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This Week in the CCHA

College Hockey:
In post-Valentine’s CCHA, Notre Dame seeks confidence while Ferris State thanks goalies

It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, and so this week’s column is appropriately timed. Valentine’s Day — as longtime readers already understand — is the favorite holiday of this bitter, middle-aged, divorced hockey writer. What other annual occasion delivers so much potential for colossal disappointment in such a short, retail-fueled window of time? Sure, if you’re a fan of a couple of CCHA teams — say, Michigan or Notre Dame or especially Miami — recent Frozen Four weekends may have packed powerful, short-term wallops, but those disappointments weren’t market driven.

Alas, I digress.

Today is the day after the day we allegedly celebrate love and all things love-like. In our culture, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a gentle thing, a day of good or even groovy emotions and at least a superficial nod to positive affairs of the heart. But since the holiday is of the one-and-done variety, in addition to the inevitable bitterness and broken dreams, the day after Valentine’s Day brings giant discounts on overpriced flowers flown in from South America and plush toys made in countries that still have manufacturing bases.

In other words, the day after Valentine’s Day is a little tawdry. This is especially fitting for this year, this season of the CCHA unrequited, this sustained campaign of very-close-to.

Well, that’s how it reads for more than one team. Hey, you don’t have to take the word of a bitter, middle-aged, divorced hockey writer who spends every weekend night from October through April in a rink somewhere in the Midwest, dateless and looking forward to long rides home and Sunday afternoons with Lifetime movies and papers to grade.

Instead, you can hear the hard truth from the sources themselves.

A crisis of confidence

“Something has to happen for us to start turning the corner back in the right direction.” No, that’s not Melissa Joan Hart pining for an on-screen relationship turnaround with some B-level Canadian actor in a straight-to-video production. That was Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson after the Fighting Irish were shut out by Ferris State last Friday night. Jackson was talking to Jim Meenan of the South Bend Tribune and while nobody in South Bend sounds brokenhearted, it’s clear that the Irish are suffering a bit of an identity crisis. The Irish are 3-7 in CCHA play in the second half, a record that has dropped them from tied for second place to a three-way tie for seventh — and seventh in this close CCHA season is just six points ahead of 10th place.

Sophomore forward Anders Lee told Meenan that the Irish are “off page right now.” Said Lee: “Our class has come in and the last couple years, we are a team that wins. Six-and-10 is not who we are.”

What Notre Dame is right now is a team that has scored five goals in four games, losing three of those. The Bulldogs went on to complete the sweep Saturday night and outscore the Fighting Irish 8-1 for the weekend. On Friday, Jackson told Meenan that his team was losing confidence. After Saturday’s loss, Jackson told Jack Hefferon of the Notre Dame Observer that he just wants the team to get “back on track.” Facing Miami this weekend, Jackson said that he’s not worried about getting six points against the RedHawks. “I’m just worried about getting any points right now,” he said.

Then there are trust issues …

“And I thought, I don’t know if I can trust them.” No, that’s not Meredith Baxter talking about her fictional offspring in a heavily promoted new production featuring former child stars that no one remembers anyway.

And — in fairness — that quote isn’t complete.

After Kevin Lynch scored the goal that gave Michigan a 3-2 overtime win over Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night, Wolverines coach Red Berenson began his very brief news conference with faint praise for the junior forward who almost didn’t get the chance to play the extra period.

“I thought he was really good and really bad for the weekend,” said Berenson. “I can tell you, there were times in the third period I thought about not putting him out in the overtime.”

Berenson said the problem wasn’t with Lynch alone, but with the line of Kevin Lynch, senior Travis Lynch and sophomore Derek DeBlois. “Then in overtime, that line got caught in their own zone and got into trouble, and I thought I don’t know if I can trust them in overtime.”

There’s the whole quote. Even Meredith Baxter can’t bring the reproof the way Red Berenson can.

Berenson said he relented because he knew Kevin Lynch’s history. Lynch had five goals this season heading into Saturday’s game; three of them had come at the expense of MSU.

“I know that Kevin has had a good record against Michigan State,” said Berenson. “I know that he has a good record at Joe Louis. They got one shift in overtime and bingo, so you never know.”

Berenson added that he trusted the line but, “Tonight they didn’t play as well as they did last night, for one reason or another.”

The Wolverines and Spartans split the weekend and were tied in the standings at the start of Saturday’s game. Kevin Lynch’s overtime goal — which was a fluky thing at the expense of MSU defenseman Matt Crandell — broke that deadlock and put Michigan in sole possession of third place. The Spartans dropped to a tie with Lake Superior for fifth.

And nothing comes easy

“It’s been one of those years where nothing has come easy.”

Shannen Doherty post-”Charmed?” Nope. Alaska assistant coach Lance West after the Nanooks secured a split with visiting Lake Superior State last Saturday night.

