You Don’t Need A Crystal Ball
As anyone who reads my weekly picks knows, I’m no psychic. I often pick teams to split the wrong way, and sometimes my predictions are so far awry that I eat crow at lunch every day for a week.
But you don’t need your tarot deck or resident medium to predict which CCHA players will be honored at the end of the 2000-01 season.
Here are my best guesses.
Player of the Year: It’s got to be Michigan State’s Ryan Miller, who should be receiving serious Hobey consideration even as a sophomore. Lowest goals-against average on record, lowest save percentage on record, more shutouts than anyone, ever. That he’s a future Buffalo Sabre just puts icing on my cake — um, no pun intended.
Rookie of the Year: In this year of the rookie, with nearly a third of the league’s players being freshmen, there are many, many new players who stand out this season. Nebraska-Omaha’s Dan Ellis, Northern Michigan’s Craig Kowalski, Alaska Fairbanks’ Preston McKay, Michigan’s Mike Komisarek, Notre Dame’s Rob Globke — all of these freshmen, and many more, deserve recognition.
The three rookies who have impressed me most this season are Western Michigan’s Jeff Campbell and two Buckeyes named Dave Steckel and R.J. Umberger. Unless something drastic happens in the next two weeks, Jeff Campbell will deservedly be named Rookie of the Year.
That having been said — and meaning no disrespect to anyone — Umberger is without a doubt the best rookie player I’ve seen this season. His numbers aren’t as good as Campbell’s, and his plus-minus is not as high as Steckel’s (who is another phenomenal player), but Umberger has the elusive “It,” that thing which makes the difference any time he’s near a puck. It’s the quality for which even the most verbose of writers like me have no words. He’s simply amazing.
Coach of the Year: A compelling case can be made for any number of coaches, but Miami’s Enrico Blasi and Alaska Fairbanks’ Guy Gadowsky head my list.
I think the award will go to Gadowsky, whose Nanooks have taken at least a point from every league opponent they’ve faced (except for Michigan State). Blasi may be overlooked because the league probably doesn’t think the RedHawks have been down long enough to warrant turnaround attention.
Ditto for Ohio State’s John Markell, whose squad didn’t even make the playoffs last year.
But look at Ron Mason and Red Berenson, who each manage to steer a team at least toward a championship year after year. Then there’s Mike Kemp, whose Mavericks were scratching at .500 last season, and Jim Culhane… .
Let’s face it, folks. We’re a lucky league.
Best Defensive Forward: My vote is for UNO’s David Brisson, who with 17 goals and 20 assists is third in league scoring, and who leads the conference in plus-minus at plus-16 in CCHA play. And he only has 14 minutes in the box in 26 league games.
I’d bet money, however, that Michigan’s Andy Hilbert will be awarded this one. The Wolverines are higher profile.
Best Offensive Defenseman: Alas for the loss of OSU’s Andre Signoretti, who was having the season of his career. Que sera, sera.
This one belongs to Michigan’s Jeff Jillson.
Mike and Marian Ilitch Humanitarian Award: This new award, named after the patron saints of the CCHA and owners of the Detroit Red Wings, will go without a doubt to UAF’s Ryan Reinheller. And if this angel of mercy and three-time finalist for the national award isn’t named college hockey’s national citizen of the year, demand a recount.
All-Rookie Team: Forwards Jeff Campbell (WMU), Dave Steckel (OSU) and R.J. Umberger (OSU), defensemen Mike Komisarek (Michigan) and Ryan Carrigan (NMU), and goaltender Preston McKay (UAF).
Next week, I’ll take a poke at the All-Conference Team (First and Second), and I’ll deliver my annual Girl Reporter Awards, including the ever-popular Goon Squad. Here’s a hint: my boyfriend, UAF’s Chad Hamilton, is no longer a member, but a good buddy of his is definitely on the list.
Games of the Week
It’s not what you think it is. Instead, it’s high drama in low — or once-low — places.
Notre Dame (8-21-6, 5-14-5 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (9-15-6, 7-13-6 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alas.
It’s the meeting between the brand-new Nanooks and the not-quite-dead-yet Irish. UAF is jockeying for playoff position, while Notre Dame is hoping to get to play postseason.
After going 2-5-2 in January, the Irish are 2-2-1 in February, having recently picked up a sweep of Bowling Green and a 4-4 tie in Yost against Michigan.
“It was a very good tie,” says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin, who adds that he can’t point to anything specific that lately has the Irish back on the right track.
“Is it time? Yes. Is it being opportunistic? Yes. There’s really nothing other than the fact that we’ve just kept going. And we’re playing better than we had been playing.”
The point in Yost was the first regular-season point Notre Dame has earned there since 1982, and sophomore netminder Tony Zasowski (3.27 GAA, .889 SV% CCHA) had something to do with that tie, stopping 40 of 44 shots in the contest.
Last weekend, the surprising Nanooks split at home with Miami, beating the RedHawks 5-2 before dropping the second game 3-2. In the win, UAF rookie Cam Keith earned his first collegiate hat trick, scoring in all three periods and earning CCHA Rookie of the Week honors.
In spite of the split with Miami, the Nanooks are just 1-4-0 in their last five games, three of which were played on the road. At home, UAF owns a 7-5-3 record, while Notre Dame is 3-8-3 on the road.
The Nanooks and Fighting Irish have met 25 times all-time, with the series deadlocked 12-12-1. Since Notre Dame returned to the CCHA in 1992-93, the Irish have an 11-6-1 record against UAF; Notre Dame is 10-2-1 in its last 13 games against Alaska Fairbanks, and 7-0-1 versus the Nanooks in the past eight meetings.
As clustermates last season, the teams met four times, with Notre Dame dominating Alaska Fairbanks to the tune of 3-0-1.
