The Player Makers
So, you want to be Player of the Week? Make sure your team plays Ferris State. Or Western Michigan.
Or–better by far–Ohio State.
After last week’s examination of the Player of the Week selection process, I thought it might be interesting to see which teams are regularly picking up awards.
Turns out it’s even more interesting to see which clubs make the Players of the Week. For the other guys, that is.
Ohio State is in the lead for this year’s Player-Maker Award, with seven Players of the Week selected from among their opponents – three offensive, two defensive, and two rookies — including back-to-back selections for Notre Dame’s Dan Carlson (Feb. 7) and Lake Superior’s Chris McNamara (this week).
And after one two-game weekend series against Northern Michigan in Marquette, OSU was responsible for both the Defensive Player of the Week–Dan Ragusett–and Rookie of the Week–Chris Gobert.
Remember, Ohio State is an 11th-place team.
On the surface, a good argument can be made for bad decisions regarding the Player of the Week. After Sherry Skalko, CCHA Director of Communications, gave us the criteria for selection last week, it can be argued — on the surface — that someone’s not paying attention here.
How hard can it be to beat the team in 11th place?
Well, these past two weekends, Notre Dame and Lake Superior State found out how hard. Buckeye goaltender Ray Aho let in just three goals in each series, and is playing like a man possessed. The senior boasts a .932 save percentage in his last 17 games, and has allowed two or fewer goals in 14 of those 17 contests.
So the Buckeyes are not pushovers with Aho in net, and both Notre Dame and Lake Superior had to earn those points. Both Notre Dame games went into overtime, as did one game with the Lakers.
Looks can be deceiving, eh?
Here’s a breakdown of the Player Makers:
Ferris State, 5. Two Offensive, one Defensive, two Rookies.
Western Michigan, 5. Three Offensive, one Defensive, one Rookie.
Michigan, 4. One Offensive, two Defensive, one Rookie.
Alaska-Fairbanks, 3. Two offensive, one Defensive.
Miami, 3. One each category.
Lake Superior, 3. Two Defensive, one Rookie.
Michigan State, 3. One each category.
Nebraska-Omaha, 3. One each category.
Notre Dame, 3. One each category.
Northern Michigan, 2. One Defensive, one Rookie.
Bowling Green, 1. Rookie.
Non-conference Player Makers include such powerhouses as Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and Michigan Tech. Aho earned his honors against Vermont and Dartmouth, while Connor Dunlop won for the Ice Breaker.
Chris Kunitz won twice in non-conference play (as befitting a Defender of the Realm), once for the Silverado Shoutout, and once for a series against Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
It’s not surprising that players earn honors against Michigan State, Michigan, Lake and Northern. What is surprising, however, is that no one has earned props for scoring on Jayme Platt or Dan Ragusett..
It’s also not surprising that no one has earned defensive honors against those Buckeyes in a long time.
Want to bet that someone from the OSU-Ferris series earns honors this weekend? Talk about odds.
Hitting the Wall
"We’ve had a tough stretch of games, with the opponents we’ve been playing," says Western Michigan head coach Jim Culhane. "[They’re] some of the best in the country."
The Broncos surprised many people early in the season, not just by playing competitively, but because they looked to be genuine contenders for home ice. In the first half of the season Western Michigan was earning points every weekend.
Lately, however, that’s changed, and Culhane says it’s due, in part, to the strength of Western’s opponents.
The Broncos are 2-9-1 in January and February, and have lost four in a row — to Northern Michigan and most recently Michigan. In those four games, Western was pounded 29-9. Last weekend, the Broncos dropped a pair of lopsided decisions — 9-3 and 7-2 — to the Wolverines.
The good news is that Western Michigan registered five against Michigan. But the bad news is, well, the bad news.
"We were able to play with them for two periods," said Culhane, "Then we just ran out of gas in the third period."
The score was 4-3 in the 9-3 loss going into the third, when the Wolverines scored five unanswered goals. Michigan ran up the score late in the first game as well.
"We competed real hard, but unfortunately couldn’t get it done. I’m not disappointed in our effort," says Culhane. "They have outstanding goaltending in (Josh) Blackburn."
The Broncos are scoring nearly three goals per game in conference play, but are allowing more than any team in the league (3.79). "We’ve been able to score goals all year on the power play. On the other hand, we need to do a better job in our own end."
