With a third of the season behind us, now is as good a time as any to take stock and make some less-than-bold statements. Who’s the best the league has to offer? Who’s the worst?
And where in this league can you get what passes for a decent meal, anyway?
Best Player: Hands down, Michigan’s Mike Comrie.
Comrie (11-12–23) is leading the country in scoring, averaging 2.09 goals per game, having recorded a point in each of the first nine games he played this season. Miami broke Comrie’s streak on Nov. 12, but the sophomore came back with a goal and two assists the following night.
Comrie is tied for the lead in goal production in the CCHA (11, with Michigan State’s Adam Hall), and he and teammate Mark Kosick make the Wolverine power play–which converts at a rate of 25.3% overall–click.
He doesn’t have the best plus/minus in the league, but this young man is the kind of player that can break open a game, period.
It takes a lot for a player to stand out on a team like Michigan, a team blessed with many talented forwards. Comrie does.
Best Forward Other Than Mike Comrie: Michigan State’s Shawn Horcoff.
With five goals and 16 assists, Horcoff is second in the nation in scoring, behind his rival Comrie. Horcoff has had at least one point in each game of Michigan State’s current 10-game win streak, and he’s averaging 1.91 points per game in overall play.
With one-third of the season gone, the senior has already totaled 57% of his scoring from last year.
And, oh yeah–good things happen when Horcoff’s on the ice. He’s +16 in overall play.
Best Defenseman: Michigan State’s Mike Weaver.
You don’t hear his name much when scorers are mentioned, but Weaver is a true stay-at-home defender who can read–and thwart–a play like no one else in the league.
Best Goaltender: Michigan State’s Joe Blackburn.
I’m the first to admit that I’ve not always been a believer in the Church of Joe, but I’m a convert now.
Blackburn seems to have come into his own as a junior, poised and confident, and handling the split time in net with Ryan Miller very well.
Through six games overall, Blackburn is 5-1-0, with a 1.45 GAA and .930 save percentage. He makes the big play again and again and again, leaving fans and opponents scratching their heads and asking how he did it.
Northern Michigan’s Dan Ragusett is a close second. The junior with the hot glove hand is 6-2-0, and in nine games played, and has posted a .944 save percentage and a 1.39 goals against average, stats that make him fourth best in the nation.
Best Rookie: The flipside of the Church-of-Joe equation, Ryan Miller.
Yeah, Miller’s stats–5-0-0, .960 SV%, 0.91 GAA–are better than either Blackburn’s or Ragusett’s, but he’s had Joe to spell him on Friday nights all season.
Best Rookie Other Than Ryan Miller: Michigan State’s Brad Fast.
It seems unfair that the Spartans are so loaded with talent, but there it is.
Fast, an offensive defender, helps to give Michigan State a new dimension this season, a team where the scoring threats can come from the blue line as well. Fast has three goals and four assists in overall play, and he’s +14 overall.
He’s wicked at point on a power play that converts one-fifth of the time in overall play.
Most Improved Player: Western Michigan’s David Gove.
After Comrie and Horcoff, Gove leads the country in points. Now, statistics can be misleading–Gove’s point totals are through 12 games, as opposed to the #4 leading scorer, Boston College’s Jeff Farkas, who’s trailing Gove by just one point even though he’s played four fewer games, but when the top three scorers in the country are from a conference that showed fairly weakly last season, you can crow a little, for however briefly it lasts.
Back to Gove. Through those 12 games, Gove has six goals and 14 assists for 20 points. In 36 contests last season, Gove had just 15 points. This season, Gove has more than matched half his total point production from his first two seasons (38).
Players Most Likely To Be Overlooked: Michigan’s Scott Matzka and Mark Kosick, Western Michigan’s Mike Bishai, and Miami’s Evan Cheverie.
Why Matzka and Kosick? Because Matzka, one of the hardest-working players in the league, is always overlooked. And Kosick is overshadowed by Comrie. Kosick is the bomb–fast, smart, with an enviable touch with the puck.
Who’s Mike Bishai, you ask? Well, he’s a sophomore who leads the nation in power-play goals with seven–and he didn’t register a single goal last season in 26 games played.
Evan Cheverie (5-7–12 overall) has two power-play goals, two shorthanded goals, two game-winners, and is plus four. He leads a tenacious Miami team, having stepped up in a big way in the absence of Jason Deskins.
Biggest Surprise on the Plus Side: The Western Michigan Broncos have proven that they have talent, have determination, and can play with just about anyone in this league. Are they going to take the conference? No. Are they going to host a playoff series? Maybe.
Biggest Surprise on the Down Side: Flip a coin. Heads says it’s Ohio State, tails says it’s Notre Dame.
If the coin lands on its side, it’s Alaska-Fairbanks, who upset both Michigan and Ohio State (well, the latter was an upset then) and have done little since.
Most Annoying Aspect of the Game: Where is the five-on-five hockey?
Before you work yourself up into a lather because you think this is going to be an official-bashing column, pipe down. There are calls in every game that can go either way, to be certain, but most of the calls I’ve seen this season have been right on the money.
There have just been a whole lot of them, and not only because the majority of games I’ve attended have been at Value City Arena.