In many ways, these squads are evenly matched. Each is incredibly hard-working, and each gives an excellent second-night effort. Here are some numbers to consider:
In addition to the numbers, each team has its own genuine good guy. Nanook Ryan Reinheller and the Irish’s Ryan Dolder have each been named as finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.
Says Poulin of the series and the season, “We have a little work cut out for us.”
Picks: A split is the most likely outcome of this series, but once again I’m calling the Nanooks to win two at home. UAF has a serious home-ice advantage, has an advantage in net, and the Nanooks aren’t playing desperation hockey. UAF 4-3, 4-3
Grudge of the Week
It dates back to 1998, or perhaps even further… .
No. 1 Michigan State (25-4-4, 18-4-3 CCHA) at Ohio State (16-12-2, 13-9-2 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m. and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
“We’re not overwhelming, I can tell you that,” says Michigan State head coach Ron Mason. “I don’t think we’ve got a couple of players like Umberger and Steckel.”
Perhaps not, coach, but there is a little matter of Ryan Miller, isn’t there, Mr. Understatement?
The Spartans make their first-ever appearance in the Jerome Schottenstein Center; the last time Michigan State played in Columbus was Nov. 14, 1998, a 3-2 win for the Buckeyes in the teeny, tiny, beloved, bird-inhabited OSU Ice Rink (now known as the Ice Arena, and home of the Buckeye women’s team).
Michigan State holds a 64-12-5 lead in this all-time series, including a 22-10-4 mark in Columbus. In the last 12 meetings, however, the Spartan leads narrows to 6-5-1.
Last season was a rough one for the Buckeyes all the way around, and their trip to Munn Arena was no exception. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes 1-0 on Oct. 22, 1999, before spanking Ohio State 6-0 the following night. MSU is 3-1-1 against OSU in the last five contests, but four of those matches took place in East Lansing. The only win during that stretch was the 3-2 win in the Ice Palace, and tie was a 4-4 game Oct. 24, 1998, in Munn.
The Spartans and Buckeyes met twice in post-season play at the end of the 1997-98 campaign. Michigan State beat Ohio State 3-2 in overtime to take the CCHA Tournament title on Mar. 21, 1998; a week later, on Mar. 28 in Yost Arena, the Buckeyes dealt the Spartans a painful blow with a 4-3 overtime win of their own, eliminating MSU from NCAA post-season play and advancing themselves to their only Frozen Four appearance.
Ron Mason was the head coach at Bowling Green while OSU’s skipper John Markell was a Falcon standout. Mason recently posted his 600th career win with Michigan State, while Markell recently registered his 100th win at OSU.
Last weekend, the Spartans lost 4-2 in Kalamazoo before beating No. 5 Michigan 4-2 in Joe Louis Arena. Mason says that the Broncos didn’t surprise him at all and that the Spartans “played very well” in that loss. Of the game at Lawson he says, “I haven’t been in a building like that in a long, long time. It was positively electric.”
The secret to Michigan State’s success this season, says Mason, is veteran leadership, which has allowed the Spartans “to play very well against lower division teams. That’s what mature teams can do.”
Even though the Spartans haven’t yet played at Value City Arena, Mason has seen the building and thinks the arena might be a factor, but I personally wouldn’t bet on it. Any team that can play well regularly in Joe Louis Arena will take Value City in stride. Chalk it up to maturity.
Still, Mason concedes that every team can get “up” for a top team like the Spartans, and he never, ever underestimates opponents — especially an opponent coached by such an apt former pupil.
Picks: A few years back, when the Buckeyes were rolling toward a Frozen Four appearance — but as yet unaware of it themselves — this Girl Reporter picked Ohio State to beat an excellent Michigan State team in a Feb. 6, 1998, contest in the old Ice Rink. Before that game, then-captain of the Buckeyes, Dan Cousineau, gave me his feedback of my pick. “You’ve got b*lls, Paula. Big ones.” The Buckeyes won, and in fact didn’t lose a contest in the Ice Rink for the entire 1998 calendar year. What a raucous ride.
This is a different Buckeye team, a different Spartan team, and a slightly modified Girl Reporter, but I’d still bet that OSU takes at least a point this weekend, and that it will come on Friday night. OSU 3-2, MSU 3-1
Our hero, Nick Ganga has 19 penalties for 46 minutes in 28 games this season. Four regular-season games to go, Nick, and I believe.
As you read this, I’m finishing my second week of jury duty in the Franklin County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas. Other than the additional burden jury duty has added to my already over-booked schedule, the experience has been a blast.
What they don’t tell you about jury duty is that it’s like study hall for grownups. In the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, if you’re not called to sit on a trial, you sit in the Jury Commons Room with your fellow wallflowers, and do whatever you want within reason. By the second or third day there’s a lot of laughter, as people who would have never otherwise met play cards, joke, watch The Price Is Right (a big favorite), play bumper pool or foosball (no lie), or just shoot the breeze.
There are folks who read, quilt, knit, write, and nap. People eat way too much chocolate, drink too much coffee, and take a court-sanctioned hour-and-a-half for lunch. And there are movies, puzzles, and board games.
I’ve become known as “the workaholic” for carrying alternately a briefcase full of papers to grade and a briefcase with my laptop so that I could write last week’s column. I also spent several lunch “hours” in the Law Library in the same building, doing work.
On Thursday, however, I was out cold for two hours on the sofa directly beneath the television. A fellow juror said, “You didn’t move. About an hour into your nap we held a mirror to your nose to see if you were still with us.”
This week, I am a sitting juror on a criminal case. That’s all I can tell you for now, but next week I’ll elaborate on the process known as voir dire, from the French (voir meaning “to admit,” and dire meaning “having karaoked”).
In short, I’m having a blast and I’d serve again without hesitation.