2002-03 CCHA Season Preview

12 Steps to CCHA Success

October. Time to don your costume, grab your props, resurrect the alter-ego you save for special occasions — like every Friday and Saturday night from October through March.

Forget witches, ghosts, goblins. Specters, vampires, and demons have nothing on fans of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, brave souls who flaunt their true identities — and occasionally their painted bellies — behind the visiting goaltender, those who taunt Duke Shegos with, “Mom loved Matt better!”

Hardy folks who know that the meaning of life can be summed up in three little words: “You just suck.”

Dust off your hard hats, Puckheads. Take out that scarlet and gray wig, you strange little man who jumps up and down in time with a graphic at the Schott. Paint your faces, Mavericks.

And you kids at Michigan: get out the soap, because we all know you’ll need it the moment you open your mouths.

If only the teams in the CCHA could take cues from their faithful fans and be completely in tune with their own bad selves. So much happened during the summer of 2002 — coaching changes, early departures, seven surgeries in Omaha — that many CCHA teams are poised to suffer identity crises during the 2002-03 season.

In preseason each coach is optimistic, each team all potential. And while no one was surprised at the league’s media day that Michigan was picked first in both the coaches and media polls and Lake Superior picked last, Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin did point out that polls are, essentially, meaningless, as the final standings will be determined on the ice rather than off.

“One thing about the polls, you can talk to any of the coaches up here other than the one who was voted No. 1, and we all think we can do better than we were voted,” said Poulin. “The greatest thing about it is that you get to play.”

Two coaches were brave enough to note that the early departures of Michigan’s Mike Cammalleri and Michigan State’s Ryan Miller mean nothing but good news for every CCHA team except for Michigan and MSU.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a great year in the CCHA,” said Bob Daniels, head coach at Ferris State. “A couple of players in the league signed early, and I think the fans will benefit from that because the league is going to be wide open this year.”

Ohio State head coach John Markell added, “I think there are six or seven teams who can win it here, and with the loss of some key players in the CCHA, [some teams] may come back to the pack.”

Parity was again the buzz at this year’s media day, and for the first time in nearly a decade, perhaps the word has real meaning.

“Last year’s first-place battle and last year’s last-place battle literally went down to the last weekend,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “Between the first-place team and the last-place team, the last-place team won in the first game of the playoffs. That’s how close the teams are matched in this league. Week to week is anyone’s guess.

“It’s a good league. We have great coaches. We have great players. It’s sad to see some of our players in the league leave early, but that’s kind of a double-edged sword. That’s the kind of respect our league gets and college hockey gets from a professional level.”

Berenson said he had a difficult time deciding who should get his vote for first place in the preseason poll, but ultimately “decided finally to put the pressure on Rick Comley.”

Last March, MSU said goodbye to coach Ron Mason -- but hello to AD Ron Mason (photo: Christopher Brian Dudek).

Last March, MSU said goodbye to coach Ron Mason — but hello to AD Ron Mason (photo: Christopher Brian Dudek).

Comley, of course, takes over as head coach at Michigan State, stepping into shoes seemingly impossible to fill as Ron Mason becomes MSU’s athletic director. But who better to replace a legend than a legend?

And who better to replace Comley at Northern Michigan than Walt Kyle, who played for Comley, coached with Comley, then compiled 10 years of experience coaching in the NHL?

And what better fit at Bowling Green than Scott Paluch, former Falcon player and assistant coach, and a man who most recently helped lead Boston College to four consecutive trips to the Frozen Four?

Three “new” head coaches, Miller and Cammalleri gone, Komisarek gone, injured players left and right and programs in states of flux, yes, this season could be one of changing team personalities in a league that hasn’t had a serious shake-up in quite some time.

As each team negotiates its own personal journey on the road to the Joe, this girl reporter proposes a 12-step program for the league we know and love.

Here’s a quick look at each CCHA team, in order of the necessary steps to be taken. (Click on any team’s name to see its individual season preview.) If you want to know the team’s predicted finish, check out the box on the right, but remember — there is no shortcut to personal growth.

