This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 31, 2002

It’s The End Of The World As We’ve Known It

We all knew it would happen, someday, but most of us probably thought that “someday” wasn’t going to be quite so soon.

Earlier this week, Ron Mason announced that he’ll step down from his position as Spartan head coach at the end of this season to become Michigan State’s athletic director.

“It was kind of a surprise to everybody, including me,” says the winningest coach in college hockey.

“I’ve only superficially looked at being the athletic director before. This time, there was something triggered inside me that said, ‘I’m going to look into it further.’ The more I looked into it, the more excited I became, and then I had to make a decision.”

That decision, says Mason, wasn’t something made “overnight.” After 23 years behind the Spartan bench, that “something” that Mason felt this time around had to be especially motivating.

“Once I’m there,” says Mason, “I think I may be able to do some things for hockey on the national level that maybe other athletic directors haven’t had the opportunity to do before.”

Mason is in a unique position, able to name his successor, the coach who will nurture and foster a program that will forever bear Mason’s trademark.

As for who will get the nod, says Mason, “I’ve got a short list.”

Pick A Card, Any Card

With five weeks of regular-season play remaining, there’s still much to be decided in the CCHA standings. Last weekend, Nebraska-Omaha and Miami dealt themselves back into the mix, while Alaska-Fairbanks and Ohio State felt their fortunes reverse — at least for the time being.

The mid-league shuffling will continue all the way through the end of the season. If I were a betting woman — and I’m not — I’d lay money that Michigan State will take the regular season title, and that Lake State will anchor the pack. Everything else is up for grabs.

Five little points separate third-place UNO and the two teams currently tied for sixth, Miami and Notre Dame. Soon, the fate of several CCHA teams will come down to the numbers game: who beat whom, how many times, and by how much.

Aside from the alignment of the stars and several pinches of salt thrown over shoulders, here are a few things that may affect the final season standings.

Alaska-Fairbanks has played 22 games, and has just six league games remaining. The Nanooks, however, have a reasonable schedule; after playing two in Notre Dame this weekend, UAF hosts OSU Feb. 15-16, takes the following weekend off, then hosts UNO for its final two regular-season CCHA matches. Not easy opponents, but a good travel schedule for UAF to finish the season.

Bear in mind that UAF has lost its last six consecutive games in South Bend.

Bowling Green will probably be traveling the second weekend in March. Although the Falcons outscored Michigan 6-5 last weekend in a two-game split in Ann Arbor — with goals coming from six different players — Bowling Green has not been blessed this season with anything resembling the scoring touch.

The sophomore line of D’Arcy McConvey, Greg Day and Scott Hewson scored four straight goals over the course of two games for BGSU (Dec. 29 and Jan. 4, against Harvard and Princeton, respectively), but since then, no line has scored back-to-back goals for BG. Little is clicking up front for the Falcons.

Ferris State is tenacious and optimistic, two traits that — along with solid goaltending and two of the league’s top scorers — may lead to a home-ice advantage in the first round.

The Bulldogs, however, have a difficult schedule, beginning with this weekend’s series in Marquette. Bowling Green pays a visit to Big Rapids next weekend, followed by FSU’s trip to OSU (they swept the Buckeyes at home in December), then a home-and-home with Western, capping the season with a home-and-home with Michigan State. The good news here is that Ferris State still has a whole lot of hockey left to play, and the Bulldogs have games in hand on several middle-packers.

Lake Superior State is definitely traveling the second week in March, most likely to East Lansing. The Lakers are winless on the road in conference play this season, and have been shut out eight times this year.

Note to the Lakers: don’t play on Thursdays. Lake State lost to Michigan State Thursday, Oct. 11, 2001, by the score of 5-0 — an score identical to the Lakers’ most recent game, their 5-0 loss to Michigan on Thursday, Jan. 31.

Miami seems to be a team in flux, and the RedHawks may just want to travel when the playoffs begin. Why? Miami is 4-7-2 in Goggin Arena this season.

Miami travels to Omaha this weekend, takes the following weekend off, travels to Northern Feb. 15-16, hosts Michigan State Feb. 22-23, then ends the season with a funky Monday-Saturday home-and-home series with OSU, Feb. 25 (Columbus) and Mar. 2 (Oxford).

Two games below .500 actually keeps Miami in the home-ice hunt.

Michigan is not going anywhere for the first round, in spite of the Wolverines’ less-than- spectacular season. The rookie class is talented. Yes, they’re without Cammalleri (for now), but the team seems to rally around that kind of adversity and take it in relative stride.

Surprisingly, the Wolverines are only .500 at home this season (5-5-2), and that could be a problem for Michigan as the season plays out. After this Saturday’s game against the Lakers at JLA, the Wolverines host the Mavericks for two, play a single game against MSU at JLA Feb. 16 (early prediction: a tie), host OSU Feb. 22-23, and end the season with a home-and-home stand with the Broncos. Given their competition and their schedule, the Wolverines could end this season with as many as 10 losses.

