Saturday, August 21, 2010

Media Pitstop #1: Adam Wodon

As the season gets closer, we're going to sit down with some media personalities from around the college hockey universe to get their takes on the offseason that has been and the season that will be. Our first sucker volunteer is Adam Wodon. Wodon is the Managing Editor of College Hockey News (CHN), and he's been covering college hockey since 1988. He's a former play-by-play man in the ECAC, having served in that role for Cornell and Princeton over the years, and in the mid-2000s was an occasional college hockey analyst for ESPN and was a regular color man for college broadcasts on CSTV. Before starting CHN - considered one of the "Big Three" news sites for college hockey on the Internet - in 2006, he was a senior writer at USCHO.com for nine years. Basically, he knows what he's talking about.

Believe it or not, we did not photoshop his picture. He should probably be thankful, although we should probably point out that the picture is almost five years old and he's no longer in his mid-30s. (Happy birthday, Adam.)

Without a Peer: It seems like with this so-called "World Hockey Summit" coming up in Toronto that the CHL/NCAA war is ready to heat up even more. What's your take?

Adam Wodon: Well, originally we'd been told that (College Hockey Inc. President) Paul Kelly hadn't been invited, which is true, except that Tom Anastos of the CCHA was invited.

WaP: Is that really a good substitute?

AW: There may be more to the issue than meets the eye. I don't know if it's personal between the people involved, but to me, Tom is as good of a power broker as anyone. Theoretically, Paul Kelly is supposed to be that guy, but I'm sure Tom will get the job done as well as anybody could. Whether that will actually accomplish anything... I don't know if anyone could accomplish anything.

WaP: Bruce Ciskie had a commentary yesterday talking about how the CHL is whining about Paul Kelly doing essentially the same thing they've been doing for 15 years.

AW: Well, it's true. Obviously, we're all biased from our point of view, and they have the right to sell their product, so to speak. I just think it's unfortunate that so much of it is propaganda, and I think that's what really upset people. I don't really know what you can do about it, but a lot of it is misleading and really, it's a disservice to the kids that are involved. From that standpoint, what Paul Kelly is trying to do as far as education is great. That's only going to go so far unless the NHL steps in to do something, and they haven't shown any inclination to do that. I don't think you're going to get anywhere getting the NCAA to change its rules and regulations, so the only option is to hope the CHL plays nice. Otherwise, the only thing that might fix it is if the NHL were to lay out some sort of restrictions on things the way its done in other sports.

WaP: Supposedly there was some hope that the two sides could come to an agreement whereby neither side would poach the others' commitments, even though it's fairly one-sided in that CHL teams are poaching NCAA commits well more frequently.

AW: From what I understand, they've changed a lot of the rules, where you can't play junior A unless you're 16, and there's only a few 16-year-olds allowed on a junior A team. They've eliminated the holding areas for those guys, so they're pumping them into major juniors faster in order to get them wiped off the NCAA radar before NCAA teams even get the chance to recruit them. That's one of the "dirty tricks" out there. It's not illegal, but it's a disservice to the kid, forcing them into those ranks that way, before they have a chance to get educated or really decide what they want to do. We can debate this all day long, but I steadfastly remain behind the idea that (major junior) is not a faster route to the NHL for 99% of hockey players.

WaP: Especially specific types of players that might be better suited for the college route.

AW: Unless you're among the elite of the elite, and even then, I don't believe the NCAA hurts your progress whatsoever. Just look at (Jarred) Tinordi right now, he's a great example. They tell him, "oh, it'll be a faster route to the NHL." Please. It'll still be two or three years. The same thing could have happened going to college for two or three years and then jumping to the NHL. The fact of the matter is, the guys who play four years of college often are then ready for the NHL, whereas guys that leave early spend two or three years in the minors quite frequently. There's so much evidence out there that supports that, but the myth continues. They've certainly won the propaganda war, that's for sure. Ultimately, what are you going to do? They're not going to stop doing that.

WaP: With almost 40 underclassmen that have left to sign pro contracts, what kind of effect is that going to have on the level of play this season?

AW: I'd already thought in the last couple of years that it had leveled the playing field quite a bit. Look at all the teams in the last few years that have made the NCAAs and advanced. It's not just RIT and Bemidji State, but Northeastern a few years ago, and Yale recently. There have been teams in the NCAAs that hadn't even been there recently, like Northern Michigan and Alaska for the first time last season. St. Cloud State won a game! So the playing field had already started to become more level in the years leading up to this even though we haven't seen a team come from nowhere to win the national championship that's never won it before. The funny thing is, it's like, how many more guys could it possibly be? We've set a record this year. The trend has always been growing, but it just keeps happening. Either (the NHL) is digging even deeper to get guys, or the recruiting has improved and they're just taking them faster. It's a shame when RPI and Harvard lose guys, because they don't have much margin for error. RPI in particular, that was a bad one, but
unfortunately, Harvard's going to have a huge drop off.

WaP: Well, hopefully you don't have to feel too bad for us.

AW: They should still be OK, but obviously, D'Amigo's a big loss. He wasn't really lights out for (the Engineers), but he was certainly on his way to becoming that for them. He was going to probably be one of the elite players in the nation this year. But overall, the trend is definitely leveling the playing feels. To some extent, you might say that's good looking at it from that standpoint. We did have the feeling in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the rich were getting richer. It does help in that regard, but it helps in a way you wish it wasn't helping for the overall picture.

WaP: Turning to the ECAC... who's going to beat Yale?

AW: Well, I thought it was going to be RPI!

WaP: Do we still have a shot?

AW: I was talking to Ken Schott, and I probably still would have picked Yale regardless. He was saying "oh, who's the favorite now," and I hadn't been aware that RPI was to begin with, but they'll be contenders. If (Yale) gets any semblance of goaltending this year, they'll be fine. If they'd had any to speak of last year they would have been in the Frozen Four.

WaP: How about Boston College? Can anyone beat them nationally?

AW: It's so easy to say that the national champion is going to be the team to beat, but we were talking about it on the way back from Detroit last season, thinking about the top 10 for this year and (BC) was so clearly number one. They have so many players coming back that they're heads and shoulders. But we've seen before that things don't necessarily play out like that. There have been years where teams that have seemed to be so clear-cut number one all year long have something happen and they dive bomb at the end. There are no foregone conclusions, but you'd be crazy not to pick them number one if you're doing a ranking.

WaP: They're so far ahead just in Hockey East, and then you look at some of the other elite teams around the country and they're far ahead there too.

AW: Michigan State loses three underclassmen, Michigan has been losing guys to the NHL and major junior, Notre Dame's had a rough offseason and then Tinordi bails out. Wisconsin got hammered. North Dakota's probably in the mix, though. At this point you just have to thumb through the top programs and find out who's lost the least. Going back to the ECAC, though, I would not overlook Cornell. They will take a step back and I'm not sure they're going to make the NCAA's but they're not going to plummet or anything.

WaP: They're Cornell. They're never that far from the top even when they're having a down season.

AW: The key is their new goalie (Andy Iles). He put up better numbers on the Under-18 team than Jack Campbell did last year. We'll see what happens. He's 5'8" which is practically unheard of at Cornell, but he's a local guy (from Ithaca). If he does anything, they'll be fine. They're not going to compete as well nationally. But do you know who my dark horse is nationally this year? Merrimack.

WaP: Merrimack?

AW: (chuckles) Yeah. My dark horse to make the NCAAs.

WaP: Bombshell. How do you think the WCHA realignment is going to play out?

AW: Obviously, Bemidji State will instantly have rivalries and whatnot. Nebraska-Omaha's a little bit outside that scope, but with (UNO coach) Dean Blais coming back into the league they'll find their way into the mix pretty quick. It only makes the WCHA stronger, as if they really needed to be stronger, so it's a little crazy, but now they've got even more teams to beat each other up with. It remains to be seen what kind of effect that has for them on the national level, whether it helps or hurt them. I'm more interested to see how the three new coaches in the CCHA (at Bowling Green, Ohio State, and Western Michigan) work out. We won't be able to tell this year, but Western and Bowling Green, if they can get their act together and start competing for the same types of players Miami is getting, we might see the CCHA have some more compelling races. They've been a pretty top-heavy league for a number of years.

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