Sports Odds and Ends
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) officially drops the puck season on October 7. But its annual media day (Sept. 13 in St. Paul), typically serves as the unofficial start of the 2023-24 season. Heather Weems, the NCHC‘s third commissioner, gave her second address to reporters, including the MSR.
“I’ve learned over the course of my career that it often takes a false annual cycle to understand the rhythms of a position,” noted the commish. The college athletics’ explosion this summer included the Big Ten adding two more schools, the Pac-12 disappearing, and both the ACC and Big 12 gobbling up schools in its wake. This was not lost on Weems.
“Our industry is in the midst of a significant transformation,” she explained. “College hockey is growing,” pointing to the addition of Arizona State in 2024.
“The addition of the Sun Devils provides the NCHC with greater membership ability and gives our institutions a foothold in the growing recruiting markets of the West Coast, Phoenix, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and even Seattle and Vancouver.”
Last week, Weems also addressed the diversity-related questions the MSR annually asks. With the loss of Paul Gerrard, who died in February at age 57 from cancer, the NCHC, now in its 11th season and once the only men’s college hockey conference with two Black assistant coaches at two separate schools, now has none.
Gerrard was an Omaha assistant coach. The other, Leon Haywood, left Colorado College after four seasons and is now in his third at St Thomas. Last season’s NCHC Frozen Four finalists featured two Black players playing against each other, including now-sophomore goalie Kaidan Mbereko (Colorado College), who was named to the league’s 2023-24 Preseason All-Conference Team.
“Obviously hockey struggles with its diversity numbers,” Weems told the MSR. “I think our best opportunity is to continue to try and impact at youth hockey [levels] and build that…talent.
“[The league’s] diversity task force has met a couple of times last year,” added the commish. “Michael Wiseman (NCHC associate commissioner) is taking a leading role in that. We’re going to try and get our arms back around that.
“Certainly there’s a challenge, and it has to start with youth numbers and access and opportunity,” said Weems.
Colorado College this season now has the league’s highest number of Black players—Mbereko and first-year forward Zaccharya Wisdom.
Mbereko earned second team all NCHC and All-Rookie Team last season. His .925 save percentage led the NCHC last year, and his 2.30 goals-against average (GAA) was third. The 5’11” netminder tied the conference lead with four shutouts. And in league play, his .930 save percentage and 2.25 GAA both ranked in the NCHC top three.
“I think one of the big things that people don’t get to see is just how hard he works,” CC Coach Kris Mayotte said of Mbereko. “He’s very serious when it’s work. He earned his success last year.”
The six-foot Wisdom is one of 10 newcomers on Colorado College’s 2023-24 roster. He was a seventh-round draft pick of Seattle in 2023, and played for the USHL Cedar Rapids Roughriders last season, posting 48 points—28 goals and 20 assists—in 59 games.
“He has a history of scoring, so he’s coming in confident,” noted Mayotte. “He’s an unbelievable kid. He’s going to be another one of those guys that changes our culture and pushes it forward. He makes people feel good about themselves and brings a ton of energy. We are fortunate to have him.”
New women’s hockey league
Sarah Nurse was the only Black woman among the 18 total free agent signings in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League’s (PWHL) first-ever free agency. The Hamilton, Ontario native was signed by Toronto.
The new women’s pro hockey league starts in January with six teams. Minnesota had the first pick in its debut draft that was held on Monday.