While in Florida visiting family for the holiday and failing to thwart my mother’s attempts to ruin my diet, I had an interesting conversation with one of my parents’ Christmas dinner guests.
“So, Paula, I hear you’re in Flint now,” said the guest, a lovely lady approximately the age of my mother, Dolly Weston. That means she’s about thirty-nine.
“Yes,” I replied. “I moved to Flint in 2008 to teach at Mott Community College.”
That elicited this one-word question: “Why?”
I thought about this for a minute. After all, I’d given the reason why I’d moved to Flint. Somehow this dinner guest intuited that there were deeper forces at work, forces that required a more substantial, meaningful answer. Fortunately for me, Dolly Weston understood and answered for me.
“She covers the college hockey,” said my mother — clearly wise beyond her thirty-nine years.
Yes, I cover the college hockey, the college hockey that returns this week from its brief December slumber. First, my picks record.
Last week: 3-4-1 (.438)
Season to date: 67-39-19 (.612)
Naughty. Very naughty indeed.
There are three holiday tournaments this weekend involving six CCHA teams.
Florida College Classic
Friday Dec. 28 and Saturday Dec. 29
Germain Arena, Estero, Fla.
This tournament offers a rematch of the deciding game of the 2012 NCAA Midwest Regional tournament with a field that includes Cornell, Ferris State, Maine and Minnesota-Duluth. The No. 19 Bulldogs first face No. 11 Cornell — the team they beat 2-1 in Green Bay Mar. 24 to advance to the Frozen Four — at 4:05 p.m. Friday; FSU’s Saturday opponent not only depends on the result of the first game but also the result of the contest between the Black Bears and those other Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth.
Our Bulldogs — our Defenders of the Realm — are .500 at midseason (7-7-3, 6-6-1-0 CCHA) after ending the first half with a 3-1 loss to Michigan State Dec. 15. In their last three weekends of play, the Bulldogs went 1-3-1 with the three losses the last three games they played. In the losses, FSU was outscored 9-4. That’s no reason to count out this team. FSU was 7-6-1 in CCHA play just before the second half of the 2011-12 campaign and the Bulldogs ended their season playing for a national championship.
With a .927 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average, sophomore C.J. Motte has been the goalie of record in every game the Bulldogs have played this season. Motte’s save percentage is comparable to his numbers in 12 games played last season, but the FSU defense in front of him has yet to reach its potential. So far this season, the Bulldogs are scoring nearly the same number of goals per game on average (2.82) than they were at the end of last season (2.88), but the Ferris State defense ended 2011-12 as the sixth-best in the nation (2.19 goals per game allowed) while the Bulldogs are 22nd (2.47) so far this year.
I do believe this FSU team will rebound and finish up strong, beginning with this tournament. Cornell (6-3-2, 3-3-2 ECAC) rides a four-game unbeaten (3-0-1) streak into Estero and the Big Red is well rested, having last played Dec. 1, a 3-1 home win over St. Lawrence. The Black Bears (2-11-2, 1-7-2 HEA) last won Nov. 10, the second game of a weekend split against Massachusetts-Lowell and they lost to and tied with Vermont (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) to end the first half. Those other Bulldogs (7-8-3, 5-6-3 WCHA) ended their first half with a road sweep of Alaska-Anchorage (Dec. 14-15) and went 4-1-1 in their last three series.
Friday’s game: Ferris State vs. Cornell, 4:05 p.m.
Saturday’s games: Consolation at 4:05 p.m; championship at 7:35 p.m.
Picks: I’m a homer when it comes to Ferris State and midseason tournaments. Sometimes I’m rewarded for it. I think they’ll play UMD for the tourney title. FSU 2-1, 3-2
Great Lakes Invitational Tournament
Friday Dec. 28 and Saturday Dec. 29
Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Mich.
This year’s Great Lakes Invitational Tournament features three CCHA teams — Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan — as well as host Michigan Tech. This tournament was to be played in Comerica Park this year but when the NHL cancelled the Winter Classic, this plan went down with it. Should the NHL resume play next season, the event may be part of the league’s Winter Fest in 2013.
This year’s field originally had St. Cloud State playing instead of Western Michigan, but Winter Fest organizers wanted four Michigan teams to attract locals for the planned outdoor game. Next year, Denver is supposed to be the fourth team … but that would mean that WMU would miss out on the midseason outdoor game. Should the event be rescheduled in Comerica Park next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Broncos in their second consecutive GLI.
This year, WMU is clearly the favorite in the field. The No. 8 Broncos (11-4-1, 8-3-1-1 CCHA) are currently in second place in the CCHA with 26 points, four points behind the two teams tied for first place, Miami and Notre Dame. The Broncos had their six-game win streak snapped in the last game they played in the first half, a 2-0 loss to Michigan Dec. 15. Sophomore Frank Slubowski (1.98 GAA, .918 SV%) has been the goalie of record in all 16 of WMU’s games this season. Three of WMU’s leading scorers are defensemen: Kenney Morrison (4-6–10), Dennis Brown (0-9–9) and Danny DeKeyser (2-6–8). The Broncos are knotted for seventh in the nation with three other teams in scoring defense, allowing 2.00 goals per game. WMU’s scoring, however, is 42nd in the nation (2.38 goals per game). The Broncos captured the GLI championship in 1986 in their second tournament appearance.
