This Week
This Week in the CCHA

College Hockey:
Presenting the final CCHA installment of the Girl Reporter Awards

This was an interesting year for the CCHA, and not just because it’s the conference’s last season. While the hockey this year was good, it seemed a shade off the quality we’ve been privileged to see for the past two seasons. It felt like a return to the kind of parity the league experienced in the last decade. Yes, anyone could beat anyone else on any given night, but — as I’ve written often in the past — equal doesn’t mean equally good.

In addition to that, the league seems to be lacking the impact players that make headlines, change games, turn heads. I’m sure my saying so will anger some people, but I can’t think of a single player from the CCHA who stands out enough this season to be Hobey Baker Award-worthy.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve enjoyed the necessity of hockey-by-committee that we’ve seen so much of this year.

Of course, my awards — which don’t come with any actual hardware — have little to do with the year-end honors handed out by the league itself. Sometimes there is overlap. Sometimes there isn’t.

This is just Part 1 of the hardware. There will be more next week.

Player of the Year

I can’t think of a single player who has made more of an impact for his team and perhaps changed the fate of a couple of other CCHA teams than Ohio State senior goaltender Brady Hjelle. He’s my player of the year.

Hjelle’s story is an interesting one. He played his first two seasons of hockey with Minnesota-Duluth (2008-10) and then transferred to Ohio State, playing for the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in between. Last season, he played eight games for the Buckeyes in relief of Cal Heeter.

This year, he became the regular starter Thanksgiving weekend when the Buckeyes split with Lake Superior State. His season hasn’t been perfect, but in the second half he helped the Buckeyes take four of six points in series against Notre Dame and Western Michigan and his stats are noteworthy. In overall play, Hjelle’s goals against average is 2.00 and his save percentage is .934; in conference play, he has a 1.88 goals against average and .938 save percentage.

He’s also been named the CCHA goaltender of the week five times this season, earning that honor every time. There’s no doubt in my mind that without him, the Buckeyes would not have a first-round playoff bye — and either Notre Dame or Western Michigan would be pushing Miami even harder for the regular season championship.

Coach of the Year

I don’t know who the league will pick, but my Coach of the Year is Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron.

Bergeron inherited a challenging situation when he took over in Bowling Green at the beginning of the 2010-11 season and has done an admirable job of changing the culture of hockey at the once-great program. It’s been slow going for many reasons, not the least of which is how difficult it is to recruit to a last-place team.

Bergeron’s approach, though, is reaping rewards in tangible ways this season. After taking his last-place team all the way to the CCHA championship tournament in Detroit last season, Bergeron had to keep that momentum going — for himself as well as his team.

When I talked to him in early December, Bergeron said that he didn’t know what to say, that the team was struggling. He sounded as though he was working his way through whatever it was that was ailing his players as well.

“We’re trying to lean on a three-month period where we showed a little success,” he said, referring to the second half of the 2011-12 season. Other teams, said Bergeron, had years of success from which to draw. “It’s 15 or 10 weeks for us,” he said, “and it’s not enough.”

After finishing the first half of the season 3-10-4, the Falcons are 10-6-1 since the end of December.

Earlier this month, Bergeron was cautiously optimistic — but you could still hear the angst in his voice when he talked about his team and its prospects for this season.

“We’re going to try do the right thing every day,” he said. Of the prospect of finishing above last place (or near the cellar), he said, “We’re not finishing ‘here’ — I don’t even want to use the word where we finished the last few years.”

No, it’s clear that the Falcons are not finishing where they have in the last few years. Bowling Green is on the verge of hosting a first-round playoff series.

Bergeron is quick to take responsibility for anything resembling a stumble on the Falcons’ path to hockey recovery. He should take credit, too, for the solid progress that the Falcons have made as well.

Rookie of the Year

There are several good candidates for this award. In spite of the year that Michigan is having, two Wolverines players come to mind, defenseman Jacob Trouba and forward Cristoval (a.k.a. Boo) Nieves.

Then there’s Jake Hildebrand, the solid goaltender who has played so much in Michigan State’s net. While the Spartans may not be near the top of the standings, it’s not because of Hildebrand’s play.

Other notable forwards include Notre Dame’s Mario Lucia, Bowling Green’s Dajon Mingo and Alaska’s Tyler Morley.

This year’s standout, though, is Miami forward Riley Barber. Barber leads the RedHawks in scoring (14-20–34) with three game-winning goals and four power-play markers. On a team that takes more than 13 penalty minutes per game, Barber has just eight infractions for 16 minutes all season.

Barber is definitely the Girl Reporter rookie of the year.

Team of the Year

Bowling Green is the last-ever CCHA Girl Reporter Team of the Year.

