Goodbye Tour de France Hello College Hockey

Viewing the Tour de France from the Alpe d’Huez in 2015 (photo S. Prout)

The Tour de France, one of the world’s most watched spectator sports ended it’s 21 stage run this past Sunday on one of the world’s most famous streets – the Champs-Elysees. It also wrapped up my personal month-long addiction to an event largely ignored in the USA and certainly in the Midwest. Attracting an estimated 12-15 million annual worldwide spectators and nearly ten times the spectators of the Super Bowl for Stage 21 in Paris it’s on everyone’s list of the world’s top spectator events. I’ve had an infatuation with the event for at least 15 years and was fortunate to attend several stages of the Tour in 2015. Maybe it’s my history of being a long distance runner or participation in a number of in-line marathons that has had me drawn to this grueling event. With a mix of team and individual competition, the Tour de France combines sprint, mountain and time trial stages that emphasize team strategy, individual physical and psychological endurance and dangerous stage routes that unpredictably knock contenders out the race after some hard to watch high-speed crashes on harrowing mountain terrain.

This year was no exception ending the competition for at least a half-dozen contenders for the general classification and the world’s top sprinter in Marcel Kittel who had to withdraw from the event due to injury after winning five sprint stages. Kittel who was dominating the sprint stages and had already won five before crashing out was on his way to winning this years “Green Jersey” for the events top sprinter. But even Kittel benefited from the disqualification of perhaps the sports biggest super star Peter Sagan, a perennial “Green Jersey” threat who was disqualified after stage four after colliding with fellow sprinter Mark Cavandish who was knocked into a road divider and crashed ending his 2017 Tour with a shoulder injury. It was ruled Sagan endangered a fellow rider and he was tossed from this years event in a highly controversial ruling. In the “King of the Mountain” competition, Frenchman Warren Barguille captured the “Polka Dot Jersey” as the top mountain climber in just his third year on the Tour and placed himself in the record books as the first Frenchman to win a stage on Bastille Day since 2005. ¬†Finally, in the General Classification, Chris Froome won the Tour de France for the fourth time in five years buoyed by the events strongest team for support and a strategy that won him the “Yellow Jersey” despite not winning a single stage. His win by just a 54 second margin was one of the closest victories in years.

With the 2017 Tour de France officially over I can get back to my other passion, college hockey. Only 75 days away, the college hockey season will be here in no time and it looks to be another intriguing season for every Division One conference. In particular, common wisdom is that Denver (with minuscule player departures) is the prohibitive favorite in the NCHC. No doubt they are the legitimate favorite but we all know the road is never as easy as it seems. In the BIG 10, the addition of Notre Dame throws additional intrigue to a league still trying to capture its footing and respect. Boston University, who had an unbelievably talented recruiting class in 2016-17 was hit very hard with departures and has to reload once again yielding early season nods to Boston College. In the WCHA it looks to be a wide open race and we may not get a handle on the favorite in that league until we’re several months into the season. Ditto for the ECAC, a league typically hard to predict. With coaching changes galore from Alaska to Michigan to New York it’ll be interesting to see some of the new team personalities that develop over the course of the season as new coaching philosophies unfold.

For the team I’m most interested in, the SCSU Huskies, I’m comfortable in predicting a top three finish in the NCHC. With minimal departures, help at goaltender, an experienced upper class and an intriguing group of first-year players it should be a contrast to the roller-coaster season we saw out of the squad in 2016-17. With a solid core of defenseman, more offensive potential out of the forwards and competition and more experience at the goaltender position I feel pretty good about this team. Physically, this will be a more imposing team in 2017-18 and they have a deeper basket of role players that will provide more depth for the long haul.

I’ll begin with a 2017-18 road trip planner and will put my thoughts to what I see position by position as we head into the season. Thanks for following along.

 

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