While we wait for the COVID-19 impacted college hockey season to open, the Old Dog keeps trying to find interesting things to bring to our Tech Hockey Guide followers. This week, I tried to see how the new CCHA will impact travel for the eight universities that will open the inaugural season in the fall of 2021.
One of the foundations for the new league was that travel in the WCHA was a mess. Of course, with teams spread from Fairbanks to Huntsville, there would always be trips that required some air travel and some long bus rides. In the second coming of the CCHA, this will truly become a bus league, although there are some rather long rides for a couple of teams, particularly Bemidji State and Bowling Green.
How I Assessed This
To get a handle on what’s involved, the Old Dog made use of Google Maps to try and see how each school stacks up in travelling to the other seven sites in the CCHA. To do this, I worked out these rules:
- Travel is city to city, not rink to rink or rink to hotel or anything that detailed. For St. Thomas, I used St. Paul as the home city, although it’s possible the Tommies could play on the other side of the river in Minneapolis. And, since St. Thomas is the only school located in a true metropolitan area, the use of city-to-city distances seemed reasonable.
- When Google Maps offered several different routes (and it always did) I picked the one with the shortest travel time. In some cases (particularly for Tech’s trips to Minnesota), there were some meaningful distance differences, with shorter distances possible at the cost of longer travel times. There are a number of “shortcuts” through western Wisconsin, but they all go through small towns on twisty state roads that add a lot of time to the trip. So, shortest travel time.
- I did the analysis on a Friday afternoon, which is likely to be similar to what teams will be doing on at least the outbound part of each trip. Interestingly, there were minor differences in Google Maps depending on which direction was chosen. Houghton to Marquette was just slightly different when compared with Marquette to Houghton. I’m guessing that the actual Google Maps distances may even vary from day to day depending on what the inscrutable Google algorithms are doing at any given time. Overall, though, these differences were so small they really had no significant impact on the results.
So, to start with, here’s a table that shows the road distances using the method described above.
Northern Michigan has the fewest total miles to travel (assuming a balanced schedule), while Bowling Green has the most. Michigan Tech and Lake State were close to NMU, showing that the UP is the geographic center of the league. St. Paul, with its relatively close location to the UP and the Minnesota teams, is only a bit removed from that center. Bemidji State, Minnesota State, and Ferris State are all about the same.
I was a bit surprised about FSU’s relatively greater travel distances. But, once you look at the routings, you realize that the Bulldogs have to go through Chicago and around the southern end of Lake Michigan to get to Minnesota, and that adds quite a bit of extra distance for three trips. Google Maps suggested taking the ferry across Lake Michigan—something that’s absurd since no ferry operates during the winter.
Of course, none of this adjusts for the possibility of snow-clogged highways or delays. Some of the trips, like the one from NMU to LSSU along M-28, could be difficult with blowing and drifting snow being a regular occurrence. The last leg into Houghton can always be tough, no matter which way a bus might be coming from. After all, this is hockey in the upper Midwest. Snow, and even blizzards, are just a fact of life. Which is not to be confused with Blizzard T. Husky, who is also a fact of life. Sort of.
Travel Times Are Similar–But Not Exactly So
Another way to look at this is by travel time. When you add all of the numbers for travel, here’s what you get:
NMU is still the leader, but MTU, LSSU, and St. Thomas are all about the same. The two longest trips are between Bowling Green and Bemidji, and Bemidji and Ferris State. BGSU and the BSU Beavers will log the most bus time, all other things being equal.
Rivalries Based on Travel
Finally, it’s also possible to look at this and see how many home-and-home rivalries could exist. Currently, only Tech and Northern have this in their schedule, but it’s obvious that St. Thomas and Mankato could do that if they wanted. It might be barely possible for Northern and Lake State to do that, too. But a nearly three hour ride late Friday running into early Saturday morning along Gitchee Gumee (more correctly “kitchi-gami” in the Ojibwe language, meaning “Big Sea” or “Huge Water”) followed by a Saturday night game could be a bit difficult.
Still, with eight teams, a set of four natural end-of-season rivalries won’t work out based simply on travel considerations. Certainly, Tech and Northern will remain natural rivals. But with three Minnesota schools, three other three Michigan schools, and one Ohio team, how would that all sort out? Lake State as a foe to Ferris State? Or Ferris State as a counterpart to Bowling Green? Does Minnesota State’s history with Bemidji override the natural location-based rivalry with St. Thomas? I’ll let readers speculate about this in the comments section below.
About As Good As It Gets
When you look at this in total, it does make for a reasonable and sound approach to college sports. In a sport that’s not cheap to start with, this is about as good as you might get once you get away from the densely packed Northeast. Hockey East teams are just as close as high school sports in most cases, and parts of the ECAC also have short trips. In the Midwest, this is as good as it gets, far better than the NCHC or the B1G schedules.
It might even be possible for The Misfits to have at least one road trip every year in addition to Marquette.