This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 21, 2002

With a Whimper, Not a Bang

As February rolls to a close, here’s what you should have experienced this month:

The anniversary of the first issuance of car insurance (Feb. 1, 1898). International Boost Self Esteem Month. International Embroidery Month. Return Shopping Carts to Supermarkets Month. The anniversary of the birth of income tax (Feb. 3, 1913, 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

And let’s not forget Groundhog Day.

Can there be anything more exciting than the month of February? Well, if you’re a CCHA fan, the answer is obviously yes.

In fact, the regular season seems to be ending with a fizzle, not a sizzle.

Don’t believe me? Who’s duking it out for first place? Michigan and Michigan State? Wow. Color me shocked.

Who’s hovering near the cellar? Lake Superior State and Bowling Green? Slow down. I need to catch my breath.

Sure, there have been some surprises and some interesting moments this season. Alaska-Fairbanks is a pleasant surprise, but I picked them sixth so I don’t think I’m shocked.

Michigan and Michigan State tie twice during games that count, and MSU wins a game that doesn’t mean anything in league standings. Very exciting.

Six teams host. Six teams travel. All teams make the playoffs. As FSU head coach Bob Daniels pointed out last week, positioning isn’t really going to matter much in terms of playoffs, because home ice – for some – isn’t going to be much of an advantage. Why? Because the league has finally had a wish come true: parity exists. The only problem with parity is that by itself it does nothing to define excellence or mediocrity. This year, the oft-uttered phrase “Any team can beat any other on any given night” doesn’t seem like much of a compliment.

Sure, it will be nice for two extra teams to host the first round of the playoffs, from both a fan and a revenue perspective. And it will be nice for players from six teams to participate in the Detroit hullabaloo.

But, frankly, I’m bored.

The regular-season champ is no longer guaranteed an NCAA berth, and everyone’s in the playoffs, so the annual jockeying of positions just doesn’t do anything for me. The only potential excitement at this point surrounds the CCHA’s three “bubble” teams – Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks, and Western Michigan. Throw in Nebraska-Omaha and Ohio State, too, just for good measure.

Michigan? A bubble team? Well, yes. A No. 10 spot in the PairWise isn’t enough to guarantee the Wolverines an invitation to the NCAA tournament if the Wolverines find themselves unlucky in the CCHA playoffs. Why is that? Because a first-round upset to a significantly lower-ranked team could damage any of the hosting teams’ PWRs, given the nature of the new playoffs.

Ah, but who am I kidding? That’s a worst-case scenario. Michigan’s a go. Michigan State’s a go. I think it might be time for me to rotate my mattress, contemplate a shower curtain change, and alphabetize my spices.

March is just around the corner. The playoffs themselves could be exciting, as could the CCHA Tournament.

If not, at least we can look forward to National Umbrella Month, National Frozen Food Month, and the anniversary of the patent of earmuffs (March 13, 1887).

Obligatory Playoff Scenario Banter

The one thing that strikes me this week is that the third-place team, Alaska-Fairbanks, could end up traveling in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Only Michigan and Michigan State have secured home ice.

Other than that, I just don’t have the heart for this. Let’s see how this weekend shakes out.

The Envelope, Please

I’ve been remiss in my duties. It’s time to throw out – um, I mean give out, as in award, um, yes, that’s what I mean – a few Girl Reporter League Awards and All-CCHA Team.

Please, contain your excitement, and save the applause until all recipients have been named.

GR All-CCHA Team

Forwards Rob Collins (FSU), Bryce Cockburn (NMU), and Chad Theuer (NMU); defensemen John-Michael Liles (MSU) and Matt York (FSU); goaltender Ryan Miller (MSU).

Honorable mentions: Jeff Hoggan (UNO), Dave Cousineau (WMU), and Josh Blackburn (UM).

Player of the Year

Ryan Miller. Period.

Coach of the Year

Guy Gadowsky. Everyone considers his turnaround of the Nanooks a miracle, and “miracle” seems to be a criteria for this award. That having been said, however, I’d really like to see perennial miracle-workers like Ron Mason and Red Berenson considered. It takes a lot to keep a team on top.

Rookie of the Year

Matt York. A smart defender, and good things happen when he’s on the ice (+22). Honorable mention: Aaron Voros (UAF), Mike Brown (FSU).

Team of the Year

Michigan State. Why? Because they are quite the different team from years past, generating offense while keeping tight defensively, making Miller earn his keep, playing exciting hockey.

Honorable mention: Michigan (exciting rookie class), UAF (the surprise factor).

Surprise of the Year

Ohio State. Given the Buckeye depth and talent, why this team isn’t contending for a regular- season title is beyond me. Honorable mention: Wayne State.

The Ferris State Memorial Defenders of the Realm Award

Northern Michigan. 7-1-0 out of conference. So what if that loss was to Michigan Tech?

Team Most Likely to Surprise Folks in the Post-season

Ferris State.. The Bulldogs don’t have much depth up front, but they are fast with very good goaltending. Honorable mention: Notre Dame.

Perseverance Award

The Lake Superior State Lakers. I’m not talking about the program, the organization, or the coaching staff. I’m talking about the players, making it through a season so difficult that it is unimaginable to the rest of us. And they did it all in a fish bowl.

Two players tie for this year’s Attaboy Award: WMU’s Mike Bishai and UM’s Mike Cammalleri. Bishai toughed out the first half of the season with an infection, not wanting to disappoint his teammates and his coaching staff. Cammalleri will be returning this weekend after what all accounts say was a bad bout of mono. Stay well, guys.

Courage Under Fire Award

The Lakers. Wearing sandwich boards around campus to advertise your games. Listening to your coach denigrate you after you worked hard for 60 minutes. Watching teammates leave or be shown the door. What a nightmare.

The Chris Richards Man-Most-Likely-To-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award

John Shouneyia (UM). This junior stepped it up when Cammo was taken out by mono. Honorable mention: Greg Day (BGSU).

The Mike Comrie Most Likely to Leave Early Memorial Award

Matt Violin. This freshman goaltender from LSSU is the real thing. And who’d blame him?

The Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award

Chris Kunitz. This kid really knows how to pick up the trash. Eight power-play goals, six game-winners, 26 goals this season, +20.

The Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Memorial Award (formerly the Wow Award)

R.J. Umberger (OSU). Shades of Mike York, except that he hasn’t yet learned how to score a garbage goal. Unbelievable moves, and every tally one for the highlight reel. Innate ability to leave spectators breathless.

Best Offensive Goalie Award

With two assists, Ryan Miller is the league’s highest-scoring goaltender.

Girl Reporter All-Goon Squad

Most of you know I like a good hip-check as much as the next fan, and these guys know how to dish it out – although taking it is another matter for a few of them. In a season when PIMs are down, it’s not just numbers that count here. Intent matters.

Adam Hall. This isn’t going to win me any friends in East Lansing, but I don’t care. It’s this lone Girl Reporter’s opinion that Hall gets away with an awful lot.

Chris Kunitz. This forward from Ferris State is in a class by himself, an instigator the likes of which the league has not seen since Bobby Hayes (except that he’s clearly smarter than Hayes ever was). Don’t get me wrong – he’s a great player, but he pushes buttons and wears the face of an angel. Pure evil, and I admire that.

Derrick McIver. After FSU’s series with OSU at the Pleasure Palace last weekend, they considered naming the visiting penalty box in his honor.

Dave Steckel. This Ohio State sophomore honestly doesn’t know why the refs have it in for him. Honest. Have you seen his soon-to-be-patented shoulder slump? (Occurs after being assessed a penalty.) Off the ice, he’s a great kid. On the ice, I fear he’s become the victim of number choice; OSU fans, just recall who last wore No. 39, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Aaron Voros. He’s got 91 penalty minutes, and a legitimate shot at being named Rookie of the Year. Of course, he’s no Chad Hamilton.