Sunday November 18, 2012

Bill Kangas is the men's hockey coach at Williams College. But he's more than just a hockey coach -- Kangas is a real hockey guy.

That's why at the same time that he's ecstatic about his team's starting its 2012-13 season this weekend, he is particularly unhappy that basically college hockey is the only game in town.

"Oh boy, it's sad," Kangas said. "It's sad for hockey. Obviously, it's always fun to watch the preseason and the early-season NHL games. They've had a great following, especially over the last couple of years.

"The Winter Classic is an exciting event. Not to have that is just not great for hockey."

We all know that the National Hockey League lockout has started its third month. It began on Sept. 15, and contract talks between the NHL and the NHL Players Association have been sporadic, to say the least.

On Friday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recommended a two-week break in negotiations. What does that mean, exactly? Why take a break when there hasn't been much negotiating going on?

Kangas isn't the only hockey person I know who is unhappy that the lockout has gone on this long. Steve Hagwell is the commissioner of the Division I ECAC Hockey League, a league that has nearby schools RPI and Union in it. A hockey guy through and through, Hagwell said to me that the lockout has been "disappointing.

"It's always disappointing when the best league in the world is not playing," he said.


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"Disappointment is a good way to put it."

It may be disappointing for those of us who would rather watch the game on ice than the NBA. But it may be an opportunity for those of you hockey fans who have never been college hockey fans to become college hockey fans.

Within an hour of Berkshire County, we can drive comfortably to watch RPI or Union play in the ECAC, or the other way and watch UMass play in Hockey East.

In Amherst, you have the Mullins Center, which is the best and most comfortable hockey venue in the region. RPI's Houston Field House is a classic old barn while Union's Messa Rink is kind of like Williams' Lansing Chapman Rink on supplements.

This is the open door that college hockey might be able to stride through.

"Maybe so," said Hagwell. "It's certainly not the way we want that to occur. It gives us more opportunities, maybe television wise, across the country for college hockey, certainly if people are looking to get the hockey fix, if you will, whether it's the American [Hockey] League or the college game. Unfortunately this is the way it is. It does present additional opportunities and hopefully we can make the most of them to get the game out there and get some people to see college hockey that haven't seen it before."

Since ESPN has long abdicated its interest in hockey, the CBS and NBC Sports Networks are picking up the slack. NBCSN will televise the Hockey East Tournament while the CBSSN will do the same with the ECAC. Both networks will televise multiple regular-season games.

The Williams head coach would like to see the lockout end today. But since it won't end any time soon, he said if you are jonesing for hockey, give his game a view on TV or in person.

"I think it is only good for college hockey," he said. "Hopefully we'll get a few more enthusiasts, a few more diehards -- Bruins and Rangers fans -- coming to our rink to watch the games."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.