Here’s United States of Hockey’s Chris Peters on What You Need to Know Before VERSUS Launches Into College Hockey Tomorrow

Editor’s Note: I really don’t know much about college hockey. Or junior hockey, for that matter. I get into the Frozen Four and World Juniors, but that’s the limit. But the NCAA game takes a big step forward tonight, aligning itself with the same television network as the NHL (VERSUS/NBCSN) for a 16-game package that includes the Hockey East semi-finals and finals. So, to catch a Puck the Media reader up on what they’ll be watching, I enlisted the affable and talented Chris Peters, of the solid United States of Hockey site. Enjoy.

When NBC announced that it would carry a number of college hockey games on VERSUS/NBC Sports Network, the enthusiasm felt by college hockey fans nationwide was palpable. With regular-season college hockey on basic cable and on the network that carries NHL broadcasts, the NCAA game has been granted unprecedented exposure and a chance to reach a wider audience.

Previously, college games were only available on premium channels like Fox College Sports, CBS College Sports and ESPNU, which are often part of extended sports packages and therefore not available to the vast public. So here I am on Puck The Media to give you an idea what college hockey is all about and also to give you a glimpse in what you can expect out of the VERSUS/NBC Sports Network coverage of NCAA Division I college hockey.

Just to catch you up on the general stuff, college hockey features many drafted prospects and a host of players that will sign with NHL teams as undrafted free agents. Players like Jake Gardiner (Wisconsin), Stephane DaCosta (Merrimack) and Craig Smith (Wisconsin), currently in the NHL, were playing on college teams just last season. So the level of hockey you’ll see is pretty good. College hockey also offers some of the best in-game experiences like pep bands, rowdy student sections and really unique facilities. NBC Sports Network will be visiting a whole bunch of different college arenas as part of its 16-game broadcast schedule for NCAA hockey.

On New Year’s Eve, hockey fans will get a really outstanding matchup on the inaugural college hockey broadcast on VERSUS. No. 6 Notre Dame will take on No. 9 Boston University in a battle of a pair of teams that have been among the NCAA’s elite for the last several years. However, both teams’ lineups are slightly depleted for various reasons. Notre Dame is without leading scorer T.J. Tynan and top-four defenseman Stephen Johns, currently playing with Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Boston University also has defenseman Adam Clendening skating with the U.S. However the Terriers also suffered two losses that were both high profile and permanent.

Corey Trivino, the team’s leading scorer is in a mess of serious legal trouble and was dismissed from the team just a few weeks ago. Shortly after, Charlie Coyle, a first-round draft choice and currently skating with the U.S. at the World Junior Championship, announced that he’d be leaving BU for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. So that’s two of the Terriers’ best players that are gone. While both teams have depleted rosters, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the New Year’s Eve tilt between a pair of college hockey’s elites.

Notre Dame’s new building, the Compton Family Ice Arena opened just a few months ago and has become one of the premier facilities in the NCAA. Both teams have two of the best coaches in college hockey in BU’s Jack Parker and Notre Dame’s Jeff Jackson. A total of 17 players drafted into the National Hockey League will play in the game, not including the players currently at the World Juniors. Among the draft picks playing on New Year’s Eve, Notre Dame’s Riley Sheahan, who was a first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2010. These are two hockey teams that are going to make a legitimate push in the postseason and should provide some very exciting hockey. Both have great speed and skill up and down the lineup, even with some of the best players missing.

As for the rest of the NBC Sports Network’s schedule, there’s a wide variety of games that will be on display, as every Division I conference, but one, will have games on the network.

Among the highlights on this year’s schedule:

Jan. 13 – Minnesota Duluth at Nebraska Omaha

The defending champion UMD Bulldogs are again atop the national rankings. Since an early-season sweep at the hands of rival Minnesota, the Bulldogs have been rolling. In fact, they haven’t lost a game since and now boast a 10-2-2 (yes, there are ties in college hockey) record. UMD features one of the best players in college hockey in Jack Connolly, the nation’s leading scorer. Nebraska-Omaha will offer a good test for the Bulldogs, but UMD is the one with the chance to show the nation why it’s number one.

NHL Prospects to Watch:
UMD: Connolly (undrafted), J.T. Brown (undrafted), Caleb Herbert (MTL);

UNO: Andrej Sustr (undrafted), Josh Archibald (PIT), Terry Broadhurst (undrafted)

Jan. 20 – Michigan at Notre Dame

It’s a down year for the Wolverines, who are currently unranked, but rankings hardly matter in a rivalry game. Michigan and Notre Dame have played some classics over the years, even when Notre Dame wasn’t exactly a national power. It’s two of the biggest name schools in college hockey and it should be good entertainment, for what will likely be the best chance for NBC Sports Network to bring in some decent ratings.

NHL Prospects to Watch:
UM: Jon Merrill (NJ), Chris Brown (PHX), Phil Di Giuseppi (2012 Draft Eligible)

ND: Anders Lee (NYI), Riley Sheahan (DET), T.J. Tynan (CLB)

Jan. 27 – Yale at Harvard

Well, it’s Yale at Harvard. So there’s the draw. Yale has been one of the best teams in the ECAC for the last few years, while Harvard has been experiencing some adversity in the standings. Either way, it’s two of college athletics’ oldest rivals going head to head in front of a national audience. If only for the tradition, this one’s worth taking in.

NHL Prospects to Watch:
Yale:
Kenny Agostino (PIT)

Harvard:
Danny Biega (CAR), Max Everson (TOR), Steve Michalek (MIN)

Feb. 10 – Minnesota at Denver

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers are back in a big way after a few down years, thanks in large part to losing players to pro hockey. Currently at No. 2 in the country, the Gophers have some of college hockey’s best players, especially Florida Panthers first-rounder Nick Bjugstad. Denver is no slouch either, currently ranked No. 15 in the country. There is a litany of pro prospects on the Pioneer’s roster and they should challenge in the post season. This game is the second half of a double-header on Feb. 10, and is definitely the headlining act. This has the potential to be NBC Sports Network’s most entertaining game.

NHL Prospects to Watch:
UM: Nick Bjugstad (FLA), Kyle Rau (FLA), Erik Haula (MIN), Zach Budish (NSH);

DU: Jason Zucker (MIN), Drew Shore (FLA), Scott Mayfield (NYI), Nick Shore (LA)

March 17 – Hockey East Championship Game
We won’t know who the final two teams will be in the Hockey East championship, but anytime you have a conference title on the line, you can expect a spirited battle. No matter who plays in this final, it’s going to be a good game and there’s likely to be a lot of pro prospects hitting the ice.

College hockey is an exciting brand of the game. If you’re an NHL fan that’s never experienced college hockey, this is a great opportunity to do so. Any of the 16 televised contests on VERSUS/NBC Sports Network will offer some form of entertainment. Hey, it’s more hockey on TV, so who on earth would complain about that? Oh, right. No one.

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About Steve Lepore
Contact me at stevemlepore@gmail.com

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