A Long Way to Go for a Couple of Goose Eggs
In a week of CCHA travel and speculation, the most remarkable news was probably this: Alabama-Huntsville 5, Bowling Green 0.
That’s a weekend total. Huntsville beat BG 3-0 the first night, 2-0 the second. Not only consecutive losses, but back-to-back shutouts.
Falcon head coach Buddy Powers said that the lack of scoring was “kind of a combination of things.”
“First,” said Powers, “we didn’t play hard enough to bang in rebounds. Our second effort was lacking.
“Second, to give him credit, the kid’s a pretty good goalie.”
“The kid” is Huntsville goaltender Mark Byrnes, who turned away 52 shots on the weekend. BG’s Shawn Timm and Tyler Masters had 25 saves each night, playing Friday and Saturday respectively.
In reality, the Chargers scored only three times on the Falcons, said Powers, who noted that “one went off the board into the empty net” after a funny bounce off the boards sent the puck right into the cage for one of the goals Friday. On Saturday, the second Charger goal was an empty-netter.
“It was one thing after another,” said Powers. “When we did make a good play, [Byrne] was in position.”
It sounds like hockey by Murphy’s Law in Bowling Green. “We’re back to the drawing board this week,” said Powers. “We had umpteen power plays. We had trouble getting it up the ice. When we did get it in, we had trouble moving it around.”
True to Murphy’s Law, after returning from a trip to the deep south only to be shut out twice, the Falcons host No. 4 Michigan.
“Obviously,” said Powers, “the emotion will be totally different than what it was than last week.”
It Seems You Can Get There from Here
It seems as though Bowling Green traveled a great distance to play a couple of games last weekend. After all, most folks don’t associate hockey with Alabama.
But just how far did the Falcons fly? Roughly 1,128.6 miles, round trip.
Sounds like a lot, but it was actually the second-shortest trip in the league last week. The Irish went to Omaha, and traveled 1,094.4 miles all told.
Other league travelers, all round-trip mileage: Ohio State to Marquette, 1,258.6 (by bus, as my neck will attest); Ferris State to St. Cloud, 1,427; Western Michigan to Fairbanks, 5,662; Michigan State to Anchorage, 5,788; Michigan to Anchorage, 5,886.
All told, CCHA teams traveled about 22,245 miles.
Was all that travel worth it? In the two league contests, each visiting team returned home with at least two points. Western Michigan tied Alaska Fairbanks 4-4 and beat the Nanooks 8-5, returning to Kalamazoo with three points and the early lead in the CCHA standings.
Ohio State split with Northern Michigan, winning 5-3 and losing 5-2. Those two points knot the Buckeyes with the Wildcats for second place after one week of league play.
All the rest of play was nonconference. So who defended the realm?
Us vs. Them
“I think the CCHA is on a down cycle.” Thank you, Rick Comley.
The Northern Michigan head coach is one of the least pretentious people you can meet, and he’s never one to mince words. This past weekend in Marquette, Comley bravely and undramatically publicly broke with the league’s official company line.
“If you’re going to compare the four [major] leagues’ strengths, top to bottom,” said Comley, “we’re pretty close to four. People don’t want to hear that. I know we have this battle cry that we’re the best, but I’d be careful about saying that right now.”
While it may not be what people want to hear, it’s entirely defensible, given the CCHA’s performance out of conference last year. The league went 33-38-3 against nonconference opponents last season, excluding Wayne State, Mercyhurst, Bemidji State, and this week’s hero, Alabama-Huntsville.
So far this season, it’s Us 8, Them 5, with 7 ties. Given that the reigning Defenders of the Realm, the Ferris State Bulldogs, are 0-1-1 after losing to and then tying No. 10 St. Cloud, 3-1 and 3-3, new candidates for the title include Lake Superior State (3-0-0) and last year’s runner-up, Michigan (2-0-2).
The Player Makers
This week, Northern Michigan’s Craig Kowalski becomes the latest CCHA player to be added to an unusual list. Yes, Kowalski became the league’s Rookie of the Week after a win last weekend. More importantly, however, is that the goaltender is the first Player of the Week to earn the honor against the Buckeyes.
Last year, when Ohio State was suffering through its worst season in a long, long time, no fewer than eight players were named POTW because of accomplishments against the Buckeyes. It all began when Jeff Reynaert and the Western Michigan Broncos swept Ohio State in Columbus, the second and third losses in an OSU losing streak that would eventually reach 11 games.
Others to earn POTW honors against the ailing Buckeyes included Ryan Miller, Mike Comrie, Dan Ragusett, and Chris Gobert. After Ohio State began to play hockey (early December, 1999), Dan Carlson, Chris McNamara, and Ryan Fultz were also helped to POTW distinction by the Buckeyes.
Given that Ragusett and Gobert were named Players of the Week when Ohio State lost 4-2 and 4-0 to Northern Michigan in Marquette in mid-November last season, Kowalski’s award may seem like rubbing salt in old wounds, especially since the Buckeyes won soundly 5-3 last Friday night.
However, the release announcing this week’s award is anything but insulting, and may say at least as much about the Buckeyes as it does about Kowalski’s performance: “Kowalski helped the Wildcats to a split with Ohio State, stopping 25-of-27 shots in his collegiate debut Saturday.” Helped the Wildcats to a split, something that was by no means a sure thing after Jean-Francois Dufour and Dave Steckel each notched a pair of goals Friday, helped by R.J. Umberger (1-2–3 Friday), and after Mike Betz had 26 saves.
This season, perhaps Player of the Week honors given to Buckeye opponents will mean something, because they will have been earned.
Games of the Week
This week, Nebraska Omaha plays two in Munn in a rematch of the CCHA title game.
