April 8, 2003
Postcard: Stanley Cup Preview

The college hockey season ends this weekend, but thankfully we don’t have to give up pucks for the summer cold turkey. As the amateurs put away their skates, things start to get interesting on the pro level – and while we’d rather be in a barn with our favorite pep band, four games in a night on ESPN and ESPN2 could be the next best thing.

Inside College Hockey provides a light-hearted look at the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begin Wednesday (or so they tell us; we’ll start watching Sunday, thanks). Included are our predictions and something we call the “INCH College Advantage.” It’s a highly scientific formula that rates which team has more impact players (or coaches) with a college hockey background – and tells us who we’re rooting for.

Dallas vs. Edmonton
The Simpsons recently aired its 300th episode, and lots of people took note that it’s the longest-running series on television. That completely overlooks the Dallas-Edmonton showdown, which has become as much of a rite of spring as filing your taxes, or Susan Sarandon flashing a peace sign at the Oscars. The Stars’ move to their new rink last year took away one interesting sub-plot, however, since commentators can no longer compare the near-perfect playing surface in Edmonton to the damp sandpaper-like substance they skated on at Reunion Arena.
INCH College Advantage: Edmonton. Here's why we love the Oil: Of the team's top seven scorers (not including Michigan State alum Dancin' Anson Carter, who was dealt to the Rangers last month), five – Todd Marchant, Mike Comrie, Mike York, Shawn Horcoff and Marty Reasoner – are ex-collegians.
INCH Prediction: Dallas in seven

Detroit vs. Anaheim
The grandkids of the Red Wings’ players will recognize the logo on their opponents’ jerseys from Disney’s Mighty Ducks movies, even if Anaheim is a bit of a mystery to playoff hockey fans. Those Wings’ children have more playoff experience than the Ducks, too, thanks to the tidal wave of family members that poured on the ice during last year’s Cup presentation. Here’s a hint, Hockeytown: if you have to introduce yourself to someone when posing for a team photo with the Cup, you don’t belong in the team photo. The hockey gods will have their revenge, but not at the hands of Emilio Estevez & Co.
INCH College Advantage: Anaheim. The Wings boast a healthy triumvirate of collegians in CuJo, Chris Chelios and Brett Hull, but Anaheim counts Hobey Baker winners Paul Kariya and Jason Krog and All-American Adam Oates among its ranks, not to mention stalwarts like Keith Carney, Andy McDonald and Dan Bylsma.
INCH Prediction: Detroit in five

Colorado vs. Minnesota
Marian Gaborik and the Minnesota Wild were the NHL’s feel-good story of the first half, proving that you don’t need big salaries to produce wins. But barring an Elizabeth Smart-like reappearance by Gaborik – he’s scored just four goals in his last 32 games – the only thing Wild in St. Paul by next week will be the Wild Onion bar. The Gophers should win more games this weekend than the Wild win in this series.
INCH College Advantage: Colorado. Sure, the State of Hockey has a few former college guys in the fold. But quantity (Laaksonen, Dowd, Roloson, Bombardir, Mitchell, Hendrickson and Muckalt) doesn't triumph over quality (Blake, Reinprecht and Battaglia, to name a few). Plus the Avs have Tony Granato and former University of Denver equipment manager Dave "Soup" Randolph behind the bench.
INCH Prediction: Colorado in four

Vancouver vs. St. Louis
One-line teams with no goaltending usually hold us as well in the playoffs as Iraq’s Republican Guard. That said, Vancouver is an entertaining team to watch, and the Canucks didn’t draw a bad matchup in St. Louis, since the Blues’ goaltending isn’t exactly the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division itself.
INCH College Advantage: St. Louis. The Blues dressed 13 players with college experience this season, from Scott Mellanby (80 games) to Peter Sejna (one game). Bet they wish they had one of the college’s playoff-tested goalies.
INCH Prediction: Vancouver in six

Ottawa vs. NY Islanders
It’s always a joy to watch rugged defensemen emerge over the course of a playoff season, the way Ed Jovanovski did with Florida in 1996 or Chris Pronger did with St. Louis in 1998. Similarly, it’s highly entertaining to see skilled players vanish like stains in an infomercial, the way Alexei Yashin does each year. So tell me again – why did the Islanders trade Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza for him?
INCH College Advantage: NY Islanders. With Jason Blake (North Dakota) and Shawn Bates (Boston U.) on the roster, the Isles have cornered the market on diminuitive, pesky former college skaters. Shouldn't Mike Milbury trade for Brian Gionta?
INCH Prediction: Ottawa in six

New Jersey vs. Boston
The only reason the woeful Bruins made the playoffs was their fast start, the result of a fun-to-play, fun-to-watch style crafted by head coach Robbie Ftorek. As soon as the B’s lack of talent – especially between the pipes – caught up to him, Ftorek got fired and replaced by GM Mike O’Connell. It’s a scene right out of Office Space – like telling your boss, “And I suppose you could do better?” Here’s hoping Ftorek is living the Office Space dream: sitting at home with Jennifer Aniston, doing nothing, while his old club goes up in flames.
INCH College Advantage: New Jersey. The Devils have a few notable ex-college stars, namely Joe Nieuwendyk, John Madden, Brian Rafalski and the aforementioned Mr. Gionta. How impressive would the list be had Scott Gomez, a one-time Colorado College recruit, and Jamie Langenbrunner, coveted by Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth among others, not bolted for the major junior ranks?
INCH Prediction: New Jersey in five

Tampa Bay vs. Washington
Switch the channel from NASCAR, because the Caps-Lightning series is on! The entire Southeast is revved up about this matchup. These two teams have the most uninspired playoff histories south of St. Cloud State, but both think things could be different this spring. Tampa Bay has Nikolai Khabibulin in goal, while Washington hopes its investment in Jaromir Jagr pays off. Jagr may need the payoff that comes with a deep playoff run, too, if his NCAA basketball bracket was as off the mark as mine.
INCH College Advantage: Washington. Close call here. Hobey Baker winner Kip Miller, Jeff Halpern, Ken Klee and Mike Grier are important parts of the Caps' nucleus, assembled by the second player ever to win the Hobey, Washington GM George McPhee. The 'Ning, meanwhile, will dress Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle, John Grahame and ex-Gopher defenseman-turned-forward Ben Clymer.
INCH Prediction: Washington in seven

Philadelphia vs. Toronto
Maple Leaf Nation – a.k.a. all of Canada – truly wants to believe that this is the year for the Leafs. And why not: you’re counting on the always unstable Eddie Belfour in goal, a dozen guys whose best years are behind them, and the possible round-two return of Doug Gilmour. I’m confused – was Wendel Clark not available at the trading deadline?
INCH College Advantage: Philadelphia. One gets the feeling Leafs fans would rather see a Saturday night Thrashers-Panthers match on "Hockey Night in Canada" than former college guys in blue and white. They've got Ed Belfour, Tom Fitzgerald and rent-a-geezer Phil Housley – who almost attended Minnesota – occupying lockers at the ACC. Philly boasts some big names, however, in John LeClair, Tony Amonte and Eric Weinrich, which more than offsets the presence of turncoat Jeremy Roenick.
INCH Prediction: Philadelphia in six

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