This Week In The CCHA: Feb. 8, 2001

It’s So Fine. It’s Sunshine.

Say the word and you’ll be free. Say the word, and be like me.

On Feb. 14, the Christian and Christian-influenced world celebrates Valentine’s Day, a secular holiday that nearly single-handedly supports the greeting card, floral, and chocolate industries, as well as serving as a reminder that men and women really are two different species.

Women are, after all, from Venus. Haven’t you heard?

Those of us not inclined to commercial sentimentality may well wonder at the timing of Valentine’s Day, right in the middle of the month of February, also known as the Home Stretch, the Separator of Boys from Men, and the Month of Endless Post-Season Speculation.

On the surface, February — tainted by lace doilies, pink and red overkill, and a winged, smirking, naked cherub who slings his arrows anywhere he pleases without fear of a single whistle — seems like a slap in the face to all things manly, especially that most macho of sports, college hockey.

After all, men are from Mars. Right?

But let’s not be hasty here, judging a month by its lone holiday of mass consumption (the President’s Day mark-down sales are no competition, and I’m still waiting on the Punxsutawney Phil logowear craze to hit).

Named after a third-century Roman Catholic priest who was martyred by Claudius II on February 14, the traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day can actually be traced to a holiday honoring the Roman goddess Februata Juno, the oracular goddess of love’s passion.

On the Ides of February, or Feb. 15, in a holiday called the “Feast of the Wolf” (or Feast of Lupercalius), Februata Juno would call forth the animals from their winter hibernation.

(Throw a goddess of passion into the mix, and suddenly Valentine’s Day has more in common with hockey than one would originally think, eh?)

In an act symbolic of awakening animals from their hibernation, and to honor Februata Juno, on Feb. 15 young woman would place their names in an urn, from which young boys would draw a name. The couples would then be sexual partners for the day, and sometimes for the rest of their lives.

(OK, so this part resembles certain post-game parties about which you may have heard, but at least now you know why some men are called wolves — not to be confused with Wolverines.)

Pope Julius I and other religious types were said to have substituted the names of saints for the names of girls in the urn (talk about a raw deal), named the holiday after St. Valentine (not to be confused with Bowling Green’s Curtis Valentine — seven goals, seven assists), and moved the holy day up by one to obliterate any reference to Februata Juno, and suddenly Hallmark, FTD, and Hershey’s hit the map.

(Februata Juno, of course, has the last laugh. Valentine may have received the day, but she has 28, sometimes 29.)

So what better celebration of hockey can there be than Valentine’s Day? It has passion, it has wolves, it calls the slumbering from their hibernation — and just in time for the playoffs.

And hasn’t hockey always been synonymous with love?

It’s so fine. It’s sunshine. Say the word…


L Is For The Way You Look At Me

Even in hockey, looks do count.

Western Michigan’s Mike Bishai (14-35–49), Michigan’s Andy Hilbert (20-31–51), and Bronco Dave Gove (20-30–50) are among the best lookers in the game. Well, they know where to look, anyway, as the top three assist men in the CCHA.

O Is For The Only One I See

Michigan State’s underrated John Nail (14-5–19) leads the nation with six game-winning goals.

Michigan’s Mike Cammalleri (20-26–46) leads the league in plus/minus (+22).

Western Michigan’s Jeff Campbell (18-16–34) leads the league in power-play goals (11).

Gove has three shorthanders, more than anyone else in the league, while teammate Steve Rymsha (19-23–42) has three hat tricks this season.

V Is Very, Very Extraordinary

Leading the nation in goals against (1.29) and save percentage (.951) is Spartan Ryan Miller, who deserves a category all to himself. Don’t forget about the shutouts.

E Is Even More…

…than anyone else on the planet. More time spent in the box, that is.

Oh yes. Western Michigan’s Brian Pasko really loves the game, and his opponents, to the tune of 169 penalty minutes this season.

Now that’s amore.

