It is difficult to concentrate on the playoffs this week knowing that Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter is literally fighting for his life.
Please, if you pray, pray for Joey. If you’re not of the praying variety, think good thoughts about Joey Exter.
I’ve never met Joey, but I know people who know and love him. The college hockey community is small, tight, close, and this affects every one of us.
Do whatever you can. If you want to send a card, here’s the address:
c/o Joe Exter
315 Turnpike Street
North Andover, MA 01845
And One More Thing, Before We Start …
Henceforth, let it be known that all players from Quebec shall be known as Freedom-Canadians!
Can someone pass the Freedom dressing? I’d like to douse my Freedom fries.
You know, I studied Freedom in high school for two years. Mr. Melger was my favorite Freedom teacher.
And the little old lady next door just adopted the cutest little Freedom poodle, I swear.
The Second Season
Congratulations to the Ferris State Bulldogs on their first regular-season CCHA title! It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of coaches, honestly.
What to say about the playoffs? Every home team wins out.
Okay. So it isn’t that easy.
No. 12 Lake Superior (6-26-4, 3-24-1 CCHA) at No. 1 Ferris State (27-8-1, 22-5-1 CCHA)
It’s the third year in a row that the Lakers have anchored the league, and while LSSU upset Michigan for one game in the opening round of CCHA playoff action last season, don’t expect that to happen this year.
The Lakers aren’t facing Michigan; the Lakers are facing a Ferris State team that outscored them 12-2 in Sault Ste. Marie Feb. 7-8.
And the Lakers finished their season with two lopsided losses in Miami, losing 8-1 and 3-0. For the season, LSSU has been outscored by league opponents 108-40. The team has a league plus/minus of -205, collectively.
This hardly inspires confidence for the Laker faithful. Even if LSSU weren’t facing a Ferris State team loaded with talent and confidence, arguably the fastest team in the league, it would be difficult to conceive of the Lakers advancing beyond the first round because of their nearly nonexistent offense.
On the opposite end of the rink, FSU boasts the shoo-in for CCHA Player of the Year (Chris Kunitz), the league’s most consistently hot goaltender (Mike Brown), and a slew of players — Jeff Legue, Derek Nesbitt, Phil Lewandowski, Troy Milam, Simon Mangos — who would be household names if they didn’t play in the little town of Big Rapids, Mich.
(Any MST3K fans out there? Can you hear Mangos’ name without thinking of the phrase “hands of fate?”)
Upset city? Only if illness reduces the Bulldog bench to four players who can dress — and none can be Kunitz.
Pick: FSU 5-1, 5-1
No. 11 Bowling Green (8-23-3, 5-20-3 CCHA) at No. 2 Michigan (24-9-3, 18-7-3 CCHA)
The Wolverines chased the Buckeyes for the entire season and eventually caught them — and then found themselves challenged by a determined OSU team in Columbus last weekend.
This is a never-say-die Michigan team, a team that scores by committee, that can come from behind, that can hold it together just enough to get where its going.
Jeff Tambellini is the real deal. Al Montoya is the real deal — but he’s young, and the defense in front of him can be shaky. Andy Burnes is impressive. Every time John Shouneyia gets the puck, he’s a threat.
Just don’t push these Wolverines around. Really. They don’t like it. The games in Columbus — a 4-4 tie Friday, and a 3-3 tie Saturday — were relatively clean but very physical, and that worked to OSU’s advantage.
Physical is not Michigan’s forte, and that may be a liability in the NCAA tournament.
NCAA tourney? Well, it’s not a gimme, but the Wolverines have advanced to the CCHA championship tournament for the last 14 years straight. Michigan is 28-14-0 all-time in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, and 12 of those 14 losses occurred during the first six years the team made the league’s postseason play.
The Falcons have had success in Yost Arena in recent years, having beaten the Wolverines on their own turf March 4, 2000 (6-3) and Jan. 25, 2002 (4-2). And the Falcons are the only team to have beaten the Wolverines in Yost in the first round of CCHA action to advance to the championship tournament — but that was back in 1989.
