The Bottom Look Like Up
So, Michigan State tops the conference, followed by Western Michigan, Northern Michigan, and Bowling Green.
Western Michigan? Bowling Green?
While Notre Dame and Ohio State linger near the bottom of the standings, other programs more familiar with the cellar in recent years are seeing some daylight, and the team with the most notable early-season turnaround is Western Michigan.
Last season the Broncos compiled a record of 6-20-8 (5-17-8 CCHA), one of their worst in history. This year, just eight games into the season, Western Michigan already has two-thirds of last year’s win total, with a record of 4-3-1.
"I think the big thing we’ve talked about as a staff and players is willingness to work hard and compete every time we play," says head coach Jim Culhane, who replaced longtime Western head coach Bill Wilkinson late last year.
Culhane, a former Bronco himself and an assistant since 1992, took the reins as interim coach before in February before being named head coach in early March. Under Culhane, the Broncos posted a 3-2-2 record, picking up eight points in the CCHA race, scoring on average 3.57 goals per game.
In the 25 games before Culhane took over, Western had earned just 10 league points and was scoring just 1.88 goals per game.
The difference, says Culhane, is attitude.
"We don’t have a Mike Comrie or Mike York. We just have a group of young men–staff included–willing to work really hard."
And that hard work has paid off. Last season as a team, Western finished -225, and was outscored 119-69 by league opponents.
This year so far, the Broncos are +7, and are outscoring conference foes 28-21.
"You look at the guys who are scoring for us," says Culhane. "It has to be by committee. We don’t have the lead, star player."
David Gove (4-8–12, +2), Michael Bishai (7-4–11, +2), and Daryl Andrews (2-7–9, 0) lead the team in scoring. A year ago, Gove had 20 points in 29 games, and finished at -15. Andrews had 13 points, and was -20. And Bishai’s total offensive output for 22 league games last season was two assists, and he was -10.
"My philosophy is just to really compete," says Culhane.
In spite of what appears to be vast improvement, Culhane and the Broncos are realistic about their chances this season.
"We’ve played Bowling Green, Miami, Ohio State, and Lake State. What we’ve found is that we can compete against these teams.
"Now Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan–those are the top-tier teams…we know we can play against the middle teams, but we haven’t been tested by top-tier teams yet."
And if you look at Western’s record you’ll see one recurring problem that Culhane would like to fix. "We’re still looking for us to put a whole package [together], both Friday and Saturday night. We did that Ohio State, but we’ve been looking for that ever since."
The Broncos beat OSU back-to-back, then won against BG on Friday before losing Saturday–and repeated that pattern against Lake last weekend.
According to Culhane, the second-night losses are not from lack of trying.
"If you’re willing to lay it on the line, every time you play, you’re going to give yourself opportunity for success.
"It’s our jobs as coaches to prepare them. It’s their jobs to go out and compete–every shift, every game."
And that’s what the Broncos have learned this season. Is everyone else taking notes?
Games and Grudges
In this first full week of "cluster" play, the Game of the Week could easily be this week’s Grudge, and vice versa. And each features the Ohio teams. Why? Because you dance with them that brung ya–and because this is arguably the toughest cluster in the league.
Each team in Ohio plays each other Ohio team tough, period.
It doesn’t matter if Bowling Green is lighting the lamp and Ohio State can’t even find it; a game between the Falcons and the Buckeyes will be intense.
Or maybe you’re a Miami team that looks like it may not make the playoffs, and you’re playing the Buckeyes, who are on track to head to the NCAAs. What do you do if you’re the RedHawks? You play the Buckeyes so tough that you take the season series.
Most CCHA fans think that all the good hockey happens north of the border (i.e., in Michigan), but some of the most passionate puck is played in that non-hockey state, Ohio.
And this year, the Wolverines are just lucky enough to be along for the ride.
