In Mexico, the first two days of November are known as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. These holidays which coincide with the Catholic holy days of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2) trace their routes back to ancient indigenous peoples who believed that the souls of the dead return every year to their loved ones, to eat, drink, and socialize.
It’s tradition in Mexico to create altars that include candles, flowers, religious icons, and the favorite foods and beverages of the dead, to welcome them back and encourage them to linger.
While it’s a little early in the season to sign any team’s death certificate, fans of some squads may consider constructing makeshift altars with pizza, beer, stick tape, and copies of Slap Shot.
It couldn’t hurt, and hockey players are such a superstitious lot.
Four days before Halloween, for only the fourth time in the history of the known universe, both Michigan State and Michigan were officially swept in the same weekend, and as a result the Spartans lost their top spot in the USCHO.com poll for the first time since some time late in the last millennium.
In Michigan State’s 5-1 loss to Nebraska-Omaha, Ryan Miller was pulled — you read that correctly — after he allowed the fourth goal. It’s the first time Miller has been pulled, also in the history of the known universe.
In Omaha, the Spartans allowed a total of nine goals in two games, losing 4-3 Friday night as well.
Ron Mason, Michigan State head coach, said there was a very simple reason the Spartans lost two in a row: “We played fine and we didn’t score any goals.”
Mason is a bit bemused by the hype surrounding the losses. “We lost twice to Miami a couple of years ago. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.”
The Spartans dropped two in a row to Miami in Oxford Nov. 19-20, 1999 (3-2, 3-0) — nearly two years ago, for those of you who are math challenged. While it may not be the end of the world, CCHA fans shouldn’t start celebrating the end of the reign of the Green and White just yet.
“They will definitely be there in the end,” says Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley, whose Wildcats took two from Michigan in Yost last weekend. “You can’t count them out. They’re young, and they’ll be even better in a few months.”
The Spartans are a young team. Two years ago, the CCHA lost one-third of its collective roster to graduation, meaning that one-third of the 2000-01 players were rookies.
Michigan State is just going through what several programs encountered last season, with nine rookies on the MSU team this year. That influx of new players — even with solid veterans like Miller, Hall, Maloney, Liles, Fast — is bound to change a team.
“Last year we were a very predictable hockey team,” says Mason. “We knew what to expect every night, and this year we simply don’t know. We’re not as consistent as we were, and you have to be consistent to win in this league.”
As for Miller, Mason says that he’s confident the 2000-01 Hobey Baker winner will get his groove back. “He let in some goals he doesn’t normally let in [in Omaha]. Ryan’s carrying around a burden. He’s handled it so well in the public, and now he’s got to learn to handle it himself. He will.”
Miller himself eloquently summed up the 5-1 loss: “Hockey gods aren’t so nice sometimes.”
Michigan State has not had two losses this early in the season since 1996-97, when the Spartans opened with three straight wins before dropping consecutive games to Boston College and Northeastern.
Saturday’s 5-1 loss was the worst MSU has suffered since Nov. 26, 1999, when the Spartans lost to Wisconsin 5-1 at Munn during the College Hockey Showcase, and the five UNO goals on Saturday were the most allowed by MSU since Mar. 24, 1999, when Boston College beat Michigan State 6-5 in the NCAA Western Regionals in Minneapolis.
The nine goals in the two losses to Nebraska-Omaha are also the most the Spartans have allowed in a CCHA series since Feb. 11-12, 1994, when MSU lost and tied at Lake Superior State (11-1, 3-3).
And finally, to give you an idea of just how different this MSU squad may be from last season’s team: Michigan State gave up at least four goals in each of last weekend’s losses, something that happened just twice during the entire 2000-01 season.
Looking ahead to the end of the season, Mason, a master of understatement, says, “In the end, who knows if we’ll be there.”
Don’t you believe him.
Sweeps, Part Two
Craig Kowalski has Michigan’s number.