The Falcons also tied the Wolverines 1-1 at the BGSU Ice Arena Nov. 9, one night after dropping a 6-4 decision to Michigan.
And the Wolverines have to be concerned with the number of goals given up in their past five games, during which they surrendered at least three per contest.
What of the Falcons? BGSU was winless in February, and finished the season 1-1-8 for the last 10 games.
Upset city? Well, Scott Paluch has done all the right things with this team this season. How many one-goal games can a team lose in a regular season? Unfortunately for the Falcons, these aren’t likely to be one-goal games.
Picks: Michigan 4-1, 4-1
No. 10 Nebraska-Omaha (13-19-5, 9-17-2 CCHA) at No. 3 Ohio State (22-10-5, 16-8-4 CCHA)
Like I said last week, sometimes it’s good to be me.
After watching an outstanding weekend of hockey at the Schottenstein Center, I now get to watch Dan Ellis and Mike Betz square off in Nationwide Arena.
How lucky can a girl get?
It was two years ago in Omaha that the Buckeyes and Mavericks met for the first time in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, and what a series! Both Ellis and Betz were freshmen, and each gave highlight-reel performances. UNO won that series, two games to one, and each contest was decided by a goal. The rubber match was a 4-3 double overtime win for the Mavericks.
These teams have already met four times this season, with the Buckeyes sweeping the Mavericks in Columbus, and UNO returning the favor in the Bullpen. In December, OSU beat UNO 5-3 and 3-1, and it was Dan Ellis 7, OSU 1 in two games in Omaha in January.
You can bet that these teams have a healthy respect for each other. “Ellis played absolutely amazing the last time,” Buckeye junior Scott May told my esteemed colleague Rich Kaipust at the Omaha World-Herald this week. “We know if he gets hot again, it might be a little bit of trouble. Obviously, we’re going into the weekend realizing what Nebraska can bring.”
The Buckeyes were knocking on Ferris State’s door at about the time in the season when they headed to Omaha, only to find themselves on the tough end of a three-game winless streak beginning that weekend; OSU muddled through a four-game losing streak beginning just three weeks after being swept by UNO in the Bullpen.
“I guess I would say I was a little surprised that they had some off weekends here down the stretch,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp told Kaipust. “I don’t think that diminishes how good they are.”
The Buckeyes managed to finish up with strong showings against Northern Michigan and Michigan, while the Mavericks were 0-5-1 in their last six regular-season games. Still, UNO is plenty talented, with the likes of David Brisson, Greg Zanon, and Andrew Wong — and that amazing, poetic goaltender, Dan Ellis.
This will go one of two ways: a close, three-game series, or OSU will repeat its December performance against UNO.
Upset city? Umberger shoots, Ellis saves. Umberger shoots, Ellis saves. Andress shoots, Ellis saves. Caponigri shoots, Ell — oh, you get the picture.
Picks: OSU 4-2, 3-2
No. 9 Alaska-Fairbanks (15-12-7, 10-11-7 CCHA) at No. 4 Michigan State (21-13-2, 10-11-7 CCHA)
The Nanooks ride a nine-game unbeaten streak into Munn Arena. A good thing, you might think — unless you take a look at the last time UAF took its unbeaten self into East Lansing.
When the ‘Nooks played the Spartans Jan. 10-11, MSU snapped UAF’s six-game unbeaten streak with two convincing wins, 5-2 and 6-2.
“I thought at the time that it was up to then the weakest series we had played all year,” UAF head coach Guy Gadowsky told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner this week. “We were playing pretty well going into that series, and they really spanked us.”
If anyone is capable of delivering a spanking, it’s Michigan State. Somehow, something clicked in East Lansing along about January, and the Spartans not only remembered how to play hockey, but adjusted to new head coach Rick Comley’s systems — with gusto.
MSU is 7-3-0 in its last 10 games, and when the Spartans win, it’s not unusual for them to light up opponents upwards of five times in a game. Now that they’ve found their collective feet, the Spartans can seemingly score at will.
Add to that the maturing of goaltender Matt Migliaccio and the two best defenders in the league, and you have a potent mix that’s just this side of the bubble for the NCAA tournament — a powerful motivator for this weekend’s games.
