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This Week in the CCHA

College Hockey:
This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 15, 2007

No, Really, It’s All Right

To my ear, nothing captures the essence of unrequited love like Roxy Music’s 1982 masterpiece, Avalon. From the nihilistic lyrics of “More than This” to the urgency of the overture to “Take a Chance with Me,” nothing speaks to my inner 14-year-old — the one that Robert Sullivan left crushed and bleeding at North Syracuse Central High — like the smoldering tenor of Bryan Ferry.

No other album makes me long for a pounding rain, a good dose of nightshade, and Susan Sarandon reading Anna Karenina like Avalon, although Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing (1997 — just in time for my divorce) comes mighty close.

Of course, I listened to Avalon all day yesterday. And, no, I don’t digress.

Not only was yesterday every bitter, divorced, middle-aged hockey writer’s least favorite holiday — must I even utter its name? — but Mercury went retrograde on Tuesday, so things this week are imbued with a double dose of melancholy nostalgia.

What? You don’t know about Mercury retrograde? You don’t believe in astrology?

Have you learned nothing from me in 11 years of CCHA coverage? Other than fortuitous alignment of the planets, what else explains the recent Robert Morris upset of Notre Dame, Ferris State’s 2002-03 season, and the site of the 2010 Frozen Four?

Okay, nonbelievers. When a planet is said to be retrograde, it appears — because of its relative position to Earth — to be moving backward in its orbit. It’s not really moving backward in its orbit; that would be silly nonsense. We are far more interested in reality here, so pay attention.

Mercury, as you know already, rules communication, electronics and other important stuff. For the three weeks when Mercury is retrograde (and the days immediately before and after), electronic things are said to break more easily, and people lose or misplace objects. You’re also not supposed to sign contracts during Mercury retrograde. But go ahead and play the lottery. Really.

But what Mercury retrograde does every time, my skeptical friends, is bring the past back to us. During periods of Mercury Rx (to use the astrological lingo), people from our past return to us, we are revisited by old issues, and we are forced to rethink our own history — and perhaps even re-live it, if we haven’t learned its lessons yet.

And what do Cupid’s annual visit and Mercury retrograde have in common with college hockey? Savvy readers know the answer to that one.

Absolutely everything.

“Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.”

Immortal words uttered by the king of the unrequited, Charlie Brown.

And who, among the CCHA was unrequited last weekend? The Northern Michigan Wildcats, who have never won a game in the Schottenstein Center.

Last weekend, the ‘Cats lost two games to the Buckeyes to drop their fifth and sixth contests at the Schott, which opened in 1999. In those six losing contests, NMU has scored five total goals.

“Buildings don’t beat you, teams do,” said Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle. “It’s a different team every year.”

Uh huh. Sure. Perhaps someone should have checked the charts before heading south to Columbus.

Incidentally, NMU hasn’t beaten OSU in Columbus since Nov. 7, 1981, before anyone on this Wildcat squad was born.

Sometimes, It’s Good to Be Blue

Perhaps it’s unfair to quote Jane Austen while lamenting the double-whammy of the week — her heroines almost always end up happy — but Austen was a wise prophet: “But when a young lady is to be a heroine … something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.”

Apparently, Wolverine Chris Summers has read Northanger Abbey, or at least knew that I needed a hero this week. Or, perhaps, just played a great clutch game when Michigan needed him most.

By the 7:57 mark of the second period in Saturday’s contest between Michigan and Michigan State in Joe Louis Arena, the Spartans owned a 3-0 lead after Justin Abdelkader notched an unassisted shorthanded goal. But our hero, freshman blueliner Chris Summers, became the name of the game when he answered Abdelkader’s goal less than a minute later, then scored another one at 1:41 in the third, and assisted on Andrew Cogliano’s game-tying goal at 18:09.

“There was a sense of urgency,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “We put pucks to the net, and I thought our whole team just played better.”

Here’s how this game positively screams of Merc Rx and unrequited love: last season, the Spartans and Wolverines skated to three ties, the third — the final regular-season meeting in 2005-06 — in Joe Louis Arena.

And the unrequited part? This season, the Spartans and Wolverines are all tied up, 2-2-1. The Wolverines own the regular-season series (2-1-1), but MSU beat Michigan for the title of this season’s Great Lakes Invitational.

Oh. And Saturday’s game was a tie. No one wins. Unrequited. Duh.

Love’s Labor … Tied

MSU goaltender Jeff Lerg made 54 saves in the tie against Wolverines.

One Man’s Heartache, Another’s Respite

Last Friday, the Bowling Green Falcons gave their loyal home fans an early Valentine (darn it — I said it!) when they snapped a 10-game winless streak with a 3-2 win over Michigan.

“I am very proud of our guys and their effort,” said BGSU head coach Scott Paluch. “I think it’s so important that our team was able to feel the reward for a real strong performance.

“Obviously, it’s been difficult this season to earn the points and the rewards. I am most pleased because, in every aspect, we earned this win.”

Derek Whitmore and Thomas Petruska each registered late third-period goals to lift the Falcons over the Wolverines. Petruska assisted on Whitmore’s tying goal at 13:25, and Whitmore helped on Petruska’s game-winner, which came on the power play with 35 seconds left in regulation.

This was a trip down memory lane that Red Berenson gladly would have skipped. The last time the Falcons bested a top-10 team was Jan. 21, 2006, in their own rink, when they beat Michigan 5-2.

This game ended Michigan’s six-game run of wins.

Lessons Repeated: Are You Listening?

Remember, Mercury retrograde brings the past present for reexamination … for those brave and smart enough to look in that sometimes-painful mirror.

