Checking the Calendar
So, midnight 2000 arrived and you found yourself Y2K-compliant, and your computer didn’t explode, and the world didn’t end in some fiery mess, and the aliens were benign after all, and your debit card still provided the means with which to purchase gas and cold beer, and the center held, and the only negative side-effect is the way in which Dan Rather haunts you in your sleep, repeating, "Why two kay. Why two kay. Why two kay," while in the background President Clinton dances on national television in ways in which no white man over 20 ought to even try.
And as you try to make sense of this arbitrary point in time imbued with cosmic significance, you realize that the survival of the turn of the year-decade-century-millennium-whatever means just one thing:
There’s half a season of college hockey to be played, and compliance means you can still obsess over it through your PC or Mac or telepathic implants, with the help of USCHO.
Happy New Year.
Y Oh Y
Although nothing at all happened out of the ordinary for air travelers in the U.S. during Millennium Crisis ’99, as a precaution, on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, many people decided to sit it out.
Can’t do that, though, if you live in South Bend, and you’re traveling to and from Denver to play a New Year’s tournament originally scheduled a few days earlier.
Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin said that if he had his druthers, he’d have been grounded when the cosmic clock turned over.
"You could feel it in the airport. It was weird."
Of course, if this were a Dave Poulin world, not only would the Irish have been safely home by New Year’s Eve, but they wouldn’t have had to have decided a game by shootout, either.
The Irish had a two-goal lead going into the second in their opening game against Denver, then gave up three unanswered goals before Dan Carlson’s late third-period goal forced the overtime. When five minutes of OT ended in the same 3-3 knot, the shooting began.
"That was very different," said Poulin. "I’d never been involved with one, as a player or a coach.
"A whole bunch of things go through your head. You run down your roster and order of shooters. You think about your goaltending."
Poulin’s diplomatic summary–"It’s interesting"–says all you need to know about the Irish coach’s thoughts on the concept.
With a field that included Denver, Colorado College, and Maine–and without Connor Dunlop, David Inman, and Brett Henning–the Irish were certainly underdogs going into the Denver Cup. But, Poulin said, "We didn’t play bad.
"We had a defenseman dressed as a forward. Sam Cornelius dressed as a forward. With the three players in Sweden, we were a little undermanned."
The Irish were also without Paul Harris, who is recovering from surgery.
Poulin said that for the second half of the season, every team goal is "short-term." "We’ve got to regroup."
If Poulin could wave a magic wand and fix just one thing on his team, he’d find a way for the Irish to score goals. "Our defense has been pretty good, our goaltending has been pretty good." Notre Dame has been outscored 36-25 in 12 conference games.
"I honestly didn’t think goal-scoring would be our biggest issue this season," Poulin said.
This weekend, Notre Dame hosts Lake Superior State, whose top scorer, Trent Walford, has left the team. Details on that next week.
All Hail the Defenders of the Realm!
So, when you think about strong teams in the CCHA, you think of Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan. When you think of those three, you see teams that you’d be happy to see fight the good fight against nonconference opponents, teams that can defend he league’s honor and show the world how tough the CCHA truly is.
Well, start thinking outside of that little box, because the true Defenders of the Realm are the Ferris State Bulldogs.
OK, so I’ve been saying this all season. So, maybe you’re tired of hearing it. Too bad. This deserves to be said, repeatedly.
You all laughed at me when I picked the Bulldogs to take the Silverado Shootout. Ha!
Ferris State’s 7-1-0 record against nonconference opponents is no fluke.
"It wasn’t a cupcake schedule," said Bulldog head coach Bob Daniels, "and we did it home and away."
So maybe Bemidji State is cupcake-ish, but the Bulldogs played them on the road and positively spanked them in the first game, while handling them just fine in the second.
Ferris State has beaten St. Lawrence and Clarkson at home, split with Colgate on the road, and beat Boston University and Northeastern at the Silverado Shootout.
Solid, all the way around.
Daniels is committed to showing well outside of the league, to representing the CCHA well, to making sure that Ferris State shows the rest of college hockey what any team in the CCHA can do.
"We went into that tournament [Silverado] and talked about not only the importance to the team but that we’re representing the league. It’s no difference if it’s us playing, or Michigan or Michigan State. We want to represent the league well.
"And we’re really happy when Michigan, Michigan State, or anyone from the league does well outside of the league. That reflects well on us. We can take pride in that, and say, ‘It’s because our league’s so tough, and we helped toughen them up.’"
Big Rapids isn’t exactly the geographic center of the college hockey world–or many other worlds, for that matter–and the Bulldogs don’t get a lot of ink, even though they’re tied for fourth in the league standings and have the best nonconference win percentage of any CCHA team.
But Daniels said that that’s as much a local phenomenon as anything else.
"We’re kind of fighting ourselves a bit too. We haven’t built a huge tradition here. You’ve got to earn that. We’d like to see some consistency and solid performances [from our team], to earn that respect. We don’t go around saying, ‘No one respects us,’ because we have to earn that."
