It’s not surprising that the Wolverines remain undefeated in this young season, topping the USCHO.com poll.
But can you name the other CCHA team undefeated in league play?
Yes, it’s the Western Michigan Broncos (4-1-1, 3-0-1 CCHA), currently one point behind the Wolverines and one ahead of both Michigan State and Nebraska-Omaha.
Lofty company for a team that finished the 1999-2000 season 12-22-3.
“Obviously, we’re pleased with our start,” says Western Michigan head coach and newly crowned king of understatement Jim Culhane.
“It’s been an enjoyable month of October for us. We hated to tear that page off the calendar.”
In October, the Broncos swept Lake Superior State, defeated and tied Alaska Fairbanks on the road, and beat a pesky Alabama-Huntsville team. Through the month — and including exhibition wins over Waterloo and the U.S. Developmental team — the Broncos have posted no fewer than four goals per game.
Western Michigan is outscoring opponents 36-23 in overall play (27-14 CCHA), and leads the league in goal production, averaging 6.00 goals per game overall, 6.75 against conference opponents.
One look at the league scoring leaders shows you that Westerns’ offense is as easy to define as one-two-three: David Gove, Steve Rymsha, and Mike Bishai.
That trio of Broncos lead the league in conference scoring, and Gove is the only player in the league to have reached double-digit goal production in overall play. In fact, Gove is the first player in Division I men’s hockey in the nation to reach ten goals.
By any standards, Gove had a great season last year, when he tallied 18 goals and 28 assists for 46 points. But Culhane says he always knew that the senior hadn’t yet reached his full potential.
“David’s shooting the puck and it’s going in for him,” says Culhane. “We’ve always talked to David about taking shots.”
Coach, a word of advice: keep talking.
Gove (10-8-18, 8-6-14 CCHA) is on pace to score to score over 30 goals per season, if he keeps pouring it on.
Gove isn’t the only one scoring for the Broncos. Rymsha (7-7-14, 7-6-13), is second on the team, second in the CCHA in conference scoring, and tied for third in the league with Josh Langfeld for overall points.
Rymsha is followed closely by Bishai 94-9-13, 4-7-11 CCHA), third in the CCHA in conference scoring, fifth in the league in overall points.
But the beauty of this Bronco offense, as Culhane is quick to point out, is that it’s not just a three-man show. A dozen Broncos have registered at least one goal, and 18 players have at least an assist.
“That’s what’s fun for the players and for us as a team,” says Culhane. “Yeah, we have a couple of guys who have the touch, but other guys are scoring, too.”
Last weekend, Western Michigan scored 15 goals in two games against Lake Superior State, eight of them on the power play. Culhane says that he and the Broncos are enjoying this while it lasts. “We’re getting bounces of the puck. At times you think that puck has eyes for the back of the net. We’ll take it.”
Gove had two goals in the 5-2 win on Friday, and two in the 10-3 win Saturday. Rymsha had a goal Friday and a hat trick Saturday. Bishai had a goal Friday and two Saturday.
Additionally, Jeff Campbell had a goal each night and Brent Rumble scored twice Saturday.
The Broncos showed last season that they had the ability to score goals but difficulty keeping the puck out of their own net. While the team hasn’t completely turned it around, Culhane says that Western’s play in the month of October is “a tribute to our team,” adding that his players have “really worked hard to improve.”
One area of improvement has been between the pipes. Goaltender Jeff Reynaert began the season at the bottom of the league’s goaltending stats, and has improved to post an .886 overall save percentage, .894 against conference opponents.
Reynaert is still, however, facing a lot of shots. He’s averaged nearly 30 saves in league games (26.00 overall). Culhane says Reynaert will continue to be the go-to guy for the Broncos.
“The one game he wishes he would have had back is that one Friday night against Alabama-Huntsville. He’s our starter, he knows that, but we also have the confidence in J.J. [Weaks] that if Jeff has an off night J.J. can come in and play well enough to keep us in the game.”
In front of the Western net is where the team needs to work hardest, says Culhane.
“That’s been something we identified all last year, that we needed to play better without the puck, better on our penalty kill, better in our own zone. Those are the things we continue to work at, that the players realize we need to do better — on the PK, better at tying up sticks in our own end.”
The Western Michigan penalty kill is effective just 72.7% of the time in overall play, not a good stat when your team takes more penalties than any other in the league, averaging 32.33 minutes per game.
Culhane knows that his team has yet to meet one crucial defensive test: a low-scoring victory.
“There are going to be games where you don’t see five or six goals scored…and we have to be able to win those games where we don’t have an opportunity to score those goals. We need to know as a hockey team that we have the ability to win those 2-1 games.”
While the Bronco coach is happy with his team’s fast start, he says he has his feet on the ground. “We know it’s a tremendously long season, and we don’t want to have any dramatic peaks and valleys, just keep it at an even keel.”
And the votes in the USCHO.com Poll?
“We don’t pay much attention to that stuff. We worry about our guys — academically, what they’re doing out there socially, and what they’re doing out on the ice.”
More Us vs. Them
The CCHA is now even against other D-I conferences, posting a 15-15-7 record against non-league opponents.
Jim Culhane says that no one has considered CCHA road vs. home nonconference records, and adds that no one travels to play non-league opponents as much as do the teams in the CCHA.
“We play, as a conference, the majority of [nonconference] games on the road. Compare that to the ECAC schools and Hockey East. We as a league are the only league that travels extensively to play out of conference teams. Yeah, the ECAC and Hockey East play each other, but if we go out there to play, we have a lot further to travel.
“A winning percentage is almost always higher at home.”
This season, CCHA teams have played 22 of the league’s 37 nonconference games on the road. The league is 8-4-3 in non-league play at home, and 7-11-4 on the road.
Culhane would like to remind people that as a league the CCHA travels further overland to play conference opponents, too.
Last week, two teams tangled with non-league foes, and prevailed three out of four times. Northern Michigan swept Minnesota-Duluth in Duluth, 7-1 and 8-3, while Ohio State beat Maine 3-2 (OT) before losing 2-0. The Buckeyes are just the third CCHA team to beat a Hockey East opponent this season.
The Game Is the Grudge
Any time these two teams meet, there’s more on than line than mere points. And the grudge spans generations.
No. 6 Michigan State (4-1-1, 3-1-0 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan (6-0-2, 4-0-0 CCHA)
Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
Each time the Spartans and Wolverines play, the games are wrapped in rivalry, history, myth, and legend. It never gets old, and Michigan head coach Red Berenson knows why.
“I think it continues to thrive because both programs are competitive, competitive nationally and with each other. And there’s always a lot at stake — whether it’s bragging rights, recruiting advantages, first place.”
And this season fans of each team will be treated to four regular-season meetings that count in the conference standings, rather than just the two in last year’s first season of cluster play.
“This year it’s a little different because it’s four meetings,” says Michigan State head coach Ron Mason. “So it’s a bit unusual that we’re playing four for sure, which we haven’t done in a long time. Quite often they’re back to back.”
Both teams enter the weekend having swept a conference opponent one week prior. Michigan beat Miami 3-2 and 6-2 at home, while Michigan State took two games from Notre Dame in South Bend, 5-1 and 3-2.
Berenson doesn’t make much of the Wolverines’ unbeaten status, nor Michigan’s No. 1 ranking.
“You go a game at a time. We’re off to a pretty good start, and we squeaked out a couple of wins last weekend. The games were close, and the second game was closer than the score indicated.”
Michigan held a 2-1 lead going into the last period of the 6-2 win, when Miami’s Jason Deskins scored his third goal of the year to tie the game early in the third. But later in the period, the Wolverines exploded for four unanswered goals, starting with Jay Vancik’s power-play tally at 8:50. Andy Hilbert, Jed Ortmeyer, and Mike Komisarek put the RedHawks away, with Ortmeyer and Komisarek scoring less than a minute apart in the final two minutes of the game.
As for being No. 1, Berenson says, “That’s good respect, but we’ve been there before and been knocked out the following week.”
Mason says that since it’s the only game each team plays this weekend, player focus will intensify as the week progresses. “Hopefully we can get off to a good start in that building.”
The Spartans have been plagued with early-season injuries, and Mason says “that’s been a factor.”
Andrew Bogle hurt his right shoulder against Nebraska Omaha Oct. 20. “He’s our senior center,” says Mason. “He doesn’t put up numbers, but he’s always a factor in games.”
Without Bogle and Joe Goodenow, who hurt his right shoulder Oct. 13 against Alaska Anchorage, Mason says, “We’re not as effective.”
Also dinged up are sophomores Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles, both hurt against Notre Dame last weekend. Fast and Liles are expected to play this weekend, and Bogle is probably. Goodenow may play.
Mason concedes that his Spartans may not appear to be as dominant as recent Michigan State squads have been, but that this team has a not-so-secret weapon.
“Our team is not the type of team that you can say, ‘Hey this is an unbelievable team,’ but we do have an unbelievable goaltender.”
Ryan Miller is allowing 1.81 goals per game in overall play, and sports a .935 overall save percentage. The numbers are even better against conference opponents: 1.50 GAA, .950 SV%.
“For the past six years,” says Mason, “our team has maybe made our goaltenders look good, and now it’s our goaltender who’s keeping us in games. That’s why he’s playhing every game.”
Going into the Spartans’ first game against the top-ranked team in the country, Mason says, “From my perspective, we just have to play well. Up to the Saturday night game against Nebraska, I don’t think we played well at all. That game, we had some semblance of organization.”
Surprisingly, neither team leads the league in overall scoring. Michigan is third, notching 4.25 goals per game, while Michigan State is fifth (3.17).
Michigan State and Michigan are, however, one and two respectively in goals allowed per game. The Spartans give up 1.83 to the Wolverines’ 2.50.
Michigan State’s power play is impressive at .303 overall, tops in the league, while Michigan is second (.250).
Michigan State’s penalty kill is second (.880), and Michigan’s is third (.820).
The Spartans take far fewer penalties (13.00) than do the Wolverines (20.00).
Here’s the four-one-one on this monster rivalry:
Pick: History and home ice are on the side of the Wolverines. Michigan 3-2
Travels With CCHArlie
To play the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks have already traveled approximately 3,793 miles. And they haven’t been home since last week.
The Nanooks played a pair in Bowling Green Oct. 27-28, losing 4-2 and tying 1-1. Rather than fly back to Fairbanks only to return for two games against OSU, the Nanooks are spending the week between games in a Ramada Inn on the north side of Columbus.
The players miss a whole week of school — “Our teachers are the coolest,” said one Nanook after a practice at the OSU Ice Rink — but head coach Guy Gadowsky says the week away from home helps to build team unity.
“I think there are definite advantages, especially early in the year. It’s great to get the guys together on a road trip.”
The coach says that spending a week in Columbus is a break from the limelight for his players as well. “In Fairbanks they’re very well known and there are a lot of demands on their time. They’re recognized everywhere they go. And we put a lot of demands on their time with off-ice training.”
Gadowsky says that the players keep up with their schoolwork with the help of computers at Ohio State’s Younkin Success Center, home of OSU’s Student Athletic Support Services.
“Every day we go to the study tables at the Younkin Center, where there are computers available and reference materials as well. Obviously, two hours at the Center are not enough to complete all their work, so they work a lot on their own.”
Gadowsky says that the long trip — by plane from Fairbanks to Seattle, Seattle to Cincinnati, and Cincinnati to Columbus, then by bus north to Bowling Green and back — is a chance for players to “catch up on their rest.”
The second-year coach says that his players are thoroughly enjoying their trip. They’ve paid for ice time at the OSU Rink, so they practicing an hour each day.
“At times, sure you’d like a little more ice time, but that too can be a plus. You go out there and work very hard for a short period of time,” says Gadowsky.
But it isn’t all studying and practice for the Nanooks. There’s time for a little fun, too, like watching the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Los Angeles Kings at Nationwide Arena on Nov. 1, and the game of Ultimate Frisbee the team played in a field on the way back to the hotel after a practice early in the week.
The NHL game was a first for many of his players, says Gadowsky.
Gadowsky says his players are “responsible, mature people,” and he trusts them when they venture outside of the hotel by themselves to do some limited exploring.
I can tell you that the players impressed me when I met them at a practice. I mean, I met them, literally. Gadowsky brought me onto the ice and introduced me to the team, and as each player left, he shook my hand and introduced himself.
These players were personable, down-to-earth, and very polite. I can well believe that they’re also responsible and mature.
And they know the right things to say, too. Well, at least Chad Hamilton does. When I asked one of my favorite CCHA bruisers what he liked about being in Columbus, he put his arm around me and said, “The beautiful women, of course.”
Ohio State’s Nick Ganga had a scary moment in the Buckeyes’ 2-0 loss to Maine last Saturday. He and a Black Bear went into the Maine net together, and Ganga came pretty darned close to taking a penalty.
Instead, the OSU junior again spent no time in lockdown. Through five games, he still has two penalties for four minutes, total. He had no points against Maine.
Ganga has vowed limit his time in the box to 50 or fewer minutes this season, which would be a reduction of over half. He now has 29 games and 46 minutes left.
Your Weekly Gazette
Alaska-Fairbanks senior Pat Hallett is on course to break the single-season record for penalty minutes by a forward. Hallett, averaging 5.2 minutes per game, needs to average just 4.3 per contest to earn that particular title. Bad-boy Hallett has already drawn two 10-minute misconducts this season. The Nanooks (0-4-2, 0-2-2 CCHA) are in Columbus for two this weekend.
