This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 3, 2002

Let’s Make Promises We Can Keep

It’s that time of year when people attempt to shed bad habits and everyone from personal trainers to psychics benefit from our good intentions.

If you’re like the rest of the Western world, you’ve probably made a list — paper, personal planner, or in the good ol’ noggin — of what you’d like to change or improve about yourself in the coming year.

The problem with such lists, of course, is that we make them for ourselves. How much more effective would resolutions be if other people made them for us?

For example, you may tell yourself that you want to begin a new hobby, perhaps take up guitar. But what if you don’t need to learn to play the guitar? Perhaps your artistic soul manifests itself well enough, and instead of feeding your soul you should learn to pick up your socks off the living room floor, or remember to engage the parking brake when on a steep incline? Wouldn’t you benefit more by hearing that from someone else than from merely engaging in flights of self-improvement fancy?

So in the altruistic spirit of helpfulness, I’ve devised a list of resolutions, one for each team in the CCHA. If these men are wise, they will heed my call; if not, they will continue to drop their socks on the floor and play bad guitar, annoying every woman whom they know.

The Nanooks

All these gents need to do is take their vitamins. They appear to be doing nearly everything else right — scoring goals, winning games, staying out of the box. UAF is tied for third in overall scoring in the CCHA (3.44 goals per game). With 14 points, UAF is tied for fourth in the conference with UNO. The Nanooks are the second-least penalized team in the league.

Why vitamins? That travel schedule is murder. Keep up your strength, Nanooks, and keep the faith.

The Falcons

With just four conference wins, the Falcons need to get a team identity. This CCHA- enigma business has gone on long enough. What kind of team is BGSU? A scoring team? A defensive team? A patient team? An impatient team? Haven’t we seen each incarnation this season?

It’s never good to be the most-penalized team in a league (23.09 minutes per game) while having the league’s least-effective PK (.792).

The Bulldogs

Ah, the original Defenders of the Realm are doing well this season, but should look to last year’s Western Michigan team for their resolution for the second half: develop some depth. It’s a rare team that can rely on two good frontmen and hot goaltending to take it all the way to the top — and beyond. Unless the rest of the Ferris State team contributes more regularly, these Bulldogs may see home ice slip through their paws.

And stay out of the box, will you boy? Sheesh.

The Lakers

The Lakers need to resolve to do one thing for the second half of the season — survive until March. Arguably playing for the right to lose to Michigan State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, the Lakers have just three league wins and 22 goals in 14 conference games.

Just play your best, gents. The rest of us know what you’re going through.

The RedHawks

Miami is the rare team that actually knows what it needs to do, but just can’t seem to get there. The RedHawks need to be consistent, from shift to shift, period to period, game to game. A hair under .500 in a .500 league, the ‘Hawks can be explosively dynamic, or asleep on their feet. That goes for nearly every aspect of their game.

If the RedHawks played every team as though it were Ohio State, they’d win quite a few games.

The Wolverines

Grow up already! OK, don’t take that personally. What the Wolverines need to resolve to do is to mature. With a talented bunch of freshmen supporting talented upperclassmen, all Michigan needs to do is gel a little more for consistency’s sake. Leading the conference in goals per game (3.65) and fifth in goals allowed (2.85), shoring up the defense in front of Josh Blackburn is about the best thing the Wolverines can do.

Another piece of advice: keep the enthusiasm going. An enthusiastic, emotional Wolverine squad — like the one we all saw in the NCAA Western game against Mercyhurst, like the one we see often this season — is a team that can win.

The Spartans

What do the Spartans need to resolve to do? Keep the status quo. I’m tired of hearing of how this year’s MSU squad has lost its edge, or how Ryan Miller’s play has somehow fallen off. Fer cryin’ out loud, people, Michigan State has lost just four games this season!

And this isn’t a resolution, but a request: When you get to the post-season, advance, please.

The Mavericks

For the Mavericks, I have a gift to go along with this mid-season advice. To UNO, I give a generous supply of the herb, rosemary. Why? Rosemary is the herb of remembrance, and the Mavericks need to resolve to remember how they played in October and November, especially late October through early November.

Ah, the Mavericks looked good then! Remember how they swept Michigan State? Remember the good old days when they took points from Ohio State on the road? It brings a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat.

And if the Mavericks remember how well they played then, it may also bring a few more wins.