1. The first step is admitting that you are powerless — over your own lack of defense — and admitting that your zone has become unmanageable.

Bowling Green
Head coach: Scott Paluch, 11th overall, first at BGSU
2001-02 record: 9-25-6, 7-18-3 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 11
Predicted ceiling/basement: 8/12
Karmic quickie: Paluch’s pedigree is outstanding, and his mere presence may prompt the turnaround that Bowling Green desperately needs. “We definitely need to make a statement here,” said Paluch. :We look at the preseason polls, and obviously that’s motivation for our team to get back and establish ourselves and make a statement that we’re a player in this fine conference.”

2. The second step is to come to believe that a Power greater than you can restore you to your winning ways.

Lake Superior State
Head coach: Frank Anzalone, 21st overall, 10th at LSSU, second this time around
2001-02 record: 8-27-2, 4-22-2 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 12
Predicted ceiling/basement: 8/12
Karmic quickie: According to Anzalone, Lake Superior State’s past is its future. “We’re in familiar 1983 through 1985 territory, being picked for last,” said Anzalone. “That’s okay. We deserve to be there at the moment. What we’re trying to do right now is slowly rebuild our program with skilled student-athletes who want to be part of the process and who aren’t concerned with adversity. They’re more concerned with what you have to say than with the way you say it. That’s part of what we were about years ago.”

3. The third step is to make the decision to turn your will and your lives over to the care of Rick Comley, as we understand him.

Michigan State
Head coach: Rick Comley, 30th overall, first at MSU
2001-02 record: 27-9-5, 18-6-4 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 2
Predicted ceiling/basement: 1/4
Karmic quickie: Comley has proven he has what it takes to build and sustain a program with limited means. What will he do in East Lansing? “Our key strengths will be identified later, although when you look at a team and you have people like Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles and Duncan Keith, then you’re off and running in the talent pool.”

4. The fourth step is to make a searching and fearless inventory of your season-long dedication.



Ohio State
Head coach: John Markell, 10th overall, eighth as head at OSU
2001-02 record: 20-16-4, 12-12-4 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 7
Predicted ceiling/basement: 1/7
Karmic quickie: For the past two years, the Buckeyes have had mediocre seasons followed by heart-stopping postseason play. Has OSU’s heralded junior class matured? “The focus right now is improving ourselves within the CCHA and playing in the upper echelon,” said Markell. “I think our kids are very, very hungry to prove that.”

5. The fifth step is to admit to Enrico Blasi, yourselves, and anyone else who will listen the exact nature of your wrongs in your opponents’ end.

Head coach: Enrico Blasi, seventh overall, fourth at Miami
2001-02 record: 12-22-2, 9-17-2 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 10
Predicted ceiling/basement: 9/12
Karmic quickie: Blasi, the first Miami alum to return to coach the RedHawks, will contend with 11 freshmen this season. The key, said Blasi, will be consistency. “Our team is in a transition mode right now, really an unknown. We’re excited about our freshmen, but as you know freshmen are freshmen, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

6. The sixth step is to be ready to have Guy Gadowsky rip off your head if you go to the box.

Head coach: Guy Gadowsky, 10th overall, fourth at UAF
2001-02 record: 22-12-3, 15-10-3 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 4
Predicted ceiling/basement: 3/7
Karmic quickie: The Nanooks return most of a talented, dedicated team, having lost just three seniors. UAF also returns a solid goaltending duo, something unusual for this one-goalie league. Said Gadowsky, “This is the first time ever that UAF has not been picked by the media to finish dead-last.” That says it all.

7. The seventh step is to humbly ask Walt Kyle to remove your shortcomings — few though they are.

Northern Michigan
Head coach: Walt Kyle, 21st year overall, first as head at NMU
2001-02 record: 26-12-2, 16-10-2 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 3
Predicted ceiling/basement: 1/5
Karmic quickie: Kyle inherits an excellent Wildcat team, with a competent goaltender and a strong senior class. As the second head coach in NMU history, he doesn’t plan to vary his predecessor’s formula for success. “A lot of people have asked me how we’re going to play, and I can tell you that over the years both as a player and a coach I learned from Rick [Comley], and I don’t plan on changing very much of what Rick did. A lot of the things that I believe in are things that he taught me.”

