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This Week in the CCHA

College Hockey:
Fortunes change for Bowling Green, Ohio State, but they stay positive

With four weeks to go in the regular season, it seems that the only constant in the CCHA is change. Last week, Ohio State was still at the top of the standings but watching its lead diminish weekly. At the end of play on Friday night, Western Michigan was No. 1.

That changed Saturday. Now Ferris State holds that position, one point ahead of Miami, OSU and WMU, all in second place — at least until Friday night.

January brought as much jockeying for position in league standings as had the entire first half of the season. The differences from week to week, month to month, are subtle: One team wins a few, another team’s sweep gives it an advantage no one else has, another team drops a game and drops two places.

The January play of the CCHA’s three Ohio teams is a microcosm of the entire league’s whole season thus far. Three weeks ago, we looked at an improving Miami team, a team that finished the month 6-2-0. That’s a team that showed what significant success can bring in a league where even a little success creates a virtual game of musical chairs.

But what of the other two Ohio teams, Bowling Green and Ohio State? The Falcons went .500 in January and are still at the bottom of the standings. The Buckeyes didn’t win a game during the same span and have just now fallen out of first place.

What a season.

For the Falcons, it was all a matter of attitude

It’s no secret that Chris Bergeron has a big job ahead of him in Bowling Green. When he was hired before the start of the 2010-11 season, Bergeron knew that the long-suffering Falcons — who had been at or near the bottom of the CCHA standings since 2007-08 — needed more than just tweaking.

What he didn’t know was how who he is would affect Bowling Green hockey on a day-to-day basis.

“I think what ended up happening in the first half was that we got in our own way,” said Bergeron. “We started worrying about the big picture. It was hard coming into the rink every day.

“I put the onus and the blame for that on me. That starts with me. I needed to handle the adversity better.”

By the end of the first half of the season, the Falcons had won just one conference game, a 1-0 shutout of Lake Superior State way back on Oct. 21, the first league game of the season for BG. They swept Canisius Nov. 11-12 but were winless in their next eight league games (0-6-2) and dropped two to Bemidji State to end December.

Since then, though, the Falcons are 2-2-2 in CCHA play, a record that brought them 10 additional league points, including two extras from back-to-back shootouts against Ohio State Jan. 7-8.

But they’re still in last place.

“We actually have played better, for sure,” said Bergeron. “I think the break came at the perfect time.”

Eighteen of the Falcons’ 25 players are freshmen and sophomores, and they’re from all over the place. Thunder Bay, Ontario. Collegeville, Pa. Bedford, Nova Scotia. Toledo, Ohio. They’re kids who haven’t seen a lot of tangible reward for the hard work that they’ve been doing to help rebuild BGSU hockey.

Bergeron and his assistants, Barry Schutte and Ty Eigner, hadn’t seen much reward, either — but they’re the ones to whom the players look for how to act. It took Bergeron a little bit of time to realize this.

“I wasn’t going sideways,” said Bergeron. “I wasn’t up in arms. I was just for a split second — and that was long enough — not as focused as I should have been.

“I think the most difficult thing is to convince a 20-year-old that you’re making progress when you’re not getting results. We are making progress, we are moving forward. If I’m not positive about coming into the rink, if it’s not clear that I think we’re making progress — if I’m not doing those things, then they’re not doing those things. I thought, ‘Look at these kids. They’re giving everything they have.’

“It’s something I truly take pride in, how much of an impact we have on these kids’ lives. Adversity shows itself in a variety of ways in college, but this is nothing. The experience was becoming contradictory to what we want to be. I was letting it affect me. It took the two people closest to me professionally to point that out.

“I give a lot of credit to Barry and Ty, to the two guys who are around me every day the most, to recognize it and say that we’d better be careful we’re going down a path we don’t want to tread. It’s all part of the experience for the players and we don’t want that experience to be a negative one.”

