This Week In The CCHA: Feb. 1, 2001

Have An Extreme Day

First there were Extreme sports. Then ESPN gave us the X-Games, and the XFL wasn’t long to follow. The Food Network shows Extreme Cuisine (chocolate-covered ants? spinach?), and HGTV has been airing Extreme Homes for about a year. Now HGTV, that cable haven of conspicuous consumption, brings us Extreme Gardens.

This is progress?

Never one to let a trend pass me by (there is no photographic evidence of my circa-1980 spiked hair and raccoon eyes), I’m ready to jump on the Extreme Bandwagon, become part of Extreme Nation, and declare myself CCHA Correspondent Extreme.

As CCHA Correspondent Extreme, I feel it’s my duty to extremulate (yes, I made that up — but, dude, isn’t it cool?) the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Extreme Team

This first one is a gimme. The Extreme Team itself has to be the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. By virtue of being in the state of Alaska, the Nanooks make the CCHA a Pacific-coast league. Think about it, dude. If the CCHA were to invite Niagara to join the league, the conference would be, like, coast to coast. Bi-coastal, even.

The Extreme Team earns its name for another reason. With three points earned against the UNO Mavericks last weekend, the Nanooks broke their single-season record for CCHA points. The new record of 18 broke the prior mark of 17 set in the 1998-99 campaign. The Nanooks have taken points against every league opponent this season, and are 3-3-3 against teams in their cluster.

And Chad Hamilton, the senior defenseman who knows beauty when he sees it, skated in his 100th collegiate game in UAF’s 3-3 tie with UNO on Jan. 26.

The Extreme Team not only looks to make the playoffs, but is mathematically in the running for home ice. Talk about extreme!

Extreme Inconsistency

Competitive Friday in a 4-2 loss to Miami, then losing 9-3 the next night, the Bowling Green Falcons are an example of Extreme Inconsistency, a condition that’s plagued them for the past few seasons.

One notable exception to this is senior forward Ryan Murphy, (14-8–22) who is quietly having a career campaign. Murphy has scored at least a point in 11 of his last 12 games, and has 10 goals and four assists in that span.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, if the inconsistency continues, they’ll lose more than the Ohio Cup. Bowling Green is in extreme danger of sitting out the CCHA playoffs.

Extreme Forgotten Youth

The number of rookies in the league this year is old news, and three teams in particular — the Extreme Team, Northern Michigan, and Ohio State — have huge freshmen classes.

But forgotten in this equation is Ferris State. The Bulldogs skate 17 freshmen and sophomores, making Ferris State one of the youngest teams in a very young league. Assistant coach Drew Famulak says that it took until midseason for the team to gel, and now they’re playing better team defense.

Phil Osaer, one of the few upperclassmen on the team, has improved steadily this season and is now allowing just 2.38 goals against in conference contests (.900 SV%).

The Extreme Forgotten Youth had last weekend off, and this weekend face their opponent of two weeks ago, the Extreme Team itself.

It looks as though the Bulldogs will be traveling for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

Extreme Misfortune

Having lost 97 man-games because of injury this season, the Lake Superior State Lakers are definitely experiencing Extreme Misfortune. Still out are captain Ryan Knox, and assistant captains Jason Nightingale and Jeremy Bachusz. The Lakers have played 21 consecutive games during which at least one of the team’s leaders has not dressed.

Being so short staffed, the Lakers have scored just one goal in their last five games, and are averaging 2.2 goals per game. Of course three of those five games came against Michigan State.

Extreme Understatement

The RedHawks may not be red-hot, but they are quietly making a statement in the CCHA. Miami swept Bowling Green last weekend, rebounding from back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Michigan State.

Miami suffers the same fate as does Ferris State, in a way. Ferris State is the “little” school in Michigan to whom no one pays much attention, win or lose. Miami is the “little” school in Ohio. Even when Miami was a serious contender for a national title a few years back, no one really paid them much mind.

Perhaps that’s why they seem like such an Extreme Understatement. The RedHawks are now unbeaten in seven games in Goggin Arena, and they play six of their remaining 10 regular-season games in home sweet home.

This “little” school may be looking at home ice.

Extreme Offense

While another team’s offensive prowess is garnering all the press this season, the Wolverines are now scoring more goals per game (4.26) than any other CCHA team.

And it was Michigan that broke Ryan Miller’s shutout streak last weekend, with four goals in an overtime game that shows people what college hockey is all about.

Andy Hilbert (12-23–35) now leads the conference in league scoring, and he’s plus-14. The Wolverines are outscoring conference opponents 81-37, and are an impressive plus-129 in league play.

That’s Extreme Offense, and a ticket to the Big Skate.