On Feb. 10, 2001, Kowalski and the Northern Michigan Wildcats blanked the Wolverines 2-0 in Yost Ice Arena. Kowalski had 25 saves in the game. Bryce Cockburn and Fred Mattersdorfer had the two goals, and Chad Theuer assisted on each.
On Friday, Oct. 26, Kowalski did it again, making 28 saves as the ‘Cats downed Michigan, 1-0 in overtime. Ryan Carrigan had the only goal.
“It wasn’t a typical one-zero game,” says NMU head coach Rick Comley. “Each team had lots of chances, and it could have been 4-4 or 5-5.”
Comley says that even though he was busy coaching, he definitely “got the sense” that it was “some game,” just as he knew at the start of Saturday’s contest that the second match would be completely different.
“It was a little more helter-skelter from the start. You could tell right away that the pucks were going to go in.”
The final score was 5-3 in favor of the Wildcats, giving NMU the sweep, and giving the fans a lot to cheer about. Says Comley, “Fans like to see goals scored.”
In spite of the two wins in the very hostile Yost Arena, Comley says fans shouldn’t write off the Wolverines, and shouldn’t anoint the Wildcats. “It’s so early, way too early. Most games have only played four or six games.”
It may be early in the season, but it is clear that Craig Kowalski is playing very well. The sophomore has a .942 save percentage through four games, and a 1.61 goals-against average.
Northern Michigan is one of three teams that are sophomore-heavy (the other are Alaska Fairbanks and Ohio State), and Comley says that his youngish team is definitely seasoned. “We only have three seniors, but I think it’s a pretty mature team. Defensively, we could be tighter, but it is early.”
And Comley says that the Wildcats cannot take this weekend’s opponent, Notre Dame, lightly after beating a top-ranked team twice. “Bowling Green and Notre Dame really play us tough because they’re very physical teams.”
As is Northern Michigan, the hardest-working team in college hockey.
Sweeps, Part Three
While the Mavericks and Wildcats were making quick work of the Spartans and Wolverines, another CCHA team was making noise on the road.
The Miami RedHawks swept the Ferris State Bulldogs 5-4 and 3-2 in Big Rapids, a difficult and hostile venue for visiting teams.
And while FSU may not be the ranked foes UNO and NMU faced last weekend, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi says that teams and fans around the league should take the Bulldogs very seriously.
“They played very well. They probably deserved to win if not one night, both nights,” says Blasi. “Teams should not underestimate Ferris State. They’ve got a good team, they’re well coached, they can skate, and they work hard.”
In the first match, the squads were tied 2-2 after one, with just one first-period goal scored five-on-five. Miami had a one-goal lead at the end of the second, but Mike Kinnie tied it up for Ferris State midway through the third. It was Mike Kompon’s late power-play goal that gave the RedHawks the win.
The second contest was back-and-forth as well. After a scoreless first period, the teams were tied 1-1 after two on goals by Miami’s Greg Hogeboom and Ferris State’s Chris Kunitz. Derrick McIver put FSU ahead midway through the third, but Michael Glumac and Danny Stewart answered for the ‘Hawks with two quick goals, giving Miami the sweep.
“Burleigh played well Saturday,” says Blasi. “We’re getting good contributions from different lines. Glumac’s chipping in. [Derek] Edwardson has been contributing, [and] Greg Hogeboom.”
Through six games, Hogeboom (6-4-10) leads the RedHawks in scoring, followed by Jason Deskins (1-8-9), Mike Glumac (6-2-8), and Nick Jardine (2-3-5).
In six games, Burleigh has struggled a bit, with a .882 save percentage and 2.99 GAA.
Like Mason and Comley, Blasi cautions that the season is very young, and no one should be looking too far ahead — but he feels safe in predicting that the league is wide open, and at this point, everything is up for grabs.
“You know what it’s going to be this year? It’s going to be timing,” says Blasi, who thinks that in the end, the final standings will come down to, well, the end. “It’s going to be when you get certain teams, what the injury report’s going to be, whether a team is on a roll or whether they’re not.
“Take your pick.”
