Happy holidays, CCHA fans! In college hockey, the only way to celebrate the end of the calendar year is with tournament action. And to many Central Collegiate Hockey Association fans, there’s only one tournament worth mentioning.
The Lake Effect, 35 Times
Michigan Tech originally brought us the Great Lakes Invitational 35 years ago, a moot point for most fans in the CCHA. Just about everyone in this league knows that the GLI means Michigan, Michigan State, and Some Other Team(s).
Of course, this season, the S.O.T. made news a bit ago by sweeping Michigan.
Two of Lake Superior State’s seven league wins this season came at the expense of the Wolverines, a weekend sweep during which Laker goaltender Jayme Platt (2.73 GAA, .919 SV% overall) performed one of the season’s minor miracles, saving 71 of 73 shots on goal. In the 3-0 shutout, Platt had 40 saves.
Of course, Lake Superior State is also the team that handed Michigan Tech its second win of the season, splitting with the Huskies in mid-December.
In this season of clusters, the GLI marks the first meeting between archrivals Michigan State and Michigan.
This two-day event may be the definitive that’s-why-they-play-the-game tourney, or the Spartans could very well capture their third straight title.
A little GLI history:
Only four schools have won the GLI in the past 17 years: Michigan State (1982-85, 1997-98), Michigan (1988-1996), Western Michigan (1986), and Wisconsin (1987). That’s 15 titles between the Spartans and Wolverines.
The Lakers have appeared in two other Invitationals. In 1977, Lake State lost 4-3 in OT to Michigan in the semifinals. In 1996, the Lakers blanked the Spartans 5-0 before losing to Michigan 5-4 in the championship game.
The Spartans defend their title for the second consecutive year, and have won the GLI seven times total.
Michigan State is 29-21-0 all-time in the GLI. The Spartans are currently riding a five-game unbeaten streak in the GLI.
Two current Spartans–Mike Weaver and Mike Gresl–have been GLI MVP winners, while four (Weaver, Gresl, Rustyn Dolyny, and Shawn Horcoff) have earned all-tournament honors.
The Wolverines won a tournament-record nine consecutive GLI titles from 1988-1996. Michigan has the most titles in GLI history (11), two more than Michigan Tech (9).
Michigan State has defeated Michigan just four times in tournament history, including twice in the last two years.
In the last 23 GLI games, the Wolverines have compiled a 21-2-0 record. Overall, the Wolverines are 27-12-1 in the GLI.
Michigan’s most lopsided win was a 13-0 victory over Michigan Tech on Dec. 29, 1994. The Wolverines have outscored GLI opponents 121-51.
Four CCHA players will be missing from the GLI. Michigan State’s Adam Hall and John-Michael Liles, and Michigan’s Jeff Jillson and Andy Hilbert are playing in the World Juniors for Team USA. Hall is the team’s captain; Jillson is the assistant captain.
Liles, however, injured himself, and rumor has it that he’s headed back to the States.
Of course, the most amazing thing is that Michigan’s Mike Comrie (9-17–26, 12-20–32 overall) will play in the GLI (well, not the first game) rather than in the World Juniors. In case you’ve missed it, Comrie will be serving a DQ for Michigan’s game against Lake State on Wednesday.
Also, in case you’ve missed it, Comrie leads the nation in points.
After a hot 4-2-0 November, the Lakers were 2-2-0 in December, splitting with both Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech.
Senior captain Ben Keup (7-3–10 overall), who started the season hot, has a streak of the wrong kind going into the GLI: a nine-game scoreless streak. Sophomore Jeremy Bachusz (7-4–11 overall) has been the most consistent scorer for the Lakers this season, with at least one point in eight of 15 games. Trent Walford (7-5–12 overall) leads the Lakers in scoring.
The Wolverines were 4-1-0 in December, sweeping Nebraska-Omaha after splitting a home-and-home series with Bowling Green.
For the 6-2 and 6-1 drubbings of the Mavericks, Michigan swept the CCHA Player of the Week Honors. Mark Kosick was named Offensive Player of the Week. His five-point weekend helped him become the 64th player in Wolverine hockey history to reach the 100-point plateau.
Jeff Jillson was named Defenseman of the Week, while goaltender L.J. Scarpace was named Rookie of the Week.
Scarpace (1.57 GAA, .932 SV% overall) made his first start as a Wolverine in Michigan’s 4-2 loss to Lake Superior in the last meeting between the two teams. He made 17 saves in the loss.
The Wolverines lead the league in overall scoring, averaging 4.16 goals per game. That offensive effort also translates into the league’s second-best power play, converting at 19.7% overall.