Extreme Denial

Five goals in the month of January. Michigan State and Ryan Miller are in Extreme Denial — and that’s a good thing.

The Spartans suffered only their second loss of the season against fellow top-tenner Michigan on Saturday, and yet several poll voters took the opportunity to vote other teams No. 1. Talk about denial.

Miller still reigns, in spite of the loss. His 1.23 goals-against average and .953 save percentage still lead the nation, handily. In conference play, the Spartans as a team are allowing 1.11 goals per game, and their penalty kill is a healthy .931.

With this Extreme Denial, the Spartans are contenders, again.

Extreme Avoidance of the Sophomore Jinx

In fourth place with 22 points, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks have achieved Extreme Avoidance of the Sophomore Jinx. Last year, the Mavs had to go the long route to The Joe; this season, the road may go through Omaha from the initial drop of the post-season puck.

UNO is one of five league teams averaging three or more goals per game (3.05). Although the Mavs are officially allowing 3.15 goals per league contest, in the month of January, in which the team was 4-1-1, Nebraska-Omaha held opponents to three or fewer goals per match, even in the loss and tie in Fairbanks last weekend.

One key to UNO’s success this year is David Brisson (13-14–27, +10), and the duo of Andrew Wong and Aaron Smith, a pair of freshmen who have combined for six goals and three assists in their last six games.

Extreme Fans

There is much that is extreme about Northern Michigan. The Wildcats are extremely young, with ten rookies on their squad. They boast one of the most Extreme Sophomore Classes with Bryce Cockburn (17-7–24, +18), Chris Gobert (10-16–26, +10), Jimmy Jackson (4-16–20, 0), and Terry Harrison (13-9–22, +9), goaltenders who combined for a team save percentage of .912, and a conference plus/minus of +61.

And let’s not forget that, geographically speaking, Maquette is a bit extreme.

But what’s truly extreme about the Northern Michigan Wildcats is their insane group of fans known as The Puckheads, or for our purposes The Extreme Puckheads. This group of dedicated men and women — you can recognize them by their hard hats adorned with pucks and rotating lights — has been spotted at The Joe and the Frozen Four when the Wildcats themselves were nowhere to be seen, and recently, the trio known as Mojo, Kujo, and The Big Guy drove from Marquette to Omaha for the NMU-UNO series.

They get bonus points for knowing sexy when they see it, even if they can’t embody the notion themselves.

Saturday’s game against Michigan State will be the second annual “Wildcat Night Across The Country.” The match, which will be televised live by Charter Communications, will be broadcast via satellite to a number of alumni gatherings across the country. All it takes to view the action is one of the following: access to a KU-band receiver with satellite GE-5, 79 degrees, Transponder T13; or access to a C-band receiver with satellite GE-1, 103 degrees, Transponder 16.

Extreme Reversal of Fortune

This year, the Irish took a bigger hit than they anticipated with the loss of four senior defensemen, the glue that apparently held the team together.

Outscored by league opponents 63-41 (115-73 overall), the Irish are at minus-83 in conference play.

Notre Dame’s 9-0 loss to Michigan (Jan. 23) was their largest loss since an 11-1 loss the Wolverines on Jan. 20, 1996. Michigan’s 51 shots in the 9-0 were the most given up by Notre Dame this season and the most March 10, 1995 when Bowling Green posted 53 against the Irish.

The Irish play six of their final regular-season games on the road, including two this weekend against Ohio State. The Buckeyes took three points from the Irish two weeks ago in South Bend.

Notre Dame’s Extreme Reversal of Fortune means that a team that traveled to Detroit last year is probably going nowhere when the regular season ends.

Extreme Rookies

In an outstanding league-wide rookie crop, two freshmen centermen at Ohio State stand out even further. Dave Steckel (11-10–21, +7 CCHA) and R.J. Umberger (7-12–19, +8 CCHA) are the two players who make this deep, scrappy, talented Buckeye team click. When Steckel and Umberger were in Moscow with the Team USA, the Buckeyes were 0-4-0. Since they’ve returned, OSU is 2-1-1, the lone loss on a weekend home split with Michigan.

Steckel may have more points, but Umberger has the moves. The league hasn’t seen anything like this kid since the departure of Mike York, and Umberger has the advantage of size; Umberger is surprisingly graceful for his 200 pounds.

Neither Steckel nor Umberger has ever played like a rookie, yet both are true freshmen. Steckel leads the Buckeyes in goal production.

With the influx of talent — including fellow rookies Mike Betz, Doug Andress, and Scott May — the Buckeyes are one point away from their total conference point production of last season. Their nine conference wins equal their total from the 1999-2000 campaign.