This week, the RedHawks take on the Western Michigan Broncos, who successfully defended the Realm against Maine last week, beating the Black Bears 4-3 before tying them up 2-2, both games in Kalamazoo.
Rookie Mike Mantua had the win with 29 saves for WMU, another game that went back and forth. Freshman Jeremy Cheyne had two goals for the Broncos, and Brent Rumble and Patrick Dwyer each found the net. Dwyer’s tally was the game-winner, a five-on-three power-play goal at 5:40 in the third.
Jeff Reynaert had 29 saves in the tie. Paul Davies and Anthony Battaglia had the goals for Western.
“I remember the first game last year here,” says Blasi of the Broncos. “It was a battle. We’ll be on our best to compete.”
The Broncos hold a 44-35-6 advantage in this all-time series, but are 19-19-1 against Miami in Goggin Arena. Last year, the RedHawks and Broncos split in Lawson Arena, with Western winning 6-4 the first night (Dec. 1) before Miami took the nightcap, 5-1 (Dec. 2).
In Goggin during the 2000-01 season, Miami won both games, 4-1 and 7-3 (Feb. 2-3).
Blasi says if there’s one thing he’d like to see from his team this weekend, it’s consistency. “Sometimes we lose focus. Then again, it’s October.”
The games against Western also give Blasi the opportunity to bring his all-time coaching record above the .500 mark. Blasi is 37-38-5 all-time after the sweep in Big Rapids. Blasi is 4-1-1 all-time against Western Michigan.
Not surprisingly, Mike Bishai leads the Broncos in points so far this season (0-9-9), but the freshman Pat Dwyer (4-2-6) has notched four goals in six games to lead WMU in that category. Big, bad defender Dave Cousineau (2-3-5) is tired for third in scoring with Paul Davies (2-3-5), and Dana Lattery (1-4-5).
Mike Mantua (.883 SV%, 3.23 GAA) has seen more time in net than veteran Jeff Reynaert (.842 SV%, 4.15 GAA), but WMU coach Jim Culhane has indicated that he’s looking to both of them to play.
Games, Grudges, Complimenting Jerseys…
What a way to start a season.
— UNO head coach Mike Kemp, on the Mavs’ first-night victory over then-No. 1 Michigan State.
On the other side of the back-to-back Michigan State losses were back-to-back Nebraska-Omaha wins. UNO beat MSU 4-3 and 5-1 in Omaha last weekend.
“They were excellent hockey games,” says Nebraska-Omaha head coach Mike Kemp. “People in Omaha are talking about how Friday night’s hockey game was one of the most exciting hockey games they’ve ever seen in their lives.
“It was a game that was hard-fought. We had a two-one lead going into the third period, and Michigan State comes back, ties it up early in the third, takes a lead with three minutes to go, and we just had a flurry at the end, scoring two goals in the last two minutes to win the game. It was a very, very exciting finish.”
Shane Glover and Jeff Hoggan gave the Mavericks their first two goals of the game and a 2-1 lead at the end of one. After a scoreless second period, however, Duncan Keith and Brian Maloney put the Spartans ahead by a goal until Gus Groslie and Glover scored 1:46 apart with less than three minutes to go to give UNO the win.
“The Saturday night game was much the same,” says Kemp, “a very evenly played game, much more so than the score indicated.”
Andrew Wong, David Brisson, Aaron Smith, Groslie, and Scotty Turner each netted one in the 5-1 win, completing a rare sweep of Michigan State.
Danny Ellis had 61 saves in the two games.
Going into the weekend and facing the then-top-ranked team, Kemp says his team was optimistic but realistic. “The last time^Åwas 1999 when they were swept in a series, so you don’t go into the series thinking that [you’ll sweep], but after you win Friday night, you say, ‘OK. We’ve got a great shot at it.’ Our guys went out and played very, very hard Saturday, played very smart, and we were lucky enough to come out with a win.”
After two conference games, Nebraska-Omaha has four points, just one behind the Mavericks’ opponent this weekend, Ohio State. With a 5-1-0 record overall, the Mavericks have been “resilient,” says Kemp.
