Cawlidge Hawkey. It was everything all of the exhilarating moments of high level hockey combined with the passion and tradition that make college sports great and students hurl insults that their mothers would admonish them for if they heard it. Despite the extremely competitive play of the league, college hockey is vastly under appreciated. We'll take a look at why this is the case.
Exhilarating Level of Hockey
College hockey boasts everything a fan is looking for: competitive games, fierce rivalries, and a mix of heavyweights and underdogs. The video below is a fan made hype video for the 2015-2016 season:
Everything from bone jarring hits to jaw dropping goals are the norm in college hockey, which makes it a breathtaking game to watch. In addition to the fun style of play, rivalries reign supreme. For example, any time that Boston University and Boston College face off, the blood boils in the players of both teams due to the history and hatred involved with the rivalry.
As with every college sport, there are those universities with deep traditions associated with victory and championships. In football, for example, conventional powerhouses reign supreme: Alabama and Ohio State are two of the examples of programs that continually dominate their opponents and rack up victories. The same is true in college hockey: teams like Boston College and North Dakota are feared within the realm of the sport because of their vast multitude of trophies earned throughout the years. North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac on Saturday to win their eighth NCAA Division One Men's hockey championship, further asserting their dominance upon the sport. As long as these powerhouses continue to maintain their strong tradition, these teams should be able to continually be in the top 10 of the standings each year.
Small schools, such as Quinnipiac and University of Massachusetts-Lowell, have provided fierce competition to the traditional powerhouses. Although small schools in unrecognizable towns, outstanding coaching and player development have propelled these programs into positions where they are serious contenders to win their conference tournament and make a run to the Frozen Four. Speaking in generalities, these teams do not necessarily boast household names that the casual fan would recognize, these teams rely on responsible defensive zone play in order to stifle opponents. The emergence of these schools onto the national scene only elevates the level of play of college hockey and makes the game-to-game competition thrilling.
Tournaments on Tournaments!
Think that March Madness is fun? Of course! College hockey operates off the same bracket type format. A champion is crowned from a 16 team field featuring each one of the conference champions and the best of the remaining "at-large" teams. Conference tournaments also feature a tournament style, albeit a best-of-three contest before entering into single elimination in the semifinals and final. Conference tournaments often lead to thrilling games between rivals with everything on the line. The competitiveness of the Frozen Four bracket is outstanding, with two number one seeds (St. Cloud State, Providence) falling to four seeds (Ferris State, Minnesota-Duluth) in their local regional semifinals. In the Frozen Four, Quinnipiac was able to outlast Boston College, while Nick Schmaltz scored in the final minute to elevate North Dakota over Denver. North Dakota flexed their muscles in the finals, downing Quinnipiac by a final score of 5-1, capping off a fantastic tournament.
More people showed up to Martin O'Malley presidential rallies than attended certain games this season. 147 people showed up to watch American International face off versus Army in an Atlantic Hockey battle in Springfield on December 12, 2015. Only three teams filled their stadiums on a nightly basis (North Dakota, Penn State, and Quinnipiac respectively), and eight teams were unable to crack the 50 percentile mark. It's unfair to compare attendance to football or basketball, which draw gargantuan crowds, but college hockey should be able to draw larger fanfare based on the competitive atmosphere and energetic pace of play.
Lack of National Coverage
College sports are a multi million dollar industry. March Madness gleans more than 2 billion dollars in revenue from advertising alone. In 2008, the top ten college football teams in terms of total revenue reaped over 1 billion dollars. Keep in mind, there are 120 teams in Division 1 college football and the new college football playoff has only increased the amount of greenbacks in the pockets of these universities. The popularity of college basketball and football dwarf that of hockey. The NFL and NBA drafts are nationally televised events that are eaten up by the public and are yearlong sources of deliberation between analysts with way too much hair product. Hell, these people are paid big bucks to predict which teenager will be drafted when. So while college players receive frequent screen time on Sportscenter, college hockey players are barely recognizable in the local grocery store.
Even college baseball receives their 15 minutes of fame: ESPN airs the College World Series, allowing for a nation of viewers to fall asleep in their armchair while the University of Virginia battles the University of Florida. But college hockey? Only the championship, featuring a duo of John Buccigross and Barry Melrose (which is awesome, by the way), was available for the entire public, which diminishes the value of college hockey to that of college soccer or lacrosse. Not to offend either sport, but the NHL is far more well recognized and valuable than either Major League Soccer or Major League Lacrosse. In the grand scheme, college hockey gets as much attention as Moldova draws in a world history class.
Out of the total amount of college hockey games played each weekend, only a fraction are broadcast on television. Out of those aired on TV, only a few of those shown on national outlets, such as NBCSN. A lack of national exposure is simply inauspicious, especially considering the bedlam that can occur in these fast-paced contests.
For a league who adores its stars, the relative lack of attention surrounding Jack Eichel, a transparent phenomenon for Boston University last season before drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres, was rather outstanding. College hockey finally had a golden boy, a face for its brand, yet it failed to land a presence on the national stage and was upstaged by Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters, who played in Ontario Hockey League. Being able to boast a superstar is supremely important for many reasons. People are able to associate an object or star player with a brand, much like when we see a peanut with creepy eyes and an outlandish top hat, we immediately think of Planters.
In all seriousness, star players drive marketing and revenue. For example, people would tune in to watch Peyton Manning clash with Tom Brady any chance they could. Ratings would be through the roof, and both the league and the individual teams would be in the spotlight. If college hockey were able to market their star players better, they would be able to sell marquee games to the public better. If players garnered attention and became household names, matchups would be much more profitable for the league and appealing to us as consumers and fans. For example, a matchup between the University of Connecticut and University of New Hampshire is little more than a battle of fair to middling Hockey East teams. However, if marketed properly, it is a showdown between a future first round draft pick (Tage Thompson, UConn) and two of the highest scorers in the country (Tyler Kelleher and Andrew Potarulski, UNH). If each team was defined by its top players or sterling moments from the season, then the public would be more keen to tune into the games. Monday Night Football marketing is based around the best player from each team, goading viewers into watch that particular game. NBCSN advertises its games, especially the Wednesday Night Rivalry contests, by displaying the top players from each team and a brief history of their rivalry. Often times quite fictional (Since when are the Penguins and Avalanche rivals?), the marketing team at NBCSN oozes every hit or highlight out of the prior games in order to make the matchup appear appealing. If college hockey were able to do the same, TV ratings and potential television deals would soar due to the increased viewership.