College Hockey? Never Heard Of It.
Q: What’s the best-kept secret in Kalamazoo?
A: The Western Michigan Broncos, of course.
"We’ve got the league’s second-leading scorer, the leading freshman, and the leading goal-scorer on the power play, and no one here knows about us," laments Bronco head coach Jim Culhane.
In a city where Culhane laments the lack of coverage, the Michigan K-Wings of the International Hockey League get the press he craves.
"It’s the one thing we all battle in college hockey," said Culhane. "We all compete against the pros for press."
As a result, the average hockey fan in Kalamazoo may not know that David Gove (6-14–20) is second in league scoring, that Mike Bishai (8-6–14) is fifth, and leads the league in power-play goals (7), and that rookie Ben Gagnon (4-5–9) is actually tied for second in points among freshmen in the league.
Of course, Culhane is not alone in his frustration. Fans of college hockey have been begging for better coverage for as long as they’ve been fans. Only a handful of teams–including Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, and Alaska-Fairbanks–are lucky enough to have the beat writer for their local daily paper around when they’re on the road.
Even when they’re playing very well, some teams can’t get local press to so much as sniff. Longtime fans of Miami will recall the days when even the Oxford paper didn’t give the then-Redskins ink when Miami was a top-10 team.
As recently as three seasons ago, Ohio State–not a traditional hockey powerhouse, but a Big Ten school nonetheless–had no radio coverage, not even locally.
"It’s frustrating," said Culhane, "but what can you do?"
The Defenders of the Realm
Quick: Which CCHA team has a perfect non-conference record? Coincidentally, which team is the hottest in the league?
If you answered the Ferris State Bulldogs, give yourself a gold star.
With a two-game sweep against Bemidji State in mid-November and last week’s 4-1 win over St. Lawrence and 3-2 win over Clarkson, the Bulldogs are a perfect 4-0-0 in nonconference play.
Said Bulldog assistant coach Drew Famulak the week before Ferris State traveled to Bemidji, "It’s a point of pride for us. Coach Daniels emphasizes that other people in the league are going to watch how we play out of league."
People are watching, and the Bulldogs actually garnered three votes in this week’s USCHO poll.
It’s a darned good thing Ferris State is playing well outside of the CCHA. Here’s how their comrades are faring in non-league play:
Alaska-Fairbanks: 1-1-0 Bowling Green: 0-2-0 Lake Superior: 0-2-0 Miami: 3-1-0 Michigan: 4-1-0 Michigan State: 1-2-0 Nebraska-Omaha: 0-0-0 Northern Michigan: 4-2-0 Notre Dame: 2-2-0 Ohio State: 1-2-0 Western Michigan: 1-1-0
The Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule may not be as impressive as, say, Michigan’s, but there’s something to be said for perfection.
And, unlike one team-that-shall-remain-unnamed, the Bulldogs didn’t have Michigan Tech to beat up on four times.
The Sky Was Falling! The Sky Was Falling!
Scott Borek has a theory for why his Lakers beat the Wolverines in two consecutive games in Yost Arena.
"It was like the stars and planets were aligned for us to have success for the weekend."
And there’s another reason. "Our defense played well and their offense wasn’t clicking."
When the Lakers swept the Wolverines in Yost Arena, the college hockey world was more than just surprised. Well, on that particular weekend, hockey fans were stunned. Not only did Lake beat Michigan in Yost, fer cryin’ out loud, but Miami swept Michigan State.
And after the Wolverines and Spartans were swept by non-ranked conference opponents–each shut out once on the weekend–they did the unspeakable. They lost again.
Michigan returned home to lose 6-1 to Minnesota before ending the carnage with a 4-1 win over Wisconsin.
When the Golden Gophers were handing the Wolverines their third consecutive loss, the Badgers were taking it to the Spartans in Munn to the tune of 5-1.
Like their arch-rivals, Michigan State was able to cap the losing streak at three games with a win the second night of the College Hockey Showcase, 6-2 over Minnesota.
"We managed to stop the bleeding," said Michigan State head coach Ron Mason.
In the Miami series, said Mason, "We had nothing going. We outshot them, we outplayed them, but we couldn’t get a break."
As for the Showcase, "The [Spartan] players played the same both nights. When you outshoot them and you lose 5-1, you know things aren’t going your way."
Mason attributes Michigan State’s mini-slump to a whole lot of travel, and a lack of depth in the forward positions. In spite of having the league’s leading scorer, "We still only have 11 forwards, and if someone’s not going, that can be a problem."
Of course, it was more than favorable planetary alignments that won the Lakers two games in Yost. "We got very good goaltending, which you have to in that building," said Borek. "I thought we did a very good job denying them the weak side of the night."