Comley told the Lansing State Journal this week that the Spartans “just need to tighten up in our own zone and keep attacking people.”
I love the turn of phrase.
Upset city? If the Nanooks had drawn anyone else in the playoffs, I would have predicted that UAF would be the surprise team at the Super Six. But even if Keith Bartusch hasn’t realized yet that this is D-I hockey, the Spartans have. Who’s your daddy?
Picks: MSU 5-2, 5-2
No. 8 Western Michigan (15-19-2, 13-14-1 CCHA) at No. 5 Northern Michigan (18-6-2, 14-13-1 CCHA)
How important was home ice in this series? According to NMU head coach Walt Kyle, very.
“We’ve been a pretty good team at home, and have not been good on the road,” Kyle told the Marquette Mining Journal this week. “You don’t win just because you’re at home, but the home crowd is an advantage.”
The Wildcats are 12-4-1 at home this season, 6-12-1 on the road. The Broncos are 4-12-2 on the road.
NMU and WMU meet for the second time in three years in the postseason. In 2000-01, the Wildcats eliminated the Broncos two games to one in Marquette. The all-time playoff series is tied 2-2-1, dating back to 1983-84.
NMU holds a 14-2-1 advantage over WMU since the Wildcats rejoined the CCHA; NMU leads this all-time series 30-14-3, but more importantly NMU outscored WMU 10-2 in a two-game series in Marquette earlier this season.
“It’s going to be important for us to protect the puck in our zone and stay disciplined,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “We have to play with a lot of desperation and urgency.”
In other words, the Broncos have to find some solid defense — something sorely lacking on this team. Containing players like Mike Stutzel, Chris Gobert, and Bryce Cockburn won’t be easy, and although he can be rattled, Craig Kowalski provides a definite edge in net.
Upset city? Not likely, even though netminder Mike Mantua has a goal and an assist himself on the season. With strong goaltending from Mantua and Scott Foster and good forwards like Dana Lattery up front, the Broncos could make it interesting.
Pick: NMU 4-2, 4-1
No. 7 Notre Dame (15-15-6, 13-12-3 CCHA) at No. 6 Miami (20-15-3, 13-12-3 CCHA)
With their two wins over Lake State last weekend, the RedHawks attained 20 wins for the second time in six seasons, and secured the last home-ice spot for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Tied with Notre Dame in league play, Miami won the right to stay at home on the third tiebreaker, goal differential.
What to expect this weekend? The cynic in me says, “Who knows?” but the realist says that Miami has a definite edge.
These teams have never met in the CCHA postseason, but Miami holds a 21-11-5 edge all-time against the Irish. This season, the teams split a pair of close games in South Bend.
Neither the Irish nor the RedHawks have performed with any consistency this season, which makes this a particularly interesting playoff series to watch. Last year, Notre Dame upset Nebraska-Omaha and advanced to Joe Louis Arena, only to lose 3-1 to Northern Michigan in the Super Six.
For Notre Dame to pull off another upset in the first round, several conditions — other than the alignment of the planets, that is — must be met. First, the goaltenders for each team have to endure reversals of fortune. Morgan Cey must be outstanding, while David Burleigh must suddenly forget how comfortable he is while playing at home in Goggin Arena.
Second, the RedHawks have to forget how good they can be, offensively. Miami began the season tearing up opposing goaltenders, only to fall off in the second half. Still, there’s a ton of talent on the Miami team, and if Mike Kompon and Greg Hogeboom bring their A-games, the Irish will have a difficult battle.
Third, the Irish have to remember how good they can be. All that NHL drafted talent … and no home ice? Not to mention the bloodlines! Yan Stastny, Rob Globke, Mike Walsh, Neil Komadoski … on any other team, would these guys be stars in this league?
Upset city? Probably not, given how comfortable Burleigh is at home. Look for the RedHawks to remember how to score.
Picks: Miami 3-2, 4-2
The Envelope, Please
Congratulations to Miami’s Mike Kompon, this year’s recipient of the Chris Richards Award, given annually to a player mostly likely to be overlooked for CCHA First Team honors, in spite of deserving to be there.
