadians/total players)

Atlantic: 82/211 = 38.9%
CCHA: 80/315 = 25.4%
CHA: 60/106 = 56.6%
ECAC: 150/330 = 45.4%
Hockey East: 69/277 = 24.9%
WCHA: 70/260 = 26.9%
NCAA: 511/1499 = 34.1%

Only 3 teams in the entire NCAA have zero Canadian content, those being the military programs of Air Force and Army (for obvious reasons) and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. That 34.1% number of Canadians is obviously a mixture of budding superstars and players there more for the scholarship than a future in the game - just like the Americans who are in the league.

Some will suggest that the top NCAA teams will have less Canadian content because they can draw the top American players and don't have to resort to filling out their roster from the bottomless pool of available Canadians. There is some truth to that - the Gophers don't even have to go outside of their own state to find players, many Minnesotans dream of wearing that big M.

New Hampshire and Boston College only have a pair of Canadians each while both Miami and Notre Dame have just a single Canuck on their team.

However, some of the traditional powerhouse programs augment their line ups with Canadians and typically these are WCHA clubs like North Dakota (52%) and Denver (33%). Often those players are not just there filling out rosters but are playing lead roles like in Duluth this year where most of the top scorers are former AJHL players.

The 16-team National Tournament begins tomorrow and, excluding Air Force, there are 114 Canadians involved which comes in right around 33% of the participants. Here are some notables to watch for:

Joe Colborne & Jesse Martin (Denver), Kieran Millan (Boston University), Ryan Duncan (North Dakota), coach Red Berenson (Michigan), Riley Nash (Cornell), Lee Jubinville & coach Guy Gadowsky (Princeton), Zac Dalpe (Ohio State) and Mike Connolly (Minn.-Duluth). Aside from all being Canadians, another fact they all share... they've all been on The Pipeline Show.

Considering how key NCAA hockey is to players who come from Canada, not to mention their family and friends who want to follow them once they leave, we feel it's more than just an obligation on our part - it's a corner stone of the show.

Next Tuesday we'll be providing listeners with a 1-hour round table discussion previewing the Frozen Four with a couple of TPS regulars in D.J. Powers (Hockey's Future) and Paula Weston (USCHO). The following week is reserved for our annual Frozen Four Coach's Show where we plan on speaking with the bench bosses of all four programs in advance of the pivotal weekend of NCAA play.

Too much NCAA coverage? To be hoenst, since a typical show consists of 4 guest segments and we dedicate one to college hockey (25%), you could make an argument that we're barely doing enough!

Over the last four years The Pipeline Show has delivered pre-NHL interviews with current or future superstars including Kyle Turris (PHX), James vanRiemsdyk (PHI), Colin Wilson (NSH), Jonathan Toews (CHI), Andrew Cogliano (EDM), Ryan McDonagh (MTL), as well as current top free agents Tyler Bozak and Matt Gilroy.

We like to think that that's a pretty good start... but we're far from done!


Anonymous said...

Good for you. The WHL and its supporters have been really ramping up the attempts to villify all things not WHL. There are probably less than 5-6 players on every WHL team who would play regularly on an NCAA hockey team. The CHL has manipulated Hockey Canada into inserting rules that eliminate out of province junior A options for players who are younger than 18 and yet the CHL allows it to happen. Hockey Canada has pandered enough to the CHL out of fear that they will lose their support for WJHC teams. Thank goodness that your show is not allowing itself (yourselves) to be censored. I love the WHL but the NCAA is an incredible option for young players. At one time, it was the way to go if a player was pursuing an education. Now, it is a great hockey option. Anyone who would ask you to ignore it or who attempts to intimidate or muscle out the exposure it deserves is a small minded person/persons. There is a lot of fear out there as junior A leagues continue to recruit great players who the WHL wants. Don't cave into that.

Nathan Fournier said...

Well said guys

Guy Flaming said...

I appreciate the comments.