“We’ve been behind now three of our five wins in the third period and have had to come back and win games late. We haven’t quit, just keep playing. They’re a plucky bunch, I would say.”
Another key to UNO’s early-season success is the Mavericks’ propensity to follow orders. “They’ve been doing the types of things that we talk to them about,” says Kemp. “They stay to the script. That doesn’t happen a lot [in hockey]. Guys try to improvise, try to do things to make things happen, and consequently for us, having them stay to the script has been a brought success for us. It’s been the reason we win.”
This weekend, the Mavericks meet the Buckeyes in Columbus, a game highly anticipated by fans of both teams. Friday’s game will be the first meeting between the squads since UNO defeated OSU, 4-3, in double-overtime in the third game of the first-round, best-of-three CCHA playoff series last March. Billy Pugliese had two goals for UNO in that match, including the game-winner.
Fortunately for Ohio State, Billy Pugliese graduated.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Dave Steckel and J.B. Bittner will miss Friday’s match, having earned game disqualifications in a melee at the end of Ohio State’s 4-3 win over Bowling Green last Saturday, Oct. 27. Bittner scored the game-winner in that contest, assisted by Steckel, with just 27 seconds remaining in regulation.
“A thing like that can bring a team together, can be something they rally around,” says Ohio State head coach John Markell of the game disqualifications. “This will give some guys a chance to step up and play.”
Also out for the Buckeyes is Luke Pavlas, who will miss at least a few games with a shoulder injury. Backup goaltender Pete Wishloff is lost for the season, also with a shoulder injury.
The good news for Ohio State is that Paul Caponigri should be ready to play. Caponigri, a former teammate of UNO netminder Danny Ellis when the two played with the Omaha Lancers, missed the win in Bowling Green with bruised ribs.
So, for those of you playing musical chairs with the Buckeye roster at home, here’s what’s been happening. Last weekend, Bittner was moved to the first line to play with Steckel and R.J. Umberger because of Caponigri’s absence. This week, Caponigri will be back with Umberger, and someone else will be there to replace Steckel on Friday night.
Of course, that means that someone else will be in for Bittner. Markell may dress seven defensemen for Friday’s game, as he did against Bowling Green on Saturday.
Both the Mavericks and the Buckeyes can score. Andrew Wong (3-6-9) leads not only the Mavs but also the CCHA in scoring, followed by teammate Jeff Hoggan (6-5-1). Aaron Smith (3-7-10) is right up there as well, technically tied for third in overall scoring in the CCHA.
Through six games, UNO is outscoring opponents 25-19, and the Mavericks are second in overall goals per game so far this year, averaging 4.17.
Three Buckeyes have five points through four games: R.J. Umberger (2- 3-5), Miguel Lafleche (1-4-5), and Dave Steckel (1-4-5). The Bucks and their opponents are dead-even in goal production this season (14), and OSU is tied for third in goals per game (3.50) in overall play so far this season.
UNO and OSU are close in goals allowed, as well, with Nebraska-Omaha allowing 3.17 per game, and Ohio State allowing 3.50. Ellis (.889 SV%) edges Mike Betz slightly in net (.880), but if these two play like they did in against each other in March, fans are in for a heck of a weekend of hockey.
What may decide these two games is the way in which Ohio State plays in its own end. Through the first four games of the season, the Buckeyes have looked mediocre to terrible in their own zone, trying to force offensive plays from behind their own blue line and frequently turning over the puck in front of their own cage.
Another issue is the nearly-empty Value City Arena. In a venue that seats 17,000-plus for hockey, 2,000 to 3,000 loyal fans can’t make much noise. Last season, the Buckeyes were a better road team than home team, and after their three-point weekend against Notre Dame to kick off this campaign, Markell said that this OSU team was going to make every effort to make home feel like home — and feel rough for visiting teams.
“This is going to be an unbelievably hard-fought series,” says Kemp. “They’ve probably had us red-lettered since last March.”