Whatever Bergeron did to adjust how he was responding to the season worked. The Falcons have equaled their league win total of a year ago and are two away from equaling their overall total from 2010-11. They’re still not scoring a lot of goals, but they did knock Western Michigan out of first place with a win last Saturday night after losing 4-1 Friday, a game that was tied 0-0 after the first.

“I was happy with the way we fought and competed,” said Bergeron, “and I think we were just focused on making something good happen on Saturday in an answer to Friday.”

The answer came in the form of two third-period goals, sophomore Camden Wojtala’s sixth of the season at 6:10 and senior James McIntosh’s second of the year at 13:51. Wojtala has numbers identical to those of freshman Ryan Carpenter (6-10–16) and the two lead the Falcons in points. McIntosh hadn’t played since Jan. 8 against Ohio State, and his only other goal this season came against WMU on Dec. 10.

Beating a ranked opponent was nice, said Bergeron, but last Saturday night is past tense. “Immediately we start to focus on preparing for next weekend,” he said. “The short-term focus is not going to change. We’re not going to look at big picture or the standings because those are negative things. We work extremely hard. We need to learn to execute and work hard at the same time.”

Bergeron is the first to admit that the Falcons haven’t turned any real corners — yet. “We’re making progress,” he said. “Our power play continues to struggle. We haven’t been really, really good on the penalty kill. It’s been what we’ve been. I think it’s been more of the — and I use this term very, very loosely — confidence. We were opportunistic against Alaska the first night. Against Ohio State, we continued to fight. We’ve been more consistent with our effort and our competing. We’re constantly getting better with our executing while we’re doing that.”

As difficult as it may be to keep a young team focused on the real progress it’s making — without the benefit of a few more wins for proof — it’s been a bit easier to keep BG fans interested in a program that still has some way to go.

“I truly believe the people around here deserve success,” said Bergeron. “It’s been a really loyal group.

“Thirty-six months ago, Bowling Green hockey lost a little bit of relevance. I hope we can give it back to them at a high level, whatever that means. They’re taking baby steps also. They’re taking a whole lot of pride in not a lot of results.”

For the Buckeyes, it’s all a matter of potential

Unlike the Falcons, the Buckeyes had a great start to their season, finishing the first half atop the CCHA standings with 32 points, five ahead of the two teams sharing second place. And unlike the Falcons, the Buckeyes didn’t have a break-even January, having won their last game Dec. 10 against Miami.

One thing that the Falcons and Buckeyes have in common, however, is youth. OSU’s roster includes 18 total freshmen and sophomores, and like BG, more of the former than the latter.

So don’t expect second-year coach Mark Osiecki to get down about an 0-4-4 January.

“That’s college hockey,” said Osiecki. “It’s been that way top to bottom for everybody. I don’t know how odd it is. For us and our program, we probably thought we’d have some up-and-down like that, having as many freshmen and sophomores as we do.

“We’ve put ourselves in a decent spot.”

What Osiecki means is that perhaps Ohio State was a little overachieving in the first half of the season. Hot play from senior goaltender Cal Heeter — who’s putting up the best numbers of his career with a 2.18 goals-against average and .927 save percentage — kept OSU in a lot of games in the first half.

“On paper, he’s played well,” said Osiecki. “If you would ask him, there’s a few goals each game that he’d like to have back. Certainly, you can’t point a finger at Cal one bit. He’s a great competitor.”

Keeping the Buckeyes in play for the first half allowed a young team to gain some confidence, and they are confident. The January skid hasn’t hurt the locker room too much, said Osiecki.

“With us right now, with how young we are, it’s almost young and dumb,” said Osiecki. “We want our guys to be enthusiastic and energetic. We’ve played well in January and we haven’t had positive results and that’s the hardest thing. When you play well and don’t have some results, now it’s hard, but we don’t need to change how we play. I’ve talked to a couple of younger guys that we have and told them, ‘Hey, don’t lose your enthusiasm.’ I don’t think they will.”