Nebraska Omaha (1-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at No. 6 Michigan State (1-0-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, MI
Last weekend, the Mavericks hosted the first annual Maverick Stampede, and fell to Boston College 5-1 in the title game after blanking Niagara 4-0 in the first round.
Four different UNO players notched their first goals of the year against Niagara — Jason White, Jeff Hoggan, Allan Carr, and Shane Glover. Glover had the sole goal in the game against the BC.
Rodney McLeod and Dan Ellis split time in the Niagara game, while it was all Ellis against BC. Michigan State head coach Ron Mason says of the Mavericks, “I think they’re going to be very difficult. They are a much-improved team. The score with BC is misleading.”
Mason’s Spartans returned from Alaska with a 5-4 win over Anchorage and a 1-1 tie with Merrimack.
“I was very happy with the way we played against Alaska,” said Mason. “They’re a good team. I didn’t think we had much jump against Merrimack.”
The Spartans appear to be one big question mark this season, having lost to the U.S. Developmental team — a game about which Mason said he was happy for his opponents rather than disappointed with his own squad — squeaked by Anchorage, and tied Merrimack, opponents they would have arguably blown away a year ago.
“We’re still trying to find our team,” said Mason. “We’ve got some good players, but we have yet to come up with the right combinations.”
Mason said that losing as many All-Americans as the Spartans have in the past few seasons was bound to take its toll on the team sooner or later. “Every time you do that [lose those players], you’ve got to make some adjustments. That doesn’t happen right out of the gate unless you’ve got everyone coming back.”
In the Anchorage game, Adam Hall, John Nail, and John-Michael Liles each had a goal, while Brian Maloney notched two. Rustyn Dolyny had the Spartan tally in the tie with Merrimack.
Ryan Miller was in net for both games, saving 19 of 23 against Anchorage, 26 of 27 in the Merrimack game.
In spite of Miller’s back-to-back starts — and Joe Blackburn‘s shaky performance against the Developmental team — Mason insists that he’s “still looking at a two-goalie system.”
The Spartans are 6-1-0 all-time against the Mavericks, with the loss coming last season in Munn. When last these two teams met, Michigan State took it to Omaha in the championship game of the CCHA playoffs, 6-0, on March 18.
Andre Bogle is probable for this series after hurting his knee in the Anchorage game. Joe Goodenow sustained a shoulder injury against UAA and is questionable.
Picks: A split, since the Spartans are still finding themselves. Perhaps they’d benefit from a couple of Robert Bly books? UNO 3-2, MSU 4-3
Grudge of the Week
As I asked repeatedly last season, who doesn’t hold a grudge against the Wolverines?
No. 4 Michigan (2-0-2, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (0-2-0, 0-0-0 CCHA)
Friday and Sunday, 7:05 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
The Falcons and the Wolverines split their four meetings last season, each team 1-1-0 at home. Michigan owns this series 55-29-2; Buddy Powers is 3-18-1 against the Wolverines.
It’s not unusual for these teams to beat each other up, for one of these teams to run up the score, for one of these teams to be at the bad end of a spanking administered by the other. In the series history, Michigan has outscored Bowling Green 421-351. That’s an average of nearly nine goals scored between the two teams per game.
Some of the more memorable high-scoring games include a 12-1 drubbing by the Wolverines in Yost (Feb. 20, 1993), and a 9-8 BG overtime home win Jan. 13, 1990.
Last season, the largest margin of victory was the Falcons’ win at Yost by a score of 6-3 on March 4.
Prior to Bowling Green’s 4-2 home win on Dec. 3, 1999, the Wolverines had defeated the Falcons in 10 straight games, going back to November 1997.
Picks: After suffering consecutive shutouts, the Falcons should be humiliated enough to get up for this series. That may not, however, change the outcome. Michigan 5-4, 5-2
Last week, my esteemed colleagues in the ECAC, Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy, predicted that they would win the “picks” contest in which we lunatics known as USCHO Conference Correspondents engage.
Blaeser and Moy — and can you guess who, in that duo, was responsible for the correct picks last season? — said that they’re basing their prediction on reverse order of how all of us finished last year.
They picked me second. Meaning, I was second from the cellar last year.
As most of you know, until this season, any game that resulted in a tie was counted as a loss in my picks record. In this tie-happy league, you can imagine how that affected my percentage.
This year, after my esteemed colleague to the west, Todd D. Milewski, groused that his stellar picks record of last week would be blemished if he ate the 3-3 St. Cloud/Ferris State tie, the Conference Correspondents all decided that we’ll count ties as ties.
Through years of suffering, I got nothing. Nada. Not one bone. Now, the baby among us (unless newcomer Natasha J. Parker holds that distinction) cries once and suddenly ties are ties.
Well. Mom always did like Todd best.
Some of you may recall that Ohio State’s Nick Ganga promised 50 or fewer penalty minutes this season, which would be a reduction of 52 from last year.
Ganga had two penalties for four minutes in Marquette. That’s a cushion of 46 minutes in the remaining regular-season games.
For what it’s worth, I think he’ll keep his word.
Travels with Paula
Some things I learned on the road last weekend.
Marquette is beautiful. Flanagan’s has karaoke three nights per week. Casa Calabria has the best bread I’ve ever eaten. The Berry Events Center is a gorgeous hockey rink. Rick Comley has a great office. The Puckheads are scary. One Puckhead in particular has an alarmingly hairy back. I am sexy. The Buckeyes are genuinely nice kids. Scott May snores more loudly than I do. Buses are bad places to sleep.
Thanks to everyone in Marquette for the hospitality (especially the Puckheads, who are actually very good folks), and thank you, Buckeyes, for the ride and your time.