"There are probably less than 5-6 players on every WHL team who would play regularly on an NCAA hockey team"

This is true but not because of the caliber of players on either side of the border. Each WHL team only has a max of 3 20-year-olds and might have 4-5 19-year-olds so that's about 8 players who could play in the NCAA at the same age.

Remember that CHL is for 16-20 year olds while the NCAA is basically for 19-23 year olds with true 18-year-old freshmen being more and more rare these days.

The 20-year-olds in the CHL aren't typically the future NHL players because those ones are already playing pro at 20 (or are in year 2 at college).

Something to consider but I think I understand what you were saying in general.

Anonymous said...

15 players on the Boston University Terriers - the number one ranked team in the NCAA, are young enough to still play in the WHL.

Guy Flaming said...

but you'd agree that BU (and another 7-10 programs) are the exception rather than the rule.

Take a look at the ECAC or Atlantic Conferences or the 4-teams in the CHA or the weakers teams in the 3 strong conferences.

BU, Michigan, UND, Minnesota, Wisconsin... they'll all have slightly younger yet more talented teams just because they are recylcing their talented freshmen/sophomores every couple of years as they turn pro.

Anonymous said...

My point is that the best programs are younger and yes - they do cycle talent - which means they are also producing NHLers. I am countering your idea that the NCAA is better because it is older. You are reiterating my point - not only would you be hard pressed to find 5 players on any WHL team that could play regularly at the NCAA level but the teams they wouldn't make (BU, UND, UM) would be full of CHL eligible players.

The other thing is coaching, resources and development. The CHL boys develop in the areas of toughness, gritiness and toughing it out with the heavy schedule. But, if you want to take a player and make him a bigger, stronger, more conditioned and more skilled athlete, then the resource laden NCAA schools are the place. Have you seen NCAA weight rooms? These kids have access to the best personal trainers, nutrition, kinesiologists in the world. They have access to the experts and PHD's. You don't develop riding a bus from Brandon to Kootenay.

Yes, you develop your endurance and ability to withstand hardship of travel and schedule. But those NCAA schools are capable churning our super athletes because the schedule is designed to revolve around rest, nutrition and skill development.

Dean Millard said...

"not only would you be hard pressed to find 5 players on any WHL team that could play regularly at the NCAA level but the teams they wouldn't make (BU, UND, UM) would be full of CHL eligible players."

Anonymous, I love your passion but....

I think you are getting a little ahead of yourself here. I think both leagues have their pros depending on the player. A guy like Joe Colborne will flourish in NCAA hockey, but remember he played a step below the WHL before he ended up in Denver, when the rest of his draft class was playing in the WHL. Same goes for Riley Nash at Cornell. Are you telling me you don't think Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn or Jared Cowan couldn't play the college game? Those 3 are all ranked higher (and are better players in my mind) then Jordan Schroeder currently of Minnesota. And those are just the draft eligible player. You don't think a guy like Brett Sonne of Calgary, who scored 48 times and netted 100 points, and who's a 2007 3rd round pick of the Blues couldn't play south of the border. He was an important part of Canada's world junior team this year. A team that didn't have a single NCAA forward on it and that won a 5th straight gold medal, in a tournament that an American NCAA led squad struggled...again. Both leagues are great depending on the player, but neither one is heads and tails above the other.

Anonymous said...

I am saying that there are not more than 5 guys on any WHL roster who could play regularly in the NCAA. Of course Kane, Boychuk, Ennis etc. could. There will always be exceptions to the rules and some teams will have more. Obviously the Giants of a few years back would push the number to 6-7.

Are you saying the levels are comparable? Every year CIS teams FULL of mature former 20 goals scorers (and usually several 70-80 point guys) from the CIS get their asses handed to them by the NCAA.

If the U of A Bears played the Vancouver Giants, they would destroy them. The same Golden Bears team regularly gets schooled by NCAA schools. Are you saying that the NCAA and WHL are the same calibre???

