Same As It Ever Was
Congratulations to the Michigan Wolverines, winners of this year’s CCHA regular-season title. Michigan has won outright or shared in eight regular-season titles, including three of the last four.
This isn’t news.
What is news is that the Wolverines had to get a little help from some strange friends south of the border. Do you think Red Berenson has sent John Markell a thank-you note yet?
Michigan looked good for the title going into last weekend’s series with Michigan State good, but not great. Three points ahead of second-place Miami in the regular-season standings before last weekend’s games, the Wolverines needed just two points to take the division.
Instead, the Wolverines found themselves waiting for the outcome of Saturday’s Miami-OSU game because Michigan took just one point from the Spartans between Friday and Saturday a 4-4 tie in Munn and a 1-0 loss in Joe Louis Arena and the RedHawks had beaten the Buckeyes in Oxford Friday.
Any coach will tell you that a win is a win, a title is a title, but having to depend on another team’s loss to come out on top is no way to end a season. Another way not to end a season is to go 0-3-1 in your last four games, as did Michigan.
“In the last four games, we’ve picked up one point,” said Berenson after Saturday’s game. “You can’t be proud of that.”
Quote of the Week
“I’m a big Ohio State fan right now.” Jeff Tambellini, after the Wolverines lost to the Spartans Saturday.
While the Wolverines were waiting for news of their fate, the RedHawks were trying to write a story with a happier ending for Miami.
Midway through the third period of the Miami-OSU game at the Schott in Columbus last Saturday, the Miami bench got word that Michigan had lost. Mike Kompon had just scored his second goal of the third period to even up an intense hockey game, 4-4, and the RedHawks knew that if they took one point, they’d share the league title with Michigan.
A win would make them champs outright.
But the Buckeyes were determined to tell another story, one that featured a season-ending victory the first for OSU’s senior class and a storm to rain on Miami’s parade.
“We didn’t want anyone to win a title on our ice,” said OSU senior forward Chris Olsgard. “That was great motivation for us, not to let them win. That was the guiding force for me, personally.”
So, with less than two minutes left in regulation, Olsgard muscled his way into the Miami zone between two defenders and, from behind the goal line, threw the puck at the crease. There it went in off a RedHawk skate, the goal credited to Lee Spector who had been brought down in the crease, the right wing to Olsgard’s left and the Buckeyes won, 5-4.
Miami head coach Enrico Blasi immediately protested the goal; he thought it was directed into the net by Spector’s skate. In defeat, though, Blasi was gracious. Carrying his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Sophia, into the press conference, Blasi gave a moving statement.
“We put ourselves in a great position all year long to play for a championship, and that’s where we were tonight. We’re extremely proud of our team. I think we have a gutty team that comes to play regardless of the situation. It’s disappointing, but the way we played in that third period, I just love every single one of those guys.”
The assist for Olsgard was poetic justice; the night before, in Miami’s 4-3 overtime win, it was Olsgard who was in the penalty box when Chris Michael scored the game-winning, power-play goal for the RedHawks.
Overheard in the Tiny Goggin Press Box
“Doesn’t Walt know that if he wins they have to go to Alaska?” This was Friday, and the Wildcats were beating the Bulldogs.
NMU’s reward for winning? A 2,540-mile commute for a best-of-three, first-round CCHA playoff series in Fairbanks.
And the pundit wasn’t even thinking about UAF’s 12-4-0 home record.
Same As It Ever Was, Part 2
The Ann Arbor News reported Monday that the Michigan hockey team “deserved” the regular-season title.
Hmm. I can’t argue with that. The Wolverines seem to find a way to win, season after season, and this eighth title is the most by any school in the conference.
But writer Antoine Pitts took it one step further when he wrote, “The eight league losses were the most ever for a CCHA champion, but who else deserves the title?
“Certainly not Miami, which came into Yost Ice Arena three weekends ago with the CCHA lead and got destroyed.
“And certainly not Michigan State, which had a 7-5-2 league home record, including sweeps by Ohio State and Miami.”
Miami could very well have won the league title Saturday by virtue of Michigan’s one-point weekend against the Spartans and they didn’t, but had they beaten OSU, would they have been any less deserving of a league title than the Wolverines?
Pitts’ logic is based on head-to-head play in Yost Arena, and he has a valid point; the Wolverines were undefeated in league play at home in the 2003-04 season. But Michigan had been swept just the weekend before by Notre Dame on the road, of course a team that just squeaked into sixth place.
Does that mean that Notre Dame was somehow a more deserving team this season than Michigan?
There’s no need to justify Michigan’s title. The Wolverines finished the season by the necessary margin one slim point ahead of Miami, and so earned the title. There’s no need to trash the RedHawks, who held the top spot in the league for nine long weeks this season.
“Obviously, we would have liked to have won the games, but we’ve earned it,” Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson told the press after all was said and done.
Earned. Quite different from deserved.
Yes, I know you’re shocked. Last week I wrote, “I’ve seen the face of the CCHA’s Super Six Tournament twice this season, and he couldn’t skate either time.”
I stand corrected. Joe College does not, in fact, represent the CCHA per se. Joe College is the representative of college hockey at Joe Louis Arena, meaning that he is a marketing tool belonging to Olympia Entertainment and not to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
And One More Time
Two weeks ago, I predicted that Notre Dame’s Aaron Gill would be the recipient of this year’s Chris Richards Man-Most-Likely-To-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award, so I was pleasantly surprised that Gill was named to the CCHA All-Conference Second Team.
Imagine my surprise, too, when I realized that I should have given that award to OSU’s Doug Andress. The outstanding senior defenseman made my all-league team, but garnered just an honorable mention for CCHA All-Conference honors.
Oddball Note of the Week
OSU’s Nate Guenin is the first sophomore to be named to the CCHA All-Academic team since former Falcon Brian Holzinger was so honored as a sophomore in 1993.
Holzinger was just traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets from Pittsburgh. All that brainpower in one city is frightening.
Guenin was the only defenseman honored; everyone else named is a forward.
Two weeks ago, I named Guenin to my All-Goon Squad. Every time he’s called for a penalty, I have great confidence in the official’s judgment.
Guenin’s appearance on this list brought this protest from a local Buckeye fan:
“My son Michael, age 4 , knows most of the players and give them five coming on and off the ice. Nate is his favorite player. Last Saturday, Nate gave Michael a framed picture which he personalized for him. This is not something that a ‘goon’ would do.”
Well, apparently it is.
There’s no question that Guenin is a nice guy. Most hockey players are nice guys, which is what makes covering this sport so rewarding.
So, now you know that Nate Guenin is a smart, nice guy who takes way too many penalties or would, if he were playing. He’s still out indefinitely.
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Sure, sure, the NCAA Tournament begins
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.