The Wildcats

What is there to say about the hardest working team in college hockey? Resolve to work harder, Wildcats. Your tenacity is your greatest asset. Skate fast, finish your checks, play hard and with emotion. Fearless in the corners, Northern Michigan outlasted — wore down, actually — a physical Cornell team before coming from behind to beat a very good Maine team in the Everblades College Classic.

Craig Kowalski is very talented, and this team is wicked fast.

The Fighting Irish

For years now, I’ve been accused of “being in bed” with one CCHA team or another, but never has anyone thought me guilty of loving the Irish. The sad truth of that makes it very difficult for me to pronounce this resolution for Notre Dame — or may make it very difficult for the Irish to want to follow.

Gents of Notre Dame, what you need to do is put out.

This is a roster packed with NHL draft picks, at a school known for a tradition of athletic and academic achievement. Currently, the Irish are tied in conference points (13) with the Buckeyes, in the middle of a league that sees five points separating No. 3 (Ferris State, 15) with No. 11 (Bowling Green, 10). For years the Irish have been teasing CCHA fans; now’s the time to show us what you’re made of Notre Dame.

The Buckeyes

The Buckeyes need to score more goals, but that isn’t what they need to resolve to do. If they keep it simple, they’ll score those goals — and be nearly unbeatable.

This is a team that needs to remember to follow its prescribed systems. Remember, guys, what it felt like to sweep Northern Michigan? Remember, guys, what it felt like to beat Cornell in Florida after losing badly to Maine? Remember, guys, what it felt like to be swept (for the only time this season) in Big Rapids?

Who knows you better than I do?

The Broncos

Quick trivia question: which CCHA team has one win fewer than league-leading Michigan State? Why, the Western Michigan Broncos, of course.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, their conference record is just .500 while they more than double their wins in overall play (12-6-3, 5-5-2 CCHA). Granted, two wins over Canisius and two over Sacred Heart while defending the Realm don’t do much for the PWR, but they are wins.

Here’s what the Broncos must resolve to do — win conference games.

All Hail the Defenders of the Realm!

The CCHA was 10-8 against nonconference opponents during the holiday week, fitting for a conference that appears to be a bit better than .500 itself.

Hard as that overall reality is to swallow, the particulars are downright scary. Invitee North Dakota took the title in the 37th Great Lakes Invitational. Forget that Michigan Tech founded the Invitational; that’s our holiday tournament, dammit!

North Dakota’s 5-4 title win over Michigan State marks the first time in five years that the Spartans haven’t taken the GLI title. That first year that the Spartans won the GLI ended Michigan’s nine-year run as GLI champs, and NoDak’s title is the first by a non-Michigan school since 1987.

Gruesome, isn’t it?

In these trying nonconference times, it’s especially important to lavish praise on those who successfully defend the Realm, and this week all CCHA fans should get down on their knees and thank Northern Michigan, Notre Dame, and — yes, it’s true — Lake Superior State.

The Wildcats, this year’s invitee to the Everblades College Classic, thrilled the tiny crowd in TECO Arena (in Estero, Fla., between Naples and Ft. Myers) with a back-and-forth double- overtime 4-3 win over Cornell Saturday before coming from behind to beat the favored Maine Black Bears 5-4 for the title Sunday.

After his team won the title in its first trip to the tourney, NMU head coach Rick Comley quipped, “You’d think they’d want us back, wouldn’t you?”

Goaltender Craig Kowalski was outstanding in the series, posting 82 saves in the two games, 45 in the double-overtime win over Cornell.

Also well worth praise was the dynamic duo of Chad Theuer and Bryce Cockburn, who combined for the winning goals in each game. Theuer’s feeds to Cockburn were spot-on, and Cockburn knew what to do when Theuer fed him.

Comley said that given the CCHA’s nonconference play so far this season, the wins over Cornell and Michigan may have been real litmus tests for the ‘Cats. “I think all year long the league has struggled a bit out of conference. If you have a chance to play nationally ranked [nonconference] teams, they’re critical games. We don’t know whether we’re a national team yet, but if we get better and are, we’ve just beaten two teams that are going to do very well in their own leagues, and that helps us a lot.”

The Lakers also successfully defended the Realm by becoming the only other CCHA team to win a holiday tournament, taking the Sheraton/Howard Bank Holiday Classic (Burlington, Vt.) After beating host Vermont 6-3 Friday and then Dartmouth Saturday by a score of 3-1.