Michigan’s penalty killing is the best in the league overall, effective 89.9% of the time. That’s a good thing, since the Wolverines spend more time in the box than any other team, averaging 27.95 minutes per game.
No update on the injury to goaltender Josh Blackburn.
After opening the season with a loss to Colorado College, Michigan State tore it up for 10 straight wins–then hit a snag. The Spartans ended the first half of the season 3-4-0 in their last seven games, and were 2-1-0 in December, having split with Notre Dame and beaten Alabama-Huntsville once.
The underrated Shawn Horcoff (7-23–30 overall) is second behind Mike Comrie in scoring not just in the league, but in the nation. Horcoff leads the nation in assists, and his plus-minus (+14) is the best in the league in overall play.
Another Spartan, Adam Hall (14-7–21 overall), leads the nation in game-winning goals (five). Too bad he’s in Europe.
Michigan State’s power play is converting at 20.4% in overall play.
Of course, the goaltending duo of Joe Blackburn (1.92 GAA, .913 SV% overall) and Ryan Miller (1.20 GAA, .941 SV% overall) is an awesome tandem.
There Are Other Teams, Other Tournaments
Bowling Green plays in the Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament Dec. 29-30. Falcon head coach Buddy Powers, former Rensselaer coach, is 2-0-0 against the Engineers as coach of the Falcons.
Bowling Green is finding itself struggling with consistency again this season, especially between the pipes. Tyler Masters has had a solid but nothing-to-write-home-about rookie season, with a 3.17 GAA and .896 save percentage in overall play.
Ferris State–The Defenders of the Realm–are 5-1-0 in nonconference play this season. The Bulldogs are participating in the Silverado Shootout in Duluth Dec. 27-28.
Phil Osaer is The Man for Ferris State this season, with a 1.97 GAA and .921 save percentage in overall play.
Brian McCullough is very quietly having an outstanding season with 10 goals and eight assists in overall play, and an overall plus-minus of +12. McCullough is a goal away from moving into a tie for 15th place on Ferris State’s all-time goal-scoring list.
The Miami RedHawks make their second trip to the Badger Showdown Dec. 27-28. In 1992, the RedHawks were 1-1-0 in the Showdown, losing to Boston University before beating Boston College for a third-place finish.
The RedHawks are facing two opponents in the Showdown that they’ve never played before in North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha.
Miami is 0-2-0 all-time against Wisconsin, including a 3-1 loss in the last meeting between the ‘Hawks and the Badgers, in the opening round of the 1992-93 NCAA tournament, a game in which current Miami head coach Enrico Blasi played.
Pat Leahy (7-11–18 overall) has the most points of any active RedHawk in holiday-tournament action with five points, all on assists last year in the Syracuse Invitational Tournament. Leahy and Dustin Whitecotton are tied in points to lead Miami.
The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks join the RedHawks in Wisconsin. The surprising Mavericks are unbeaten in eight of their last 11 games, a more-than-respectable first half of an inaugural CCHA season.
Like the RedHawks, the Mavericks are looking at two new opponents in the Showdown. UNO has never faced Miami or North Dakota, and the Mavericks are 0-3-0 against Wisconsin, having been outscored 15-5 in those three games.
Jeff Hoggan, who leads the Mavs in goals with seven, is out indefinitely with a knee injury he suffered in the first UNO loss to Michigan. Also out indefinitely are Kyle O’Keefe (shoulder) and Josh Lampman (wrist).
Northern Michigan travels to the Mariucci Classic Dec. 29-30. This is NMU’s first appearance in the Classic, and the Wildcats’ first game at Minnesota since the 1996-97 season, the last Northern spent as a member of the WCHA.
Northern meets UMass-Amherst at the Classic in the semifinal round, the first-ever meeting between the clubs.
Roger Trudeau (13-9–22 overall) leads the Wildcats in scoring, while Dan Ragusett (1.65 GAA, .921 SV% overall) does more than just his job in net for Northern.
Still injured for Northern are rookies Terry Harrison (broken foot) and Peter Michelutti (fractured clavicle).
Notre Dame plays in the Denver Cup Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The Irish will be without David Inman, Brett Henning, and Connor Dunlop, all of whom are playing for the U.S. World Junior team. Notre Dame is the only CCHA team other than Michigan or Michigan State to place players on the U.S. World Junior team.
Notre Dame was the hardest-working CCHA team in December, having already played six games in the month before the Denver Cup. Unfortunately for the Irish, they finished the first half of the season 2-4-0 for the month.