Michigan State has lost just five games this season, four in league play. Does anyone honestly think that the Spartans will be caught before the end of the year? MSU plays OSU on the road after sweeping the Buckeyes twice at home, host Notre Dame for two, play the Wolverines once, travel to Miami for two, and end the season with that home-and-home series against the Broncos.

Best special teams in the league, extraordinary goaltender, great forwards, good team defense — and their beloved coach just announced his retirement at the end of this season. If you don’t think this team is on a mission, you’re deluding yourself.

With a great run in January, Nebraska-Omaha has made some significant progress in the standings game. Granted, four of UNO’s wins were against “lower-tier” teams (Notre Dame, LSSU), points is points, and the Mavericks tied the Wildcats in Marquette.

If you take a look at the company UNO is keeping in the standings, the Mavericks may be in hot water if they slide at all. Northern took three points from Omaha, and has two games in hand on the Mavs. Michigan took three points from Omaha, and has three points on the Mavs. UAF swept UNO earlier, although there are two games remaining in that cluster-series.

The good news is that if the Mavericks manage to catch the Spartans, UNO has a tiebreaker, having beaten MSU twice this season.

Northern Michigan is in great shape in the home stretch and playing good hockey. Like BGSU, FSU, OSU, and WMU, Northern has played 18 league games, but has few games in hand on remaining opponents.

The Wildcats went 4-1-1 against conference opponents in January, most recently having swept the Nanooks in Fairbanks — an impressive feat. NMU is 6-1-1 in its last eight games, and its remaining schedule is favorable: after hosting FSU this weekend, Northern goes to Western for two, hosts Miami, takes a weekend off, then hosts Lake State.

If the line of Bryce Cockburn, Mike Stutzel and Chad Theuer continues to click, I’ve no doubt that Northern will advance to Detroit.

Notre Dame’s effort this season is tremendous. Although the Irish were 2-5-1 in January, this is a scrappy team that doesn’t quit.

Notre Dame faces tough opponents down the stretch, and unless you believe in miracles, the Irish will be traveling the second weekend in March. After hosting UAF twice this weekend, the Irish travel to Munn for two against MSU, take a weekend off, travel to the Yoop to meet the Lakers, then host Bowling Green.

Ohio State has a brutal season-ending schedule. After playing the last two of four consecutive games against MSU this weekend, OSU travels to UAF, then hosts Ferris State, then travels to Yost for two, then ends the season with a home-and-home with Miami.

It doesn’t matter where FSU and Miami are in the standings relative to OSU; these teams hate the Buckeyes, and the competition is fierce. Given that OSU scored just two goals on MSU last weekend and is averaging just over two goals per game, the Buckeyes are in danger of playing themselves to the road again, as they did last season.

The good news for Western Michigan is that Mike Bishai won’t be missing any games because of his infected esophagus, which is being treated with medication. Bishai is a sparkplug for that club, and without him the Broncos are a lesser team.

Team defense is the big problem for the Broncos, who give up 3.44 per
conference contest. After their two games in Bowling Green this weekend,
the Broncos face Northern (scoring 3.00 per game), Omaha (2.65), Ferris State (2.94), and Michigan (3.24).

Games of the Week

We’re at the point where every game matters. With 18 points, the six-place Miami RedHawks are just five points behind third-place Nebraska-Omaha.

Miami (11-13-2, 8-10-2 CCHA) at No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha (16-9-3, 10-7-3
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Omaha Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Neb.

The RedHawks are just two games below .500 in league play, the Mavericks just three games over. This is how tight the CCHA is this season.

“We’re just trying to keep our heads above water,” says UNO coach Mike Kemp. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say [that lately] it’s the best we’ve played all year, but I think we’re playing steady, consistent. We’ve got the ingredients.”

The Mavericks ride a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) into this weekend’s series, including a five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1) at home. UNO jumped from 16 to 13 in the PairWise Rankings after last weekend’s sweep of Lake Superior State.

“You get to this time of year,” says Kemp, “when you have to be playing your best hockey, and you have to ride your best horses.”

One of UNO’s best horses lately is Dan Ellis, whose save percentage in his last four games is .964, his goals-against average 1.25 in the same span. Ellis was named the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week two weeks running, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Two other players who are making an impact for the Mavericks right now are Andrew Wong and Shane Glover. Wong takes a three-game goal-scoring streak and five-game point streak into the contests against Miami, and he’s had a hand in UNO’s last four game-winning goals. Glover (12- 8–20) was named CCHA Offensive Player of the Week Jan. 14.

The struggling RedHawks snapped a two-game losing streak with a definitive 7-3 beating of Notre Dame in Goggin Arena Saturday to earn a split on the weekend. The win was Miami’s best offensive showing of the season, and came one night after losing 4-3 in overtime. Derek Edwardson recorded his first four-point game and his first collegiate hat trick in the 7-3 win.

