By Michael Caples -
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The end of summer means that hockey season is starting (or, really, that it’s already underway). Even though we have to say goodbye to the perks of summer, the perks of winter are coming into focus. Nights at the rink, nights watching the Wings, and afternoon skates on the pond or the outdoor rink help us deal with the cold, and, sometimes, actually enjoy it.
But this year, there’s going to be more than just the usual hockey activities. This year will be unlike any other we have ever experienced. And I can’t wait for it to get started.
You’re all aware of all the things surrounding the Red Wings this season. The Winter Classic, HBO 24/7, the Olympics, the move to the Eastern Conference – any one of those things would be enough to grab our attention for a while. All of them combined? It’s going to make for one incredible NHL season, that’s for sure.
But there’s so much more than just the Red Wings this season. The college hockey landscape has been shaken like a snow globe over the last few years, and now, the pieces fall into place. There’s no more “What will the Big Ten bring?” type of questions; instead, we will get to finally see answers. We already are, in fact, if you have seen the TV schedule for the Big Ten teams – you’re going to be able to watch Michigan and Michigan State on Fox Sports Detroit quite a bit this winter.
Alongside the Big Ten comes the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which now hosts a majority of our Div. 1 college programs. Ferris State, Nothern Michigan and Lake Superior State will join Michigan Tech in the new-look WCHA, which will have a distinct Michigan feel all in itself. In fact, the league’s championship weekend – the WCHA Final Five – will take place at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids next March.
Rounding out the changes to the collegiate landscape is Western Michigan joining the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The Broncos have become a national contender over the last few years, and they will be playing with some of the best teams in the country every weekend.
Oh yeah, and four of the schools mentioned above will play at Comerica Park, when we take the Great Lakes Invitational outside.
They won’t be the only teams skating outdoors, either. The Griffins – defending AHL champions now – will take on the Toronto Marlies. The Whalers and the Spirit will welcome two premier OHL clubs in London and Windsor to the Tigers’ ballpark, as well. Plus, we get to watch some of the best to ever don a Wings or Leafs sweater take part in alumni games.
Back to the Griffins for a second – there’s something special brewing in Grand Rapids. I know that’s quite the obvious statement after they won the Calder Cup last spring, but it’s worth keeping a closer eye on them. Coach Jeff Blashill knows how to manage a group of veterans and a group of up-and-comers, making the Griffins a dangerous team night after night.
So yeah, all that, and then all the usual suspects, too. Travel and house programs are up and running, and the high school hockey season is just around the corner.
What are you excited for this season? Tweet us at @MiHockeyNow.