In fact, said Osiecki, the newer players are learning how to maintain a proper balance between enthusiasm for the game and disappointment over a rough few weeks. According to Osiecki, none of the younger kids wants to risk looking like he’s taking Ohio State hockey too lightly because that would mean disrespect toward the veteran players.

“Every kid in our locker room is a great kid, and it’s almost like they’re afraid to show their enthusiasm sometimes,” said Osiecki. “They want to be respectful, 100 percent. It’s a joy for us as coaches to deal with these kids. It’s so easy to come to work.”

When the Buckeyes came back from the mid-season break, they had a hard time scoring goals — and that was a new development. In the first four games of 2012, OSU scored four goals; it was shut out in one of those games. Then the Buckeyes scored three goals in each game they played against Ferris State Jan. 20-21, a loss and a tie. They followed that with a 1-0 loss to Lake Superior State last Friday but followed that up with four goals in a tie with the Lakers the following night.

OSU’s two top scorers, sophomore Chris Crane (14-9–23) and senior Danny Dries (12-9–21) were prolific in the first half but have been shut down — Dries more than Crane — in the second. When the goals began to come in the middle of the month, they came sometimes from unexpected sources. Freshman Tanner Fritz has two goals and four assists in the last four games; he had two in 23 previous contests. In last Saturday’s 4-4 tie, freshman Max McCormick netted his first career hat trick; he’s scored five of his seven goals since the beginning of January.

“Every team, every game, there’s always things you like to shore up,” said Osiecki. “The best thing about it is that when you are scoring, whether or not you’re getting results, you are scoring. It’s hard to manufacture goals.”

This weekend, Ohio State is home against Michigan State. The teams split a series in East Lansing in October. In a league in which one win earns three points, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the young Buckeyes could find themselves contending for first place again. After all, they haven’t won a game since December and they’re only one point out of first.

At this point, that’s the kind of attitude Osiecki and the Buckeyes have. “Right now ours is such a great spot to be in,” Osiecki said. “It’s positive. Like we’ve said to our players, you’ve got to be positive.”

Players of the week

In my picks blog last week, I suggested that most CCHA teams and fans would be rooting for Lake Superior State. Your focused energy, CCHA fans, seems to have worked — and it translated into kudos for two Lakers players.

Rookie of the week: Miami’s Blake Coleman, a forward from Plano, Texas. Coleman had a goal and two assists in the RedHawks’ split with Northern Michigan.

Offensive player of the week: Ferris State senior Derek Graham, who had a goal and three assists — including a helper on Saturday’s winner — in FSU’s sweep of Michigan State. The goal was the second of the season for Graham, who had six total in his first three seasons with FSU.

Defenseman of the week: Lake Superior State junior Zach Trotman, who blocked 11 shots in LSSU’s two games — a win and tie — versus Ohio State. Trotman also had the tying goal in Saturday’s 4-4 decision, his eighth of the season which puts him two ahead of his career-high total of last year.

Goaltender of the week: LSSU senior Kevin Kapalka, who had a 1.92 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in the Lakers’ series against the Buckeyes. His 1-0 shutout Friday was his first of the season, the fifth of his career.

My ballot

1. Minnesota
2. Minnesota-Duluth
3. Boston College
4. Boston University
5. Merrimack
6. Michigan
7. Massachusetts-Lowell
8. Ferris State
9. Maine
10. Notre Dame
11. Colorado College
12. Cornell
13. Western Michigan
14. Miami
15. Denver
16. Union
17. Northern Michigan
18. North Dakota
19. Michigan State
20. Rochester Institute of Technology

I want to know who voted Ferris State first in this week’s poll. Those other Bulldogs, the defending national champs, nearly got my vote — I really waffled between the two Minnesota teams — but I hadn’t thought about the Bulldogs in Michigan. Frankly, I’m glad someone did.

Clarification

There are two points from last week’s story that require clarification.