Given what’s going on near the top of the standings, the Buckeyes and their Extreme Rookies may find themselves home — and playing — during the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

Extreme Physicality

I may earn the Extreme Euphemism award for this one.

There are other ways of putting it, but the Western Michigan Broncos embody Extreme Physicality this season, especially when things aren’t going their way.

Averaging nearly 26 full minutes of penalties per conference contest, the Broncos, once famous for their high-flying offense, are in danger of becoming infamous for being downright offensive.

On a squad that has spent 723 minutes in lockdown, Steve Rymsha’s 81 minutes pale by comparison to the accomplishments of Brian Pasko, who spends probably about a third of his playing time in the box, with 169 minutes in 26 games. That’s over six minutes per game, for those of you keeping count.

With the lack of discipline and the recent lack of points, the Broncos may have played themselves right out of home ice.

So that’s it, sports fans. From your CCHA Correspondent Extreme, have an Extreme Weekend, enjoy some Extreme Hockey, and Happy Extreme Ground Hog Day.

Ganga Watch

The good news is that our hero, Buckeye Nick Ganga, added no penalties to his total last weekend. Of course, the Buckeyes didn’t play.

At the start of this season, Ganga promised to more than halve his penalty minutes from last year, pledging 50 or fewer, in sharp contrast to his 112 from the 1999-2000 season.

While dangerously close to his promised total, Ganga’s 42 minutes in 24 games played represent a solid commitment to improvement for a young man who would rather hit than think last season.

Ten games left, and I for one believe in Nick Ganga.

And as Nicky himself knows, a little faith can go a long way.

Games Of The Week

These two teams may be meeting while passing each other traveling in opposite directions.

No. 9 Western Michigan (16-6-5, 9-5-5 CCHA) at Miami (13-11-2, 10-7-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, Ohio

The big news in Oxford this week is that junior defenseman Ken Marsch is academically ineligible for the remainder of the season.

“It’s unfortunate because something like this has to happen to young men in order for them to figure out what they need to do in their life,” says head coach Enrico Blasi. “Here in Miami there’s a great support system… [but] if the student doesn’t want it, there’s nothing else we can do. I hope Kenny realizes how important school is. He’s stayed in school. At a certain point, the onus is on the student-athlete.”

In spite of the loss of Marsch, the RedHawks rebounded from consecutive shutout losses against Michigan State to beat intrastate rival Bowling Green 4-2 and 9-3. Even though the losses to MSU were against the No. 1 team in the country and the country’s best goaltender, Blasi says that was no excuse.

“To tell you the truth, I was really hard on the guys [after MSU]. We as a staff demanded a lot more in practice. Practices in late January shouldn’t be as hard as they were last week. Our guys didn’t complain. It’s easy to be down after playing so well without taking a point, without even scoring a goal. But our guys responded.”

With the wins this past weekend, Miami and Blasi have already matched their totals for overall (13) and league wins (10) from a season ago. Miami’s newly formed line of Jason Deskins, Ernie Hartlieb and Gregor Krajnc accounted for five goals and seven assists in the two-game series against Bowling Green.

This weekend, Miami faces Western Michigan, a team that once looked poised to make a run at the league championship. After starting January with a sweep of Ohio State, the Broncos have taken just one point in each of their last three two-game series. Western has established a new pattern: loss, tie, loss, tie, loss, tie.

In spite of Western’s recent slump and Miami’s seven-game unbeaten streak at home, Blasi is not taking the Broncos lightly.

“I expect them to come out hard. They are a transition team with three of the top ten scorers in the league. Obviously we’re going to have to pay attention to those guys.”

Blasi is the kind of coach that focuses first and foremost on his own team, but at this point in the season, says the second-year skipper, “There’s not much you can do system-wise.”

With the logjam of points near the top of the conference standings, Blasi knows that this series has ramifications league-wide, not just for the Broncos and RedHawks. And he sees the irony of these two squads fighting for home ice after their respective finishes last season.

“These are two aggressive teams going at it, and we’ll see what happens. We are very similar. When they want to score goals, they can. When they want to play defense, they can. Both teams finished tied last year for ninth and tenth last season. It was a big step for both teams to make the playoffs last year. It would be a bigger step for these teams to host a playoff series.”

These clustermates last met Dec. 1-2 in Kalamazoo, with Western winning the first game and Miami picking up the nightcap. Western leads this overall series 44-33-6, but Miami has lost just once to Western in their last five meetings.

The RedHawk seniors are 7-3-3 against the Broncos for the past four years.

One more one-point weekend for Western could be the final nail in the coffin. The Broncos will make the playoffs, but may be roaming the range to do so.

Pick: Miami sweeps, 4-2, 4-3