Inside College Hockey
This Thursday, Neil Koepke of the Lansing State Journal will also be joining us in The Show. Koepke has been covering college hockey for 33 years; he has covered every Frozen Four since 1977.
Send your questions now and join The INCH Show on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET!
Nate Ewell (1:29 PM)
Hey everybody. It's great to be back on The Show before a big weekend of college hockey.
Nate Ewell (1:30 PM)
We're thrilled to be joined by Neil Koepke, a legend in college hockey journalism. Amnog other things, Neil is the inspiration for the "Found on a Cocktail Napkin" feature on insidecollegehockey.com.
Neil Koepke (1:31 PM)
Nice to join you all. I'm ready for all your good questions.
Owen (Wilmette IL)
Neil, your timing for being on the Show is either great or lousy, but the obvious question: Tell us all you can about the Thelen situation and what other troubles may lurk between Coach Comley and his players.
Neil Koepke (1:34 PM)
Overall, it was a classic case of player and coach not being on the same wavelength from the start of the season. Rick Comley at MSU thought that AJ came into camp more concerned about his NHL draft situation, didn't seem to be in shape and got off to a rough start both offensively and defensively.
Neil Koepke (1:35 PM)
Things never got better because Thelen never really improved. As much as Comley wanted Thelen to continue to be a big part of the offense, he continued to struggle. After that, along came different issues off the ice in which coach and player clashed. In the end, Thelen believed Comley was trying to blackball him and Comley was frustrated by Thelen's lack of focus concerning on-the-ice and off-the-ice issues.
Neil Koepke (1:36 PM)
In the end, the series of incidents forced Comley to make a decision for what he thought was the betterment of the team. Although I'm sure he would have rather had Thelen just play out the season and then because of the rift, left for either major junior hockey or somehow joining the Wild organization.
Hurley (New York, NY)
Michigan is 7-0-2 down the stretch and a lot of people are saying they've finally hit their stride and are poised to make a Frozen Four run. I'm not convinced - they've only beaten some middle of the pack teams in a weaker than usual CCHA during this run and, as talented as they are, they give up way too many quality scoring chances. What's your take on them?
Neil Koepke (1:39 PM)
I agree, the Wolverines are an interesting team. Once they get into NCAA competition they will be challenged a lot more than they have been in the CCHA in recent weeks. They do play a high-risk game, and while I think their offense is really coming into focus, especially with the capability of freshmen like Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, and of course, Jeff Tambellini and TJ Hensick, the real big question will be the play of goaltender Al Montoya. He needs to be at a higher level for the Wolverines to get to Columbus and have a chance to win it there.
How do you think Columbus will be as a Frozen Four site? Will it have the same electricity as St. Paul, the same off-ice atmosphere as Providence or Buffalo?
Neil Koepke (1:40 PM)
Good question. I think it's going to be fun, but fun and intriguing in a different way. If fans compare it to Boston and St. Paul, I think they will probably be disappointed. If they just enjoy the downtown, the atmosphere, and being with the fans in a new spot, I think it'll be a very fun experience. Columbus is one of those new, undiscovered towns and I think people being in the downtown area will be surprised.
Neil Koepke (1:41 PM)
But again, St. Paul is a linchpin in tournaments, because everything there is so geared toward the tournament, and being such a hockey hotbed and all.
Neil Koepke (1:41 PM)
If I had my druthers, I wish the tournament was at Nationwide Arena, right down by all the hotels. That's a great building.
The Badgers have really struggled down the stretch against the cream of the crop in the WCHA. Do you guys see them as a sleeper in the NCAAs as a 3 or 4 seed in their region, or will the badgers have to wait for next year?
Neil Koepke (1:43 PM)
Four weeks ago, I thought the Badgers would really be a force in the NCAA -- just the way they were playing and getting the job done. To me, they're not a great team, but somehow found a way to win with a balanced team, and a good attitude. Now, having to deal with this adversity of losing late in the season, they are going to really have to pick it up to become what we all consider to be a top NCAA title contender.
Neil, I'm a little worried about my Buckeyes. Ohio St. can handle itself fine defensively, but can this team score against elite competition? We've been shut out in two consecutive first round NCAA exits the last two years. If they make it to the Frozen Four it will be the greatest day of my life. Go Bengals.