Also defending the Realm were the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who even without Rob Globke and Brett Lebda — off with Team USA in the National World Junior Championship Tournament — downed Princeton twice in New Jersey. The 2-1 and 4-2 wins completed the first Irish sweep of a team on the road since Oct. 17-18, 1997, when they won two games at St. Cloud State.

D.O.T.R. honorable mentions go to Miami (4-3 over Yale), Michigan (7-4 over Tech), Michigan State (4-1 over Tech), and Ohio State (2-0 over Cornell).

Last week, the CCHA was 2-4 against the WCHA, 1-3 against Hockey East, and 7-1 against the ECAC.

Now, if all of that doesn’t say something about the relative strengths of conferences, I don’t know what does.

The First No-“L”

With a 2-0 win over Cornell in the second annual Everblades College Classic, Ohio State finally earned its first win in the holiday tournament it co-founded.

More importantly for the Buckeyes, OSU snapped a three-game losing streak which began with two road losses to Ferris State (5-2, 3-2) Dec. 14-15 — the first time the Buckeyes had failed to take at least a point in a weekend from an opponent this season — and which culminated in an embarrassing 6-2 showing against Maine in the first round of the Everblades Classic.

(Note to the Buckeyes: if at all possible, avoid playing Maine. They own you 10-1-0 all time.)

Even better news for the Bucks is that they bounced back from that loss to Maine and played a solid game against Cornell without starters Dave Steckel and R.J. Umberger (World Juniors) and Miguel Lafleche (shoulder). Learning to win without the big guns and without three of their top forwards may avert the kind of second-season nosedive that saw OSU go from third place in Dec. 2000 to traveling to Omaha in the first round of the 2000-01 CCHA playoffs.

Buckeye head coach John Markell said that as long as his team plays as a unit and each man knows his role, Ohio State will be competitive in the second half. “Anyone can play the system if you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Sometimes in hockey you get on a roll and all of a sudden you feel like you can get there, but that takes everybody out of position. Last night [against Maine] we were allowing the weak-side winger to get open on us — and we went over it all week — and they [OSU] paid the price for it.”

Markell said that his team was “self-motivated” after the loss to Maine. “How many times have we done this? Their job is to learn from this. I know what it’s about, but this is part of building your team, to understand the commitment it takes to be good.”

One bright spot in the Maine game was the sudden offensive prowess of junior defenseman Pete Broccoli, who accounted for both OSU goals. In doing so, Broccoli doubled his career goal total as a Buckeye.

Another plus was the play of goaltender Kelly Holowaty, who came in at the start of the third period to relieve Mike Betz. Holowaty, who has never seen a complete game as a Buckeye, stopped six of seven shots, including the first shot he faced, which nearly sneaked in five-hole.

“Definitely when you haven’t played in a while…your first game back, obviously you want to get your first shot,” said Holowaty. “You’ve got to get your confidence up there. That first shot is definitely the key one to get the momentum going.”

In case you’re wondering, even though the Bucks lost that match 6-2, they won the third period 2-1.

And Mike Betz returned to form the following night with his fourth shutout of the season.

My Favorite Things

Covering hockey in Florida is a difficult gig. Really. After being pampered and spoiled by my parents, I had to drive to Estero — with the windows open and the music blaring — to write up four games in a two-day tournament where the temperature climbed above 75F each day.

Tough assignment.

This Christmas, after enduring oral surgery and an unexpected trip (down a flight of stairs), I found myself in Beverly Hills, Fla., at the home of Darrell and Dolly Weston (no kidding, all the way around), where I did little but read, sleep, and shop with my mother.

I ate soft foods (wine is a soft food, according to my oral surgeon’s nurse), laughed a lot, watched my 82-year-old aunt flirt shamelessly with a 90-year-old man (now you know where I get it), bandied about the meaning of life with my sister, Vicki, and my brother, Michael, and gradually remembered why I was home in the first place (to spend Dad’s money and do laundry — you think these things change just because you hit 37?).

Seriously, while my father was suffering through a sinus infection, sitting in his easy chair and watching movies on the Lifetime Movie Network (truth, I swear), my mother wanted to spoil her eldest daughter. Mom is 67. I let her. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

My wish for each reader in 2002 is that you can share as close a relationship with your loved ones as I have come to know with mine, that you cherish each moment as it passes as I have learned relatively late to do, and that you find time to stop and smell the proverbial roses — or the fragrant night air in Estero, Fla., as was my pleasure.

Happy New Year, everyone.