At 19.4%, Western’s power play is the third-best in the league. All five Bronco goals against the Wolverines came on the man-advantage.
This weekend Western Michigan hosts Niagara.
"I’m looking for us to play consistent on both nights," said Culhane. "Obviously Niagara is a very good opponent. They lead their conference and they’ve got a good club."
Western holds onto that last playoff spot by six precious points over Ohio State, and they swept the Buckeyes earlier in the season. Although Ohio State has two games in hand on the Broncos and Western plays Lake and Ferris for their remaining four games, Culhane isn’t concerned.
"We control our own destiny. At the start of the year, our goal was to make the playoffs. We worry about our own team and our own games. Obviously, we want to finish as high as we can."
If they win out — and get a lot of help from a several other teams — the Broncos can finish as high as sixth.
The Big Bullies
So much for Valentine’s Day, love, and all that stuff. The Wildcats and Wolverines beat up on the Broncos but good, but Western certainly isn’t the only team to have been on the losing end of that battle this season.
Just for fun, let’s look at how Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior have beaten up on the guys battling it out in mid-tier.
Michigan over Notre Dame 11-4 (two games)
even with Ferris State 6-6 (two games)
over Nebraska-Omaha 12-3 (two games)
over Miami 18-8 (four games)
even with Bowling Green 5-5 (two games)
over Western Michigan 16-5 (two games)
over Ohio State 21-10 (four games)
Michigan State over Notre Dame 4-2 (two games)
over Ferris State 8-1 (two games)
over Nebraska-Omaha 17-9 (four games)
outscored by Miami 6-2 (two games)
over Bowling Green 8-3 (two games)
outscored by Western Michigan 5-2 (two games)
shut out Ohio State 7-0 (two games)
Lake Superior State
outscored by Notre Dame 3-2 (two games)
outscored by Ferris State 10-11 (four games)
outscored by Nebraska-Omaha 5-3 (two games)
over Miami 7-3 (two games)
over Bowling Green 7-6 (two games)
outscored by Western Michigan 8-6 (two games)
over Ohio State 3-2 (two games)
over Notre Dame 8-2 (two games)
over Ferris State 10-9 (four games)
over Nebraska-Omaha 6-4 (two games)
have yet to play Miami
outscored by Bowling Green 9-7 (two games)
over Western Michigan 21-9 (four games)
over Ohio State 8-2 (two games)
Games and Grudges
Without a doubt, the most interesting series this weekend is the one being played in Marquette–or is just down the road in Big Rapids, where one team fights for home ice and the other team fights just to extend its season?
Games of the Week
Michigan (22-7-1, 17-5-1 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (19-9-2, 14-6-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Berry Events Center, Marquette, MI
It used to be that I pitied the team that faced the Wolverines after a Michigan loss. This week, it’s Michigan facing the wrath of a disappointed and still-determined Northern Michigan squad.
The third-place Wildcats are five points behind Michigan, and coming off a damaging two-loss weekend in East Lansing, a losing streak that ties their longest of the year. With the 3-2 (OT) and 2-0 losses, the ‘Cats and the Spartans traded places in league standings, and Northern Michigan now finds itself tied with Lake Superior State and having to jockey for better position.
On the flip side, the Wolverines ran up the score twice on the Broncos.
Michigan leads this series, 13-9-0 all time. The Wolverines won three of their four meetings with the Wildcats last year, two regular-season meetings and the CCHA Championship game. Michigan also leads this series in Marquette, 4-3-0, where the teams haven’t met since 1997.
The Wildcats need just three points to secure at least a fifth-place finish, and four points in their last six games would guarantee them home ice.
For the 12th consecutive year, Michigan has secured home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The last first round for which the Wolverines took to the road was in 1988, in Kalamazoo.
This series matches the two most productive offenses in the league. Northern is second, averaging a healthy 3.50 per game. But Michigan averages an astonishing 4.30 per game. Not surprisingly, the Wolverine power play can really click, converting at 20.3%, second in the league to — drum roll, please — Alaska-Fairbanks.
Northern’s power play is eighth in the league, converting just over 15% of the time.