The RedHawks play better on the road than they do at home, and in spite of their less-than- impressive offensive output in December and January (the 7-3 win excepted, of course), the ‘Hawks are second in the CCHA in power-play conversion (.212) and third on the penalty kill (.880).

And even though Miami went 3-4-1 in January, January marks the first month this season in which the RedHawks outscored their collective opponents, 22-21.

This leaves the Mavericks in a good news/bad news situation. Miami is no offensive powerhouse, but the ‘Hawks play better on the road than at home. The Mavericks are 12-3-2 when scoring on the power play, but Miami’s PK is good, and the RedHawks limit opponent power plays by taking 15.75 PIMs per game.

Here’s how the teams match up:

  • Miami averages 2.80 goals per conference game (seventh); UNO averages 2.65

  • Miami allows 3.05 goals per conference game (eighth); UNO averages 2.25

  • Miami’s power play is second (.212); UNO’s is fifth (.163)
  • Miami’s penalty kill is third (.880); UNO’s is fourth (.869) • Miami is the fifth-least penalized team in the league (15.75 PIMs/game); UNO is sixth-least (16.60)
  • Miami’s top scorer is Jason Deskins (8-20–18), and its top goal-scorer is Greg Hogeboom (14- 8–22); UNO’s top scorer is Andrew Wong (10-25–35), and its top goal-scorer is Jeff Hoggan (15-19–34)
  • Miami’s starting goaltender is David Burleigh (2-6-0, 4.24 GAA, .873 SV%); UNO’s starting goaltender is Dan Ellis (15-9-3, 2.53 GAA, .918 SV%)

    Miami leads this overall series 3-2-0, and is 1-1-0 in the Civic Aud, and the RedHawks have won the last three in a row between the teams.

    The key to success for UNO? “We need to stay out of the box, and avoid their special teams,” says Kemp.

    Picks: Miami has a difficult time rattling Ellis, and the RedHawks’ defensive weaknesses give the Mavericks the edge. UNO 4-3, 4-2.

    Grudge of the Week

    Once upon a time, the Buckeyes beat the Spartans. No one on either roster was around when it happened.

    No. 4 Michigan State (19-5-3, 14-4-2 CCHA) at Ohio State (14-10-2, 9-7-2
    7:05 p.m. Friday, 8:05 p.m. Saturday, Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

    These are Games No. 3 and 4 of a four-game set that saw OSU lose 3-1 and 5-1 to the Spartans in Munn last weekend.

    The last time the Buckeyes beat the Spartans was a 3-2 win in Columbus, Nov. 14, 1998, in that magical calendar year in which OSU not only went to the Frozen Four (beating Michigan State to do so at the end of the 1997-98
    season) but did not lose a single game in the old OSU Ice Rink (before it was known as the Ice Arena).

    Since then, the Spartans have owned the Buckeyes, having beaten them six straight times (including last weekend’s games) and outscored them 27-6 in that span. In fact, Ryan Miller’s first collegiate shutout came against Ohio State, a 1-0 win in East Lansing Oct. 22, 1999. Talk about your place in history.

    Last weekend, the only effective line for the Buckeyes was that of Miguel Lafleche, Scott May, and Paul Caponigri. May scored the first night, Caponigri the second, and that’s all she wrote.

    Whither Umberger? Whither Steckel? Inquiring minds would like to know.

    It’s your classic grudge, and by Game No. 4 Saturday night, it could be downright ugly.

    Picks: I’m all about the odds. MSU 3-1, 3-1.

    It’s Time To Find Your Happy Place

    Okay, everybody. Breathe in slowly. Hold it. Hold it. Now exhale — very slowly. Good.

    Repeat. Thirty times.

    I appreciate the reader the mail, even the mail that points out my general and specific incompetencies, the mail that berates me for my evident lack of knowledge, messages from people who can’t stand literature, and those special missives that point out my inherently, genetically flawed nature (i.e., born with ovaries).

    Honestly, I read every message, and try to respond to most. I am glad that you read my column, that you enjoy USCHO, and that something I’ve written has something struck a cord somewhere.

    But, people, I’ve something to say: Y’all need to chill.

    Michigan student fans, for example, should
    learn a little history.

    Readers who have pointed out the potty-mouthed Lawson student contingency should be patient.

    And to those folks in Sault Ste. Marie who thought that mention of their Walleye Festival was a slam simply need to relax. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of fishing on the St. Lawrence River with my dad, Darrell Weston. We mostly fished for Northern pike and large-mouthed bass, but we fished. I loved it. When I saw that people in the Soo were beginning a fishing festival, I got a little sentimental and included that in my column.

    My apologies, residents of Sault Ste. Marie, for highlighting something unique to your area. Wouldn’t want anyone outside of the Yoop to have any sense of your community.

    February 9 cannot come soon enough.