Game of the Week
Bowling Green (3-1-0, 3-3-0 CCHA) at Miami (4-2-2, 1-2-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH
The beginning of cluster play in Ohio also marks the start of the quest for the cup–the Ohio Cup.
Never heard of the Ohio Cup? Well, Miami’s Enrico Blasi has. Blasi recalls what it was like to play for the Cup when he was a RedHawk–er, Redskin. Um, when he played at Miami.
"We have the Ohio Cup between the three [Ohio] schools. When I was here, when we won the Ohio Cup, we went to the Joe the one year, won the league the next. They [Bowling Green and Ohio State] are good teams, and you’ve got to beat them."
While the Cup–awarded to the CCHA team in Ohio with the best record against the other two teams–doesn’t seem like such a big deal, it can be a barometer of things to come. The last time the Buckeyes took the Cup back to Columbus (from whence it originates), they made their first appearance in the NCAA postseason tournament, and went on to the Frozen Four.
But Bowling Green’s Buddy Powers isn’t thinking about the Cup. "I think we’ve got to get the two points. We’ve had success down there."
The Falcons lead the all-time series 50-16-5, which includes their 2-0-1 mark against Miami last season. Bowling Green is 21-11-2 in Goggin, including a win and the tie last season.
This is Blasi’s first time facing the Falcons as a head coach, and he knows how fast this BG team can be.
"It’s a big challenge for us. We just have to concentrate on playing our game, playing 60 minutes. BG’s a good team.
"We’ve seen some fast teams this year, so I don’t think that will be an adjustment for us."
Of concern for the RedHawks is the loss of Gregor Krajnc (0-1–1), who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Krajnc’s injury hurts an offense already shortened by the loss of Jason Deskins, who also tore an ACL.
Blasi says the injury forces Miami to "do the little things right, because you don’t have two guys who can break the game open for you."
Powers, however, says he was impressed with the way the RedHawks played after Deskins was hurt, and doesn’t know what to expect.
"That [loss of a key player] can go to ways. You don’t know how they’re going to respond."
After four league games, Ernie Hartlieb leads the RedHawks in scoring (1-3–4), followed by Evan Cheverie (2-1–3). In league play, the ‘Hawks are averaging fewer than three goals per game, but are being outscored by opponents by a very narrow margin.
Not so the Falcons. Nine different Bowling Green players combined for the 13 goals the Falcons dumped on Alaska-Fairbanks last weekend. Thirteen players have at least one goal in the four conference games BG has played.
Led by Greg Day (4-3–7), Craig Desjarlais (2-4–6), Ryan Murphy (2-2–4), and Curtis Valentine (0-5–5), the BG offense looks like it may fly again this season as it did last year. BG is outscoring league opponents 19-12 in four games.
The goaltending is good for both clubs. For Miami, Andy Marsch has posted a 1.92 GAA and a .918 save percentage in two league games. Tyler Masters (3.02 GAA, .886 SV%) has played all four BG league games.
But don’t be surprised if you see David Burleigh in net for Miami, or Tom Lawson tending the goal for BG. Both coaches say that they haven’t made a decision on the start.
This game should be intense, fast, and if the Falcons play like they did last weekend, potentially lopsided. One thing is certain: games between these two teams are tough, and both coaches think this cluster is the hardest in the league.
"I don’t mind the fact that it rotates it every year," says Powers, in all seriousness.
Pick: Bowling Green 4-3
Grudge of the Week
Ohio State (2-6-0, 1-5-0 CCHA) vs. Michigan (6-1-0, 3-1-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Schottenstein Center, Columbus, OH
"I truly feel that we recognize Michigan as being a good hockey team," says Ohio State head coach John Markell.
"It’s not the typical Michigan-Ohio State rivalry you get in other sports. It doesn’t have that tradition yet. We feel they’re a good hockey team, and apparently Red feels that we’re a good hockey team."
No rivalry? Yeah, right.
Michigan has owned this all-time series 45-21-8, although Ohio State holds a 3-1-1 advantage in the last five meetings.
