This Week In The CCHA: Jan. 4, 2001

Nobody Does It Better

Congratulations to Western Michigan’s Mike Bishai and Michigan State’s Ryan Miller for being the first USCHO National Players of the Week for the 2000-2001 season. Thanks for doing the conference proud, boys.

And, no, I didn’t stuff the ballot box.

More From The Commish

Last week, CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos shared his thoughts on penalties and the cluster schedule. This week, Anastos talks a little about something that hasn’t quite caused a buzz yet in college hockey, but may before all is said and done.

The ECAC has proposed a more uniform D-I men’s college hockey schedule across the board, from conference to conference. This would include not only a common starting date, but regulation of number of games played season.

Currently, teams in the CCHA play a 28-game schedule against conference opponents, and may play as many as 38 games against Division I opponents, as well as a couple of exhibitions against Canadian college teams or teams in the U.S. Developmental Program.

A quick look at the schedule for St. Lawrence shows the Saints with a 32-game Division I schedule, with 22 games against ECAC opponents. Cornell has 29 D-I opponents scheduled, with a preseason exhibition against Waterloo. Harvard also has 29 D-I games scheduled with a mid-season exhibition against New Brunswick.

Anastos is vehemently opposed to making each individual league conform to one league’s idea of how a season should be scheduled, and he’s not shy about saying so.

“The ECAC, with the Ivy League in particular, really shortens their season. I think it’s fine, but they choose to do that. But our schools and many of our peers don’t choose to do that. We like things as they are.”

Anastos points to the geographic limitations of the CCHA and WCHA, where mid-week games are difficult if not impossible. He also likes the autonomy each league has in deciding its own schedule.

He does think, however, that creating a common starting date for college hockey “isn’t a bad idea. This big crescendo to the start of college hockey — that might be a good thing.”

One aspect of the CCHA schedule that Anastos is loathe to change is the way in which the season begins. “I like that we start practice in late September and our season starts at the beginning of October. It’s kind of in concert with when the NHL season starts. And frankly, a lot of the players we recruit — which is very important to keep in mind — they’re used to starting at the end of August. So we’re competing for players who end up coming to school or make a decision coming to school, we get beat up all the time about the length of our season.

“There are people in college hockey who think that the season is getting long, but I’m not one of them.”

Anastos said that the first proposal he saw to regulate the scheduling of the season pointed to the NCAA’s pushing back the Frozen Four one week, thereby “extending” the season, but he points out that the argument doesn’t hold water. “The extension is not real. Most of the schools are done. So for four schools, the season’s extended a week. I didn’t really see the logic in that rationale.

“We like where it is now, although we’re open-minded. If a certain conference wants to restrict itself even more, that’s fine.”

On another topic, early in the season many people — myself included — predicted that the CCHA wouldn’t fare well out of conference, that the league wasn’t as tough as the league itself was saying. Perhaps that was a fair assessment given the league’s nonconference play during the past two seasons, but this year the CCHA is 43-30-7 against the rest of D-I, and three teams have held spots top-ten spots in the Poll for a long time. And after finding the No. 1 spot, the Spartans haven’t let go, remaining the only team in the country to retain that position for more than one week running.

Anastos is pleased to see the league get some respect, but his feet are on the ground where polls are concerned.

“From my perspective I think polls are great because they keep the fans engaged. But the reality is, until the end of the year, it’s really hard to say what it is because there isn’t that much cross-conference play.

“I love the polls, because I think they generate a lot of interest for the game.”

We’ll check in with the Commissioner from time to time, and we’ll keep you updated about the scheduling issue.

Ganga Watch

Our hero, Nick Ganga, has so far been true to his word, playing cleaner hockey and scoring more. Ganga (5-4-9, +7) has now totaled more goals in one half of his junior year than he did in both his rookie and sophomore seasons, and he’s tied with Dave Steckel for second on the Buckeye squad in goal production.

At the start of the year, Ganga promised us that he’d have 50 or fewer minutes in the box this season, as opposed to his 112 last year. So far, he’s on track, with 12 penalties for 24 minutes, in spite of two calls in Kalamazoo in OSU’s series against Western in mid-December, and two calls in Florida during the Everblades College Classic.

Nick, we believe.

Games of the Week

The CCHA regular-season championship seems to be an annual Michigan-Michigan State competition, with a little Northern Michigan or Lake State thrown in for variety. What a yawn. For the real drama in this league, you need to go downstairs to watch the battle for that last playoff spot.

This week, two surprising teams are meeting in a two-game series that may have playoff implications — if you’re interested in the team that wins the privilege of traveling to East Lansing in the first round of post-season play.

Ferris State 5-11-4 (1-8-3 CCHA) at Notre Dame 4-14-3 (2-8-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.

This season hasn’t exactly gone as planned for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. “Every aspect of it has been difficult,” says head coach Dave Poulin. It’s the most difficult time I’ve had as a coach, especially given the expectations you naturally have.

“From a learning standpoint, it’s phenomenal. Everything’s been going on a sweet curve since I got here, until this season.”

The team that went to The Joe last season went 1-7-0 in December, further deepening a hole from which it was already pretty tough to see daylight.

Ever the teacher and public optimist, Poulin sees this as a learning experience for his players as well as the coaching staff. “This is an adverse situation and many of them [players] haven’t dealt with adversity before.”

Poulin says he knew that the team was starting with a young defensive corps, but injuries to that inexperienced defense haven’t helped.

Defenseman Tom Galvin is expected to return to the lineup soon, in spite of suffering a severe injury in practice Nov. 2. Poulin says that Galvin’s arm was “stepped on,” and the blueliner severed seven tendons in his left arm. Galvin’s successful surgery and speedy recovery is one of the few bright spots in recent memory for the Irish.

Another bright spot, according to Poulin, has been the play of rookie Brett Lebda (3-10-13). Lebda is another Irish defender who has had to overcome injury, having shattered his ankle in November of his last year in juniors. Poulin attributes Lebda’s speedy recovery to the freshman’s devotion to another sport. “He’s a high-caliber water skier, competitive on a national level,” says Poulin.

Along with an injured defense, the Irish have an offense that has been decidedly low-powered this campaign. Dan Carlson (6-13-19) leads Notre Dame in scoring, followed by Ryan Dolder (8-9-17), who leads the Irish in goal production. Notre Dame has been without Connor Dunlop (4-5-9) and Rob Globke (7-4-11) for the past four games. Both are playing with the U.S. National Team, and Dunlop is serving as the squad’s captain.

Then there’s the goaltending. Kyle Kolquist has an overall save percentage of .924, but he’s played just four games. He and teammates Tony Zasowski (.870 SV%) and Jeremiah Kimento (.883 SV%) have combined for an overall team save percentage of .884.

“We’re playing poorly,” says Poulin. “At key times, just when we’re getting ready to get going, we lose a kid. Our goaltending has struggled all year, flat-out. Is that the reason? No. It’s a combination of things.”

Poulin says that this season has reminded him that “there’s a hard-work element to this game that never goes away.”

The Ferris State Bulldogs fared slightly better than Notre Dame in December, compiling a 2-4-2 record before the year ended. And while Ferris State’s offense isn’t exactly tearing it up, the Bulldogs do have a bit more consistency up front. Kevin Swider (10-10-20) leads the team in scoring, followed by Rob Collins (8-9-17) and Chris Kunitz (8-7-15).

In goal, the Bulldogs have been about effective as have been the Irish. Phil Osaer and Vince Owen have combined for an .870 overall team save percentage.

Defensively, Ferris State certainly has an edge in experience, but the Bulldogs are dead last in the league in goals allowed per game (4.00).

Each team is tied for last in league scoring, averaging 2.08 goals per game. Notre Dame’s power play (.129) is slightly better than Ferris State’s (.121), which may be good for the Irish, given how much time the Bulldogs spend in the box (28.25 minutes per game, bolstered by the brawl with Michigan).

Notre Dame’s penalty kill isn’t bad, effective 83.9% of the time, fourth in the league. Ferris State’s PK (.772) is 11th in the conference.

Poulin says he expects “the same Ferris State team we see all the time.” Ferris State leads this series 26-11-3, and the Bulldogs are 13-5-2 on the road against the Irish. Since 1992-93, when Notre Dame returned to the CCHA, the ‘Dogs have edged the Irish 15-9-2.

Poulin allows that the intensity of play between these two squads is “magnified [because] the teams have seen each other in the playoffs.”

Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels says, “We realize the importance of this series, as does Notre Dame I’m sure. We need to start off the new year on a positive note and try to build momentum for the second half of our season.”

Pick: Ferris State 4-2, 4-3

Grudge of the Week

These two teams last met just before their respective holiday tournaments, when they split a pair in Kalamazoo. Western Michigan has a machine-like offense, while Ohio State is surprising in its discipline and tenacity.

No. 5 Western Michigan 14-3-2 (7-2-2 CCHA) at Ohio State 10-7-1 (7-4-1 CCHA)
Friday 7:35 p.m. and Saturday 7:05 p.m., Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio

Evident in those games in Kalamazoo was a complete lack of love between these two teams, in spite of the regard their coaches appear to have for each other. In Ohio State’s 5-2 win Dec. 14, the Broncos and Buckeyes combined to earn — and I mean earn — 106 penalty minutes. Ohio State had a season-high 50 minutes, while Western was assessed the other 66.

In Western’s 5-4 win the following night, Ohio State had nine penalties for 18 minutes and Western Michigan had 11 penalties for 22 minutes.

The “grudge” of this match goes back a ways, but particularly poignant was the 8-0 beating Ohio State delivered the Broncos two seasons ago, after which then-head coach Bill Wilkinson was fired. Western Michigan leads this all-time series 54-45-8, but the Buckeyes hold a one-game edge in Columbus.

The Broncos begin the Second Season as the Silverado Shootout champs, having beaten Colgate 2-0 before trouncing Merrimack 8-1. Forward Mike Bishai (12-30-42) was named the tournament MVP, and fellow Broncos Jeff Reynaert (.903 SV%, 2.85 GAA), David Gove (16-23-39) and Steve Rymsha (16-16-32) not surprisingly received all-tourney honors.

The Buckeyes entered the first-ever Everblades College Classic the only ranked team and return home the only team not to have won a game in the tournament. The good news is that the Buckeyes scored 11 games Florida. The bad news is that they gave up 13. OSU lost to Cornell 6-5 in overtime, then blew a healthy lead against Clarkson to lose the consolation game 7-6. Paul Caponigri (6-11-17) was the only Buckeye named to the all-tourney team.

In their win over Western on Dec. 14, Ohio State relied heavily on the talents of R.J. Umberger (8-10-18) and Andre Signoretti (3-10-13). This weekend, Umberger will still be off with the U.S. National Team, and unless he has sway none of us knows about, Signoretti will be in the stands for the remainder of his senior year.

In their 5-4 loss to the Broncos, at least Dave Steckel (9-9-18) notched a couple of goals. This weekend, Steckel and Umberger are teammates, but not in Columbus.

Earlier in the season, it might have been said that these two teams were battling to finish in or near the same spot in league standings. Now, with the Buckeye goaltending shaky and Ohio State missing three key players, the Buckeyes are probably just going to be battling to keep their heads above water.

Pick: Western Michigan 5-4, 5-4


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