Despite North Dakota going to the new NCHC and having four recruits de-commit over a 16 month period, not much has changed recruiting-wise in the new college hockey landscape.
Congratulations! If you are reading this (and you are), years of being told that the Mayans predicted the world would end on December 21, 2012 have culminated in just another Friday. All that fear and loathing can go out the window. Despite the best efforts of a doomed civilization, life goes on and things are more or less the same than they were on December 20.
And that extends to college hockey recruiting.
Although the Mayans did not say anything in their apocalypse predictions about a game they knew nothing about, that hasn't stopped people from declaring the current unknown - conference realignment - to be its own end of days. The last year has seen established conferences torn apart, teams jumping ship for their own financial benefit and even the creation of new ones for 2013-2014. For some, the end of tradition and history feels like is a doomsday scenario where the days of being a top contender is over.
That may be a bit harsh but in a world of college sports where money talks, there is logic to thinking the formation of the Big Ten as a hockey conference is a game changer that separates teams into haves and have-nots. Just the combination of historically relevant hockey programs with nationally well-known names and coverage on BTN seems built to court in casual hockey fans. No one has to explain why Ohio State is not playing a rematch of the 2002 BCS title game on the ice despite their opponent's name in the red jerseys or what exactly the CCHA is.
There's motivation for the Big Ten to use name recognition to their advantage but does that hold true for recruiting? In a case like Penn State, the number of transfers and range of recruits is encouraging for a new program whose biggest marketing chip is their new conference. If the average high-end recruit is like future Wisconsin Badger Grant Besse, who said that he "look[s] forward to playing in the Big 10 Conference," then the teams who have been scrambling for their next step should be worried.
That includes the University of North Dakota, who being one of the biggest college hockey teams would have more to lose than most.
While their rivals (and future Big Ten teams) Wisconsin and Minnesota have filled out their initial post-WCHA recruiting classes with the same high-end players they are used to signing, it's been an interesting experience for North Dakota. UND, who will join the newly-formed National College Hockey Conference next season, has seen four recruits de-commit from the program since July 2011 for the CHL. Another high-end recruit, 2013 potential top-five pick Seth Jones, chose to play major junior instead of Grand Forks.
Brendan Lemieux was the latest to de-commit less than two months ago and at that time questions were raised whether or not the move to the new conference hurt North Dakota's recruiting. The NCHC, which will consist of eight teams who presently play in the WCHA and CCHA, doesn't have the national name recognition that the Big Ten does and its deal with CBS Sports Network to show at least 18 games puts the conference on a channel that is on a higher tier than BTN and NBC Sports Network (who have the rights to Hockey East).
For better or worse, these questions are going to come up and in North Dakota's case, they've answered them.
In the past two days UND head coach Dave Hakstol picked up verbal commitments from two highly-sought after Minnesota high school hockey players in St. Cloud Cathedral junior Austin Poganski and Holy Family sophomore Shane Gersich. Each player spoke highly of Grand Forks with Gersich telling the Minnesota Hockey Hub, "I loved the small-town feel, and I loved the campus. You couldn't ask for a better rink obviously. I really loved the coaching staff, it doesn't get better than those guys."
Both are the type of players North Dakota fans are used to seeing suit up in Ralph Englestad Arena but the Holy Family sophomore is in particular interesting because of his background.
It has always been difficult for teams to chip away at Minnesota's built-in advantages in the Twin Cities. With almost every game broadcast locally, the Gophers do a great job marketing their team as "Minnesota's Pride on Ice" and the end result is almost every player coming in saying he always dreamed of wearing the maroon is gold.
So it's a coup when one of the top hockey recruits in the Twin Cities decides to take his talents outside of Dinkytown. Getting the son and nephew of Gophers as Gersich is (his father Frank played for Minnesota from 1985-1988 and Shane is related to the Brotens) in the University of Minnesota's backyard like North Dakota did is the type of thing that leads to a Hatfield-McCoy rivalry. Just without the killings.
While this isn't the first time a legacy recruit from North Dakota or Minnesota has chosen the other (Aaron Ness comes to mind), it does go to show the demise of North Dakota's recruiting has been greatly exaggerated.
College hockey isn't like its football and basketball brethren when it comes to changes. No team is unaffected by realignment but the damage has been most felt out west where the flagship WCHA has been carved into three distinct pieces and each is trying to make its claim as the big piece of chicken that Dad gets.
And who doesn't want to claim conference superiority with that big piece?
However, in this new college landscape the end result is less about which conference is the better recruiting option or even a conference versus the CHL. This isn't about the Big Ten versus the NCHC; the top teams from before the changes still hold recruiting advantages over others.
A team like St. Cloud State, who might not have the facilities Minnesota or North Dakota have, was unable to convince Poganski to play for the hometown Huskies despite being in the same conference as UND. North Dakota still retain their own advantages. The arena and history don't go away with the WCHA and because of it their recent recruiting success is not a point for the NCHC but just one for North Dakota. Despite recent losses, they have to take their two recent recruits as a sign that college hockey realignment is different for UND than the post-apocalypse wasteland would have it seem. They, like Minnesota or Wisconsin or other top teams when it comes to recruiting, won't get everyone but they will be well-off.
Life goes on. Elite players have committed to both sides but if the competition level is the same, not all teams are created equal.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments.