College hockey, right around the corner

With college hockey right around the corner, St. Cloud State, as well as the seven other schools that compete in the NCHC conference, practiced on the third annual media day held at the Target Center Thursday.

Each of the school’s eight head coaches and a player representative were on hand to participate in the festivities.

Despite the conference being 3 years old, the NCHC sent six teams to an NCAA tournament, which is more than any other conference, and posted the best out-of-conference record among any conference.

Commissioner Josh Fenton, who has held the position since the conference began in 2013, was pleased with the league’s success but knows that it is not guaranteed to be the best conference year in and year out.

“Well, I think it’s always up for debate. Every conference across the nation is very competitive,” Fenton said. “Yes, the evidence did show that last year we sent 75 percent of our league to an NCAA tournament but that was last year. We will continue to put a good product on the ice and win games at a high level.”

Last year, SCSU finished sixth in the conference despite having the nation’s toughest schedule and being just a game above a 500 record. The Huskies faced adversity and pulled off a late run in the conference tournament securing them a spot in a NCAA tournament for the third straight season.

After an upset win in the tournament, SCSU wound up finishing among the last of the eight teams in all of college hockey. Even though the goal of the conference championship is a priority, head coach Bob Motzko is aware that the conference will only help the programs in going forward.

“We were fearful that when we formed this conference, we would be beating up on each other too much,” Motzko said. “Now there is hope as a league that we can put more than half our teams in a tournament. We would hate to have our league beat ourselves up. One year from now and hopefully five years from now, it could be the same trend.”

Motzko, as well of the rest of the coaches in the conference, are going to go through a bad stretch, but can still find themselves back in the discussion because of the strength of this conference.

“You can take a punch in the mouth or have an untimely injury in the season and still rebound,” Motzko said. “None of the programs in this conference are used to finishing eighth and someone has to. At the same time our league can let us rebound and find a way back into a tournament.”

A preseason conference poll was released by local media on their predictions of the conference standings. University of Minnesota-Duluth was picked to win the conference followed by: Denver, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, Miami, St. Cloud, Western Michigan and Colorado College.

Following the end of the regular season, the Frozen Faceoff will take place at Target Center for the annual conference tournament.

Despite an increase in attendance in the second year of the Frozen Faceoff, the tournament and others across college hockey struggle to fill the building towards the intended maximum capacity. Some have discussed the possibility of combining conference tournaments against other conferences for college hockey.

“Ill never rule it out. But, right now I don’t believe that there this is a substantial amount of discussion about that,” Fenton said. “It’s a unique concept. It’s been implemented in other sports and done very well. It could happen in college hockey, I just don’t think it has gotten to that point yet.”

The Frozen Faceoff will be held March 18 to 19 in Minneapolis. The college hockey season opens on Oct. 3, with conference play beginning Oct. 30.

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