Neil Koepke (1:46 PM)
This is a big season for Ohio State to prove itself in NCAA play, especially after being shutout in those last two games. But people all over the CCHA and college hockey who used to put down the Buckeyes are now saying that this team could be for real, because it has skill, it plays such a rambunctious style and doesn't care, and yet for the first time I think in years, it's a real team ... players just concerned about winning, and not their stats or what's next in their hockey careers. I think this is the year the Buckeyes can do well in the regionals and make a statement. A lot depends on their seeding and matchups, because they still have to get over the hump and show that they can score, which I think they can do.
Goofus (The UP)
Which fans are the best to party with?
Neil Koepke (1:47 PM)
Fans who really love the game, and not just their teams. Those are the best, and those fans are found in places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State, and some of the best, most enjoyable, craziest fans are those found in Marquette, supporters of Northern Michigan.
Jon Atlanta GA
Always good to know Goofus is alive and well in the UP!!!!
Can you rate the goalies in the CCHA? Who do you think is the best? Sigalet, Caruso, Tarkki, Vicari?
Neil Koepke (1:48 PM)
One thing the CCHA has is outstanding goalies. I'm really stunned this year that a guy like Tuomas Tarkki, a walk-on, has evolved into an outstanding goalie and made All-CCHA first team.
Neil Koepke (1:50 PM)
He and Jordan Sigalet of BGSU and David Caruso of Ohio State have overshadowed high-profile goalies like Al Montoya of Michigan and Dom Vicari of Michigan State. Those guys are still pretty good, but to me the best of all might be Caruso, followed by Sigalet and Tarkki.
Roons (Hyde Park, MA)
It appears that Hockey East has three locks for the NCAA's - BC, UNH, and BU. What will it take for Maine and/or UMass-Lowell to get a bid? Do they have to win the Hockey East Tournament, or are their resumes sufficient for an At-Large?
Nate Ewell (1:51 PM)
I'll hop in one one quickly. I think the winner of that series gets in and the loser goes home. I don't think the winner needs to take the Hockey East title to make the tourney -- if they make it to Boston and don't get in, that's a shame.
Back in 1998, I was disheartened when the Hobey Baker was given to a player who maybe didn't deserve it that season... How much is politics involved in choosing the recipient? Thanks for your input!
Neil Koepke (1:52 PM)
I'm not sure if you'd call it politics, but I might call it Eastern bias in the voting. I think a voter or two might have put Chad Alban #3 instead of #2 behind Drury, and that might have been enough for Drury to win.
Neil Koepke (1:53 PM)
Drury actually had a better year as a junior, so this was like a reward, but people really overlooked Chad Alban as a goalie. He not only stopped the puck, but he was such a force in his own zone by making passes and setting up plays for the Spartans. He really changed a team's approach when they played the Spartans.
What does North Dakota have to do to make it to the NCAA tournament?
Neil Koepke (1:54 PM)
I think North Dakota has to be careful and make sure they are at least successful in the first round of the playoffs. I don't think they can pull a Denver and lose and still get in, or at least be certain of it. If the Sioux can beat Duluth, then move on to play Wisconsin, even if they lose that game, I think they would still get in because of all the high RPIs and strength of the WCHA this year.
JB Atlanta GA
What is wrong with the Michigan State program these days??? When will they win another National Title? Will Rick Comley be there to raise the banner or will it be another coach?
Neil Koepke (1:58 PM)
The reasons for the trouble this year are simply a lack of scoring and the confidence that comes with it. I'm convinced that if the Spartans had a defenseman like a John-Michael Liles, or AJ Thelen, like he played last season, they would have four or five more victories and there wouldn't be as much unrest in Spartan Nation.
Neil Koepke (1:59 PM)
However, winning the NCAA might take some time. It's all about recruiting and getting the best players. While the Spartan staff is really working hard to improve the skill level and make the Spartans a high-tempo offensive team, it may take two, three or four seasons before you could say the Spartans are among the elite teams.
JB Atlanta GA
Who will win the National Title this year??? Who is your Frozen Four???
Neil Koepke (2:01 PM)
My Frozen Four is Colorado College, Denver, Boston College and Ohio State. And the winner, with Marty Sertich scoring the winning goal in overtime, Colorado College.
Neil Koepke (2:01 PM)
It's been fun chatting with you all, and remember, the best college hockey fans are the ones who love their teams and the game ...
Nate Ewell (2:02 PM)
Thanks everybody, and thanks to Neil. We'll see you again next week. In the meantime, we'll make way for Mel Kiper ...