Reversal of Fortune
Western Michigan’s in second place, and Alaska-Fairbanks is tied for fifth with #10 Northern Michigan. Ohio State has one win to its credit, and shares ninth place with Lake Superior. Notre Dame–with no league wins in four games–anchors the basement along with Nebraska-Omaha.
A hole in the space-time continuum? A witch’s curse?
Residuals from the non-goal that won a certain team from Texas the Stanley Cup in a certain city in New York State that’s taken more than its share of public beatings?
(Bitter? I’m not bitter… .)
No, CCHA fans, and the explanation of the reversal of league fortunes isn’t dependent on quantum physics or Euclidean geometry, either.
It’s simple mathematics. Add a little here, take a little–or more than a little–there.
That Western Michigan is currently in second place may be a bit of a surprise; that the Broncos have improved is no surprise. Ditto the RedHawks, and the Nanooks.
But the Buckeyes and the Irish–well, "slow" doesn’t begin to describe how these two teams have begun the season.
Simple mathematics, fans. Each team lost its big guns.
And neither team has been developing long enough to pick up the slack.
"We went through a slump last season," said Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin, "but it was midseason. At that point, you say, ‘Hey, every team goes through this every year. We go through this every year.’
"But, at the beginning of the season, when you don’t have many wins behind you, you can lose perspective."
After being picked fourth in the preseason coaches poll and fifth in the media poll, the Irish are off to a sluggish start, with no points in CCHA play. Notre Dame has one win in six NCAA games so far this season–compared with a 6-0-0 to start last season, their first loss coming to Western Michigan in their seventh contest in Oct. 1998.
In four league contests this year, opponents have outscored the Irish 19-7.
"You can recruit good freshmen, but you expect someone from your junior or senior classes to step up," says Poulin.
And therein lies the problem. Sophomore David Inman is the only Irish player with multiple goals, responsible for four of Notre Dame’s 12 tallies overall.
Last season, seniors Brian Urick and Aniket Dhadphale were responsible for 44 of Notre Dame’s 114 overall goals, and 36 of 92 league goals. While Dhadphale was more valuable on the impressive Notre Dame power play–scoring eight of the Irish 31 league power-play goals–Urick was the playmaker, weighing in with a +23 rating in overall play on a team that was just +40 collectively overall. Urick also led the Irish in game-winners, with four overall and three in league play.
Through six games, the Irish as a team are in the minus, and Inman has the only game-winner, the first goal Notre Dame scored in their 4-0 win over Union.
Another crucial component of Notre Dame’s early-season woes is goaltending. After Forrest Karr (2.27 GAA, .907 SV%) left, everyone expected Jeremiah Kimento to step right in. In the three league games in which he saw action last season, Kimento posted a .970 save percentage. This year, in four conference games, Kimento’s save percentage is .837, and he and Tony Zasowski have combined for a .838 league save percentage.
As usual, the optimistic Poulin looks for the positive in the situation. "When we started as fast as we did last year, we didn’t really get the chance to address what we needed to address."
The Irish are getting that chance now.
The similarities between the hockey programs at Notre Dame and Ohio State cannot be lost on CCHA fans. Both are big "football" schools, and each is trying to rebuild a program in the shadow of the gridiron.
While one school has been lucky enough to receive a new facility, the other waits patiently for the day when its athletic department realizes the hockey team is playing in an inadequate half-igloo designed for anything but hockey.
And neither program has been rebuilding for long, a point that Ohio State’s John Markell likes to emphasize.
"We’re in a tough position here. It’s a program that wasn’t really given the chance to mature before the loss of those two guys. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen like that. Now we’re leaning on guys who were just role players, and that makes it tough."
"Those two guys" are, of course, Hugo Boisvert and Jeff Maund, the price the Buckeyes are paying for success. After languishing in the CCHA cellar for years and years–and years–Ohio State broke out in spectacular fashion, going to the Frozen Four in Maund’s rookie year between the pipes.
Both Boisvert–who would’ve been a senior–and Maund–who would’ve been a junior–opted for the pros this season.