Games of the Week

It bears repeating: at this time of year, what’s happening toward the bottom of the conference is even more exciting than what’s going on near the top.

Bowling Green (10-14-4, 5-11-4 CCHA) at Notre Dame (6-21-5, 3-14-4 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.

Falcon head coach Buddy Powers says his team will have its hands full in South Bend, and he’s not taking the last-place Irish lightly. “In watching the game films, and I don’t understand why they’re in the position they’re in.”

Dave Poulin, Notre Dame head coach, has an answer to the question inherent in Powers’ statement.

“For whatever reason — I don’t know why — if things don’t go our way early, we have a difficult time getting on track and believing. As a coach, you’re trying to instill belief in a group of individuals who aren’t getting any tangible results, and it’s been very frustrating.”

The frustration was especially evident in Notre Dame’s 5-3 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, the second drop in the two-game series in Columbus. The Irish outshot, outworked, and nearly outwitted the Buckeyes in the first 15 minutes of the contest, but Ohio State left the first stanza of the second game with a 3-1 lead.

“We haven’t scored goals all season,” says Poulin. “What happens then is the offense really presses. When you press, you make mistakes. You’re pressing so hard to score a goal because they’re so hard to come by that you make mistakes. But I’d rather make a mistake of commission than make a mistake of omission.”

In conference play, the Irish are scoring just 2.19 goals per game, second-to-last in the league, while allowing 3.48 goals — also second-to-last in the league. The combination has added up to just three conference wins for Notre Dame, and a team plus/minus of minus-94 in league contests. The only active Irish player on the plus side of anything is Dan Carlson (13-19–32 overall), who had three goals against Ohio State (including a shorthander) and who owns one of Notre Dame’s five game-winning tallies of the season.

“I’ve said a lot of different things [to the players] this year. I’ve used the vast majority of my extensive English language,” joked Poulin, “a lot of SAT words, even Canadian ones.”

Buddy Powers can sympathize. “It eats at you worse than anything that I’ve ever felt. He must have borrowed my quote book from a couple years ago.”

After literally years of injuries and even tragedies, the Falcons are rebuilding steadily and knocking wood. “Like everyone, we’ve got a few people banged up,” says Powers, “but nothing major.”

In their last ten games, the Falcons are 6-4-0, with losses to two top-tier teams, Nebraska-Omaha and Michigan State. “Since Christmas we’ve played pretty well. We had one clunker game at Miami, but other than that we bring it every night. Tyler Masters is the difference. If he has a bad weekend, we really struggle. If he’s off, we don’t have what it takes to make up for it at this point.”

Last weekend, Masters was on the money, making 66 saves in a two-game sweep of Lake Superior State, earning him CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.

But like the Irish, the problem for the Falcons isn’t in net. Says Powers, “If we could just consistently score three goals, we’d be 15-7-6 for the year. But we don’t.”

In conference play, the Falcons are scoring 2.80 goals per game, while allowing 3.15. “We’re close,” says Powers. “Goal scoring…energizes teams. We talk about all the time. When you consistently miss good chances, it wears the guys down. They kind of hang their heads.”

Not hanging his head is Greg Day (13-11–24 CCHA) one of Bowling Green’s most reliable offensive threats. Powers is happy with the progress of another player, Ryan Murphy. “Since the two games before Christmas, he has just been on a roll. He’s playing with so much confidence that the difference between him now and the start of the season is like night and day.”

Murphy has scored a point in 13 of his last 14 games, and is 15-5–20 in that span. Murphy followed his season-best three-point effort Friday night with a hat trick on Saturday, and is currently tied with four other players for fourth in CCHA goal scoring.

This weekend’s series between the Falcons and Irish is even more important because it’s one of those “eight-point weekends,” says Powers. ” If we win, we put some distance between us and them. If we lose four points, we’re tied.”

Powers is optimistic about at least the possibilities for the Falcon season. In a perfect world, Bowling Green could still capture home ice. “There isn’t that much difference between the top and bottom of the league, and there’s certainly room to move.”