I’ve heard everyone from coaches to players to fans to press complain about the amount of the game that’s being played on special teams. If you’re not on power play after power play, you’re killing penalty after penalty–and there’s very little even-strength hockey.
Not only is this annoying because the alleged "flow" of the game is disrupted, but it can make for some pretty strange hockey. On more than a few teams around the league, your power players are also your penalty killers. These boys get mighty tired as the game progresses.
Of course, the solution is to stay out of the box. But that’s easier said than done, not only because this is hockey, but because the officials seem to be calling more penalties–not inconsistently, necessarily, but more of them.
Perhaps it’s time for a meeting on the subject. Or at least a group hug.
Most Unsportsmanlike Crowd: Yost Arena.
The perennial winner of this award–or loser, as the case may be–is stooping to new lows this season. The chant of "Ugly Parent" is crass beyond most anything I’ve heard, other than the list of what fans chant when an opponent goes to the penalty box.
Such conduct is a blemish not only on a winning program but the sport itself. The Wolverine fans are fond of chanting "So-re Los-ers," when in fact the fans at Yost are the sorest winners in the league.
Best Rink Food: Main course, Schottenstein Center. Dessert, Munn Arena.
For my money (since I have so little), the personal pizzas by a local chain sold at the Schottenstein Center are hot, tasty, and under $5. Without a doubt, this is the best hot rink food I’ve found.
But if you want to treat yourself, go to Munn Arena, throw your dietary concerns to the wind, and buy one of those little ice cream sandwiches they sell, the ones with a scoop of vanilla holding together two incredible chocolate chip cookies. To die for.
Oddest Moment This Season: The lights go out in Marquette.
Clarkson came to town, and someone forgot to pay the electric bill. I wasn’t there, but that must have been odd.
Similarly, the last few minutes of the 8-4 Michigan win over OSU at the Schott were played in dimmed lights after the arena lost partial power. That was strange.
What does this all add up to? Well, Michigan’s forwards are fast, fast, fast, but Michigan State has the best team in the league. Both Northern Michigan and Western Michigan are more than just competitive, and Ohio State is downright disappointing, as is Notre Dame, whose time was supposed to be upon us.
But, as they say, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played. And as Casey Jones, OSU’s assistant coach said recently, "A lot of other teams in this league are going to drop the same games that we have.
Considering that eight of OSU’s league losses have come to Western, Michigan State, Michigan, and Northern–and considering the records of those teams–who can argue with the logic of that?
The Phantom Goal
Michigan State’s third goal in their 5-2 win over Bowling Green last week, the goal that held up to be the game-winner, was a gift. Literally.
"The puck never went in the net," says Falcon head coach Buddy Powers.
"He’s right," says Spartan head coach Ron Mason.
The goal, credited to Brad Fast, was actually a save by rookie Falcon goaltender Tyler Masters. This is how Powers tells the story:
"Masters made the save, [referee Steve] Piotrowski was looking in the net for the puck, and Masters handed it to him. The Michigan State guys were standing around, then the goal light comes on and the horn blares. The State guys start jumping up and down and the referees were looking around like, what happened what happened what happened.
"It wasn’t within two feet of the net."
As is the case with most stories, there’s at least one more side here, and Mason takes issue with the proximity of the puck to the net ("near the crossbar," he says), and the sequence of events. Mason claims that the Spartan players jumped up and down immediately, since the goal light and horn went off right away. He also says that Piotrowski signaled a goal right away.
"It’s one of those situations," says Mason. "The referees handled it the way they should. The original replay wasn’t definitive. Then we got a close-up replay after the game that shows that it didn’t cross the line, it was in his glove."
Mason–keep in mind, he’s the coach of the team that won the game–also says that these sorts of "situations" tend to even themselves out.
Earlier in the game, Mason says, Michigan State had a goal that was clearly a goal–"not something that needed to be reviewed"–waved off.
"They had a delayed penalty called. The whistle just blew, and–bing!–our shot from the point went in. They never touched the puck, and the whistle blew."
So, says Mason, "It wasn’t like it was the only goal of the game."
Congratulations to Falcons Tyler Knight and Greg Day, the only two people to score on Michigan State netminder Ryan Miller in over 180 minutes of hockey.
Knight (2-1–3) also assisted on Day’s goal. Day (5-4–9) leads the Falcons in both overall and conference scoring.
Quote of the Week
"It’s a credit to the guys, that they’re able to stay together through some adversity. That’s what college athletics is all about. That’s what athletics is all about."
Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, on his team’s performance in the wake of losing both Jason Deskins and Gregor Krajnc to torn anterior cruciate ligament injuries this season.
Last week, I offered up a trivia question: Name the Florida team with two CCHA goaltenders on its roster. You got bonus points for correctly identifying the starter and the backup.
The correct answer is, of course, the Florida Everblades, the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Former Bronco Marc Magliarditi (remember him?) starts, while former Buckeye Jeff Maund backs.
Maund is 3-0-0, and leads the league with a 1.50 GAA. His save percentage is .935.
With a .938 SV%, a 1.74 GAA, and a record of 5-4-0, Magliarditi is third in ECHL goaltending stats.
Hats off to all of you who answered correctly. The first correct answer to come in was given by "jbiasi." Isn’t there a "biasi" who posts on the Message Board?
Games and Grudges of the Week will return after Thanksgiving.