Civic Duty, Not Civic Center
It’s more bull than Bullpen for me this week, as I begin a stint of jury duty for Franklin County in Ohio. For you, that means a shorter column this week. For me, it means three rather than two jobs, but a chance for extra hockey Friday and Saturday nights. Early, I’ll hop the Internet, going from one CCHA Web broadcast to another while I tune into the Buckeyes-Mavericks game on the AM radio.
Later each evening, I’ll listen to the RedHawks take on the Nanooks in Fairbanks, alternating between the enthusiasm of Bruce Cech (and the dead-on color of Erik Drygas), and the dulcet tones of Bob Rotruck.
And I’ll do it all in my jammies. They’ll be the best dates I’ve had this year.
Games of the Week
Both the Mavs and the Bucks clinched playoff berths last weekend. UNO sits one point ahead of OSU in the standings, but Ohio State has two games in hand.
Ohio State (15-11-2, 12-8-2 CCHA) at Nebraska-Omaha (17-12-3, 12-9-3 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Omaha Civic Center, Omaha, Neb.
The Mavericks should really send the Buckeyes a thank-you note. While Nebraska-Omaha took three of four points from Western Michigan last weekend (you know the Broncos, the one-point Broncos?), Ohio State’s down-to-the-wire overtime win in Goggin Arena allowed UNO to step up to a tie for third with Miami.
Maverick goaltender Dan Ellis (2.58 GAA, .910 SV%) held Western Michigan scoreless for the first 45 minutes in UNO’s 2-1 win Friday, and the first 50 minutes of the 3-3 Saturday tie. He stopped 44 of 48 shots in the two-game series.
Fellow Mav David Brisson notched a goal and an assist on Saturday to set a new single-season point record with 33. Brisson broke the record of 31 he set last year and has 10 points in his last 11 games.
Rookie forward Mike Gabinet assisted on two of UNO’s three goals on Saturday, earning him his third multiple-point game of the season.
OSU’s freshman goaltender, Mike Betz (2.75 GAA, .906 SV%), stopped 37 shots on Saturday night in only the second Buckeye win in Goggin Arena since 1991. He also helped kill off all seven Miami power-play attempts.
It should come as no surprise that Dave Steckel (15-16–31) led all Buckeyes in scoring in the split with Miami, registering two goals and an assist. Steckel is tied with captain J.F. Dufour (12-19–31) for the lead in Buckeye points, and leads all Ohio State players in goal production this season. Something that won’t show up in the stats but that should be noted is that the Ohio State team defense held Miami’s top line of Jason Deskins, Gregor Krajnc, and Ernie Hartlieb scoreless for two games, no small feat.
Especially impressive was sophomore defender Pete Broccoli, a stay-at-home guy who’s listed at 5-8, is probably 5-6, and who plays like he’s 6-4. Broccoli (2-4–6, +6) has completed avoided any sophomore jinx, and improves game by game. He’s fearless in the corners, along the boards, and is excellent in front of his own net. Broccoli’s great presence with the puck led to his first career multi-point game in Oxford, where he had two helpers.
Here’s everything you wanted to know about this series but were afraid to ask:
What more can you ask for? Bring your pennies and your milk jugs, because this series is the one to watch.
Picks: Ohio State 4-3, Nebraska-Omaha 4-3
Grudge of the Week
The Irish — Notre Dame, fercryinoutloud — swept Bowling Green at home last weekend, 3-2 and 5-3. Their reward? A trip to Yost.
Notre Dame (8-21-5, 5-14-4 CCHA) at No. 5 Michigan (21-8-4, 15-6-2 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Yes, the Spartans and Wolverines meet Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena, and, yes, that’s usually a grudge and game rolled into one. But Notre Dame has an ax to grind where Michigan’s concerned (who doesn’t?), and the Wolverines remember a not-too-distant past when the Irish took Michigan to three games in the first round of CCHA playoff action, in Yost.
Michigan leads this all-time series 53-38-3, including the Jan. 23 9-0 spanking in Ann Arbor. Since Notre Dame returned to the CCHA in 1992-93, the Wolverines have dominated the Irish to the tune of 27-3-1.
Since the 1992-93 season, Michigan is 14-1-0 against Notre Dame in Yost, with the lone Irish win coming in that 1998 playoff series.
This season, Michigan has as many wins (21) as the Irish have losses.
Notre Dame hasn’t won a regular-season game in Yost Arena since Oct. 22, 1982. You want to know how long ago that was? I was a freshman in college, and Ronald Reagan was president. Mistakes were made, and I can’t recall.
It’s the grudge of the week, and it’s going to be ugly — and I’m not talking about the student fans at Yost, either.