And Bowling Green should be moving on up.

Pick: BGSU 4-1, 4-1

Grudge of the Week

What better time for a meeting between these two intrastate rivals? After all, they both wear red.

Miami (15-11-2, 12-7-1 CCHA) vs. Ohio State (14-10-2, 11-7-2 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, Ohio

The many Buckeye rookies probably know that Miami has dominated Ohio State in Goggin Arena since 1991, but they don’t know it, if you know what I mean.

Even Ohio State head coach John Markell downplays this rivalry, as he wasn’t really around for most of the 18 consecutive losses the Buckeyes suffered in Oxford, from Jan. 18, 1991-Mar. 4, 2000. As for the losses Markell himself experienced in Goggin, he says, “We’ve played well there, even when they’ve beaten us in overtime.”

“I think the positions we’re in right now creates the rivalry,” says Markell. “In the past few years, Miami’s had very good hockey clubs.”

Tied for third with Nebraska-Omaha, Ohio State is just one point behind Miami, setting up what may prove to be two excellent contests.

The RedHawks ride a four-game win streak into the weekend, in large part because of the line of Gregor Krajnc (14-14–28), Jason Deskins (16-19–35) and Ernie Hartleib (9-12–21). Krajnc is this week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week, earning six points last weekend in a two-game sweep of Lake Superior State.

Six of Pat Leahy’s goals (7-18–25) have come on the power play. The RedHawks net is minded by David Burleigh (2.86 GAA, .891 SV%).

The Buckeyes are led in scoring by senior Jean-Francois Dufour (12-18–30), followed by a trio of talented freshmen: Dave Steckel (13-15–28), R.J. Umberger (12-16–28), and the little-mentioned Paul Caponigri (10-15–25). Umberger and Caponigri each posted five-point weekends in two wins over Notre Dame, and Umberger was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week.

Mike Betz (2.73 GAA, .905 SV%) is the goalie of record for Ohio State.

“I think we match well against Miami,” says Markell. “They have patience, and we’ll have to have the same. I think we have some guys who can finish, and so do they. And we have to pay attention to detail and stay out of the penalty box.”

In conference play, Miami is second only to Michigan in goal production (3.55 per game), while Ohio State is fourth in the league (3.30). The RedHawks allow 2.65 goals per game to the Buckeyes’ 2.75.

Miami’s power play converts at 21.5% to Ohio State’s 19.3%. Ohio State’s penalty kill (.836) just edges Miami’s (.826). The Buckeyes are a little touchy about their penalty minutes (22.35 per game), which are in reality inflated because of misconducts. The RedHawks average 18.5 minutes in lockdown per game.

While each of these teams is capable of producing tremendous offense, unless one or the other lets down from the get-go, these games will be close, patient, and perhaps low-scoring. I can see Miami sweeping, but Ohio State has the advantage of being home Friday night — and the Buckeyes like to win on Fridays.

Pick: OSU 4-3, Miami 5-3

Ganga Watch

Barney and Teresa’s son, our hero Nick Ganga, is perilously close to 50 penalty minutes. Having taken a two-minute minor last weekend against Notre Dame, Ganga now has 44 minutes eight conference contests to go.

At the start of the season, Ganga — who had 112 penalty minutes last year — pledged on the record that he would have 50 or fewer this season. A ten-minute misconduct in January really hurt his cause, but he still has six minutes to go.

Nick, you know we believe.

I’ve Got Your Homerism, Right Here

Three excellent players were honored by the league this week, and not one of them graces the roster of a team residing in the state of Michigan.

The spotlight, instead, falls on Ohio, as Miami’s Gregor Krajnc, Bowling Green’s Tyler Masters, and Ohio State’s R.J. Umberger nabbed Player of the Week mentions.

And here’s another interesting factoid: Only two of the conference’s current top five teams are in Michigan. Michigan State and Michigan may dominate the league standings this season — as they do every year — but these days they’re keeping company with two Ohioans and a Nebraskan.

Do you feel the love?