Before the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines in the 1998 CCHA semifinals, Michigan lorded over Ohio State to the tune of a 34-game unbeaten streak.
Michigan exacted revenge on the Buckeyes in last season’s CCHA semifinal, eliminating Ohio State in an exciting 3-2 game.
The Buckeyes took the season series from the Wolverines, 2-0-1, last year for the first time in more than a decade, and one of Michigan’s two losses to the Buckeyes was at Yost Ice Arena–where the Buckeyes hadn’t won in 19 previous games.
The average attendance at the last four meetings between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes last season was 13,816.
And don’t forget that Michigan netminder Josh Blackburn told the media he "slipped on a Buckeye nut" when he injured his foot.
So, don’t tell us there isn’t any rivalry.
Here it is: Ohio State is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, with one-goal losses to Michigan State and Maine. Last weekend, OSU lost 3-2 and 3-1 to the defending national champions.
Michigan, on the other hand, beat Yale 3-2 in its only game last weekend.
The Wolverines have forwards who can fly, and the Buckeyes can’t seem to find the net. But Ray Aho is keeping Ohio State in most games, and the Buckeyes continue to compete, outshooting Maine 19-9 in the third period of Sunday’s loss.
Sooner or later, some of those pucks are going to go in.
Picks: It’s a bold prediction, but one of two things is going to happen. Ohio State will play as well as in the first game of each of the previous weekends, and will win Friday on the road and lose Saturday, or toss them both away. Ohio State Friday, 3-2; Michigan Saturday, 4-2
Alaska-Fairbanks (3-5-0, 2-4-0 CCHA)
Streak: three losses.
Daniel Carriere (4-1–5 overall) leads the Nanooks in goals with four, two of which were scored Saturday in UAF’s 5-4 loss in Bowling Green.
That game was a penalty-filled one, with 114 minutes served up to both teams. At one point in the second period, every player on ice except for the goalies went to the box. UAF had a season-high 62 penalty minutes in that game.
Alaska-Fairbanks leads the league in penalties, averaging 31.83 minutes per conference game. Bobby Andrews (3-3–6 overall) leads the Nanooks in penalties, with 10 for 28 minutes in eight games. Andrews is also second in overall scoring.
Nathan Rocheleau (3-4–7 overall) leads UAF in scoring, and is one of four Nanooks even or better in plus/minus rating. Two of Rocheleau’s three goals were notched on the power play in league games.
The Nanooks last beat Michigan State, this weekend’s opponent, on Jan. 2, 1998, when the Spartans were ranked #2 in the country. UAF is 1-4-0 against MSU in the last four games in Fairbanks.
Bowling Green (3-1-0, 3-3-0 CCHA)
Streak: three wins.
In Saturday’s 5-4 win over Alaska-Fairbanks, defenseman B.J. Adams scored his first goal since Feb. 14, 1998, a goalless streak of 49 games. The tally was the game-winner, and it was Adams’ first point since he registered an assist at Notre Dame on Nov. 13, 1998.
Falcon Greg Day likes playing the Nanooks. The sophomore had back-to-back three-point games against UAF (2-1–3 Friday, 1-2–3 Saturday), the second and third three-point games of his career. His first? In Fairbanks, on Feb. 13, 1999.
Nine different players accounted for the 13 BG goals on the weekend, including rookies Ryan Fultz and Tyler Knight, who scored their first collegiate goals.
After being held to 30 or fewer shots in their first three games of the season–all losses–the Falcons have put at least 30 shots on net in each contest since, all three wins.
Ferris State (3-5-0, 3-5-0 CCHA)
Streak: two losses.
The only goal the Bulldogs managed against Michigan State was Friday’s power-play marker by rookie defender Troy Milam.
Milam’s goal illustrates two positives for the Bulldogs this season: freshmen and the power play. More than half of Ferris State’s goals (52.6%) have come on the power play, and the Bulldog freshman class is responsible for nearly a third (31.6%) of FSU’s goals so far this season.
