Saturday, March 18, 2006

2006 CIS men's hockey championships
Previewing the preview

I've got myself locked in a little room this weekend, making calls and putting together something to preview the men's university hockey championships that start Thursday in Edmonton. (If you happen to play for one of these teams and I've left you a message, please friends, call a young reporter back.)

CIS hockey is an underrated entity in Canada, and one of the few leagues that really under-draws in terms of attendance relative to talent level (aside from in a place like Thunder Bay, Ont., where the Lakehead University team represents the highest level of hockey played in the city). Many of the guys playing in this tournament have recent pro hockey experience, but gave up the AHL/ECHL grind in order to receive scholarship monies and play hockey at Canadian schools.

Not a bad choice, if you ask me.

Given that the players are, in general, a few years older than those playing NCAA hockey, it's perhaps no surprise that the best CIS teams — like the 11-time champion Alberta Golden Bears — could easily wipe the floor with their American competition. (The running rumour is that NCAA teams all decline to play the Bears for fear of losing handily and — the theory goes — persuade fewer Alberta-area kids to go the American college hockey route.)

Still, these guys really don't get much respect up here. (And Making the Cut didn't help — aside from Lethbridge Pronghorns grad James Demone who has found fame and fortune in the AHL.)

What the CIS needs, more than anything, to gain more widespread interest is a few more guys like Steve Rucchin, Cory Cross and Mathieu Darche making the jump directly from CIS hockey to the NHL. And, as time goes along, I expect that's exactly what we'll see.

A look at the 'Final Six' teams and their seedings (The Globe posted a preview here):

1. Alberta Golden Bears
2. Acadia Axemen
3. Lakehead Thunderwolves
4. McGill Redmen
5. Saskatchewan Huskies
6. Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks

The host Bears obviously come in as the favourites as the defending champs, but since it's a one loss and you're out setup, anyone could fathomably come out on top.

I have no idea what the interest level is in this tournament, but considering how I've followed the CIS season so closely, I figured I might as well offer some thoughts on the tournament as it goes along.

And, speaking of the CIS, I'll be watching the men's basketball semi-finals tonight: (7) Cape Breton Capers v. (3) Carleton Ravens and (4) St. FX X-Men v. (1) Victoria Vikes. (I suspect, however, that Mr. Young and I may be the only fellows crazy enough to spend their Saturday nights in such a fashion.)

10 Comments:

At 6:54 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger John said...

I guess it's all but the 3 NCAA teams that played Alberta this year. Heck, one even beat the mighty Golden Bears.

 
At 7:01 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I should have said 'come to play in Alberta' as, yes, the Bears did matchup with three NCAA teams down south earlier this year. Only Minnesota, who were then ranked No. 1 in the NCAA, beat them (in a 4-3 game). (The Bears were missing captain Gavin McLeod.)

 
At 7:56 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger John said...

The U.S. teams generally only play CIS teams as exhibition games since they can't help them make the NCAA tournament. Would it really make sense to travel for a single exhibition? I would say no. Instead, the Canadian team travels and gets 2-3 games on a tour, and the U.S. teams get home dates (and gate receipts). I would also guess that the U.S. teams compensate the Canadian teams to some degree for making the trip and playing these games.

 
At 8:00 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I would also guess that the U.S. teams compensate the Canadian teams to some degree for making the trip and playing these games.

Yes, they do.

It's no secret the U of A has wanted to host a tournament with the best teams in both the CIS and NCAA for a number of years. They'd also provide compensation to NCAA teams for coming up, but so far the interest from the U.S. clubs hasn't been overwhelming.

None of this is intended as a slight to the NCAA; I'm only pointing out that the CIS is competitive with a league universally considered the top university hockey league in the world.

 
At 8:10 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger John said...

I think at that point it breaks down to NCAA rules on maximum number of games and NCAA teams not wanting to burn games against teams that essentially don't count when it comes to NCAA tournament consideration.

Also, financially it would still make more sense for a U.S. team to host games when possible. They can all make money from tickets and concessions and some may even make some money from parking. Granted, it's not big dollars for most like football, but every revenue stream counts when it comes to supporting 20+ sport athletic programs.

I'm sure the CIS is competive. Canada clearly has the very best junior development in the world and since there are only so many pro spots, I'm sure there's plenty of talent to feed college programs on both sides of the border. Adding former pros to the CIS ranks only adds to the talent level available in Canada as those players would be ineligible in the NCAA.

 
At 8:19 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

The thing is, as the CIS improves, I believe there may be a shift away from Canadian kids going south to play NCAA hockey. Major junior teams are offering full scholarships to many of their players at Canadian universities, meaning guys can play at a high level of hockey and get an excellent education even after playing 3-4 years in the CHL.

The negatives of playing major junior are slowly being stripped away.

Besides, a kid who went and played a half season with the San Diego Gulls should still be able to play university hockey.

 
At 8:26 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger John said...

Besides, a kid who went and played a half season with the San Diego Gulls should still be able to play university hockey.

I don't disagree with ya on that part, but the NCAA does.

As far as the growth of the CIS, you could well be right, and it would certainly be interesting to see what U.S. teams would do if the Canadian recruiting streams started to dry up.

 
At 8:53 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Ken said...

As a note, it is typical for the NCAA team hosting the CIS team for a friendly exhibition, to pay the travel and hotel expenses.

This was the case when a CIS team from Northern Ontario took a tour through Denver early this season.

As an aside, Lakehead went 0-1-2 on the trip, having faced 2 teams that were in the Frozen 4 the previous year.

 
At 8:58 AM, March 20, 2006, Anonymous Ken said...

BTW James,

The Lakehead Media guide can be found here:
http://www.thunderwolveshockey.com/files/TelusCup_Media_Guide.pdf

You may find it of use in your reporting.

 
At 2:54 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger n said...

I realize that it's not hockey, but Cdn university volleyball teams regularly play the elite D1 teams and win. Check out the Can/Am Challenge (http://www.bears.ualberta.ca/Volleyball/Men/index.cfm?pt=news&ID=1611) or their California trip (http://www.bears.ualberta.ca/Volleyball/Men/index.cfm?pt=news&ID=1784)

 

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