Special mention goes to OSU’s Nate Guenin, who should have been named to the All-Rookie team.
OSU had the third-best defense in the nation, and no blueliners on either CCHA All-Conference team. Not a judgment call — just an observation.
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
Last week I railed against the media in the city where I live (Columbus, Ohio, for the uninitiated) for their lack of coverage of OSU hockey in the week leading up to the season finale with Michigan.
Never did I intend to imply that OSU hockey Sports Information Director, Leann Parker, wasn’t doing her job. Leann does an outstanding job of promoting OSU hockey; last week, the “other” guys in Scarlet and Grey actually got more coverage than they usually do, mainly because of Leann’s efforts to promote that series.
Nor did I mean to imply that my fine colleague, Craig Merz, wasn’t doing his part at the Columbus Dispatch. Merz sometimes has to beg for column inches for Buckeye hockey.
That having been said, though, I have to note that the edition of the Dispatch that I purchased last Sunday had not one word about OSU’s two ties with Michigan and the impending playoffs. Now, Saturday’s game was a late one, and maybe I got the early edition, but still … .
Do You Really Want to Make Me Cry?
I goofed. I know — you’re shocked.
In my zealousness to promote college hockey and my outrage at the lack of attention to this fine product locally, I expressed my disappointment that College Sports Television (CSTV) hadn’t been picked up by any Ohio cable providers for last Friday’s Michigan-Ohio State game.
Actually, CSTV had an agreement with the Ohio News Network to black out coverage in Ohio, since CSTV was actually using ONN’s feed.
But While We’re At It
OSU hockey fan Ed Plunkett brought to my attention this little tidbit from the Wall Street Journal.
As pro sports markets go, Columbus is a backwater, and it’s not even much of a hockey town: before the expansion Blue Jackets arrived here three years ago, only a handful of high schools fielded teams.
This was smack dab in the middle of an otherwise good article dated Friday, March 10, about CBJ’s “enforcer,” Jody Shelley.
The author apparently didn’t realize that Ohio State has a hockey team, and that Columbus actually had a respectable history of semi-pro hockey before the Jackets arrived.
And the author apparently didn’t know that Governor Bob Taft and Mayor Michael B. Coleman had made hockey-specific proclamations.
(And, perhaps, the author hadn’t spent too much time inside Nationwide Arena during a Jackets game. The rabid fans who regularly attend would beg to differ about C-bus being “not even much of a hockey town.”)
And You Didn’t Hear It Here
Could Columbus host the CCHA Super Six when the league’s contract with Olympia Entertainment runs out? Look for Nationwide Arena to bid.
Notes From The League
UAF: When the Nanooks swept Alaska-Anchorage to capture the 2002-03 Governor’s Cup, the governor was actually there to present the trophy. Governor Frank Murkowski handed the trophy over to UAF Saturday at the Carlson Center, marking the first time in the Cup’s history that an actual governor was there to do the honors.
BGSU: The Falcons are the only team ever to have beaten the Wolverines in Yost Arena in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. It happened back in 1989, when Rob Blake, now with the Colorado Avalanche, scored in triple overtime of the third game to send BG to the CCHA semifinals. The Falcons travel to Yost this weekend.
FSU: Regular-season champion Ferris State rides a nine-game win streak into the first round of the CCHA playoffs, its longest such streak since 1990. The Bulldogs face the Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs; it was the Lakers, back in 1990, who halted that previous nine-game win streak.
LSSU: While the Lakers have three national championships and four CCHA playoff titles to their credit, LSSU hasn’t won a first-round playoff game since 1996. The Lakers are 1-10-0 in the CCHA first round in the past seven years, having been outscored by opponents 44-19 in those games.
Miami: Junior Greg Hogeboom needs just one more point to make him and Mike Kompon the first RedHawk duo to record 40 or more points in a season since Dan Boyle and Tim Leahy did so in 1997-98.
Michigan: The Wolverines, the second seed going into the first round of the CCHA playoffs, have finished either first or second in final CCHA standings for 13 consecutive years.