As a program, as a unit, the Falcons have worked their way from the default last-place CCHA team to a team to be taken seriously. Something like that happens only when players trust their coaches, trust each other and believe that they’re building a future for Bowling Green hockey.

And they are building a future for Bowling Green hockey.

From their run at the end of last season to their ability to overcome a bad first half this year, these Falcons have convinced me that this is what college athletics is all about. I have no doubt that these players are learning things now that will aid them for the rest of their lives. They’re young and they may not fully grasp what they’re doing in BG, but with the perspective of time they’ll appreciate these years even more.

For those of us who have been watching this progression, it’s been a pleasure.

Ferris State Memorial Defenders-of-the-Realm Award

This is a no-brainer. Not only was Northern Michigan 6-2 in nonconference this season, but the Wildcats’ entire nonconference record is against the WCHA. Talk about taking one — or six — for the league.

The two losses were against Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 5 and Michigan Tech on Feb. 12. Granted, the 8-2 loss to Tech two weeks ago was a tough one, but the Wildcats beat the Huskies earlier in the season.

Additionally, NMU split that series with UNO and swept both Wisconsin and St. Cloud State; the sweep of SCSU was on the road.

Congratulations, Wildcats, and thank you for doing your part to defend the realm.

Chris Richards Most-Likely-to-Be-Overlooked Award

Several players come to mind, including two from Lake Superior State, forward Domenic Monardo and goaltender Kevin Murdock. Alaska forward Andy Taranto likewise is a worthy candidate.

This year’s winner, however, is Bowling Green sophomore forward Ryan Carpenter, who leads the Falcons with 15 goals and 13 assists. Carpenter is fourth in the CCHA in goal scoring.

I’m guessing that he’ll be left off all CCHA teams when those awards are handed out.

Best Offensive Goalie

It was an average year for goalie scoring in the CCHA. Four goaltenders earned a single assist: Alaska freshman John Keeney, Ferris State sophomore CJ Motte, Michigan State freshman Jake Hildebrand and Northern Michigan junior Jared Coreau.

The race for Best Offensive Goalie was tricky, though. Leading with two assists through the first half of the season was Notre Dame junior Steven Summerhays. In one week in February, though, a challenger emerged in the form of Ohio State senior Brady Hjelle. Hjelle had an assist on the final goal in OSU’s 3-1 road win over Alaska on Feb. 9, and then added another on the tying goal of the Buckeyes’ 6-3 home win over Western Michigan Feb. 16.

Although both Summerhays and Hjelle tied for assists, Hjelle had more points per game than did Summerhays. Hjelle’s two assists came in 28 games; Summerhays’ points came in 30. That’s .071 points per game for Hjelle and .067 for Summerhays, making Ohio State senior Brady Hjelle the last-ever Girl Reporter Best Offensive Goalie in the CCHA era.

Unless Summerhays registers another point this weekend, that is — or some other goaltender does something superhuman.

Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Award

Another no-brainer: Michigan defenseman Jacob Trouba.

Players of the week

These aren’t Girl Reporter Awards. Nope. These are just your ordinary, sanctioned, league-given honors.

Rookie of the week: Miami forward Riley Barber, who had two goals and an assist in the RedHawks’ road sweep of Lake Superior State.

Offensive player of the week: Michigan sophomore Alex Guptill, who looked phenomenal against the Buckeyes in the Wolverines’ road sweep of Ohio State. Guptill had the game-winning goal in each contest and added another marker and a helper besides.

Defenseman of the week: Miami freshman Matthew Caito, who had the game-winning goal in Miami’s 2-1 win over LSSU Saturday, plus an assist on the RedHawks’ first goal in the game. Caito had a goal in Friday’s 5-4 win, too.

Goaltender of the week: Michigan State junior Will Yanakeff, who made 37 saves in Friday’s 1-0 win over Alaska in Fairbanks. Yanakeff also stopped 39 of 42 in Saturday’s 4-2 loss.

My ballot

1. Minnesota
2. Boston College
3. St. Cloud State
4. Miami
5. New Hampshire
6. Quinnipiac
7. North Dakota
8. Western Michigan
9. Yale
10. Minnesota State
11. Denver
12. Nebraska-Omaha
13. Notre Dame
14. Massachusetts-Lowell
15. Niagara
16. Wisconsin
17. Rensselaer
18. Dartmouth
19. Ferris State
20. Alaska

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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  • WMUBroncoAlumnus02

    I completely agree with Barber for ROY and would like to add WMU D Kenny Morrison’s name for at least honorable mention.

