This Week In The CCHA: Jan. 11, 2001

CCHA 34, Everyone Else 9

It was a good week to be a CCHA team playing nonconference games, unless you were Northern Michigan. No. 1 Michigan State blanked Yale twice, 5-0 and 4-0. Alaska Fairbanks defeated Iona 6-2, then added insult to injury with a 7-0 win.

Bowling Green downed Princeton 8-3, then took it to them 5-0.

And after losing to Michigan Tech 4-2, Northern Michigan was downright unneighborly to York University, beating the Yoemen 8-0 in exhibition.

Michigan got into the act with a little home cooking against the Lakers, beating Lake Superior State 2-0 and 5-0 in Ann Arbor.

Everyone else swept or was swept. And the PWR says the CCHA has the top two teams in the nation. It was quite a weekend for hockey.

“It was good for the league,” said Spartan head coach Ron Mason. “We beat the teams we should have beaten.”

Mason — always a proponent for the strength of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association — has been vindicated this season, with the league’s overall performance against nonconference opponents (49-31-7). His own Spartans have led the way, having beaten Boston College in the GLI and Minnesota and Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase.

“We’ve proven why we have staying power” as the No. 1 team, Mason said. “We may not have a Mike York or Shawn Horcoff, but we have a team that works together and our strength is in the net.”

Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers said that Princeton may have underestimated the Falcons Friday night but that “they gave us a game Saturday. They were in it all the way.”

The Falcons won 5-0 in the second game, but BGSU scored the kind of goal that can break the back of a club twice that night, one each in the first minute of each the second and third periods. Their two first-period goals were on the power play.

In-house, the two-game series with Lake State “was a big thing for us,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “We were obviously reeling after the GLI. It was the worst performance of a Michigan team in a long time. We needed to get our game back together, and that was a huge step in the right direction.”

Berenson said that his team was hurting without Mike Cammalleri, Andy Hilbert, and Mike Komisarek during the World Junior tournament, but the rest of his squad needed to step up and improve to beat Lake State.

“Our players bounced back last Friday night. We were better without the puck…and we did the little things right.”

In the past, Michigan has used a strong performance in the GLI as a springboard for a successful second half. Berenson said that this year, the tournament provided a different kind of motivation.

“It energized us in a different way. We didn’t come out of it with confidence. It’s rebounding from a real crisis. I suppose it’s good that it wasn’t even close. That left no doubt about our performance.”

The Wolverines square off with the Buckeyes this weekend in Columbus, and Berenson isn’t happy with the way the schedule worked out. He would prefer each team play a game in its own barn, as each is a big draw for the other. But he is looking forward to two good matches.

“Both teams will be getting players back, and both are in the top five. These will go either way.”

Ganga Watch

Alas! The unthinkable happened! Our hero, Nick Ganga, was given a ten-minute misconduct for arguing a call with Steve Piotrowski with 20 seconds left in the Buckeyes’ 3-2 loss to Western Michigan Saturday night.

This brings Ganga’s penalty minutes to 36, with 14 games to go.

Ganga, who was last week (due to Andre Signoretti‘s untimely departure) made an assistant captain along with teammate Jaisen Freeman, was pleading the Buckeye case on the placement of a faceoff following an official’s mistake. Piotrowski sent him to the locker room.

“That late in the game, they make a mistake,” said head coach John Markell. “I’ll stand behind Nick Ganga. He has an ‘A’ on his sweater. He’s allowed to approach the referee.”

Ganga has nine goals and six assists and is +6 overall, with four power-play tallies, one shorthander, two game-winners, and a hat trick in 20 games played. In 34 games last season, Ganga had four goals and 10 assists, two power-play goals, and finished the season -6, with 112 penalty minutes.

Be strong, Nick! We believe!

Speaking of My Hometown…

It’s Hockey Week in Columbus, Ohio. You haven’t heard? You must live here, then, because the hype is underwhelming.

Columbus mayor Michael B. Coleman has proclaimed Jan. 9-15 “Hockey Week” here, in the hope of establishing a record for fans attending simultaneous National Hockey League and National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey games within the same city.

More than 30,000 fans are expected to attend the three games on the menu Friday, Jan. 12. The Ohio State women host Bemidji State, the men host the Wolverines, and the Columbus Blue Jackets host the Chicago Blackhawks.

The women have a two-game series against Bemidji in the Ohio State Ice Arena (that’s its official name now), while the men host Michigan for two at the Schott.

In addition to their game against the Blackhawks, the Blue Jackets host two other games in the same seven-day span, as well as the Dodge/NHL Superskills at Nationwide Arena on Saturday.

Markell said that the Blue Jackets have been a welcome addition to the city of Columbus, and that he and Columbus general manager Doug McLean get along “very well.”

“He’s very cooperative, and does everything he can for our program,” said Markell. “Any time we want ice, we get it. They’ve been great to work with.”

Ironically, Markell sees the NHL game as a good introduction to college hockey. “The NHL game is a real night out for most families. When they’re exposed to hockey and want it on a more regular basis, they find that they can afford to bring the whole family to Buckeye hockey games. We offer a good product, and a good family product.