(Incidentally, Boisvert is with the Canadian national team after a stint with the Orlando Solar Bears of the IHL, while Maund is down the road in Naples.)
For the Buckeyes last season, no one came close to Boisvert’s point totals. In league play, he had 15 of OSU’s 87 goals, and 23 assists, and was +11. He was the only Buckeye to tally double-digit goals in league play. Departed senior Brandon Lafrance and now-senior and former Boisvert linemate Eric Meloche were the only other players to hit ten or more goals–10 and 11, respectively–in overall play.
Unlike the Irish, however, the main problem for Ohio State is not compounded by goaltending. Senior Ray Aho has earned the starting job, and has a respectable .903 overall save percentage, and is .896 in league play.
Aho’s averaged 29.2 saves per game in conference play, which tells you that he’s getting very little help in front of the net. Shades of Tommy Askey.
No, at Ohio State, it’s just a lack of goal scoring that’s hurting the Buckeyes, who have been outscored by a whopping 23-8 margin in five conference games, and who have been outscored 21-5 in their last five games, all, not surprisingly, losses.
Another missing link for the Buckeyes is a player like Chris Richards, who was a key on the penalty kill, who won countless face-offs, and who led the team in game-winners (3). Richards–always underrated as a college player–was second in scoring to Boisvert last season (8-17–25 CCHA), and was nearly as important on the power play.
Still, says Markell, "I think we’re good enough to score some goals."
And they are, but they haven’t. In conference play, three Buckeyes–J.F. Dufour, Meloche, and Vinnie Grant–have two goals. Dufour leads the team in scoring when you throw in his three assists. He, defenseman Ryan Jestadt, and forward Yan Des Gagne lead the Bucks in plus-minus, with even-0 ratings each.
Aside from goaltending, another key difference between the Irish and the Buckeyes is in the wins and losses department. While Notre Dame came out of the gate gunning last year, Ohio State started cold. After seven Division-I games last season, the Bucks were 1-5-1. This year, they’re 2-5-0.
After starting as though they were going to conquer the world last season, the Irish didn’t make the NCAA tournament.
After starting as though they’d never even host a home playoff game, Ohio State was invited for the second year in a row.
Talk about a reversal of fortune.
Next Week: The Bottom Look Like Up
Games of the Week
Miami (4-1-1, 1-0-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (1-5-0, 0-4-0 CCHA) Thursday and Friday, 7:05 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, IN
Note: Because of the Saturday football game against Navy, the hockey games have been rescheduled.
Miami head coach Enrico Blasi is understandably upbeat.
"We’ve been playing well. Our goaltending’s been solid. Everyone’s working hard."
Miami split at home last weekend with Providence, losing 5-3 before rebounding 5-2. The RedHawks have won four of their last five games. The secret, says Blasi, is experience.
"I don’t care who you are–if you don’t have good seniors, you’re not going to be successful."
Miami’s senior leadership includes the so-far-so-good play by goaltender Andy Marsch (.893 overall save percentage) and Ian Olsen (.913 overall save percentage), each having played two games.
Gregor Krajnc is another senior playing well for the ‘Hawks. Krajnc, this week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week, notched his first hat trick Friday at St. Cloud State, and added a goal Saturday.
As well as Miami’s been playing, and although they haven’t lost on the road yet, Blasi is not taking Notre Dame for granted. "They should be better than their record."
And he sympathizes with Poulin and the Irish. "Having been on the other side of that in Denver, nothing you can do as a coach can turn it around."
Miami leads the series 17-7-3, including a 7-4-3 edge in South Bend. Last year, the Irish took the season series 2-1-0, including a 2-0 shutout home win on Jan. 9.
Given the way Miami is playing and how they’ve performed traditionally in the past, they could register their second consecutive road win. But never count the Irish out. As Blasi knows, a winless team is a dangerous team.
Picks: Miami Thursday, 4-1; Notre Dame Friday, 3-1.
Grudge of the Week
#3 Michigan State (4-1-0, 4-0-0 CCHA) vs. Ferris State (3-3-0, 3-3-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:05 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI
"Ferris State played us as tough as anyone last season, and they are certainly playing well now," says Spartan head coach Ron Mason.