First, the CCHA reviews every major penalty. The league doesn’t require anyone to send in tape of major penalties for review. It’s an automatic thing.

Second, the league has a right to assess supplementary discipline after it has reviewed infractions, whether those infractions were called on the ice during play or missed by officials in real time. We see suspensions after the fact often enough that this should be apparent. I wasn’t questioning the league’s right to do this. I just didn’t agree with the call.

Thanks to all of you for your spirited, mostly civil discussion of that story — and of the stories and blogs for most of this season.

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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  • Bruce

    It is too bad that in less than two years Ohio’s three major college hockey teams will be in three different leagues.  One interesting question is whether they will continue to schedule annual nonconference games or weekend series against each other after that change. 

    Continuing to schedule games against other instate CCHA teams will be even more challenging for Michigan schools with six Michigan CCHA teams in three different conferences and some strong interstate rivalries with CCHA schools like Notre Dame and Miami.      

    This might make it difficult for schools with long travel distances such as LSSU and NMU and, even moreso, Alaska, to maintain conference rivalries. 

    • Bob

      I know Miami will have to try to keep some of the in-state stuff alive because according to reports, they will have a 10-game non-conference schedule to fill right off the bat — and I certainly hope they do for rivalry’s sake. There should be plenty of opportunities for them to keep travel costs in check for non-conference games by visiting the Ohio and lower peninsula Michigan schools. But, I think you’re right…Lake, Tech and NMU are going to have a hard time getting a Miami, Ohio State or Notre Dame to make that trip going forward.

      • Paula Weston

        Bob, all three Ohio teams will likely play each other during the season to round out their schedules.  I, too, will miss seeing the bigger schools travel to Marquette or Sault Ste. Marie.  It’s a big deal when Michigan or Notre Dame comes to town for smaller programs.  That’s part of what saddens me about the realignment.

        • dusty bronco

          Question pertaining to this, doesn’t the parity of college hockey help a little? If LSSU and Northern become very good teams, don’t these schools almost have to travel to these small schools to help them in the pairwise

  • dusty bronco

    Face it, Ohio is not a hockey state. The blue jackets can’t fill a stadium, OSU UM outdoor game was nowhere near a sell out and honestly, I live in toledo now, and just 5 miles inside the border, No one cares about hockey like they do in Michigan or Minny

    • Bob

      What are you talking about and what does that have to do with anything? I gotta say, Bronco fans keep coming out of the woodwork making my point for me…the fan base is completely delusional. Clearly you’ve never been to Columbus or you’d realize it’s not the fans and hockey culture of the city that’s bad. It’s the Blue Jackets management. And, I suspect you’ve never heard of a thriving college program in Oxford with a rink that is one of the jewels of the sport.

      I suggest you look at the number of college recruits and draft picks that came from the state over the past few years before you make blanket statements.

      • dusty bronco

        Wow wasn’t expecting that response. Why does any of that matter? BGSU has talked about folding up its team after this huge mess of conferences shifting, Columbus gets the all star game next year, but there is still talks about that team moving to Vegas or Quebec. Bob, I have been to Columbus for a game, something about a rink that is less than half full does not exactly scream rabid hockey culture. As far as claiming dominance over Ohio teams, that is something I never did. In fact I’d say the Ohio teams always match up good with WMU, but after the shift it won’t matter anymore. We will most likely only see Miami. 

        As far as the original comment, I agree these three teams being so close and in 3 different conferences is bad news for all three teams. BGSU, is struggling as I said earlier and with their nearest opponent being 500 miles away, it won’t help.  OSU has the worst attendance out of any of the big 10 schools, and this is with their team at the top of the conference. Miami most likely won’t struggle at all and they will continue to be a national powerhouse. 