If you want to compare developmental models, you can make a case for the WHL being better. Calibre of play is not even close. High end CIS hockey is somewhere between East Coast and AHL level. The NCAA continually shitcans the CIS. Where does that leave the CHL?

They would be picking kids up on stretchers if the WHL played NCAA with the difference in speed, strength and athleticism. It would be like men vs. boys.

Yes, the WHL's best could star at the NCAA level but the rest of them wouldn't make it. Look at Hanzal. A point a game in the USHL - that is the feeder system to the NCAA. The next season he embarassed WHL opponents. He said the USHL was harder to play than the WHL. Look at Alex Leavitt - unable to play in the NCAA at a level that pleased his coaches and he RIPPED up the WHL. Seabrook was awful at Denver, Matt Pettinger, Steven Later was a man among boys in the WHL but couldn't cope physically down there...the list goes on of guys who ripped up WHL after not succeeding down there.

Sorry man - totally true. My passion is because I am telling the truth! I know you are a supporter and this isn't personal. It is just me saying it like it is.

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you one thing. The WHL's goal scoring champ, Joel Broda, could not play in the NCAA and he shredded the WHL apart. He would be out of his depth in that league with skating.

Dean Millard said...

I'm not talking about who could beat who in a game, I'm talking about development. Age is a big factor. A house league team of midget players would also beat a pee wee AAA team, but that doesn't mean in the long run the midge house league will have better players.

Actually Martin Hanzal told me in an interview once that the WHL was a lot harder to play in than the USHL, and that he preferred the dub. The USHL is right between Junior A and the CHL. It's a good league, but it's not the quality of the CHL.

Again both NCAA and CHL have their benefits depending on the player, and I take exception with you saying the Bears "were schooled" by NCAA teams." Alberta played Denver, Air Force and Colorado College this year, 3 games in 3 days early in their season and lost 5-4, 3-1 and 5-2. A few years back Alberta narrowly lost 4-3 to then #1 ranked Minnesota, led by Phil Kessel. Some CIS teams would get crushed yes, but some NCAA teams might get crushed as well. If you put the 2001 Memorial Cup Champion Rebels up against a few NCAA teams I think Red Deer would win.

However the point isn't who would win in a game, it's who develops better players, and I think both leagues are important. Obviously the CHL develops more players right now, especially high end guys (See Guy's post) but who knows maybe that changes.

Good debate though, you should call into the show sometime, or drop us an email, we love the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot....

I will agree that the CHL is the place to go for dominant athletes and players because it is a fast track to the NHL. I also agree that many of the intangibles that are learned in the CHL (particularly in the WHL where travel is so outrageous) are better for the player.

If a player has a body that can hold up to the travel and hardship that comes along with it, and if a player is dominant, it (WHL) is the place to go. It is also a great place to go because you see such a diversity in style of play. You may play against a run and gun in Medicine Hat one night and then you may get grinded to shit the next night in Red Deer. Then, you may play a speed game in Swift on a Friday night and be back home to play a defensive sleeper against Seattle.

Whereas in the NCAA, you will pretty much play a similarly structured game almost everywhere you go.

The one area the USHL and NCAA really excell is in developing grinders and in teaching defensive systems. Having said that, they also sap the crap out of many highly skilled players.

Trading in the CHL is an antidote to the sapping of skill. If a skilled guy is not being utilized properly in the CHL, he can ask for a trade or someone will recognize that he can handle an upgrade to his role, and they will move for him. In college, you are locked in and unless you want to transfer and sit out, you do what you are asked to do. This can be stifling and oppressive.

But, there are a wack of players who come out of US college with a great skill set who learned how to chip, contain, backcheck and kill penalties in the ultra structured systems of the NCAA, who are heading to the NHL because they are so responsible defensively and structurally/fundamentally.

These same guys may have never been exposed to that type of accountability in the WHL and may have never added that type of structure to their game if they developed in the WHL.

All good stuff and all great discussion. Thanks.....