The 10th-place Nanooks are not having the season they expected to have. Picked to finish fifth by both the coaches and the media in the 2011-12 preseason polls, Alaska is likely to travel for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The 3-2 Saturday win was the Nanooks’ fourth of the second half and their eighth conference win of the season.

The Nanooks watched their two-goal lead evaporate in the second period of that game, but junior Andy Taranto netted his ninth goal of the season late in the third to give Alaska the win.

“One of the things we talked about with our guys is to keep working, keep working,” West told Danny Martin in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Saturday. “It’s not going to come easy.”

Where is the love?

“You don’t have to worry about mistakes when you have good goaltending.”

OK, so that isn’t even remotely movie-of-the-week. That, of course, is Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, who talked to David Goricki of the Detroit News after the Bulldogs topped this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the first time in program history.

This week, the goaltending kudos go to FSU senior Taylor Nelson, who allowed one goal in the Bulldogs’ home-and-home sweep of Notre Dame. Nelson (2.18 goals against average, .923 save percentage) and freshman C.J. Motte (1.98, .926) may backstop the Bulldogs to FSU’s second-ever regular-season title. The last came in 2003 — and that was with a very different team, a team with Chris Kunitz and his 35 goals.

This team has zero NHL draftees. This team has the 27th-best offense in the country. This team has no top line. Senior Jordie Johnson (16-12–28) — a guy who scored a total of nine goals in three previous seasons — leads FSU in scoring. Junior Kyle Bonis (15-7–22) had nine career goals before this season. No one else on the FSU squad has reached the 10-goal mark.

When this week’s poll was released, there was apparently some virtual hating directed Ferris State’s way. Several FSU fans emailed me — or Tweeted, in one case — to tell me that the anti-Bulldog barking was loud. The comments after this week’s Poll story stink of those jilted and jealous.

It’s true that the vote for FSU was split; 27 voters had the Bulldogs No. 1, meaning that 23 voters thought other teams more worthy. (Michigan? Seriously?) Maybe the folks who went with Ferris State thought, like I did, that the nation’s best unbeaten streak (9-0-3) deserved some respect and that the way the Bulldogs are doing what they’re doing — with no draft picks, no household names and very little fanfare — deserved some recognition.

Maybe, too, there are more than just a few people around the country who think that the CCHA is for real this year, that all these splits, near-misses, disappointments and unrequited weekends are an indication that the league is putting on an amazing show in its penultimate season.

And wouldn’t it be great for a team like Ferris State to win out, one of the league’s “little” and unpretentious programs, while the CCHA can still call itself a league?

Now that would be a Valentine strong enough to melt even this reporter’s bitter, hardened heart.

Players of the week

Check out the case All-American case that Torey Krug is making for himself. He was last week’s Offensive POTW.

Rookie of the week: Ohio State’s Max McCormick, who had two goals and an assist as the Buckeyes split with Western Michigan. By the way, that means that the Buckeyes are more requited than usual: Saturday’s 4-3 come-from-behind win was OSU’s first since Dec. 10.

Offensive player of the week: Ferris State junior Kyle Bonis, who had two goals Friday — including the game winner — and assisted on Saturday’s game-winning goal, as the Bulldogs swept Notre Dame.

Defenseman of the week: Michigan State junior Torey Krug, who had the game-winning goal against Michigan on Friday plus another marker and an assist Saturday. He was a shot-blocking machine all weekend, too, a real defensive pest.

Goaltender of the week: FSU senior Taylor Nelson, who had his third shutout of the season Friday before posting a one-goal win Saturday. Nelson had a 0.50 goals against average and .983 save percentage for the series.

My ballot

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

Got love?

Email (paula.weston@uscho.com), find me on Twitter (@paulacweston) or comment below — but, remember baby, I’m fragile. We all are.

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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  • Guest

    I don’t know why people would hate on Ferris being #1. They haven’t lost in a good long time and they are the only team with 20 wins. They might not be the flashiest team, but they have the biggest number in the column that matters.

    BTW, Travis Lynch is a freshman.

  • nmu dad

    You  shed some light on ND – you pick them 13th yet their PWR is 18th.  Fair enough.  What you don’t explain is your greated deviation – NMU.  You peg them at 19th  though the PWR is 9th.  Unlike WMU  they got the job done against BG. They split with Miami and won a shoot out point against Ferris ( ND would live to have that)  I wouldn’t ask an east coaster to explain but this but you should. 