  • Guest

    Ryan McKay: If he maintains his stats through the end of the year, he will set the NCAA single season records for GAA and SV Percentage. How peanut butter and jelly is better than him I don’t know. CCHA champion Miami 18 sophomores/freshman, how Rico is not coach of the year, beyond me. Did you forget that Riley Barber is not the only player on Miami?

    • Nick Blakely

      Bergeron was the last coach wanting to save the CCHA, why should he not be coach of the year? And his team is doing better than people predicted, last place (if Hammond got hurt, and he did get hurt. Twice).

      • Adam

        Actually, BGSU was predicted to finish in 8th by the coaches this year. They will finish (at best) 7th.

        • Nick Blakely

          You are right, I was thinking about Paula’s pick for the standing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dirk-Smith/1268460506 Dirk Smith

    Thanks for the kudos to Bowling Green’s program. The ‘Bring back the Glory’ initiative is paying off for our program along with support from BG legends Scott Hamilton, Dr. Jack Vivian, Rob Blake, Mike Emrick, just to name a few. GO BG!!

  • Adam

    The POTY is, statistically, the 4th best goalie in the league?!? Paula, you say tOSU wouldn’t have gotten a top-5 finish…but yet they were picked SIXTH in the preseason coaches’ poll.

    BGSU as the team of the year? Again, they were picked preseason to finish 8th by the coaches. They will likely finish in 7th. This is not a completely unexpected ‘progression.’

    Paula, you yourself picked Alaska to finish DEAD LAST. The Nooks will finish SIX spots higher than you predicted…yet don’t even get a mention in the Team of the Year discussion?

  • Joe

    “He’s also been named the CCHA goaltender of the week five times this season, earning that honor every time.” Does that imply that other ‘tenders who have been named CCHA ‘tender of the week didn’t earn it?

    • nopaula

      We also seem to need a category for “best offensive goalie” to give him another award, and write three paragraphs about 10 assists from 6 players.

  • nopaula

    I understand wanting to spread the love around a little, but BG as it’s been said should have finished middle of the pack, and did. Miami’s got a goalie with a sub 1 GAA, and 18 Frosh/Soph and is looking to lock up the regular season title, as well as been a consistent top 5 poll team. Sometimes it’s just head scratching. (Berg is a great coach, and I know him personally, but a middle of the pack finish with the talent he has isn’t THAT big of an achievement.)

  • tb111960

    As A longtime BG fan, I am glad to see you give them some kudos. On a historical note, they are the ONLY team that has been a member every year since they help found the league. They also helped put the league on the national map in the late 70′s and early 80′s by qualifying for the NCAA’s with coach Mason and then being the first member of the CCHA to win the National Championship in 1984 with coach Jerry York. They arguably had a better team in 1983 but that team was ripped off by being left out of the NCAA tournament that year as the CCHA was only getting one team in the big dance as all the other leagues/coaches looked down on them. They were called the Can’t Cut it Hockey Association by some writers. That ended in 1984 with the National Championship win and by Michigan State and Lake Superior becoming national powers as well. Michigan’s hiring of Red Berenson has to be one of the best hires ever in college hockey considering how he turned that program around and kept it at such a high level. We have been blessed to watch some of the best coaches coach some of the best players in college hockey. For Bowling Green some of those players include George Roll, first ever CCHA player to win the Hobey Baker award. Ken Morrow, 1980 gold medalist with the U.S. Miracle on Ice team and then winner of the Stanley Cup with the Islanders that same year, the first player to ever do that. He went on to win 3 more Cups in a row with the Islanders. Then there is Rob Blake who after his junior season ends on weekend at the Joe is playing with Wayne Gretzky in L.A. the next weekend. 20 years in the NHL before retiring. Many more players also ended up in the NHL from BG over the years including Dan Bylsma who additionally went on to coach the Pittsburg Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship. There are a lot of teams in the CCHA with great histories and stories and now is the time to tell them!

    From very humble beginnings the CCHA became one of the best, and certain years THE best, league in the country. It’s sad to see it coming to an end. I truly hope Bowling Green can pull off winning the CCHA playoffs and getting into the dance one last time as a CCHA team, If not, I will gladly accept any other CCHA team winning the NCAA tournament and have the league go out with the NCAA title. It would be fitting. Sorry for my long rant but the death of a league as great as the CCHA deserves it and more.

  • Kevin

    I love your awards/titles.

  • Decatur Spartan

    And the Award for the biggest disappointment/poorest last season performance for a team goes to the Michigan State Spartans. Their only saving grace was the play of Jake Hildebrand. Lack of scoring. Poor defensive play and inept special teams (3 shorties not withstanding) and lack of general improvement may have sunk this
    team. The next two years will reveal if it has sunk the program.

  • holter19

    Interesting…But who gets the “Worst USCHO Columnist Award”?

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