"Bob Daniels always has his team ready to play, and we know they’ve got a good goaltender back. This weekend will be a tough test for us."
Actually, the Bulldogs have two good goaltenders back, Vince Owen and Phil Osaer. While Owen–undoubtedly the goaltender to whom Mason was referring–has had a slow start with just a .867 SV% in three league games, he is improving. And Osaer has an impressive .940 SV% in three league games, with a 1.67 GAA.
Michigan State goaltenders Joe Blackburn and Ryan Miller each have 1.00 conference GAAs, each having played two games.
The Spartans lead this series 47-21-11 all time, 28-12-4 in East Lansing and 18-8-6 in Big Rapids. Mason’s not kidding when he says the Bulldogs play the Spartans tough; the 11 ties are the most anyone has put up against Michigan State in an all-time series, and the teams split last season 1-1-1.
Michigan State is 9-1-2 in the last 12 meetings, with the lone loss coming in the last meeting, 2-1 on March 6, 1999–a game that snapped the Spartans’ school-record 23-game unbeaten streak.
Four two of the past four years, the Spartans have been the one team keeping Ferris State from The Joe. In 1997-98, the Bulldogs played Michigan State very tough in the first round, losing 3-1 and 2-1, but back in 1995-96, Ferris State won the second first-round game at Munn Arena, forcing a third game, which the Spartans won.
This is one grudge that will hold. Of course, I said that last week, too.
Picks: Michigan State sweeps, 4-1, 3-1.
Along the Boards
Alaska-Fairbanks (3-3-0, 2-2-0 CCHA)
Streak: one loss
Congratulations to the Nanooks for being last week’s Grudge Match Winner, having defeated the #6 Michigan Wolverines for the first time, ever.
UAF beat the Wolverines 4-2 before dropping Saturday’s game 4-1. In the all-time series, the Wolverines now lead 19-1-0.
Rookie goaltender Lance Mayes is a big reason for UAF’s success. Mayes (2.19 GAA, .934 SV%) turned away 85 shots in the two-game series, earning him CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The Nanook PK was also clicking on the weekend–a good thing, given the number of penalties UAF tends to take–killing 15 of 18 Michigan opportunities, including two 5-on-3 opportunities.
The 2-2-0 start to this season is the Nanooks’ best since their first year in the CCHA, in 1995- 96.
Bowling Green (1-3-0, 1-1-0 CCHA)
Streak: one win.
The Falcons split a pair last weekend, losing 2-1 to Western Michigan but rebounding for the 5-4 win, their first of the season. Rookie goaltender Tyler Masters got the win.
Craig Desjarlais won the game in the last second of a Bowling Green power play, and the goal ended BG’s man-advantage slump of 0-for-18.
Adam Edinger earned his 100th career point with an assist Saturday on Doug Schueller’s second-period goal Saturday.
One win this weekend would give the Falcons their 400th home win.
Ferris State (3-3-0, 3-3-0 CCHA)
Streak: two wins.
The Bulldogs swept Notre Dame last weekend, winning 4-1 at Ewigleben Arena Saturday, and 4-2 at Van Andel Arena Sunday.
Rob Lightfoot notched his first goal as a Bulldog this weekend, scoring in Sunday’s game. Lightfoot, who transferred from Alaska-Anchorage, has six points (1-5–6) in as many games this season.
Ferris State’s power play was hot against the Irish, going 6-for-18 (.333). Prior to last weekend, the Bulldog power play was converting at about 10 percent (.097, to be precise).
Vince Owen is three victories away from tying Pat Mazzoli (1990-93) for sixth place on Ferris State’s all-time win chart. The goalie is 25-34-8 as a Bulldog.
Lake Superior State (1-3-0, 1-1-0 CCHA)
Streak: three losses.
The Lakers were without three of their top defenders last weekend when they dropped two home games to #5 New Hampshire, 4-3 and 5-3. Blaine McCauley and Ryan Knox were serving suspensions, and Matt Frick was out with an eye infection.
All five players who were penalized for playing in a Canadian tournament after the NCAA season ended have served their suspensions.
