What a ride for CCHA fans. Last year at this time, with one point separating Notre Dame and Michigan at the top of the league standings, we were wondering who would be crowned regular season champs.
This year we know who will get at least a piece of that crown, and a hearty congratulations to a deserving Ferris State team. With their sweep of Bowling Green last weekend, the Bulldogs played themselves into at least a tie for first place, their first regular season title since their only other one in 2002-03.
So how does coach Bob Daniels feel? “Really good, obviously, but it’s an odd kind of feeling, to tell you the truth,” said Daniels, in his 20th season with FSU.
“On the one hand, you solidify the co-championship. On the other hand, it’s not the championship. As excited as we are, knowing we have a bye week [in the first round of the playoffs], we can kind of look ahead to that as the time when we’ll be able to look back and enjoy this a little bit.”
You can’t blame Daniels for his low-key reaction to FSU’s season. He’s had to keep his team focused through its current 14-game unbeaten streak (11-0-3) in a strong league, without the benefit of someone like Chris Kunitz, who had 35 goals the last time the Bulldogs pulled off this feat.
“The hockey’s so good, every night,” said Daniels. “That Bowling Green team never let up. I don’t want to have to face them again in the playoffs. We’re playing Western Michigan this weekend and they have a lot going for them and a lot on the line.
“Rather than dwell on [the title], let’s keep the focus on what we have to do yet.”
What the Bulldogs need to do yet is earn one point against the Broncos this weekend to claim the regular-season title all to themselves. Second-place Michigan, which plays a series against those tough BG Falcons, is six points behind Ferris State.
The Bulldogs are also focused on getting through the league’s playoffs and back to Joe Louis Arena for another shot at the Mason Cup; FSU lost the 2003 CCHA championship game to Michigan. Beyond that would be another shot at the NCAA tournament. In 2003, FSU beat North Dakota before losing to eventual champion Minnesota.
Naturally, there are comparisons between this year’s Bulldogs team and the one that went so far in 2003, and the consensus is that this year’s team doesn’t have a star like that team did. That team had Kunitz and a bunch of other guys who made noise that season — goaltender Mike Brown, forwards Jeff Legue, Phil Lewandowski and Derek Nesbitt, defensemen Troy Milam and Matt York — but Daniels said that this year’s team measures up in slightly different ways.
“There’s a Chris Kunitz, but it’s a different name every night,” said Daniels. “Chad Billins has been great all year. We’ve had really marquee moments with Jordie Johnston and Kyle Bonis.
“It’s kind of a grind, every weekend. We had the right team for where college hockey is and where our team is.”
Daniels said that it has been easy to motivate this group. Because it’s not a completely done deal, the team hasn’t really processed the regular-season title yet and Daniels said they don’t even talk about the unbeaten streak.
“It’s not like we don’t want to jinx it,” said Daniels, “but we don’t talk about it because it doesn’t help us in the future. We have this weekend to think about and then the playoffs.
“And the title is nice, but OK, what’s our next thing? I do think it’s important that we take a moment to enjoy it — it’s part of the process — but it’s been very subdued.”
Ferris State finishes the regular season with a home-and-home series against Western Michigan this weekend. Friday’s game is in Kalamazoo; Saturday’s is in Big Rapids.
It’s hard to believe that it’s late February and therefore time for the annual Girl Reporter Awards. Sadly, there are no real trophies and in the world that is college hockey, these are worth as much as is my opinion — which, I’m frequently reminded, is less than not much at all. I’m a committee of one but gladly welcome civil feedback.
Player of the Year
This has been a season defined by great goaltending and the confidence it can produce in front of the cage, and there’s no one better in net this year nor more important to his team in that position than Michigan senior Shawn Hunwick. Even if his rags-to-college-hockey-riches story weren’t so compelling, even if he weren’t a little too feisty for his own good at times, Hunwick would distinguish himself with his crazily athletic brand of goaltending, his palpable intensity between the pipes and his .932 overall save percentage and 2.05 goals against average.
Hunwick is roughly half an hour from 2,000 minutes in the Michigan net this season with a record of 20-9-3.
Coach of the Year
Ferris State’s Bob Daniels. While nearly every other coach in the league deserves consideration — Tom Anastos and Andy Murray come to mind specifically, although every team is well coached — Daniels does what he does without the advantages of bigger schools, without pretense, without fanfare.
Rookie of the Year
Michigan’s Alex Guptill. He’s among the nation’s leading rookie scorers (15-13–28) and he’s simply the best player of his class in the league. The Dallas draft pick is fast, smart, has a great touch with the puck and a knack for being in the right place at the right time — four of his goals are game winners and he has five power-play markers — and I doubt that he’ll remain in Ann Arbor for four whole years.