8. The eighth step is to list all the people you’ve harmed — starting with your fans — and make amends. Okay, so it’s not your fault you play in a crummy rink. .

Notre Dame
Head coach: Dave Poulin, eighth overall and eighth at Notre Dame
2001-02 record: 16-17-5, 12-12-4 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 8
Predicted ceiling/basement: 5/8
Karmic quickie: For years, the Irish have been talking about taking “the next step.” Last year, a hard-working, disciplined Notre Dame team seemed to have done just that, finally. “I think the key for Notre Dame hockey is starting as we finished,” said Poulin. “We had a real strong last six or eight weeks of the [2001-02] season and got back to Joe Louis, and then played very well against Northern in a very good hockey game. We have to take the next step as a program. A large part of that will fall on [sophomore goaltender] Morgan Cey.”

9. The ninth step is to make direct amends to everyone you’ve harmed, except when taking the penalty is the right thing to do.

Western Michigan
Head coach: Jim Culhane, ninth overall, fourth as head at WMU
2001-02 record: 19-15-4, 13-12-3 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 6
Predicted ceiling/basement: 6/9
Karmic quickie: The Broncos made Lawson Arena a difficult place for opponents to play last season — until OSU swept WMU in two games in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The Broncos defeated six nationally ranked teams at home during the 2001-02 campaign, but this year they’ll be playing without the likes of Mike Bishai and Jeff Reynaert. “We’ll continue to play an up-tempo game with an emphasis on forechecking,” said Culhane.

10. The tenth step is to continue to take inventory of your defense and admit when you’re wrong — and do something about it, fercryinoutloud.

Head coach: Mike Kemp, 27th overall, sixth at UNO
2001-02 record: 21-16-4, 13-11-4 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 5
Predicted ceiling/basement: 2/7
Karmic quickie: Mike Kemp’s Mavericks have left such a definitive stamp on the CCHA that it’s easy to forget that this is just UNO’s fourth season as a full member of the league. Look for the Mavs to rely on outstanding goaltender Dan Ellis as UNO welcomes 10 newcomers. Said Kemp, “It will be the youngest team we fielded at UNO since our inaugural season of 1997-98.”

11. The 11th step is to seek through consultation and fervent discipline the sound advice of Red Berenson, accept his will, and have the power to carry it out.

BERENSON (photo: Ed Trefzger)

BERENSON (photo: Ed Trefzger)

Head coach: Red Berenson, 25th overall, 19th at Michigan
2001-02 record: 28-11-5, 19-5-4
2001-02 CCHA finish: 1
Predicted ceiling/basement: 1/3
Karmic quickie: “All in all,” said Berenson, “we like our returning team.” Like? What’s not to love? Even with the early departures of Cammalleri and Mike Komisarek and the graduation of Josh Blackburn, the Wolverines return a loaded team, led by outstanding seniors and paced by an exciting sophomore class.

12. The 12th and final step is this: having had a spiritual awakening as the result of finishing in the bottom third of the 2001-02 CCHA standings in spite of having two of the league’s top scorers, try to carry this message — “We play hockey!” — to as many people who will listen.

Ferris State
Head coach: Bob Daniels, 14th year overall, 11th as head coach at FSU
2001-02 record: 15-20-1, 12-15-1 CCHA
2001-02 CCHA finish: 9
Predicted ceiling/basement: 7/12
Karmic quickie: Led by the nicest guy in college hockey, it would be interesting to see the Bulldogs make some waves in the CCHA this year — interesting, and improbable. “I think we, over the last four or five years, have made a move to be more of an offensive type of team, more of a skating type of team, and we’re getting close to where we hope to be,” said Daniels.