Notre Dame

With their 4-2 win over the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks Friday, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hit the 24-win mark for just the second time in program history. The best season of Irish hockey was 1987-88, when Notre Dame went 27-4-2 as an independent and the current ND roster ran the gamut from first encounters with solid foods to contemplating kindergarten.

Obviously, this repeat success 19 years later is an object lesson: Don’t wait so long until next time.

Michigan

Although Michigan earned just one point last weekend, it was enough for the Wolverines to clinch a finish no lower than fourth and a first-round CCHA playoff bye. The Wolverines have finished fourth or higher in CCHA play for the past 19 seasons.

The object lesson here is Zen-like: Perfection is unattainable. The journey is the reward.

(And 19 years since ND … 19 years running for UM … coincidence?)

Miami

With their sweep over Lake Superior State last weekend, the Miami RedHawks reached 20 wins for the second year in a row … marking the second time the ‘Hawks have had back-to-back 20-win seasons under head coach Enrico Blasi.

Hmmmm.

Friday’s win broke Miami’s four-game drought. “We talked about scoring more goals all week and tonight we got opportunities on our chances and it was a good hockey game,” said Blasi Friday.

The object lesson: Score more goals more often, and get more than 20 wins next season, too.

And don’t forget that 20 is one more than 19.

Alaska

Ah, I miss Alaska-Fairbanks. I’ve been good this season, writing “Alaska” instead, and shortening “UAF” to “UA,” which has been more difficult than I imagined. Then again, I’ve always had trouble letting go.

Fairbanks! Fairbanks! Fairbanks! I want to shout it, not only because it’s really pretty to say, but because when Alaska last embraced its hyphenated name, the Nanooks had an 18-win season, just last year.

UA is struggling this year, having been swept last weekend by Western Michigan. It was the fifth time this season that the Nanooks have been swept on the road, a mark last equaled in 1999-2000.

(Take the two end numbers off the first year in that date, and you get … well, you know. I have goosebumps.)

“It’s a broken record for us now,” said UA head coach Tavis MacMillan, “another strong effort and ending with no results. Now, we are starting to get the goaltending, but we don’t have the guys putting the pucks in the net.”

And this object lesson? I don’t know. That’s for Fairbanks — I mean, Alaska — to figure out. The Nanooks have their own path to follow.

Western Michigan

What was painful for Alaska was sweet for Western Michigan. The Broncos earned their first home-ice sweep of a league opponent since Oct. 28-29, 2005, with those two wins over the Nanooks.

The object lesson: Learn to play unranked teams in Lawson as well as you do the ranked ones.

Nebraska-Omaha

Two late, third-period goals — from Dan Charleston and Bryan Marshall — gave the Mavericks what they needed to tie the No. 1 team in the country, Notre Dame, 2-2 in South Bend.

The tie was the eighth for the Mavs this season, a new team record.

The Universe says, “Mavericks, score one more goal.”

A Woman Scorned

Matt Verdone continues to mock me.

On Jan. 18, I confessed a little melancholy of my own, a midseason slump that I couldn’t quite shake. As misery loves company, I brought along a few people and places with me, drawing attention to others in the CCHA who were underperforming. Verdone was one of them.

Before that column appeared, the Ferris State Bulldog had scored four goals in 23 games. Since that very week — how can this possibly be a coincidence? — Verdone has scored six goals in nine games, including markers in the three consecutive games immediately following that column.

Verdone is now riding a sweet, 10-game point streak that technically dates back to FSU’s 7-3 win over Wayne State Jan. 13, but sometimes divination is not an exact science.

“I’m just getting lucky and having the bounces go my way,” said Verdone. Luck?

“Playing hockey is fun, but it’s a lot more fun out there when your confidence is up and things are clicking.

Verdone, by the way, is well over 19 years old.

“Come sweet May again”

While watching the NMU-OSU game Saturday night and playing with little Devin Parker, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a former Buckeye with a mouth full of hardware.

It was Scott May (2000-2004, 46-69–115), who was in town to see his younger brother and NMU Wildcat, Derek, play in May’s old home arena. May, who plays for the Iowa Stars of the AHL, was able to attend this game because of a broken jaw he suffered in a game Jan. 20.

May’s parents, Gerry and Anne, made the trip in from Western Canada to see both of their boys in the same building.

This was yet another reminder of how lucky I’ve been over the years to meet families like the Mays. And this was, of course, bittersweet; I don’t know when I’ll see any of them again. Sigh.

Not coincidentally, I think, Scott May’s classmate, Dave Steckel (50-55–105) was honored by the CCHA as Alumnus of the Week. Steckel had four points in three games for the Hershey Bears last week.

When my mother was growing up in Lebanon, Penn., a gentleman caller’s chances were greatly improved if he had a car … that would transport them to Hershey for a Bears’ game. That was the best date young Dolly Novak could imagine.

Fridays and Saturdays in a rink are the best date nights Dolly’s oldest daughter has, too. There’s little science to my single status, if you ask me.

And can you name the American poet to whom the quote that begins this section alludes?

Laws of Attraction

“There’s got to be some attraction to pull you in, create that urgency. It was there this weekend.”

No, these are not the tender words of Danielle Steele, but the genuinely insightful observations of OSU head coach John Markell, whose Buckeyes have struggled to find their collective identity this season. Markell was commenting on OSU’s four-point weekend, just the second time this season that the Buckeyes have swept an opponent at home.

“You become a team, and you do little things that pull you in, and you hang together after the game, and that’s what it’s about.

“There’s got to be some attraction that you’re going after, that everybody’s attracted to. We seem to be getting a little bit better right now.”

I’m just glad that somebody’s getting something.

In Spite of It All, I’m in Love!

Steve Cady Arena, will you marry me?

USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.


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