MSU: Head coach Rick Comley has never lost to the Nanooks. Between coaching at Northern Michigan and Michigan State, Comley is 14-0-2 overall against UAF.
UNO: The first-round pairing between UNO and OSU this weekend is the only first-round series that pits season clustermates against one another. OSU swept UNO at Value City Arena in December, and the Mavericks returned the favor at the Bullpen in January.
NMU: The Wildcats have earned home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs for five of the six years since they returned to the CCHA.
Notre Dame: Head coach Dave Poulin needs just one more win to become the second-winningest head coach in Notre Dame hockey history. One win would give Poulin 113; the all-time leader is Charles “Lefty” Smith, with 307 victories to his credit.
OSU: Last Saturday was Hockey Night in C-bus. Nearly 14,000 fans watched the Buckeyes skate to a 3-3 tie in the thrilling regular-season finale in Value City Arena, while 18,000 folks watched the Blue Jackets lose to the Calgary Flames in Nationwide Arena.
WMU: Head coach Jim Culhane was a freshman defenseman at the end of the 1983-84 season (making him a year younger than I am, damn him!) when the Broncos traveled to Marquette and beat the Wildcats 7-6 in a two-game, total goals CCHA quarterfinal series. He also earned his first playoff win as the Bronco head coach two years ago in the second game of a three-game set in Marquette (the Wildcats won that series 2-1).
The Poetry Fans of Our Climate
Last week, I asked you to identify the following lines, and the author:
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
I am absolutely thrilled to know that many CCHA fans are also Wallace Stevens fans.
Angela Wong, a student at Boston College, was the first to write in with the correct answer. She said, “And I still want dinner at Dave’s. Seriously. I go to BC. It could be done.”
Angela, darlin’, haven’t you heeded my warnings about Dave Hendrickson’s cooking? Really, I’d rethink this if I were you.
I also posted the following song lyrics, with this caveat: “If you get this one right and you’re male, single, between the ages of 30 and 40, gainfully employed, and not living with your mother, you may have to come to Columbus to take me out to dinner (an archaic practice formerly known as a “date”). Marriage may follow in short order.”
Well I never went to college, babe,
I did not have the luck.
Stole out of Indiana
on the back of a pickup truck.
With no education higher
than the streets of my hometown,
I went looking for a fire
just to burn it all down.
The song is “Real Fine Love,” from John Hiatt’s album Stolen Moments.
The first correct response was from Matthew Gatesy, a young man who obviously has outstanding parents. Matthew wrote, “I am only discouraged because when I saw B.B. King in concert, Hiatt was not touring with him at the time.”
Matthew also wrote, “Well, I am male, single, and don’t live with my mother, but that pretty much ends my matching your criteria. I am only 21 and will not be gainfully employed for another two years when I complete graduate school.
“Maybe I can just buy you a pretzel when we’re at the Joe.”
Yes, Matthew, you can. And thank your parents for me.
The second correct response was from Jeff, a Michigan alum who obviously has more than just one lick of sense. “I will pass on dinner at Dave’s,” wrote Jeff. “It sounds dangerous.”
The third response correct response came from Ken, a “Michigan fan stuck in Florida.” (You don’t garner much sympathy here, buster.) Ken is concerned with the spiritual well-being of Ohio State fans, who say, “And Michigan still sucks!” in response to the announcement that there is one minute remaining in a given period — regardless of who OSU’s opponent is.
Ken wrote, “I pray that God help them.”
Brings a tear to the eye.
Then there was this response:
Artist: John Hiatt.
Song: Real Fine Love
Your Typical Scandinavian blonde
Part-time Assistant Hockey Coach at a DIII school
Timberframe home builder currently,
training however to be a massage therapist.
And, no, you don’t get his name. Why on earth would I share that with anyone else who may be female and single?
And for Your Reading Pleasure …
My dear readers, you have restored my faith in humanity with your knowledge of poetry. Let those poor souls out east have their prose. Viva la verse!
This week’s snippet will probably be a challenge, but I believe in you. Really. Name the poet and the poem.
If we had no Winter, the Spring would not be so pleasant;
If we did not sometimes taste the adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.
And your bonus lyrics:
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.