Michigan’s penalty kill is successful 85.3% of the time, fourth best in the league. That’s a good thing, too, since the Wolverines love to spend time in the box, averaging 27.52 minutes in the league, second only to Ohio State (Perhaps if the Wolverines and Buckeyes hadn’t played each other four times, Michigan would average just 10 per game. Think about it).
Northern’s PK is 10th in the league, at 82.2%. But they tend to avoid the box better, by about seven minutes per game.
This series also matches two of the league’s best goaltenders. Josh Blackburn (.916 SV%, 2.02 GAA) is 7-2-1 since his return from being felled by a Buckeye nut. Dan Ragusett (.907 SV%, 2.16 GAA) is underrated in a league populated by two Blackburns, a Miller, and a Platt.
As good as Ragusett is, however, he may be no match for the fast-crashing, high-flying Michigan offense. Five Wolverines have 20 or more league points, and one of them — Jeff Jillson (4-17-21) — is one of the best defenders in the league.
As good as Blackburn is, though, some teams are able to score against him, and he’s needed that offense to rescue him. A 6-4 win may be a win, but that’s still four goals against. The Wildcats can score four goals with their eyes closed.
Both teams play excellent team defense. The Wildcats are +140 in league play, while the Wolverines are +159.
If Northern is going to catch a point from the Wolverines, it will be adrenaline-fed, and it will be Friday night.
Picks: Northern Michigan 4-3 Friday; Michigan 5-2 Saturday
Grudge of the Week
Ohio State (9-17-4, 5-14-3 CCHA) at Ferris State (18-12-2, 11-11-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI
You know what they say. Once bitten…
The only loss the Buckeyes suffered at the hands of the Bulldogs last year came in Big Rapids, early in the season, when one Buckeye — who shall remain nameless, lest I incur the wrath of his mother, yet again — bit a Bulldog (whose mother, to his credit, never chastised me). Now, the Bulldog had his fingers in the Buckeye’s mouth, and the whole yucky affair sent them both off the ice, as I recall, in a game with a billion penalty minutes.
The two meetings before the Man-Bites-Dog game were the last regular season meetings between the squads in 1997-98, when Ohio State beat Ferris State rather badly in Ewigleben, in two games — if I recall correctly — in which a whole zillion penalty minutes were assessed.
I’m not lying.
At one point in the final game of that two-game series, every guy on the ice, save the goaltenders, wound up in the box.
So, last year, OSU travels to FSU, there’s fighting, there’s biting, and the Buckeyes are the ones with their tails between their legs.
Then Ferris State visited Columbus. Twice. I can’t imagine they’d ever want to come back again.
Ferris State lost 3-0 and 4-1 to Ohio State in the Schott last year during regular-season play, then dropped two first-round playoff games, 4-2 and 3-1, to the Buckeyes in Columbus.
This may be a closer match than people think, and Ohio State is not mathematically out of the playoff picture if they lose Friday night, so the Buckeyes have something real to play for the whole weekend.
Of course, the Bulldogs do as well, just one point behind fifth-place Notre Dame.
Nine of OSU’s 30 games have been either ended in a tie or been decided by a goal. In the Bucks’ last 16 games, seven have either tied or been decided by a goal.
The Buckeyes have taken opponents into overtime in three of their last four games (0-2-1). Fortunately, for Ferris State, the Bulldogs like one-goal games, going 7-4-0 this season in games decided by a single puck.
Both teams are playing well, too. After going 1-3-2 in January, Ferris is 3-1-0 so far in February. After their abysmal 4-11-1 start in October and November, Ohio State has picked up points in every two-game series, dating back to their two games with Miami the first weekend in December. They are 1-2-1 in February.
Aside from Ohio State’s disgraceful penalty minutes and the Buckeyes’ inability to score, the story in Columbus is Ray Aho, whose save percentage in his last 17 games is .932. Prior to that, Aho’s save percentage was .890. Overall, he’s raised his percentage to a more-than-respectable .915.
Brian McCullough paces the Bulldogs offensively, leading the team 12 goals and 14 assists in league play. Joining McCullough with double-digit goals are Kevin Swider (12-9–21) and Chris Kunitz (10-4–14).
The most telling sign about Ferris State is plus/minus — overall, and in conference play. Against all opponents, the Bulldogs — who have 18 wins this season — are +42. In conference play, they’re -40.