Daniels does allow, however, that "It was nice to win a holiday tournament."
Next up for the Bulldogs is a two-game series in Marquette, which is almost like playing out of the league.
"We haven’t played a game in a year and half on a big sheet, so I don’t know how we’ll adjust to that. I think we have a better skating team than we have had in years past, and that may help."
Daniels, a true fan of the CCHA, has great respect for Northern Michigan. "They certainly have several star players, but I think what makes them a good team is that their role players really understand their roles. They seem to really like playing with each other, too, and that’s fun to watch."
As impressive as the Bulldogs’ nonconference record is, Daniels said, "I’d like to get some of those [wins] in conference."
The Bulldogs are 7-7-0 in CCHA play.
It’s safe to say that with an 11-3-0 record through November and December, Ferris State may be the hottest team in the league.
Northern Michigan’s 9-3-0 in the same span of time is nothing to sneeze at, either.
But with only one loss in their last seven games–after an 11-game losing streak that included two losses each to Michigan State, Michigan, Maine, and Northern Michigan–it would be a mistake for any opponent to overlook Ohio State as the second half the season begins.
"When we look back at those 11 games, I think there were four or five we played well enough to win," said Ohio State assistant coach Casey Jones. "When you’re playing ranked opponents and playing that well, and you lose, you have to keep reminding your players that they’re playing well."
Jones said that the play of senior goaltender Ray Aho (3.62 league GAA, .892 SV%) has provided the spark the team has needed in late November and through December.
In six of Aho’s last seven starts, he’s held opponents to two or fewer goals, and in his last 440 minutes of play–just over seven games–Aho has posted a 2.18 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
"We’re 4-1-2 in our last seven games, and Ray Aho has been giving us phenomenal goaltending," said Jones.
When Jeff Maund left the Buckeyes after last season, Aho found himself the starter for the first time in his collegiate career–and backed up by a rookie recruited walk-on.
"If you look back," said Jones, "he had a really good second half of his first year. He has the skills. I think he needed to adjust to starting.
"You can see a confidence level now that you didn’t see early in the year. Earlier in the year, he’d let in a couple of early goals and lose confidence, especially when we weren’t scoring. I think he’s just confident now [knowing] that he doesn’t have to win the games for us."
Aho is this week’s CCHA Defensive Player of the Week, but Jones said that there are other Buckeyes who may have been worthy of the honor in weeks past, namely Jean-Francois Dufour.
"He’s as good a player as we play against. When you complement him with a player like Eric [Meloche], we’ve got a pretty good first line."
Dufour (6-10–16) is tied for fifth in league scoring with two Wolverines, Jeff Jillson and Mark Kosick. Dufour and linemates Eric Meloche (6-5–11) and walk-on Luke Pavlas (3-2–5) are responsible for 16 of Ohio State’s 26 conference goals.
Dufour has three power-play goals and two shorthanders to Meloche’s four power-play goals and one shorthanded goal.
Meloche is also 6-5–11 in his last seven games. He’s 11-6–17 overall.
Jones knows that for the Buckeyes to make the playoffs, more than just the first line has to score. Like Poulin, Jones has one wish for his team: "To get our young guys scoring goals.
"I think our goaltending and our defense has rectified itself. We’ve got some guys that are playing well." Jones said he looks to redshirt freshman Ryan Smith and sophomore Mike McCormick to pick up their games.
"Realistically, this is the first consistent hockey Smith’s played in two years," said Jones. "He was hurt in juniors, and redshirted the whole year last year. It’s not for lack of skill that he isn’t scoring."
Smith is on line with sophomores Yan Des Gagne and Nick Ganga. "They call themselves the crash line," said Jones.
No explanation necessary.
The Mid-Season Report
It’s hard to say just how the league is shaping up, except for the clear, two-team top tier of Michigan State and Michigan–and even there, I’d say that Michigan State is the closest thing to a sure bet the CCHA has.
And we all know there’s no such thing as a sure bet.
Here’s a little mid-season injury report for each team, from top to bottom. Additionally, the combined win percentage of each team’s remaining opponents follows.
Michigan State (15-5-0, 11-3-0 CCHA)
Freshman defender John-Michael Liles (left shoulder, probable for the Michigan game); freshman forward Pat Brush (left knee, out indefinitely); sophomore forward Joe Goodenow (left hip, out indefinitely).
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 32-37-9, .468, 10th in the league.
Michigan (15-6-0, 10-4-0 CCHA)
Sophomore goalie Josh Blackburn is expected to make his return for the Michigan State game.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 41-36-4, .531, 5th in the league.
Northern Michigan (14-5-1, 9-2-1 CCHA)
Freshman forward Peter Michelutti suffered his second fractured clavicle of the year against Minnesota last Thursday. Prior to playing against UMass-Amherst in the Mariucci Classic, he had missed eight games with a fractured clavicle.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 48-36-6, .567, 2nd in the league.
Ferris State (14-8-0, 7-7-0 CCHA)
Coach Daniels says there’s nothing more than the usual bumps and bruises.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 39-44-10, .473, 8th in the league.