The Wolverines are the defending GLI champs for two years running and have captured four of the last five tournament titles. Michigan (6-9-2, 4-7-2-2 CCHA) is tied with Alaska for seventh in the CCHA, each team having 16 points. The Wolverines struggled in the first half in front of two freshmen goaltenders who lack confidence, largely because they’re not getting much help from the defense in front of them; UM’s defense is 52nd in the country, allowing 3.35 goals per game. At this point last year, the Wolverines had netted 71 goals in 20 games; this season, they’ve scored 50 through 17. Michigan halted a four-game winless streak with that 2-0 win over Western Dec. 15, the weekend salvaged by the play of junior goaltender Adam Janecyk, who made 25 saves in his first game of the season, his first collegiate shutout decision. That UM defense will be without its best player for this tournament, freshman Jacob Trouba, who is playing with Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship. The Wolverines have 15 GLI titles.
Michigan State (5-10-2, 4-8-1-0 CCHA) looks like a team that’s rebuilding this year, with young talent that needs to mature. The Spartans are in ninth place in the CCHA with 13 points and finished the first half on a high note, a 3-1 win over Ferris State that stopped a six-game winless streak and five-game losing streak. Another team struggling with offense, the Spartans are down 25 goals from where they were a year ago. Sophomore Matt Berry (9-7–16) leads MSU in scoring, followed by classmate Brent Darnell (5-8–13). Both players are on pace to exceed their goal output from their rookie seasons; Berry scored 11 goals in 37 games in 2011-12, Darnell six in 36. Freshman Jake Hildebrand (1.81 GAA, .941 SV%) has played in 10 of MSU’s games this season. The Spartans last captured the GLI title in 2009 and have won 12 total.
Michigan Tech (4-10-3, 3-8-3 WCHA) is coached by former UM associate head coach, Mel Pearson. The Huskies enter the GLI looking for their first win since Nov. 17, a 2-1 overtime victory that capped a weekend sweep of Bemidji State. Since that win, MTU is 0-4-3. The Huskies have played in every GLI since the tournament’s inception in 1965, but they last captured a GLI title in 1980. They last played for a title in 2007.
Saturday’s games: MSU vs. WMU at 3:35 p.m.; UM vs. MTU at 7:05 p.m.
Sunday’s games: Consolation at 3:35 p.m.; championship at 7:05 p.m.
Picks: Everything in me is telling me to pick Michigan for this tournament, especially with Janecyk in net. The Wolverines have an uncanny knack of turning things around when they’re down — with a goaltender emerging as the new darling of Ann Arbor. That’s not how I’m picking, though. Saturday: WMU 3-2, UM 3-2; Sunday MSU 3-1, WMU 2-1
Three Rivers Classic
Saturday Dec. 29 and Sunday Dec. 30
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Penn.
This is the inaugural run of the Three Rivers Classic, which I can only hope will incite a long-standing rivalry between the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Hosted by Robert Morris, the field also includes Penn State in its first season of D-I hockey and CCHA teams Miami and Ohio State.
The No. 5 RedHawks (11-3-4, 8-3-3-3 CCHA) are the favorites here, even though Miami finished the first half with a loss, a tie and a win after an eight-game undefeated (6-0-2) streak. The RedHawks last played Ohio State, a 1-1 tie and 3-1 win in Columbus. With 30 points, Miami is currently tied for first place in CCHA play with Notre Dame. The RedHawks are 28th nationally in offense, averaging 2.78 goals per game — down slightly from where they finished last season (2.98) — but Miami has the third-best defense in the country, allowing 1.67 goals per game. While they can’t take all the credit, freshmen goaltenders Ryan McKay (0.58 GAA, .979 SV%) and Jay Williams (2.05, .921) have been outstanding in net. The RedHawks will be without leading scorer, freshman forward Riley Barber (8-14–22), and his classmate forward Sean Kuraly (3-1–4) for this tournament; the two are playing with Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Ohio State (7-6-5, 6-3-3-1 CCHA) is currently in fourth place in the CCHA with 22 points, one point ahead of fifth-place Lake Superior State and four points behind Western Michigan. OSU played its last weekend of the first half against Miami — that tie and loss — and the Buckeyes’ last CCHA play before that was a two-game road sweep of Michigan State (Nov. 30-Dec. 1). The story of Ohio State’s first half has to be the play of senior goaltender Brady Hjelle (sounds like “jelly”), who is third nationally for goals-against (1.46) and second for save percentage (.951). Another narrative for the Buckeyes, though, is OSU’s offense, which can best be described as “sluggish.” Averaging 1.94 goals per game, OSU has the No. 54 offense in the nation; the Buckeyes were averaging 2.60 goals per game by the end of the 2011-12 season. Sophomore forwards Ryan Dzingel (6-8–14) and Max McCormick (6-4–10) lead OSU in goal production.
Penn State (7-8-0) is playing independently this season and will be part of the Big Ten Hockey Conference in 2013-14. The Nittany Lions are coached by former Alaska and Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky. PSU ended the first half of the season with a 3-2 loss to Robert Morris Dec. 15 — which made me perfectly happy after the Nittany Lions defeated my beloved alma mater, Fredonia State, 4-0 Dec. 11.
Robert Morris (7-4-2, 4-3-1 AHA) carries a five-game undefeated (3-0-2) streak into this tournament. Prior to that win over Penn State, the Colonials defeated and tied Ohio State, 3-2 and 2-2, and RMU’s last conference play was a win and tie against Holy Cross (Nov. 30-Dec. 1).
Friday’s game: Miami vs. Ohio State, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday’s games: Consolation at 4:30 p.m.; championship at 7:30 p.m.
Picks: This is an interesting field with familiar foes all around, and it’s Miami’s to lose — although I expect it to be very competitive, all around. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robert Morris take the whole thing. Seriously. Miami 3-2 Friday, 3-2 Saturday; OSU 3-2 over PSU or losing to RMU 3-2