"Obviously, our power play was clicking against Notre Dame [two weeks ago]," said assistant coach Drew Famulak, who adds, "Our freshmen have adapted well."
Ferris State’s power play connects at 16.4%, good enough for fourth in the league.
Lake Superior (2-4-0, 2-2-0 CCHA)
Streak: one win.
Ben Keup (6-3–9 overall) scored four consecutive goals in the first period of Lake’s win over Western, setting a school record for most goals in a period, and earning him CCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Perhaps overshadowed by Keup was Lake netminder Jayme Platt, who stopped 47 of 51 shots on goal in that game. In conference play, Platt has a 3.12 GAA and .901 save percentage.
Twenty-seven of those 51 shots came on the Bronco power play.
The Lakers face cluster-mate Ferris State for the second and final series of the regular season this weekend. Four of Lake’s first six league games are against the Bulldogs.
Lake Superior and Ferris State split two weeks ago, each picking up a 4-3 win.
These are the Lakers’ first road games of the season.
Miami (4-2-2, 1-2-2 CCHA)
Streak: one tie.
Bad news for the RedHawks. Senior forward Gregor Krajnc is out for the season with a torn ACL, the same injury that has sidelined Jason Deskins. Krajnc (6-1–7 overall), the team’s leading goal-scorer, suffered the injury in the first period of Friday night’s 2-2 tie with Notre Dame.
Rookie defender Matt Medvecz scored Miami’s first goal each night vs. Notre Dame, the first two of his collegiate career.
Miami has already seen three games with overtime action. Last season, the RedHawks set a new school record with 10 overtime games (4-1-5).
#5 Michigan (6-1-0, 3-1-0 CCHA)
Streak: two wins.
The Wolverines are scoring three times as many goals as their opposition in the opening and closing periods. Michigan has outscored opponents 12-4 in the first period and 13-4 in the third.
Congratulations, Red Berenson! Michigan’s 3-2 win over Yale Saturday was the head coach’s 400th.
Sophomore Mike Comrie (8-5–13 overall) is currently riding a seven-game point streak, having scored in each contest this season. In overall play, Comrie has three power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, and two game-winners. He’s currently tied for sixth in conference scoring.
The Wolverines are averaging 2.1 power-play goals per game and have scored at least one in each game this season, which is bad news for the Buckeyes, whose penalty kill (75.9%) is last in league play.
#4 Michigan State (6-1-0, 6-0-0 CCHA)
Streak: six wins.
Not convinced that the Spartans are for real? Here are some things to think about:
Michigan State has allowed one goal in its last four games, while giving up 1.29 goals per game overall and 0.83 goals per game in league play.
Michigan State has scored at least one power-play goal in all six conference matches this season. The Spartan power play is clicking along at 32.4% in league play. The Spartan PK is killing penalties at the rate of 95.6% in conference play.
Goaltenders Joe Blackburn and Ryan Miller have a combined league save percentage of .960. Miller earned his second consecutive shutout when the Spartans beat Ferris State 4-0 Saturday. Miller–a rookie, and this week’s CCHA Defensive Player of the Week–is only the second goaltender in MSU history to post back-to-back shutouts. Ron Scott did it in 1982.
Senior forward Shawn Horcoff leads the conference in scoring (6-3–10). Horcoff has been involved in 48% of Michigan State’s goals this season.
Sophomore forward Adam Hall (6-2–8) scored the first goal–the game-winner–in each of Michigan State’s shutouts this season.
In conference play, the Spartans have outscored opponents 26-5.
Head coach Ron Mason says, "I’m so happy with the way things are going." No kidding. Nebraska-Omaha (0-3-1, 0-3-1 CCHA)
Streak: one tie.
Congratulations to the Mavericks, who earned their first CCHA point in a 4-4 tie with Northern Michigan–on the road–Saturday night.