Pick: Michigan 5-1
A Smallish Rant
Last weekend, I was privileged to watch two outstanding hockey teams duke it out, each winning in the other’s barn. I’m here to tell you what many CCHA fans either don’t want to hear or refuse to believe: both the Miami RedHawks and the Ohio State Buckeyes are for real.
How neither of these teams is ranked while Western Michigan continues to receive votes is well beyond the scope of my comprehension. Perhaps someone with a degree in physics can explain this to me.
The two games between the Buckeyes and RedHawks last weekend were a study in contrasts. Both teams are incredibly well matched. Each team plays disciplined, defense-minded hockey, ready to capitalize on opponent mistakes for offensive opportunities. Each team has depth at every position. Each is well coached. Each team has great chemistry. Each program has a genuine chance to achieve postseason glory.
The contrast I witnessed was between the two venues in which each team plays. Ohio State’s home, the gorgeous Value City Arena in the Jerome Schottenstein Center, is a modern marvel, a beautiful building.
It’s also the deadest barn in the league, bar none.
On Friday, in spite of the 5,000-plus actual bodies in the stands, the place was quiet as a church. The band was there, but was too often silent in favor of canned music, and someone at the Schott thinks that the Eurythmics can pump up a crowd better than can the Ohio State fight song, which I heard no more than twice during the game.
At a university which boasts well more than 40,000 students, when there are 5,000 actual bodies at every hockey game (a very respectable draw), there is no student section. None. Nada. There is one guy in a scarlet-and-gray afro wig who jumps up and down in unison with an animated character which is commonly known as “the jumping condom,” played at times on one of the four corner screens in the arena.
You can’t write this off by saying that Columbus is not a hockey town. Attend a Blue Jackets game in Nationwide Arena, and you’ll witness a true hockey spectacle, with loud, loyal, knowledgeable fans.
In contrast to Value City, Miami’s little Goggin Arena — which holds just over 2,800 — was packed to the rafters with noisy, knowledgeable, passionate fans on Saturday, something which undoubtedly contributed to the best hockey game I’ve seen this season.
The Miami band was tight and played the right things at the right time. The student section chanted the right things at the right time, in unison (and with no discernable vulgarity, thank you very much). The crowd was on its feet the entire overtime, as it should have been. It was one hell of a hockey game, one hell of a hockey crowd.
Friday, both teams seemed a step off. Perhaps the notoriously bad ice at the Schott had something to do with that. On Saturday, both squads were dead-on, each creating grade-A chances within the first two minutes of play. The intensity never let up for a moment in the game at Goggin.
It’s no surprise that Ohio State plays better on the road, eh?
Happy One Hundred
The Buckeyes’ 4-3 overtime win in Oxford was head coach John Markell’s 100th career win. Congratulations, coach.
Last weekend, Nick Ganga, assistant captain of the Ohio State Buckeye, beloved son of Teresa and Barney and nephew of crazy Uncle Nick, brother of Kris, hero to legions of Buckeye hockey fans, the same Nick Ganga who pledged to have 50 or fewer minutes in the box this season, spent two minutes in the sin bin during OSU’s thrilling 4-3 overtime victory against Miami. Nick did, however, make one of the sweetest passes I’ve seen this season — on a team that can pass the puck, let me tell you — to set up Miguel Lafleche’s game-winning goal with 12 seconds left in OT.
Nick is now up to 46 minutes, but I’ve got to tell you, I believe. Especially this weekend.
L’Amour, Toujour, L’Amour!
Ah, Valentine’s Day. On the holiday stolen from Februata Juno, as I sat inside the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas jury room, on an oppressively gray, foggy day, even I — bitter, cynical, hopeless, resigned, unrequited — was not immune to the hype, the sentiment, the chocolate.
As I sat surrounded by utter strangers and near-acquaintances, drinking machine coffee and anticipating a lunch of canned soup, waiting to be called to decide the fate of an alleged felon or big-league swindler, even I was moved by the spirit of d’amour.
And where there is d’amour, there is hockey…n’est-ce pas?
For centuries, the currency of love was poetry. I thought, Why buck the system? So I took actual pen in physical hand, and — on actual paper — attempted to further illuminate the languages of both fire and ice.
Shall I compare thee to a hockey game? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough hands do shake the player known as May and winter’s lease hath too short a …
No, no, I thought. Too easy.
How do I deke thee? Let me count the ways.
Nope. My best bet, surely, was symbolism.
His blood is like a red, red rose…
Then I had it! The perfect marriage of verse and verve, spin and sport!
There once was a man from Saskatchewan, Whose stick-work was sweeter than…
Well, you know the rest, non?