Ryan Fultz had a point in four of Bowling Green’s five goals against Alaska Fairbanks Oct. 27-28, and goaltender Tyler Masters saved 52 of 55 Nanook shots on goal (.945 SV%) while allowing only three power-play goals in 125 minutes. BG (1-4-1, 1-2-1 CCHA) travels to Marquette this weekend.
My beloved Defenders of the Realm, the Ferris State Bulldogs, are called upon to defend our borders once more. This week, the winless Bulldogs (0-4-2, 0-3-1 CCHA) host the Colgate Red Raiders (1-1-2, 0-0-0 ECAC). The two teams split last season in Colgate (Dec. 10-11), with Colgate taking the first game 4-1, and Ferris picking up the second game 3-2. Ferris State is 7-4-0 against ECAC teams since 1990, and 16-3-1 (.825) in nonconference home games dating back to 1990.
The Lakers (3-4-0, 0-2-0 CCHA) have given up 13 power-play goals in their last four games, after not allowing a single one in the first 179 minutes of the 2000-01 season. In the past four games, Lake State’s penalty killing unit is effective 60.6% of the time. And from the this-has-nothing-to-do-with-that file, the Lakers are the tallest team in the CCHA, with an average height of 6’1″.
The Miami RedHawks’ newest defender is a forward in disguise. Ernie Hartlieb has been asked to fill in on the blue line as Miami’s defense has thinned because of injuries. Senior defensemen Clarke Wolford had reconstructive shoulder surgery before the start of the season and is expected to be out until January, while rookie defender A.J. Kratofil suffered a broken collarbone against Clarkson and will miss the next five to seven weeks. Miami (1-4-1, 0-2-0 CCHA) looks for its first conference win at home against Notre Dame this weekend.
Michigan sophomore Mike Cammalleri’s season-opening, seven-game scoring streak was snapped Saturday night in the Wolverines’ (6-0-2, 4-0-0 CCHA) 6-2 win over Miami. Cammalleri had two goals and nine assists in those seven games. And when L.J. Scarpace picked up that win, he was the first Michigan netminder since Dec. 29, 1999 other than Josh Blackburn to receive a decision in a game. Blackburn injured his shoulder and is questionable for the Michigan-Michigan State game.
With their two wins over Notre Dame, the Spartans are now 18-17-5 all-time against the Irish in South Bend. Michigan State (4-1-1, 3-1-0 CCHA) now has a winning road record against every CCHA opponent except for Michigan (41-62-1) and Northern Michigan (3-4-1).
All five Maverick rookies who played last weekend registered their first collegiate points against Ferris State. Andrew Wong had two goals and an assist. Aaron Smith and Scott Turner each had their first goals on Saturday, and defenseman Mike Gabinet had an assist in that contest. Goaltender Dan Ellis had two assists in Friday’s contest. For the Mavericks, senior Allan Carr is out indefinitely with a concussion, and Josh Lampman (wrist) and Joe Yurecko (mononucleosis) are probable for this weekend’s games. UNO (4-1-2, 2-1-1 CCHA) travels to Lake State this weekend.
With the Wildcats’ 7-1 win at Minnesota-Duluth Oct. 27, head coach Rick Comley recorded his 556th career victory to grab sole possession of seventh place on college hockey’s all-time win list, passing Michigan Tech’s John MacInnes. Northern’s sweep of Minnesota-Duluth marked the first time in school history that the ‘Cats took back-to-back games from UMD on the road. Northern Michigan (4-1-2, 2-1-1 CCHA) is 7-20-2 all-time in Duluth.
Ernie Hartlieb isn’t the only versatile player in the CCHA. Senior Notre Dame forward Jay Kopischke played on the blue line for the Irish in Notre Dame’s two losses to Michigan State Oct. 26-27. Kopischke, who had played forward for all of his previous 106 collegiate games, was even on the weekend and registered an assist. The Irish (2-5-1, 0-2-0 CCHA) are injured and ill on the blue side of things.
Ohio State (3-2-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) continues to play disciplined hockey. The Buckeyes are averaging just 12.4 penalty minutes per game. That doesn’t give their penalty killing unit a lot of time on the ice, which is almost a shame; the Buckeye PK is the best in the nation, effective 96% of the time.
It’s not all offense for Western Michigan (4-1-1, 3-0-1 CCHA). In the Broncos’ wins against the Lakers Oct. 27-28, goaltender Jeff Reynaert lowered his goals-against average from 4.28 to 3.66 by stopping 64 of 69 Laker shots (.928 SV%).