In the 18 years that I covered the CCHA for USCHO.com, I extolled the virtues of those teams who defended the realm, especially at midseason. The team that did this often in delightful and unexpected ways was Ferris State, the underrated heroes of the CCHA and the team that may currently be the most under-the-radar nationally.
But I digress, something else with which fans of the former CCHA are familiar.
This week, let’s sing the praises of the two teams that defended the New Realm, look at the one team that came a shootout away from the opportunity to do so and check in with — gently — the two teams that need to reexamine a few things before launching into full-on Big Ten play.
1. The Defenders of the New Realm, the Badgers and the Buckeyes.
Let’s face it. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State should have swept Alabama-Huntsville and Mercyhurst, respectively. Nothing is a sure bet, though, so that both the Badgers and Buckeyes each took two nonconference games this weekend is significant and will boost their confidence heading into the second half of the season.
And let’s face it: Ohio State’s two-game sweep of a hot Mercyhurst says a bit more than Wisconsin’s two wins over Alabama-Huntsville. The Badgers beat the Chargers 5-0 in their first contest but led 2-1 going into the third period of the 3-2 win and scored the game-winner late in the game before allowing an empty-net goal.
In their 6-3 win, the Buckeyes were tied with the Lakers going into the third and netted three goals within a two-minute span in the third to take over the game. They scored three within four minutes of the third period in their 7-2 win.
Thank you, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
2. The team that almost did, Michigan State.
Were it not for the shootout that propelled Michigan Tech over Michigan State in the first game of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, the Spartans would have played Western Michigan for midseason hardware. It was MTU’s Ryan Furne in the fifth round of the shootout that gave the Huskies the chance to defend their GLI title, an ending that seemed a bit unfair for Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who made 41 saves in the contest.
Hildebrand found some sweetness the following night in the consolation game, a 3-0 victory over arch-rival Michigan. It was the first shutout of the season for the sophomore and the third of his career.
While the Spartans have a way to go, they’ve proven repeatedly that they are a tenacious, disciplined, determined and scrappy team. Although they didn’t win the GLI, they will undoubtedly feel confident heading into the second half of the season — and they should.
3. The teams that did not, the Nittany Lions and the Wolverines.
I nearly put the Nittany Lions in with the team that almost did, as Penn State defeated Robert Morris in the first round of the Three Rivers Classic and played in that tournament’s title game. The Nittany Lions also scored the first and last goals of that championship game, early in the first and late in the second … and allowed eight in between those two markers. True, they played Boston College and the Eagles can do that to pretty much anybody on any given night. True, the Nittany Lions came from behind to defeat Robert Morris in the first round.
It is also true, though, that Penn State was absolutely exposed by a far better team. The Nittany Lions put up 62 shots on goal against Robert Morris — 62! — but the Nittany Lions and Eagles each had 33 shots in Saturday’s 8-2 game.
To say that the Nittany Lions are still figuring things out would be an understatement. I’m not being unkind. It’s their first season affiliated with a league and playing a completely Division I schedule. They just have a few things to learn.
The Wolverines, though, are a team that should know better. No Michigan fans should be making excuses for this team. It doesn’t matter who they lose to the World Juniors. It doesn’t matter who’s in net, as both Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racine are very good.
While anyone can beat anyone on any given night, the Badgers, the Buckeyes and the Eagles proved the old adage that good teams find ways to win. At the GLI, the Wolverines did not — and now they have something to contemplate, too.
I dislike outdoor games for all kinds of reasons. That should not surprise you if you have been reading me on a regular basis.
This year, I skipped the GLI not because it was outdoors, but because I needed a break. I received a bit of email from folks wondering where I was. It wasn’t a slight to the tournament or the field; I was simply exhausted, having arrived back in Michigan from seeing family the day before and needing the rest so that I can be ready for the second half of the season as well as my teaching duties for winter semester at Mott Community College. I am hoping to cover the GLI next season.
And for a venue where the official attendance was listed in the twenty thousands, Comerica Park looked awfully empty to me.