A sign that Ohio State is serious about this weekend was the decision to leave sophomore Nick Ganga home. Ganga took two misconducts in last Saturday’s 2-2 tie with Lake Superior, and he’s being benched for "conduct unbecoming an Ohio State student-athlete," says head coach John Markell.
Markell wants Ganga to get the message that he simply cannot twirl a towel over his head when sent to the box. Yes, the crowd chants, "Ganga! Ganga!" but the officials pile on the minutes.
I can tell you that after a Buckeye-Bulldog game in Big Rapids during the 1997-98 season, one FSU player said to me, "Paula, I know you know them really well, but I have to tell you — we hate that team."
One Buckeye said to me just before departing for Big Rapids on Thursday, "You know, we have to remind ourselves before every game to stay out of the box. Amazing."
What’s truly amazing is that there is zero animosity between the coaching staffs of each of these teams. And that really is no lie.
Oh, would that I were traveling this weekend, instead of listening to the games while soaking in a hot bath with a glass of cab.
Picks: Bucks 3-1 Friday; Defenders of the Realm 2-1 Saturday
From Around the League
Senior Dwayne Zinger (8-3–11) and sophomore Daniel Carriere (8-8–16) are battling for the league lead in goals among defensemen in overall scoring. Each scored his eighth of the season against Ferris State last weekend.
Junior captain Darren Tiemstra (1-3–4) scored his first goal of the season against the Bulldogs Friday. The last time the defender lit the lamp was on a Feb. 26, 1999 win against Lake Superior.
All three of the goals the Nanooks scored against Ferris State last weekend were on the power play. UAF’s power play leads the league (21.1%).
The Nanooks travel to East Lansing this weekend to face the Spartans. UAF hasn’t not won at Munn since 1996, and the Spartans lead this series 13-4-0 all time.
Bowling Green is another team with a hot power play. The Falcons tallied three power-play goals Friday against Miami and another Saturday, bringing their streak to eight games with at least one. Bowling Green has scored 15 times in its last 66 chances with the man advantage (22.7%), and the Falcons have at least one power play goal in 12 of their last 13 games.
Junior goaltender and Buffalo Bills fan Shawn Timm is 3-0-0 in his last five appearances, with a 1.34 save percentage and .046 GAA in those games.
All six members of Bowling Green’s sophomore class that registered points in their rookie season have done even better this year. Greg Day had 10-11–21 last season, and is 11-12–23 so far in this campaign. Grady Moore improved from 6-10–16 to 7-14–21; Austin de Luis from 4-3–7 to 6-12–18; Marc Barlow from 1-8–9 to 3-11–14; Scott Hewson from 1-6–7 to 5-3–8; and Ryan Wetterberg from 1-3–4 to 1-4–5.
Coach Bob Daniels — nicest guy in college hockey — is just two wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Bulldog history. Daniels, 118-153-26 in eight seasons, would surpass Rick Duffett (119-83-7, 1975-82).
Ferris State’s 18-12-2 record is its best after a 32-game period since 1990-91, when the Bulldogs were 19-8-5. FSU’s 18 wins exceeds the total of each of the last six seasons (21 wins 1992-93).
Senior Brian McCullough, who has 58 career goals in 130 games, is two tallies shy of tying Perry Zoldak (1976-81) and Darin Fridgen (1984-88) for 10th on the FSU career goals list.
Congrats to assistant coach and former Bulldog goalie Jeff Blashill. News travels a little slowly, Blash, but it travels – from your dad, to my best friend, to me. Hearts are breaking all over Ontario, Michigan, parts of Ohio and Western New York.
Give the puck to Ben Keup (11-2–13) or sophomore Chris McNamara (6-3–9). The Lakers are 5-1-1 in games when either one scores a goal. McNamara had two against the Buckeyes last weekend, and Keup had one.
Lake State’s 1-0 overtime win against Ohio State last Friday was its first OT win in four years. The last time the Lakers won in OT was on Feb. 2, 1996, 4-3 at Bowling Green.
Jayme Platt continues to astound. The junior goaltender has a .966 save percentage in his last five games, having stopped 172 of 178 shots. He has a 947 SV% with 303 saves on 320 shots in his last 10 outings.
Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Bowling Green snapped Miami’s seven-game unbeaten streak in Goggin (6-0-1), dating back to Nov. 19. Miami is now 8-3-1 at home this season. The three-goal loss is Miami’s worst home defeat since a 5-0 shutout at the hands of Michigan State on Nov. 14, 1998.
