Slump? Whatever You Do, Don’t Call It That
After bolting out of the gate at the start of the season, going 12-3-1 through October and November, the Miami RedHawks were 1-3-0 in December and have been 2-5-1 in January.
But it’s not a slump. Just don’t call it a slump. “We’ve been playing all right,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “It’s not like we’re out of games, or being outplayed.
“The other team wants to win, too.”
Last weekend, the RedHawks lost a league game at home for the first time this season, a tough 4-2 decision to CCHA-leading Ferris State, one night after beating the Bulldogs 6-3.
“It was a good series,” said Blasi. “Ferris State is for real, and they gave us two really good games.”
Miami’s recent woes – the loss to FSU excluded – are linked to scheduling; the RedHawks simply do not play well on the road. Miami is 1-7-0 in road league games, and with games remaining at Michigan State and Alaska-Fairbanks, the RedHawks had better solve the road problem, and fast.
“I was joking at the beginning of the season that we’d get the Spartans when they got hot,” said Blasi. He was right.
“At this time of year, every play is crucial,” said Blasi. “You’ve just got to keep plugging away. We need to tighten up, limit our mistakes.”
A very bright spot for the RedHawks has been the play of Greg Hogeboom, especially on the power play. The junior forward has five power-play goals in his last six games, bringing his season total to 13 – best in the CCHA and second in the country.
On the downside, Hogeboom and classmate Mike Kompon are the only two RedHawks with point streaks going into this weekend’s series against MSU – and those streaks are short, at two games each.
Blasi said that he’s watched MSU on tape. “They look like a good team. They’re playing hard and getting good goaltending.”
If the RedHawks want to beat the Spartans in Munn this weekend, they’ll need good goaltending themselves, something that’s been in short supply outside of the confines of Munn Arena.
Defending the Realm, In Style
Last weekend, the Northern Michigan Wildcats snapped the longest undefeated streak in D-I men’s ice hockey when they swept Alabama-Huntsville, 7-3 and 2-0.
The wins were just what the ailing Wildcats needed.
“Any time you get a couple of wins, it’s positive,” said head coach Walt Kyle. “They’re a good team. The first night, we got fortunate. We got a five-minute power play in the first and we scored a couple of goals there.”
Kyle’s ‘Cats have been struggling of late because of what he calls a “quirky” schedule, and because of the absence of leading scorer – and playmaker extraordinaire – Chris Gobert.
Gobert was injured in the Dec. 13 game against Michigan Tech, and his team has been hurting ever since. Through November and the two games in December prior to Gobert’s injury, the Wildcats were 7-1-0. The two wins immediately before the game in which Gobert was hurt were the home victories over Michigan.
Since then, however, NMU has been 4-4-0, with two road losses to Bowling Green.
“Honestly, I think we struggled early,” said Kyle. “We had four or five of our losses in our first seven or eight games. A certain degree of that is acclimation to methen we were on a good roll.
“Then we played seven games in eight weeks. In that time, we had to take three and a half weeks off. It took a lot of momentum away from us.”
He added that the Wildcats haven’t been a good team on the road. It’s less an overall “consistency” problem, said Kyle, than just not being able to perform well away from home.
Travel won’t be an issue this weekend, as NMU faces Alaska-Fairbanks for two at the Berry Events Center. Than Nanooks are another team that struggled early on.
“I know Guy [Gadowsky] very well,” said Kyle. “They’re a really well-coached team.
“Any team, when you have an issue with what happened to [Aaron] Voros, that’s going to affect the team.
“And they had some big losses from last year. When I was a coach with the Rangers, we signed Bobby Andrews, so I know what he meant to them.”
Ice size won’t be an issue, as both teams play on Olympic sheets at home. “I can tell you they compete every night,” said Kyle. “They have very good speed and transition.”
What may be a factor is goaltending. The Nanooks allowed six goals in each of their losses to Western Michigan last weekend, and UAF has surrendered six goals six times this season. The Nanooks are allowing on average 5.45 goals per game in their 11 losses this year.
Sophomore walk-on goaltender Keith Bartusch played the final two periods in last Saturday’s UAF loss to WMU, allowing two goals in 22 shots. Bartusch, who earned his first win against Lake Superior State Jan. 18, has been given playing time to motivate UAF’s other two, more familiar netminders, Lance Mayes and Preston McKay.
“I think everybody in the program loves to see him get the chance to play,” Gadowski told the Fairbanks News-Miner this week. “We know the talent we have in Lance and Preston – they have proven themselves many times – but they had not played up to their capabilities and have left the door open for Keith.”
No matter who the Nanooks play in net, at the other end of the rink is the formidable – if a little streaky – Craig Kowalski. So far this season in league play, the NMU junior has posted a 2.67 goals against average and a .899 save percentage.
Brooms and Jinxes
I am not a jinx. Honest.
Last week I wrote that Ohio State junior forward RJ Umberger had zero penalties in league play. After two games in Omaha, he still has no time in the box in CCHA games.
Umberger’s 10-game scoring streak was stopped cold, however, in Nebraska-Omaha’s impressive 4-0 blanking of the Buckeyes last Friday. During that career-best streak, Umberger posted 21 points on 12 goals and nine assists.
I also called the Buckeyes to sweep. Instead, the Mavs fans got out their brooms and whisked OSU away.
It was the second time OSU was swept by an opponent this season.
“It was a little [discouraging] not scoring a few goals, but Mr. Ellis lived up to his reputation,” said OSU head coach John Markell. Dan Ellis, the junior goaltender for UNO, stopped 73 of 74 OSU shots on goal (.987 SV%) to stymie the normally highly productive Buckeye offense.
Markell said that “the guys in front of [Ellis] did a good job of tying up” the Buckeye offense as well. That’s good news for a team that’s had to move as many as three forwards to the blue line to fill in for injured defenders.
“We didn’t play that bad,” said Markell. “When you generate 74 shots on the road, some of them very good, you think you’re going to get a goal. All we needed was one goal to set them back on their heels, but we didn’t do that.
“We were in their end most of the time. The guys have to understand that at crunch time you have to bury your opportunities.”
Before last weekend, the Buckeyes were just two points behind league-leading Ferris State, and four points ahead of then-third place Michigan.
“We just lost the buffer that we had gained,” said Markell. “This league is going to be won on the road. That’s four [consecutive losses] on the road, and I’m not happy about it.”
A puzzling development for the Buckeyes has been the play of junior netminder Mike Betz. Betz – normally a rock for OSU – has struggled in his last three appearances, and is now splitting time with freshman David Caruso.
“I think he [Betz] has to get refocused,” Markell said. “He’s facing competition for the first time, and he has to learn that he can’t let any soft ones in. There have been games when the goals have been questionable.
“He’s mature about it. His work ethic in practice has to be better than it was last year – and it was already excellent.”
Markell added that he’s certain Betz will respond well to the added pressure of competition, once he adjusts.
This weekend, the Buckeyes travel to Notre Dame to face the Irish, a team that put up over 40 shots in a 3-3 tie versus Mich
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.