With the NCAA tournament selection process concluded, we know that no. 10 ranked Michigan Tech will be playing no. 8 Penn State in Allentown on Friday at 5 PM EDT. While that may be a classic match between a big-offense team (Penn State) and a tough defensive team (the Huskies), both teams have been shaped by the conferences they play in.
And so, as part of our tournament week coverage, THG wanted to explore how the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) compares with other conferences in the country. Mike Anleitner (The Old Dog in Texas) and Jonathan Zamaites (our preview prediction Wizard) teamed up to tackle this.
What we decided to do was interview Michigan Tech’s two “super seniors,” graduate transfers from other DI schools, and explore how they saw the differences. The Old Dog came up with the concept and wrote the article. The Wiz conducted the interviews.
JZ sat down with David Jankowski, who played four years at St. Lawrence in the East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC) and Ryan O’Connell, who was a regular for the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten (where Penn State finished tied for fifth with Michigan State) for four years and discussed the supposed disparities.
We’ll start with JZ’s interview with Jankowski and follow that with O’Connell’s feelings about the same topics.
David Jankowski (DJ)
JZ: What’s the difference between the CCHA and the ECAC from your experience?
DJ: Yeah. So I mean, they’re both similar leagues in the fact that both have teams that play really structured games, both have teams with a lot of history as well.
I’d say playing in the different arenas has been a unique experience coming over here, where in the ECAC you’ll have more, you know, you have the Ivy League schools, you have the old looking campuses and the old rinks that maybe aren’t as big or (have) as much capacity as the rinks we have in this league. But they have a little more of a feel to them of you know, old time. Whereas here you know we get some schools with some really, really nice, almost newer style rinks with the bowl seating and stuff like that.
So I think that’s probably one of the bigger differences.
JZ: What about in terms of the style of play, because I know the CCHA is a more defensive league?
DJ: I know the CCHA is a more defensive league. Yeah. So I mean, the ECAC I would say is also kind of on that same side of defensive structure, and stuff like that. Honestly the play itself is pretty similar between the two.
I would say there’s only 8 teams in our league, where there’s 12 in the other league. So you get maybe a little more rivalries built in this league just because you know who you’re going to be playing against in the playoffs, most likely, and every team you have a good chance (against). But yeah, honestly the play itself, they’re both pretty defensive with a lot of structure and not a lot of track meets I would say.
JZ: Okay, you were at St. Lawrence, and that’s kind of like a Tech situation where you’re kind of further away from the other teams. How does the travel situation compare between the two?
DJ: Yes, travel is a big one so I’d say we definitely have more travel playing here at Tech. But we did not have a sleeper bus when I played at St. Lawrence. So we’d have some long trips and for those we would have to be sitting in seats and stuff like that. So it is nice having the sleeper bus here to accommodate for that long travel. St. Lawrence and the ECAC in general, is a pretty good league for travel.
I’d say St. Lawrence is probably the worst travel team in that league just where they’re situated (Editor’s note: SLU is located in Canton, NY, about 75 miles south of Ottawa on the south side of the St. Lawrence River). And you have travel partners that league, too. Whereas here you’ll play a whole two game set every weekend, whereas in the ECAC, you know, you’ll play Friday night say in Quinnipiac and then you’ve got to drive a few hours to Princeton so you’re getting to bed later and stuff like that. (Editor’s note: SLU’s travel partner Clarkson, in Potsdam NY, about 12 miles from Canton, would play the opposite teams on that same weekend.)
So it has been nice, having this style where you’re playing the same team twice and you don’t have to drive after the game Friday.
JZ: What about the divide between eastern college hockey and western college hockey? Because I know that they used to be very different. How are they are now?
DJ: Yeah. I played four years against predominantly eastern-based teams I would say. And then it’s been a really interesting and nice experience to come here and play in a bunch of different arenas against a bunch of different fan bases that I hadn’t had that chance to do.
It’s cool. I mean, the fanbases are different. I think in the Eastern teams, it’s smaller rinks. So the student sections are maybe a little smaller, but they’re right on top of you and whereas here I’d say, maybe you get more students in the student section, but they’re not quite on top of you like they were in the ECAC.
JZ: What about the type of play? Is there a specific kind of play that’s (kind of) notorious with the eastern seaboard?
DJ: You know, I don’t think so. I mean, nothing that I’ve noticed, specifically. There’s a lot of good players on both eastern and western teams and, yeah, I don’t think there’s a huge difference in terms of the players.
JZ: Okay. What about media coverage for example?
DJ: I would say there’s probably more media coverage playing here. It’s a little more closely followed I think. Especially when you’re playing out east, there’s a lot of teams in the New York or Boston area so there’s a lot of competing markets around there.
JZ: I’ve also personally noticed that Harvard will be playing at Brown and Brown (their arena) will be empty even though the number 10 team in the country is there.