Team of the Year
The Ferris State Bulldogs. No NHL draftees. No real household names at the start of the season. Competing against schools with higher profiles and better perks for every bit of talent. Longest unbeaten streak in the country. Arguably the country’s best defense.
Ferris State Memorial Defenders-of-the-Realm Award
This was an extraordinarily difficult category this season. Not only did the CCHA amass a 52-20-5 record in nonconference play — with winning records against every other league except for Hockey East, with whom the CCHA tied — but nonconference accomplishments varied from team to team beyond their individual records.
Then there’s the Alabama-Huntsville factor. The Chargers played five CCHA opponents and were beaten in all 10 games, lessening the impact those games might have otherwise. (And, please, no hate mail from UAH fans. I know that the Chargers played some gutsy, great hockey this season — especially in the second half.)
On the face of it, wins and losses aren’t enough. Two CCHA teams have 6-2-0 records against nonconference opponents: Ferris State and Miami. Two of Miami’s wins came against UAH, true, but the RedHawks did win the Denver Cup. Then there’s Michigan State with a 5-1-1 nonconference record — but with a win and tie against Minnesota.
Ultimately, it’s the record and the UAH factor. This year’s winner is the award’s namesake, Ferris State.
Chris Richards Most-Likely-to-be-Overlooked Award
This is a season low on flashiness, so there are many players that may be overlooked by the league when it comes to official end-of-the-season hardware.
Candidates include Alaska sophomore forward Cody Kunyk and Western Michigan junior forward Dane Walters; Ferris State senior forward Jordie Johnston (16-15–31) and his FSU classmate defenseman Brett Wysopal — one of the CCHA unsung defensemen, without question — and FSU sophomore defenseman Scott Czarnowczan; and Miami senior defenseman Chris Wideman.
This year, though, I think a trio of players from a team near the bottom of the CCHA standings is going to be ignored, and that’s a crime. The Northern Michigan line of seniors Tyler Gron (14-19–33) and Justin Florek (16-14–30) and sophomore Stephan Vigier (11-10–21) is as good as any line in college hockey, and Gron, Florek and Vigier are very likely to be overlooked.
Best Offensive Goalie
As good as the CCHA goaltenders were in net this season, they were real slackers when it came to scoring. Only five of them registered a point and two of them more than one point — and two points for an entire season was the most that any of them could muster.
Ohio State’s Cal Heeter and Michigan’s Hunwick each had two assists, but Heeter beat Hunwick out in points per game. Heeter registered his two assists in 19 games (.105 points per game), Hunwick in 33 games (.061).
This year’s Best Offensive Goalie is OSU’s Cal Heeter.
Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Award
As much as I hate to say it, I predict that Michigan State junior defenseman and captain Torey Krug (10-21–31) is the most likely CCHA player to leave early. He’s a great two-way player — he leads MSU in scoring — is a great leader, is very coachable, and he’s probably ready to go.
Runner up: Miami junior forward Reilly Smith (15-7–22).
Next week, more awards
I’m still thinking about the Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award as well as the Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award, and I’d be grateful for your lobbying. Any other awards you’d like to see handed out? Let me know about those, too.
Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for your suggestions. Only suggestions that manage to find their way to my inbox from persons with real names and return email addresses will be considered.
Players of the week
Annual hardware is nice, of course, but we can’t overlook what the CCHA does weekly.
Rookie of the week: Michigan State’s Tanner Sorenson, whose fifth career assist helped MSU beat Alaska in overtime Friday night. He added another helper and a goal of his own, his second, Saturday.
Offensive player of the week: Michigan junior forward A.J. Treais, who scored the overtime goal for the Wolverines to secure their sweep of Northern Michigan Saturday. Treais has scored eight of his 15 goals in his last 10 games, after scoring just one goal in 13 contests between Nov. 11, 2011, and Jan. 7, 2012. He also had three assists versus NMU.
Defenseman of the week: Michigan junior Lee Moffie, who also had a goal and three assists against Northern Michigan last weekend.
Goaltender of the week: Miami senior Connor Knapp, who allowed one goal in the RedHawks’ sweep of Notre Dame. Knapp’s 3-0 win Friday was his third shutout of the season, the 11th of his career. He had a 0.50 goals against average for the weekend — obviously — and a .983 save percentage.
Friday’s 3-0 win was Miami coach Enrico Blasi’s 200th. He’s the ninth CCHA coach to have hit that mark.
1. Ferris State
2. Boston College
7. Boston University
13. Michigan State
15. Colorado College
16. North Dakota
17. Northern Michigan
18. Lake Superior State
19. Western Michigan
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.