With six goals and nine assists overall, Ben Simon leads the Irish in scoring. There’s no doubt that Notre Dame will miss Inman (7-3–10 overall), Henning (3-5–8 overall) and Dunlop (2-6–8 overall) during this tourney. The trio is responsible collectively for 12 of Notre Dame’s 49 goals scored in overall play.
The Irish have a good pair of goalies with great names in Tony Zasowski (2.54 GAA, .906 SV% overall) and Jeremiah Kimento (2.84 GAA, .889 SV% overall).
Ohio State travels to Vermont for the Sheraton/Howard Bank Hockey Classic Dec. 29-30. The Buckeyes, unbeaten in four of their last five (3-1-1), will be playing after a 24-day break.
After a very rough start, Ohio State may have turned things around in late November and early December. In their last five games, the Buckeyes are averaging 3.2 goals per game, compared with 1.27 in the 11 games prior to that.
The Buckeyes gave their fans an early Christmas gift in the form of a 4-1 win over Miami, two days after a 5-0 loss to the RedHawks. Eric Meloche (9-5–14 overall) notched his first collegiate hat trick in the game. Linemate J.F. Dufour (8-11–19 overall) recorded four points in a game twice in his last five games, and has 10 points (4-6–10) in those games.
Meloche and Dufour each had a shorthanded goal in the win over Miami.
Both Alaska-Fairbanks and Western Michigan are sitting out the holiday tournaments, and will resume play when the two teams meet in Kalamazoo on Jan. 7.
So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye…
We all said good-bye to Michigan’s Mike Van Ryn and almost-Michigan’s Matt Bannan before the 1999-2000 season began, but several other CCHA players have departed for seemingly greener pastures since the start of this campaign.
Michigan State’s Shawn Mather, Lake State’s Mike Henderson, and Ohio State’s Vinnie Grant have all left for the OHL.
Most recently, Bowling Green’s junior forward Chris Bonvie left for the Peoria Rivermen of the ECHL.
These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…
The holiday season has me all mushy this year, and I’ve had some time recently to reflect on the many things that make me happy. Aside from raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, and beer, here are a few of my favorite things:
The Mike Comrie-Mark Kosick combination on Michigan’s power play.
John-Michael Liles and Brad Fast, two Michigan State defenders who add an exciting new dimension to the Spartan defense–offense.
The outstanding goaltending of this league, including the stellar play of two newcomers, MSU’s Ryan Miller and Miami’s David Burleigh. Each has posted three shutouts so far this year.
There isn’t a goalie who starts in this league who isn’t capable of making The Big Play. So, to Lance Mayes, Tyler Masters, Phil Osaer, Jayme Platt, L.J. Scarpace and Kevin O’Malley, Joe Blackburn (you’ve converted me, Joe!), Kendall Sidoruk, Dan Ragusett and Duane Hoey (but especially Ragusett, with that hot glove hand), my homeboy Ray Aho, and Jeff Reynaert, I say thank you, gentlemen. It’s been no mistake that the majority of CCHA Defensive Players of the Week have been netminders this year. I’ve never been so impressed with a group of players at one position in my life.
And Josh Blackburn, we’d like to see you play again, soon.
The Wildcats, who play harder than any team I’ve seen. As they say in tae kwon do, you have the indomitable spirit. And you check like no one’s business.
The Miami RedHawks’ ability to deal with adversity. I’ve always been fond of those guys in Oxford, but this season, behind head coach Enrico Blasi, the ‘Hawks have banded together in a season of injury.
The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, a most pleasant addition to the league. Great kids, nice coach, fun press to hang around with.
All the coaches in the league, especially those hard-working guys who will call me from the road, call me while recruiting, do their best to return my calls day or night, and who never pull punches. I’m especially fond of Scott Borek and Buddy Powers, who as New England Patriots fans, give this Buffalo Bills backer something to gloat about. Sorry about Adam Vinatieri, guys.
Michigan State sports information director Nate Ewell’s CCHA All-Name team.
David Cousineau, Western Michigan defender and younger brother of Dan Cousineau. The elder Cousineau was an underrated Buckeye and a great kid; the younger Cousineau has the same enthusiasm for the game. And it’ll be great to run into Judy and Gord Cousineau for the next three years.
And as I sit here two days after Christmas, finishing this column after the last possible minute, listening to Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island, the cats are nestled in the love seat in my office, the Christmas lights are cheerfully punctuating the windows, and I am happy in the realization that I have the best job on the planet.
The people in the CCHA are wonderful, my colleagues at USCHO mean the world to me, and I don’t have to cover a game until Jan. 7.
And it’s just begun to snow.
Happy New Year, everyone.