DJ: There’s definitely I would say across the board, probably (some teams are) more followed out here in the West. Whereas there it was just so many teams with such competing markets that some schools are struggling right now to get to get a lot of fans in the stands. That’s a good example there but there are definitely some schools that do have a really good base. And they’ve got a really good following which is similar to here, but I’d say there are a few teams in the east that struggle to get some fans.
JZ: Okay. Finally, the officiating, how different is it, is it more ticky-tacky stuff over there versus harder hits here? Or is there any real difference that you can comment on?
DJ: No, I don’t think I don’t think so. I mean, officiating, it’s been pretty similar. I’d say, some games it’s good and some games, you’re not as happy. But that’s just hockey, right? So I think, you know, that’s been the same.
JZ: Okay. Yeah, thank you.
Ryan O’Connell (OC)
JZ: So, you come to the CCHA now from the Big 10. What’s the main difference is that you see, in terms of play?
OC: Honestly, not too much, it’s still that competitive nature. You know, I think Big Ten teams are more on the skilled side. They have a lot of skill players. Over here, it’s more like the nitty and gritty but it’s just as competitive if not more, I would say here. In the Big Ten, all the teams can be in the tournament and, you know, they could, they’re always fluctuating from, they are like 1 to 20. So there’s always good teams here, the same things.
JZ: So yeah, the Big Ten usually has those high draft pick player bases.
JZ: Is that more antagonizing than your CCHA counterparts? That may be like a fourth to sixth round picks versus one and two round picks.
OC: No, I don’t think so. I think it just so it comes down to the team, you know, like if you have a couple guys that are high draft picks and in the rest of the guys really don’t contribute at all it’s not going to make a difference in the long run, you know?
And I think if you have like fourth to sixth round picks, for example you’re more willing to stay and really contribute to the team versus if you’re [the] first overall pick, you’re probably a one and done. So I think it’s just more helpful to have guys staying around for longer.
JZ: Is there any sentiment against those guys who leave after a year or two? Say in terms of just a team view where you might not want to be on a team like that.
OC: I mean, it depends. I’ve never really been in that position, but I guess it would be tough. You know, like I mean as a coach having to recruit new guys every single year and you know you’re losing top caliber players. But in the long run, it just comes down to the team and the team effort.
JZ: Okay. How’s the travel experience between the Big 10 and the CCHA?
OC: It’s very similar, no long bus rides. Sometimes in the Big 10 we flew charter, but that was for long trips. I think the longest trip we’ve had (this year) is like 7 hours, maybe. So it’s not too bad.
JZ: What about the officiating? Do you notice any big differences versus like a nitty-gritty ticky-tacky versus big things being covered?
OC: I’ve really never even paid attention to officiating. I just try to play my game and contribute for the team. I don’t really have too much to say about officiating.
JZ: What about the fan bases? For example, then, do you see a big difference between the two?
OC: In the Big 10, the rinks, I mean, for example, at Ohio State, it was a massive rink. So it would look less occupied even though it probably was the same amount of fans. Here it looks jam-packed. You know what I mean? So it’s awesome.
I think a lot of CCHA is like that too, which is great. A little bit smaller rank, but it’s just as many fans.
JZ: Do you have a preference between the two?
OC: I mean I would prefer this, like [that] the fans here are so engaged and they love the team just as much as we do. So I got to go with the team here.
JZ: Given that the Big Ten is more of an offensive league and the CCHA could be more possibly a defensive league, is it hard to make that transition or see that different kind of play on a regular basis?
OC: Maybe if I was a forward, I could see a difference. As D, you kind of just you have the same rule, you just trying to shut it down, you and the goalie are best friends. And I think that the CCHA maybe it is a little bit more gritty. But, you just gotta buckle down and play your role, okay?
JZ: And my final question here is, I know some of the Big Ten rinks have some weird sizing. Like, for example, the Kohl Center is 200 x 97, Minnesota’s (rink), whatever the hell that is now, does that sizing difference between rinks in the Big Ten versus the CCHA make a bigger difference considering the offense?
OC: I mean, I guess you have more ice to work with so I would like to think maybe a bit but for example, Northern’s ice surface is massive, too. So it just depends on where you go. I think, for us, we have we have good feel around the team so it’s beneficial for us and I’m sure it’s beneficial for all the players.
JZ: Sorry, one more question, what’s the difference in media coverage between the two leagues?
OC: It’s very similar. I mean, yeah I don’t have too much to say. It’s probably it’s very similar.
JZ: Yeah, thank you, I appreciate it, man.
The Last Word
So now you know how two players who’ve seen college hockey from very different perspectives feel about the way the ECAC, the Big Ten, and the CCHA compare. Most fans would like to believe there are more differences, but both of these players, now in their fifth season of college hockey, see many more similarities than differences.
From our perspective, with the broad-based recruiting that now exists in college hockey, and with the cross-regional coverage of the sport on the internet, this really shouldn’t be surprising. But The Old Dog and JZ both had a somewhat different view, and these interviews show us that the players who’ve been there don’t see huge dissimilarities.
But now it’s time to see how things stack up on the ice. On to Allentown.