    • aygwm2

      nmu dad – I’m an NMU grad and fan since 1976, so please take my comments in that spirit.  Paula really doesn’t need to explain herself.  She’s making calculations, estimations, and guessing just like any other voter or the rest of us.  Just because NMU’s PWR is high doesn’t by any means mean that they’re the 9th best team in the country.  Besides, the USCHO poll ranked NMU 20th, which means the other voters don’t regard NMU any higher than Paula right now.  NMU has had an up and down season–they lost all games in their series with WMU and OSU, only took one game and a tie from MSU.  Two of the WCHA teams they beat and lost to (WIsconsin & Tech) are currently not teams under consideration in the PWR.  The season still has a way to go and these polls and rankings are far from being decided.  NMU has two regular season weekends to go against UoM and LSSU and these can help or hurt the ‘Cats with regard to rankings and their positioning going into the CCHA tourney.  Their record and national position is pretty tenuous right now.  I’m hoping for the best, but the ‘cats still have a way to go to show that their an NCAA tournament team.  GO ‘CATS!!!  

      • aygwm2

        “that their an” [sic] …should read “that they’re an”

      • nmu dad

        The things I pointed out are recent history all in the last 3 weeks.  The WMU and OSU games were both away and probably the low point of the season- early on.  The Cats have only lost one non-conference game all year – at Wisconsin.  To date they have bested Michigan in Marquette and split with MSU away.  They have very hgh SOS.  The math says  that about  6 points( in conference terms) in  the next 2 weeks and getting into the second round of the CCHA will get them to the dance. 

        • aygwm2

          I hope the math is right and that they fare well against UoM and LSSU.  Time will tell and it won’t be easy against those two teams–especially at Yost with UoM playing well of late and against LSSU considering they’re still a bubble team.  Nothing would please me more than to beat Michigan at least once, have a good closing series against Lake State at home, and then win how ever far along they’ll need to go in the CCHA tournament.  It’s going to be a tense few weeks for ‘Cat fans as we watch them in important games for the rest of the season.  

      • *k*

        There is nothing wrong with wanting to know her train of thought. NMU isn’t a big name so it’s not surprising that nationally they aren’t higher but since Paula reports on the CCHA and knows how NMU has faired this season its reasonable to see something a bit hinky with a #19 vote for a team ranked #9 in the pairwise.

        • aygwm2

          I’ve watched them either live (against WMU and MSU–two losses) or online all year long.  And even though I’m an NMU grad and long time fan, I wouldn’t rate them according to their pairwise ranking.  I think #19 is pretty good for a team with a 14-10-6 record (it does reflect their win percentage ranking), with wins over non-conference teams where only one, St. Cloud (12-14-4) [Wisconsin is 12-14-2, Tech is 13-14-3], is currently in the PWR, with losses to UoM, MSU, OSU, WMU, LSSU, FSU, MU, and ties to Alaska and ND.  I still think NMU has something to prove about what kind of team they really are or can be, and I think these next two series against UoM and LSSU will speak for themselves.  I hope they can get splits, but of course, I’d like NMU to really make a statement and win out the next four games.  That would tell me that they are deserving of their number 9 PWR.  Right now, I don’t think so.

          As for Paula justifying her vote, I don’t think she has to because she sees these teams week in and week out and probably has a pretty good indication of what each of the CCHA teams is about and is capable of.  It seems to me that if she’s voting them 19 and their landing at the 20 spot in the USCHO poll right now, then that is a pretty good indication of what the other voters are thinking as well.  Like I said earlier, “She’s making calculations, estimations, and guessing” and the only thing that really matters is whether NMU puts the puck in the back of the net, scores more goals than the other team, and gets a W rather than an L or T.  I’m hoping for some Ws over the next several weeks. 

          GO ‘CATS!!!

          • *k*

            The PWR is a mathematical formula. It isn’t determined by a team “deserving” it. You can’t just look at a team’s winning percentage to say which team is best. (which is why it only makes up 25% of the RPI) Up until BGSU, NMU had the #1 SOS in the country (they’re now 4th which isn’t anything so shake a stick at either). Now let’s look at, say, Mercyhurst with a winning percentage of .5625 (NMU currently has .5667). Just looking at winning percentage these two teams are comparable (winning percentage rank: NMU 19 and Mercyhurst 21t). There is a reason Mercyhurst is ranked 39th in the RPI and NMU is ranked 9th. That reason is the SOS. Mercyhurst is ranked 53 in SOS. So trying to compare Mercyhurst (who’s has games against only 4 TUC opponents: Cornell 15t, UNO 25, Air Force 29, and Alaska 30t) and NMU (has all but 3 games against current TUC opponents. Their TUC opponents: FSU 1, Michigan 5t, Michigan State 12, Miami 13, OSU 15t, Notre Dame 18, WMU 19, LSSU 20, SCSU 26t, and Alaska 30t) by looking at only their winning percentage is beyond asinine.

            Also for me, at least, it isn’t about Paula justifying her vote so much as wanting to know if she noticed something I didn’t.