Senior Dustin Whitecotton (8-19–27) is the hottest ‘Hawk, with five points in his last four games. Whitecotton has scored a point in 19 of his last 21 games, including a CCHA-best 13-game point streak from Oct. 29-Jan. 15.
Miami’s top line of Whitecotton, Pat Leahy (12-13–25), and Nick Jardine (8-7–15) is responsible for 38% of Miami’s scoring this year, and 40% of the RedHawk goals.
Miami is winless (0-10-1) this season when scoring two or fewer goals.
Freshman Andy Hilbert (14-9–23) has 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points in his last 11 games. The scoring streak ties former Wolverine Bill Muckalt’s 11-game streak during the 1996-97 season. Prior to Muckalt’s streak, Brendan Morrison had a 16-game scoring streak in the same season.
Sophomore Mike Comrie(14-26–40) totaled 3-2–5 last weekend to set a new career high with 46 overall points in just 30 games. Last season, Comrie went 19-25–44 in 42 games. He needs 56 points to break into top 10 on the all-time UM sophomore scorers list.
Senior Shawn Horcoff (7-28–35) has had a hand in 48.4% of Michigan State’s goals (46 of 95), including 11 of the Spartans’ 20 game-winners. Horcoff has 36 assists overall on the year, equaling the most by an MSU player in the past six seasons.
Michigan State’s overtime win last Friday was its first regular-season OT victory since Nov. 18, 1995 against Miami, when Mike Watt scored in OT assisted by Anson Carter and Mike York.
Adam Hall — 15-8–23 — leads all Spartans with 19 goals, including five in his last seven games. Hall has 35 goals in his last 34 games, dating back to last season.
The Mavericks are 4-2-1 in their last seven games, and 2-1-1 in their last four road games, averaging just over four goals a game for each of their last two road trips.
Friday’s win over Notre Dame was UNO’s third on the road this season.
Sophomore Jeff Hoggan (10-6–16) registered the Mavs’ third shorthander of the year and turned in a three-point weekend in South Bend. Three of Hoggan’s 10 league goals have been at the expense of the Irish.
Senior goaltender Kendall Sidoruk experienced his first loss in five starts Saturday, after giving up just one goal in over 127 minutes of prior play. He had 60 saves in the Notre Dame series, pushing his career save total to 1,420.
Friday’s game against Michigan will be "Wildcat Night Across the Country," as the game will be televised live via satellite by Bresnan Communications (KU band, satellite GE 4; transponder 22; downlink frequency 12140 MHz).
Northern Michigans 2-0 loss at Michigan State was the first shutout in the history of the NMU-MSU series, which spans 26 games.
Three Notre Dame freshmen — Michael Chin (5-6–1), Evan Nielsen (2-6–8), and Connor Dunlop (1-7–8) — combined for eight of the team’s 19 points in the 7-4 win over Nebraska-Omaha.
Chin has eight points in his last seven games (4-4), while Nielsen ended a nine-game point drought with his three-point night. Nielsen now leads all Irish defenders in points (4-8–12 overall).
Sophomore David Inman (10-4–14) was 2-2–4 in Saturday’s win, giving him the most points in a single game by a Notre Dame player this season.
Senior Eric Meloche (10-8–18) registered his third multiple-point game of the season Saturday. Meloche now has 11 multiple-point games in his career.
After being tagged for just three penalties (six minutes) in the 1-0 OT loss to Lake State Friday, the Buckeyes set a new season high with 82 minutes Saturday. It marked the most PIMs in a game by OSU since Mar. 7, 1998, when the Bucks were whistled for 107 minutes in their 6-1 season-ending win against Ferris State. (And you think I just make this stuff up.)
The Buckeyes have successfully stopped 16 consecutive opponent power plays. OSU shutout the Lakers on 11 attempts in two games last weekend, and stopped the final five Notre Dame power-play attempts on Feb. 6.
Sophomore defenseman Ryan Crane returned to the lineup Saturday after being sidelined nine games with an ankle injury.
Western Michigan has been outshot in its last 10 games.
Freshman Ben Gagnon turned 22 on Saturday, and is three months older than senior Jeff Lukasak. The average age of Western’s seven-member rookie class is 20.