Nebraska-Omaha had not scored in the second period this season until Jeff Hoggan (2-0–2) and Jeff Edwards (1-0–1) tallied in the second stanza of Saturday’s game.
The Mavericks were the first team to prevent Northern Michigan from scoring in a game in Saturday’s tie.
Edwards, Dan Zaluski, Shane Glover and James Chalmers scored their first points of the season in the tie.
Northern Michigan (5-2-1, 3-0-1 CCHA)
Streak: one tie.
Northern’s 2-0 shutout win over UNO was the Wildcats’ fourth shutout of the season, tying the school’s single-season record set by the 1990-91 NCAA championship team. In 1990-91, it took 40 games to record four shutouts. This season, it’s taken just seven.
Duane Hoey and Dan Ragusett are combining for a .920 league save percentage.
Northern’s back-to-back league shutouts (Oct. 16 and Oct. 29) marked the first consecutive shutouts in school history. Hoey was in net for the 2-0 win over Ferris State; Ragusett got the win against UNO last weekend.
The line of Roger Trudeau (5-5–10), Chad Theuer (3-5–8), and J.P. Vigier (6-1–7) has recorded a goal in each game this season. The trio is one, two, and three, respectively, in scoring for the Wildcats this season.
Notre Dame (2-5-1, 1-4-1 CCHA)
Streak: one tie.
Rookie goaltender Tony Zasowski (say that three times really fast) made 58 saves on the weekend while the Irish took three points from Miami, earning him CCHA Rookie of the Week honors. Zasowski became the first freshman to start in goal for Notre Dame since Matt Eisler (1994-95).
Senior Joe Dusbabek snapped a 16-game goalless streak, notching power-play goals in each game against Miami. Dusbabek (2-2–4 overall) also had an assist in the 5-2 win.
Rookie defender Evan Nielsen notched his first two career points when he picked up assists against Miami.
The Irish are 0-1-6 in their last seven overtime games (0-1-5, 1998-99).
Sophomore forward David Inman has five goals this season, half of last season’s total.
Ohio State (2-6-0, 1-5-0 CCHA)
Streak: seven losses.
The Buckeyes are in the midst of their worst losing streak since early in the 1995-95 season, when they dropped 10 in a row.
(Correspondent’s note: For those of you who have met me in person at games around the league…that losing streak was when I began carrying bags of Hershey’s Kisses to home OSU games because of the mood in the press box. Coaches of other teams began asking me for chocolate when I covered on the road. Hence, the Kisses.)
Senior Ray Aho made 41 saves in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to #1 Maine, the sixth time in his career he’s cracked the 40-save plateau. Aho’s save percentage is .908 overall, .903 in league play. In eight games, Aho has made 228 saves–more than any other goalie in the CCHA, although Western’s Jeff Reynaert is a close second with 213.
Two of Ohio State’s last four losses–to ranked Michigan State and Maine–have been by one goal. In Friday’s 3-2 loss to Maine, two of the Black Bears’ three goals went in off of Buckeye defenders.
The Bucks are being outscored 26-9 in league play, and only two players on the team–forward Jean-Francois Dufour (3-3–6) and defender Jaisen Freeman (0-1–1)–are on the positive side of plus/minus in league play, each with a rating of +1. Dufour leads the team in scoring.
Western Michigan (4-3-1, 4-3-1 CCHA)
Streak: one loss.
Junior David Gove (4-8–12) is flirting with the league scoring lead, registering points in each of the eight games the Broncos have played this season. Gove is second only to Michigan State’s Shawn Horcoff in scoring, but Gove has played two more games than the Spartan.
The Broncos are 0-6 against the Wildcats since Northern rejoined the league, including an 0-3 record in Lawson Arena.
Western won for the first time since 1995 in Ste. Sault Marie when they beat the Lakers 4-1 Friday night.
Redshirt rookie goaltender J.J. Weaks made his Bronco debut late in Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Lake State.