The Lakers have three shorthanded goals in four games so far this year, scored by Trent Walford, Fred Slukynsky, and Jeremy Bachusz.
The Lakers seem to know how to play the Broncos. Last season, LSSU took the season series from Western 2-0-1, their best record vs. CCHA teams in 1998-99, and Laker coach Scott Borek is 6-1-2 against the Broncos, his best record against any current Laker opponent.
Miami (4-1-1, 1-0-1 CCHA)
Streak: one win.
Don’t let that streak fool you; the RedHawks may have split with Providence last weekend, but Miami is undefeated in the CCHA. Helping the RedHawks stay red-hot is Gregor Krajnc, who has six goals in the last four games.
Sophomore Evan Cheverie (4-6–10) is the fastest RedHawk to tally 10 points since Adam Boyle did so in the first three games of the 1997-98 season. Cheverie has a point in every game this season.
The Miami offense is averaging more than three goals per game this season, and is outscoring opponents overall 22-18. The Miami power play–both overall and conference–is clicking along at 20 percent.
Junior Grudge Match: Notre Dame’s 4-2 win over Miami in the last regular-season game of the 1998-99 campaign kept Miami out of the CCHA tournament since the 1990-91 season.
#6 Michigan (5-1-0, 3-1-0 CCHA)
Streak: one win.
Michigan split in Fairbanks last weekend, losing 4-2 before winning 4-1. It was the first-ever Wolverine loss to the Nanooks, and Michigan head coach Red Berenson gives part of the credit to Nanook goaltender Lance Mayes. "It was a good game. We gave away a goal, but the other three, we didn’t."
In relief for starter Josh Blackburn, whose torn foot ligaments will keep him out until January, Kevin O’Malley has been solid in the Michigan net, with a .927 league save percentage and a 1.86 conference GAA.
Mike Comrie enters the weekend with a six-game, season-long point streak on the line, and defender Jeff Jillson is averaging 1.15 assists per game.
The Wolverines have scored first in each game they’ve played this season, and are averaging five goals per game.
#4 Michigan State (4-1-0, 4-0-0 CCHA)
Streak: four wins.
The Spartans blanked the Buckeyes twice last weekend, 1-0 and 6-0. Two different goalies proved impenetrable to Ohio State. Joe Blackburn won Friday, and Ryan Miller got the big win Saturday, his first home start. Blackburn and Miller have identical GAAs of 1.00; Blackburn’s league save percentage is .957, while Miller’s is .951. Each has played two games.
The back-to-back shutouts were the first for the Spartans since Nov. 11 and 17, 1995, against Illinois-Chicago and Miami, and the first time Michigan State has shutout the same opponent since Nov. 24-25, 1990. Miami did the honors then as well.
A win Friday would give Michigan State its best conference start since 1986-87, when it opened 8-0.
Rustyn Dolyny (2-4–6) notched his first two goals of the season against Ohio State. Shawn Horcoff has yet to light the lamp for the Spartans, but the senior leads the team in scoring with nine assists.
Nebraska-Omaha (0-2-0, 0-2-0 CCHA)
Streak: two losses.
The Mavericks had last weekend off, after losing their first two games as full members of the CCHA to Michigan State. The baptism by fire continues, as UNO heads to Marquette to face #10 Northern Michigan this weekend.
Says Mavs head coach Mike Kemp, "It’s a great learning experience for our program."
Not only is Kemp grateful for the lessons, but he’s happy about the timing of the trips to Northern. "When I was at Wisconsin–no lie–I’d say no less than 50 percent of the time we played Northern Michigan, we were stuck there at least an extra day because of snow."
Timing is everything.
This is the first-ever meeting between the Mavs and ‘Cats.
Rookie Greg Zanon leads the Mavericks in points, with two assists. Jeff Hoggan, David Brisson, Ed Cassin, and Jason White each had a goal against the Spartans.
Kendall Sidoruk is the starter for UNO in net. In two games against Michigan State, Sidoruk posted a 5.50 GAA and .851 SV%.
Sophomore Kyle O’Keefe is out, still recovering from shoulder surgery.