          • aygwm2

            Right, I know the PWR is a mathematical formula–I just think, like statistics, you can throw the “math” out the window in certain situations.  That’s why I said I didn’t think they were “deserving” of the #9 PWR–OK, so that’s were the calculations put them–I just don’t think they’re the #9 team in the nation.  It’s simply an opinion.  Even though I’m all in with NMU and I think they’ve played some good hockey this year, I just don’t think they’ve been very consistent or very dominant.  I realize this may be because the competition in the CCHA is tough week in and week out, but I personally don’t think they’re that much better or that much worse than Miami, WMU, OSU, or MSU all of which are ranked ahead of them in the USCHO poll and four of them ahead in the CCHA standings.  Like I said, the next two weekends will be very telling about just how good a team NMU is, as they play UoM and LSSU where you can throw statistics and rankings out the window as the teams battle for conference standings and PWR rankings.  I hope NMU shows that they are as good as their PWR ranking–we shall see.

    • Yooper

      I agree with you nmu dad, and I also understand the comments by other NMU fans who have watched the wildcats over the years.  NCAA selections have not included many NMU teams in the last 10 years and there is a good reason for it.  They continually fail expectations at the end.  They are always one of the highest penalized teams (not just in the division but in the nation) year after year.  There is a coaching failure here, whether we want to recognize it or not.
         However, consider this point:  If NMU is 9th in PWR, they should be ranked similarly.  Because I know, if it was North Dakota, Minnesota, Boston U, or any other team that doesn’t have a history of botching up at the end – their PWR status would match up with their rankings.   Let’s call it like it is as long as it is what it is, that’s only fair to NMU.  If they don’t show up against Michigan this weekend, then so be it.   But let’s not judge things by history or what we think will happen.  Let’s give credit when credit is due.   One other thing: NMU’s bracketed pairings with MSU and UM means eight games with these teams instead of the four many other CCHA teams face.  A .500 division record with the teams they’ve faced is certainly just as good as a .650 record with other rivals.
        SOS does count.

  • guest

    And how do you have Minnesota at # 4  when they are 14th in the PWR.

  • bluetell

    No hate for FSU here, but with respect to your comment “Michigan? Seriously”…I mean, Michigan is ranked #5 overall, # 5 in PWR and is 11-2-2 in their last 15 with the 2 losses being @ND and @MSU in one goal affairs and we did sweep #1 Ferris earlier this year and beat #3 BC in the midst of that 11-2-2 streak so I guess I’m not suggesting we should be number one, but we’re not flippin Alabama-Hunstville over here

    • http://twitter.com/DanKorn Dan Korn

      I agree.  Michigan is number 3 in both the RPI and KRACH.  Also, according to the RPI, Michigan has had the toughest schedule in the nation so far, and KRACH puts Michigan’s SOS at number 2.

      Michigan is only a few thousands of points in RPI from passing two of the four teams ahead of them in the Pairwise.  Those two teams, of course, are Ferris State and Boston College, against whom Michigan is 3-0 head-to-head.  Winning those two comparisons would place Michigan number one overall in the Pairwise.

      The computer numbers aren’t everything, of course, and I respect Paula’s rankings.  She’s watched more hockey than any of us.  But that “Seriously?” comment seems ill-placed.  Is it really that incongruous to think that a couple of voters might place a team which beat the number one team twice, by a combined score of 9 to 2, in the top spot themselves?

      None of this takes anything away from Ferris, and doing what they have done without all the blue-chippers that bigger schools like Michigan have is a great accomplishment.  I take my hat off to Bob Daniels for a tremendous job.  But Michigan is right up there with them, and with anyone else.

  • Fox5 2

    GO BLUE!22 weeks left in the season.We will see who steps up in the CCHA tourney.The rankings our the rankings,none of the voters know what they r doing.(For example Ohio state loses 11 of 12 and still ranked #15)and I don’t care who they have played.11 out of 12!Paula if your lonely,I would love 2 acompany on a hockey weekend,even buy you dinner.Your the best Paula,and look foward. 2 reading your post every week.GO BLUE.

  • Sockittome

    Blood, Sweat and tears! Got to give it up to the Blue Collar mantality that the Bulldog’s play with. Congrats Coach Daniels and Coach Famulak. This is a well desereved ranking. I am so glad that my son is going to school there next fall. To hell with the Big Ten and their “hockey snob” arrogance!!! Good luck MSU in the Big Ten, You might have to get Ron Mason back behind the bench…Oh, wait…. He never did truely leave, did he????????????? Bulldog Nation!!!!

  • Masonsucks

    Ron Mason is the puppet master that still controls msu hockey. Ronnie, when will you just go away????? When your grandson is done with sitting his 4 years on the bench here???? Its a joke that you ended up in muskegon and that your duster originally ended up in sioux city?? MSU get ready for the Ron Mason Show