Borek also said that the Wolverine forwards contributed to the Laker cause. "Maybe they were…overly excited. They didn’t finish like they can, and those guys will obviously finish a lot this season."
The losses by two highly-ranked teams in East Lansing and Ann Arbor must have left fans stunned–especially Michigan fans. Perhaps it’s because Yost is such a notoriously tough place to play that Borek sounded, two weeks later, as though he were still relishing the sweep.
"There’s no better place to win," said Borek. "It just changes the whole climate of the place."
Quote of the Week
"I think Northern is the hottest team in our league, with the exception of Ferris, but that doesn’t concern me because we don’t play them anymore."
— Scott Borek on the luck of the draw. The Lakers and Bulldogs met four times within the first eight games of the season, and won’t meet again this year unless they do so in post-season play.
Games of the Week
Ferris State (10-6-0, 6-6-0 CCHA) at Western Michigan (6-6-2, 5-5-2 CCHA) Friday, 7:05 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI Western Michigan at Ferris State Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI
In the CCHA, #5 Michigan State tops the conference standings, followed by #9 Northern Michigan, then #6 Michigan, with three teams tied for fourth.
Two of those teams face off this weekend. Could there be a better offering than this in the league this week?
Ferris State is the hottest team in the league, riding a seven-game streak into this series, the longest Bulldog winning streak since the 1990-91 season, a season that ended 23-14-5.
"They’re the real deal," said Western head coach Jim Culhane of his team’s immediate opponent. And Culhane’s not just spinning goodwill.
The Bulldogs issued the Saints of St. Lawrence just their third loss of the season last weekend before beating Clarkson. A team that takes to heart the phrase "scoring by committee," the Bulldogs have 10 players with more than one goal; 15 Bulldogs have registered at least one goal this year.
Led by veterans Brian McCullough (2-4–6) and Rob Kozak (2-7–9), the Bulldogs also boast talented newcomers Chris Kunitz (5-3–8) and Troy Milam (2-6–8), third and fourth respectively in Bulldog conference scoring.
Ferris State still struggles with consistency, and the Bulldogs are outscored by league opponents 33-31. But the team has improved steadily throughout the season, and Ferris State has had one important constant on its side this season, goaltender Phil Osaer, whose .910 save percentage and 2.28 GAA put him fifth among CCHA goaltenders.
The Broncos are another team that does everything by committee. Culhane is fond of saying that Western doesn’t have a star player, but David Gove may be making that hard to believe. Gove (6-14–20) is second in league scoring, sandwiched between Michigan State’s Adam Hall and Michigan’s Mike Comrie–lofty company, to be sure.
The Broncos make their starting goaltender, Jeff Reynaert, work very hard. Reynaert (2.76 GAA, .915 SV%) leads the league in saves with 354.
Western has a slight edge on the power play; Ferris has a slight edge on the PK. The Bulldogs have a real advantage, however, that’s more than noteworthy. Ferris State spends less time in the box than any team in the league, averaging just 16.50 minutes per game. Western spends, on average, 23.25 minutes in the box. Calmer heads can win games.
It’s league points, it’s cluster games, and if one team sweeps, it could be an indication of the shape of things to come.
Pick: Ferris State 4-3, 4-2.
Grudge of the Week
Ohio State at Miami Friday, 7:05 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH
How long has it been since the Buckeyes have won a game down the road a ways in Oxford? The last time OSU beat Miami in Goggin, George Bush was president of the United States. And here’s what’s happened since that game:
The Gulf War began and ended Magic Johnson retired as a player from the National Basketball Association The first mammal, "Dolly," was cloned Sinn Fein gained a limited voice in the British government Salman Rushdie surfaced and then returned to hiding "Beanie Baby" became a household phrase The whole Lewinsky thing USCHO was conceived, launched, and established
During that 6-5 Ohio State win on Jan. 18, 1991, Miami assistant coach David Smith played for the Buckeyes while current Miami head coach Enrico Blasi played for the then-Redskins.
As a player, Blasi said his "first memory of Ohio State was, ‘We have to go there again, to Columbus?’ The last three years, it was pretty even, pretty competitive games. It was always a struggle, especially in the little rink."
The "little rink" was the OSU Ice Rink, not, ironically, Goggin.
Blasi said the competition between the two teams has always been intense. "Whether Miami’s down or OSU is down in any given year, it’s two teams that come out to play hard."
Since that game, OSU has dropped 17 in a row in Goggin. Now, there’s a streak–and a grudge.
Pick: Miami 4-2, then sweeping the weekend with a win in Columbus Sunday.