“When families start coming when kids are young, they grow up to be hockey fans. It’s heightened the exposure for the game.”

There can be no doubt that Buckeye hockey has become a family affair. Averaging approximately 5,000 actual fans per game, mostly families with small children, Value City Arena is one of the quietest rinks in the league.

Perhaps exposure to the NHL will help OSU students realize that the Buckeyes play in venues other than the ‘Shoe.

Games of the Week

At the start of the college hockey year, few fans would have guessed that the Nanooks and Wildcats would be just two points apart in the standings at midseason. Now Alaska Fairbanks travels to Marquette to face the only CCHA team the Nanooks have yet to beat.

Alaska Fairbanks (6-8-4, 4-6-4 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (9-6-5, 5-5-4 CCHA) Thursday and Friday, 7:05 p.m., Berry Events Center, Marquette, Mich.

Both the Nanooks and the Wildcats were among the CCHA teams delivering shutouts last weekend — albeit to opponents that both teams should have beaten handily. Alaska Fairbanks swept Iona 6-2 and 7-0, while Northern beat up on York in exhibition, 8-0, one day after losing to Michigan Tech 4-2.

To compare and contrast the weekends each team had is to examine teams on markedly different paths. The two-game sweep and the shutout were the first for Fairbanks since Guy Gadowski took the helm. Already this season, the Nanooks have surpassed their total conference points for last year.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, dropped a game to Michigan Tech — a team they beat up four times last season and defeated handily twice earlier this campaign — and finished the first half of the season even in conference play, eight points behind where they were at this time last season.

“Our next 10 games are all against quality opponents, and we have to win games right now. It’s been a struggle for us to get back in shape, but that’s what last weekend accomplished. Obviously we would have liked to have beaten Tech, but I thought we played well in the game against York, and now we have Alaska Fairbanks, which has at least a point in every series that they’ve played, is coming here. It’ll be a good series.”

In the game against York, junior goaltender Kevin Hulsey stopped all 15 of York’s shots in his first-ever appearance in a Wildcats uniform. NMU outshot York 54-15, and six players had multiple-point outings. Jimmy Jackson and Sean Connolly each had a goal and two assists in the exhibition win.

Jackson and Ryan Riipi scored the two Wildcat goals in the 4-2 loss to Tech. Dan Ragusett had 22 saves.

Jim Lawrence had a hat trick in the first Nanook win over Iona, and Lance Mayes made 15 saves. In the 7-0 shutout, Hockey Humanitarian Award nominee and all-around good kid Ryan Reinheller tallied two, while Preston McKay and Gabe Palmer split time in net.

In conference games, the Wildcats and Nanooks are nearly dead-even in offensive production, with Northern (8th) scoring 2.67 goals per game and Fairbanks (9th) 2.47. The Wildcats, however, are allowing 2.67 goals per game (3rd) to the Nanooks’ 3.53 (11th).

The Fairbanks power play — always fairly good, no matter what the team’s record — is sixth in the leage (.172) while Northern’s is dead-last (.096). Fairbanks also has the better penalty kill (.862). Both teams play fairly disciplined hockey.

The Wildcats have an advantage in net, but the Nanooks are an extremely hard-working team, especially along the boards. You don’t get much from Fairbanks in the neutral zone, either.

This is the first time the Nanooks have played in the Berry Events Center. UAF has hosted the Wildcats for the past two series.

Northern Michigan owns this all-time series, 9-0-1. The Wildcats are 3-0-1 in their last four games against Fairbanks, and won both contests in Alaska last season.

One more note: On Jan. 6, Nanook defender Chad Hamilton registered an assist and finished the night +4, on his 23rd birthday. Happy belated, Chad.

Picks: NMU 4-2, UAF 3-2

Grudge of the Week

Sooner or later, fans other than Falcons and Mavericks will understand why these two squads so dislike each other. Maybe.

Bowling Green (6-10-4, 3-7-4 CCHA) at Nebraska-Omaha (11-10-1, 6-7-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Omaha Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Neb.

There was something about the first series Bowling Green played in Omaha that set the town for this seemingly random rivalry way back in Jan. 1999, when the teams split a nonconference series in Nebraska. Ever since that series, Maverick fans have talked about how — shall we say — physical the Falcons play, but Mavs fans are a bit — shall we say — enthusiastically defensive about their hockey team.

Omaha has a 4-3-0 edge in this all-time series. Five of the previous seven games were played in Omaha, so the Falcons should be used to the place by now.

The teams split a league series Feb. 4-5 last season (UNO 4-3, BGSU 3-2), and the Mavericks won last year’s CCHA play-in game 3-1 in Omaha, in purportedly one of the best college hockey games played in recent memory, bar none.

Earlier this season in Bowling Green, the clustermates continued their indecisive ways, splitting a pair of games Dec. 8-9 (UNO 3-1, BGSU 7-2).

So, the teams are even all time with the exception of last year’s play-in game. But even before that there was an intense rivalry …

I just don’t get it, but apparently the two teams do.

Pick: UNO 4-3, BGSU 4-3