#10 Northern Michigan
Streak: two losses.
The Wildcats lost in a tough way last weekend, 3-2 and 2-1 games at home to then-#9 Clarkson.
"We have to rebound," says head coach Rick Comley. "Now we return to league play, and it doesn’t really matter who it is, because every league game is very important. We want to get back to winning, and regain a home-ice advantage that we probably lost a little bit against Clarkson."
Good luck, Nebraska-Omaha.
Rookie defender Jimmy Jackson rides a three-game point streak into the weekend against UNO. Jackson is 1-2–3 in his last three games, with a pair of assists against Clarkson.
J.P. Vigier (6-0–6 overall) has yet to score a conference point.
The Wildcats have registered a power-play goal in each game this season, yet are sixth in both league and overall power-play rankings (.167).
The ‘Cats are allowing just 1.33 goals per game overall (first) and 1.50 in conference play (second).
Last Friday’s game against Clarkson was delayed for more than an hour because of a storm-related power outage.
Notre Dame (1-5-0, 0-4-0 CCHA)
Streak: two losses.
The Irish lost two Ferris State twice last week, 4-1 and 4-2. "We didn’t play well on the weekend and Ferris played very well," says head coach Dave Poulin. "We’re taking very inopportune penalties."
Taking penalties is something Notre Dame can’t afford to do, especially when they’re killing them off at a rate of 74%, second-worst in league play.
And, says Poulin, when it rains, it pours. Ferris State scored eight seconds into Sunday’s game when Jeremiah Kimento was caught out of the Irish net.
"So they’ve done nothing, and we’ve done nothing, and they’re up 1-0," says Poulin.
Outscored 21-12 this season, the Irish have managed just seven even-strength goals in six games. Going back to the consecutive shutout losses against MSU and FSU last year, Notre Dame has totaled just 19 goals in its last 12 regular-season CCHA games.
Ohio State (2-5-0, 1-5-0 CCHA)
Streak: five losses.
The Buckeyes lost 1-0 and 6-0 to #4 Michigan State last weekend. The back-to-back shutouts mark the fourth time in OSU history that the Bucks were blanked in consecutive games, and the second time it’s happened at the hands of the same opponent.
The Bucks were shutout by Notre Dame on Nov. 11, 1995, and then failed to find the net the following game a week later against Western Michigan on Nov. 17. On March 11 and 12, 1994, Lake Superior State University gave the Bucks two goose eggs to end the season.
The five consecutive losses mark Ohio State’s longest losing streak since the 1996-97 season, when the Bucks dropped six in a row from Dec. 28 through Jan. 17.
During the five-game losing streak, the Buckeyes have been outscored by opponents 21-4. Comparably, during the mid-season slump of 96-97, OSU was outscored by opponents 36-17.
J.F. Dufour had his five-game point streak snapped in the losses last weekend. Dufour (3-3–6 overall) leads the Buckeyes in scoring.
OSU head coach John Markell (1979) and Maine head coach Shawn Walsh (1978) are both BGSU graduates. Walsh was an assistant at BG during Markell’s junior and senior years, when Markell led the Falcons to two CCHA Championships.
Western Michigan (3-2-1, 3-2-1 CCHA)
Streak: one loss.
The Broncos split a pair with Bowling Green last weekend, a 2-1 win and 5-4 loss. This week, Western plays its first "cluster" opponent in a two-game series at Lake Superior. Last year, the Lakers beat Western 11-1 at Abel Arena.
David Gove (4-4–8) has recorded points in all six Bronco games this season. He shares the lead in WMU scoring with Daryl Andrews (1-7–8).
Jeff Reynaert is solid in net for Western, with a 2.48 GAA and .909 save percentage.
Steve Rymsha and Mike Bishai are tied for the lead in conference power-play goals with three each. Western Michigan’s power play is fifth in the league, converting at 17.3%.
Bryan Farquhar (1-0–1) is a good boy; he has yet to be whistled for a penalty in six games this season.
It’s taken Western Michigan just three weeks to earn seven conference points this year, something the Broncos didn’t accomplish until Nov. 28 last season.