The Envelope, Please
That’s right, CCHA fans. As many surprises as the Academy Awards but lacking the pageantry of the Tonys, it’s the annual Girl Reporter League Awards.
Ballots? We don’t need no stinkin’ ballots.
Team of the Year: Michigan State. The Spartans take this award from last year’s winner, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. A gripping performance by a gutsy team that scores by committee. A major-league goaltender backed by an All-American. A defensive mentality that turns the trap into art. Four losses on the season, and a squad that will be very tough to beat in post-season play.
Surprise of the Year: Western Michigan. Picked 11th in both the coaches and media polls (and dead-last by this chagrined Girl Reporter), the Broncos breathed life into an offense-hungry league, lighting the lamp so often in the early season that stock in General Electric jumped 20%. Gove, Bishai, and Rymsha became household names — finally.
Surprise of the Year, Take Two: Alaska Fairbanks. This season, it wasn’t a question of if the Nanooks would make the playoffs, but where they’d travel — and for a while there, it looked like they might vie for home ice. Took points from every league opponent except Michigan State. Darned nice guys, too.
Tank of the Year: Lake Superior State: It’s cruel to give the Lakers this award, but they unfortunately meet the criteria: biggest finish differential the wrong way. More on the Lakers in a moment.
Defenders of the Realm: Michigan State. An award established last year in honor of the Ferris State Bulldogs, who compiled the best record in the CCHA against nonconference opponents in 1999-2000. This season, Michigan State is 7-0-1 out of conference. Honorable mention: Western Michigan (7-1-0).
Team Most Likely to Surprise Folks in the Post-season: Alaska-Fairbanks. The Nanooks have a knack for earning at least a point on the weekend.
Perseverance Award: Lake Superior State Lakers. How many man-games have the Lakers lost this season to illness or injury? And through it all, head coach Scott Borek has said that this has been his most rewarding season of coaching, given the gracious way his team has persevered.
Attaboy Award: Jason Deskins and Gregor Krajnc Like fellow RedHawk Dustin Whitecotton before them, these two Miami players have bounced back from year-long injuries to lead their team.
The Chris Richards Man-Most-Likely-To-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award: Dan Carlson. This Notre Dame player is having a career season while no one is looking. Eighth in league scoring with 17 goals and 14 assists, and a plus-minus rating of +10, Carlson will likely be overlooked in favor of one or two Western Michigan players (namely Steve Rymsha and Mike Bishai) whose plus-minus is at zero and who both have more penalty minutes. And in the greater scheme of things, Carlson was much more important to his team than was either of these Western players, who were surrounded by much more scoring help.
Most Likely to Leave Early Award: Andy Hilbert. Will Hilbert follow in the footsteps of fellow Wolverine Mike Comrie, last year’s award winner (and early departure?). Honorable mention: Dave Steckel.
The Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award: Steve Rymsha. No one picks up the trash like Rymsha, who’s impossible to move from the front of the net, especially on the power play.
Wow Award: Ryan Miller. This repeat winner needs no explanation.
Best Offensive Goalie Award: Josh Blackburn. The Michigan netminder has five assists this season, the most points for any goaltender in the CCHA.
2000-2001 Goon Squad: The Western Michigan Broncos. Why pick individual players when an entire team stands out head and shoulders above the rest? The Broncos have amassed 850 minutes in the box this season.
“We’ve talked about it,” says Western head coach Jim Culhane. “We want to play a physical game, the way we forecheck and pursue the puck. At times, it’s cost us. We have to become more disciplined as a team. Again, that’s a learning experience for us.”
The biggest offender is Brian Pasko, who has a staggering 187 minutes in 31 games played, and whom Culhane says is “a super young man.”
“He brings a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm to the game, which is something we knew coming in. His competitiveness … is something you can’t instill in somebody. He’s a super young man.”
With two games remaining in regular season and at least a couple playoff games, there’s still time for Steve Rymsha to hit the century mark in minutes this season. The Bronco has 97 in 33 games.
Honorable mention: Nanook and genuine nice guy Ryan Reinheller (73); Falcon Kevin Bieska (82); Bulldog Phil Lewandowski (79); Laker Chris Thompson (114!); Spartan Brian Maloney (80); Mavericks Jeff Hoggan (70) and James Chalmers (88); Wildcat Brent Robertson (74).
And three Notre Dame players give new meaning to the school’s mascot. Brett Lebda (105), Neil Komadoski (98), and Ryan Clark (77) have combined for roughly a third of Notre Dame’s penalties.
My boyfriend, UAF’s Chad Hamilton, is no longer a goon, earning just 28 minutes in lockdown this season.
Quote of the Year: “There was a fan right next to us telling us Michigan sucks, and we agreed with him.” That’s Michigan State head coach Ron Mason on the atmosphere during the Spartans’ first-ever game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
League’s Best Fans: The Good Folks of Omaha. For the second year in a row, fans of the Mavericks continue to amaze the rest of the league with how many people they can pack into a weekly luncheon, let alone the Civic Center. Honorable mention: the Puckheads, who know sexy when they see it … and who will travel anywhere.
League’s Most Juvenile Fans: Bowling Green, Michigan, and Western Michigan This shameful award goes to the most obscene. It’s easy to argue that repeat offender, the Wolverine student section, has also grown boring.
League’s Most Proficient Emailers: Nebraska Omaha. The bulk of my weekly email comes from UNO fans, most of whom think I don’t give their team or fans enough credit. They are, of course, correct.
League’s Stupidest Fans: Ohio State. Once again, I saw an Ohio State fan fling an object onto the ice this season, this time an orange that could easily have injured a player. Save it for the ^Shoe, will ya?
Best Small Barn: Western Michigan and Northern Michigan. Lawson Arena is the kind of place you’re happy you’re a Western fan, and scared if you’re wearing opponent colors. No, there’s no violence involved, but you’re going to take grief just the same.
The Berry Events Center is the most gorgeous building in the league, hands down. A beautiful venue. Makes me want to move to Marquette.
Best Large Barn: The Bullpen. Jury duty prevented my trip to Omaha this year, but the stories I heard about the place have me convinced.
Best Rink Food: Michigan State. For the second year in a row. It’s the ice cream sandwich. Yum.
Worst Rink Food: Michigan. Hot dogs. Bad. Very bad.
Best Uniforms: None. Once again, no one gets my nod. There are elements of some uniforms that stand out, but there’s nothing original. Even the traditional lacks tradition, in most places. I do like Michigan State’s away sweaters, but they don’t blow me away.
Games of the Week
Fresh from the not-quite-dead-yet files, each of these teams has so much at stake that this series is arguably the most important of the weekend.
Notre Dame (9-21-7, 6-14-6 CCHA) vs. No. 15 Western Michigan (18-10-6, 11-9-6 CCHA)
Friday, 7:05 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, Mich.
The setting couldn’t be more dramatic. Seven seniors will be honored in South Bend Friday night, five (
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.