        The CCHA breaking up is possibly the worst thing for college hockey, right up there with having the frozen four in Florida.

        and that America is what grinds my gears

      • golfforfun18

        Bob: Speaking of irresponsible “blanket statements”, your constant “lead” that WMU fans are dilushional has lost it’s merit, proven this week and last week.
        Just because a “name” has Bronco in it doesn’t mean the comment is “Pro-WMU”. Miami’s new Palace is nice, but attedance is down, according to the schools’s SID. Probably some of that is due to the struggles of the Red Hawks, but facts are facts.

    • Paula Weston

      So what?  That doesn’t change the fact — as Bruce said – 
      that many fans will grieve when the three Ohio D-I teams play in three different conferences.  It doesn’t diminish in any way the loyal fans of the Falcons, Buckeyes and RedHawks support their teams, nor does it diminish the contribution those schools have made to D-I college hockey.  

      Frankly, I don’t understand the point of your comment.  True, Michigan and Minnesota have more established hockey traditions than does Ohio — but Michigan and Minnesota are the top two hockey states in the entire country, neck and neck for youth hockey participation.  Massachusetts comes in third with 10,000 fewer youth hockey players, but I wouldn’t say that Massachusetts isn’t as much of a hockey state as are Michigan and Minnesota.  Ohio has over 14,000 youth hockey players.  That’s not insignificant.  Youth hockey is spreading into areas that have not been traditionally “hockey” regions for some time now. The growth of hockey in those regions is recent; that doesn’t diminish their significance in any way.

      You don’t like Ohio.  Okay.  So what?

      If you’re just here to spout and claim your team’s dominance over those in Ohio, I’d like to remind you to check your history.  All three Ohio teams have won the CCHA championship tournament more recently than has Western Michigan.  That’s not to say that the Broncos won’t build a great tradition in D-I hockey, but unless they win at the end of this season and/or the next, each Ohio team will be able to make that claim for all eternity.  Two of those Ohio teams can claim more titles than the Broncos can, and the third is the team that kept WMU from capturing the Mason Cup last year.

      Why does any of that matter?  Because D-I hockey in Ohio does matter to many people.  The CCHA isn’t only about the teams in Michigan.  I’m not trying to sound harsh here, but next time you post, join the conversation with the intent of actually conversing.  If I wanted to read my-team-is-better-than-your-team nonsense, I’d be covering presidential politics.  One of the things I love most about college hockey fans is that even though there is a lot of noise, there are fans that can converse, that can discuss, that are respectful, that love their teams but also love the game.

      Happy Wednesday.

      /rant

  • Davyd83

    The problem is that the league will review a hit that wasn’t called and assess a penalty after the fact, or review a hit and increase the discipline, but the will not review one that was called and, even if the call was incorrect, will not lessen or undo the discipline. A good example is the 10/21 game Michigan at Northern Michigan, neither NMU’s Andrew Cherniwchan, nor UM’s Luke Moffat ever threw a punch, yet they were given fighting majors, DQ’s and the requisite one game suspensions. It was a huge injustice to both players, especially when you consider the cumulative affect of DQ’s. If you are gonna do it one way, you have to do it the other.

    • Paula Weston

      Davyd83, I remember that — I talked about it in a column.  I watched that tape over and over.  Yes, inconsistent without question.

  • Travis

    The Buckeyes last win was against Robert Morris, actually.

    • Paula Weston

      I was talking about last conference win.  Sorry that wasn’t clearer.

  • klbaum1077

    I wouldnt be to sure that BG will schedule Miami. Coach Bergeron is very upset at the way miami handled forming that new league and not including a fellow mac school. Now i do expect Miami and Ohio state to play each year maybe as a home and home. As a Buckeye fan living in Toledo i am going to miss the short trip to BG every couple years, but i am also looking forward to seeing Wisconsin and Minnesota in columbus each year.

    • Bob

      There’s no doubt Bergeron and Blasi’s relationship has cooled a bit. That said, it would seem to be in each school’s best interests to make that happen. But, it is insane that the three schools that are roughly 2-3 hours apart are in three different conferences.

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