Lake State (8-10-0, 7-5-0 CCHA)
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 40-43-10, .484, 7th.
Western Michigan (7-7-2, 6-6-2 CCHA)
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 48-27-3, .635, 1st.
Miami (8-7-0, 5-4-2 CCHA)
Senior forward Gregor Krajnc (torn ACL, out for the season) and junior forward Jason Deskins (torn ACL, out indefinitely). Senior forward Mark Shalawylo has been a healthy scratch.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 42-46-6, .479, 9th.
Nebraska-Omaha (6-8-4, 4-6-4 CCHA)
Sophomore forward Kyle O’Keefe (shoulder, out indefinitely); sophomore forward Jeff Hoggan (knee, out indefinitely); senior forward Josh Lampman (wrist, out indefinitely).
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 30-42-4, .421, 12th.
Bowling Green (6-11-0, 5-8-0 CCHA)
Buddy Powers sends word that everyone is practicing.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 35-32-10, .519, 6th.
Notre Dame (7-12-3, 4-6-2 CCHA)
Freshman defender Paul Harris (surgery, out indefinitely). Senior forward Ben Simon will miss the first game against Lake State because he’ll be serving a game disqualification incurred against Colorado College.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 40-47-8, .463, 11th.
Ohio State (6-12-2, 3-10-1 CCHA)
Junior defender Andre Signoretti (ankle, questionable); freshman forward T.J. Latorre (bruised jaw, probable).
Sophomore defenseman Jeff Marshall has left the team.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 33-26-4, .556, 3rd.
Alaska-Fairbanks (3-12-0, 2-12-0 CCHA)
No injuries, but senior forward Kerry Hafele and freshman goaltender Nathan Wheeler have been "released" from the team, and sophomore defenseman Joe Borro has quit. I’ll try to have more details next week.
Remaining opponents’ combined record and win percentage: 44-37-10, .538, 4th.
The Game of the Week Is the Grudge of the Week
With such intense rivalries as exist in the CCHA, it’s not surprising that this can occasionally happen. Sure, Miami and Bowling Green hate each other, and that’s a good grudge. And Ferris State travels to Northern, and that’s a good series.
But this is the first time these two teams have met this season when it counts for conference points, and such a cosmic undertaking cannot be ignored.
#6 Michigan (15-6-0, 10-4-0 CCHA) at #5 Michigan State (15-5-0, 11-3-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:05 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, MI
The Spartans host the Wolverines just one week after beating Michigan in the title game of the Great Lakes Invitational.
Going into the 230th meeting between these two clubs, Michigan owns a 119-103-7 edge in the all-time series. Michigan State leads 51-42-5 in East Lansing, and the Spartans hold a 7-2-1 record in the great rivals’ last 10 meetings.
These two teams have combined to claim a share of nine of the last 11 CCHA regular-season titles.
The teams have sold out nearly 15 consecutive years of on-campus games, going back to the crowd of 8,011 that watched the Nov. 8, 1985 game at Yost Arena.
This game pits the nation’s top two scorers, Michigan State’s Shawn Horcoff (8-26–34) and Michigan’s Mike Comrie (12-20–32).
"It’s such a special game when you play against Michigan." Horcoff said at the GLI. "These games are on another level. I just love playing those games. I’ve been in games with them where we’ve lost and won, and both are real learning experiences. Those are the games that last in your mind, for sure."
Look for more of the same from both teams, which means that Michigan State has the edge in goal and defensively, and Michigan has the fastest-flying forwards in the league.
Pick: Michigan State 3-2
Here’s Your Story, Jeff
It’s been a strange season for the CCHA, with many players leaving unexpectedly, and now word that two Nanooks have been asked to leave the team. I didn’t know Kerry Hafele personally, but I always thought he was a heck of a player, and I’m sorry to see him go.
It sometimes happens in this job that you do get to know a player a little, and if you cover one team for long enough, you get to know most of them. It’s no secret that I live in Columbus, and that I’m the hockey beat writer for the Buckeye Sports Bulletin. I’ve been covering Ohio State for a while, and as most other beat writers would tell you, hockey players are good people.
So I was sad to learn of the departures of two players, Vinnie Grant and Jeff Marshall, but especially Jeff.
In spite of limited playing time, Jeff never bellyached to me, never badmouthed his coaches to me, and was always positive. Jeff is basically a good hockey player, and a nice kid from Ontario who absolutely cannot dance.
Jeff has transferred to SUNY-Plattsburgh, and that makes me happy. According to the Ohio State coaching staff, Jeff just wanted to go somewhere where he’d play, and he wanted to stay in school. It’s the latter part that makes me really happy. I’d be proud to call Jeff Marshall a fellow SUNY grad some day.
From the moment I met him, Jeff was always on me to write about him. I’d tell him, "You’ve got to do something."
Well, he did.
Here’s your story, Jeff.
Special thanks to Miami hockey Sports Information Director Mike Harris, for his statistical contributions.
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.