Entering the first full week of CCHA play, Western Michigan has the early lead in the standings, having taken two from Bowling Green last weekend.
League matches include BGSU at Ferris State, Miami at Nebraska-Omaha, Michigan State at Northern Michigan, Ohio State at Alaska-Fairbanks, and a home-and-home series between Western Michigan and Notre Dame.
If the early going will be a harbinger for the regular-season race, look for standings to be — to use one CCHA coach’s phrase — “squashed” from now until March.
Our Last-Place Team Is Better Than Your First-Place Team
Congratulations to Lake Superior State on the Lakers’ 2-1 win over Quinnipiac in last week’s Black Bear Classic.
The win was not merely a victory for LSSU, but a triumph for the entire CCHA, and it earns the Lakers the title Defenders of the Realm for at least this week.
Maize And Blue Blues
Losing captain John Shouneyia to a fractured wrist in an exhibition game against Toronto Oct. 5 was a tough blow for the Wolverines. The senior captain, who will miss the next two to four weeks, is a natural leader and notched 50 points last season.
Now the Wolverines have learned that junior alternate captain Andy Burnes will be out for at least three weeks with mononucleosis. (What is in the water in Ann Arbor, anyway?) Sophomore Eric Nystrom will sit in as alternate captain until Burnes returns.
As if losing Shouneyia and Burnes weren’t enough, Michigan will have to do without Jason Ryznar (shoulder) for this weekend’s series against Merrimack.
The Wolverines have five healthy defensemen to dress going into Friday’s game.
Hot In Ohio
The RedHawks are red hot, at least in the early going. Through four games, Miami has outscored opponents 22-9 to lead the league in goal production, averaging 5.50 per game. Mike Kompon and Vince Pulera have four goals each for the RedHawks.
On the warmish side are the Falcons, averaging three goals per game through four games played. Steve Brudzewski and Mark Wires each have three goals for Bowling Green.
This Porridge Is Too Cold
Ohio State’s R.J. Umberger and Lee Spector each had a goal in OSU’s 7-2 loss to Minnesota.
Remember that OSU is the Big Ten school in Ohio. Right?
Games Of The Week
Rick Comley built the Northern Michigan hockey program from scratch. Walt Kyle played for Comley, coached with Comley — and had to wait a darned long time for Comley to finally give it up so that Kyle could come home.
Michigan State (1-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (1-1-1, 0-0-0 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Berry Events Center, Marquette, Mich.
And just how will this two-game series unfold? “I don’t really know,” said Kyle.
Kyle, coaching his fourth D-I game at Northern Michigan, said he doesn’t yet have a handle on how well his own squad is performing because the ‘Cats have yet to play a CCHA opponent. “I don’t know what the competition within the league is like. I don’t know what the other teams are like.”
Kyle did say that he thought the Wildcats “played pretty well” against Boston University and Wisconsin in last weekend’s Ice Breaker, but said that with four freshman defensemen, play “got a little scrambly at times.”
As for facing his old friend and mentor, Rick Comley, Kyle said, “It’s not that emotional for me in that regard. When you’ve coached for a long time, the person on the bench is not the issue.”
Kyle added, “I’m excited to be back coaching my first game here in Marquette. I’m happy that I’m going to be involved in his [Comley’s] first league game.”
The Wildcats tied Boston University 4-4 before dropping the title game to Wisconsin 4-3 in Madison last weekend. Michigan State was uncharacteristically shut out in its opening game against Denver — 5-0 — and the Spartans mustered just two goals to beat Colgate in the second round of the Stampede in Omaha on Saturday.
In the early going, it’s hard to tell how the Spartans will respond in the post-Mason, post-Miller era, but it’s probably safe to say that NMU will adjust to its coaching change with more speed and ease than will MSU.
Notes for the series:
Other fun things to ponder:
Michigan State dropped two of its last three games — dating to last season — to teams from Colorado, and each time the Spartans were shut out. NMU ended the 2001-02 season with a 2-0 loss to Colorado College in NCAA tourney play.
The last time the Spartans dropped a season opener was in 2000-01, when they lost to CC in Colorado Springs — and after which they tore through the competition, amassing a 10-game win streak.
The last game Rick Comley coached for NMU was against MSU, when the Spartans — led by Ron Mason — beat the Wildcats 2-1 in last year’s CCHA semifinals.
This series may be fought in net, especially since the Spartans are still adjusting to the new coach.
Rest assured that Comley’s former players won’t want to disappoint their long-time coach. The Wildcats will do all they can to beat the Spartans — and an NMU victory would be a reflection on both coaches.
Picks: MSU 3-1, NMU 3-2
Grudge Of The Week
It was March. It was Detroit. It was Alaska-Fairbanks’ first trip to the Joe.
Then the clock struck midnight, and the Buckeyes had beaten the Nanooks 6-5 in overtime. And given that Quinnipiac had already received its invitation to the ball, there would be no prince, no glass slipper, to save UAF’s fairy tale.
Ohio State (0-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (1-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska
Don’t tell Guy Gadowsky that there’s any bad blood between these two squads. “There is no sense of avenging anything,” said Gadowsky. “We certainly remember that they’re the team that put us out [of the NCAAs].
“Hockey’s hockey. Physical play and aggression are part of hockey. That always surprises me when people think a game is more physical or less physical because of who’s playing.”
As nice a guy as is Gadowsky, this is hard to believe. UAF fans hate OSU. It’s probably safe to say that at least a few Buckeyes — players, that is — dislike Aaron Voros. There was that little thing about taunting the Buckeye bench last season.
Then there was the matter of running goaltender Mike Betz in the CCHA quarterfinals last year.
Gadowsky said — and rightly so — that Voros is a premier player in the CCHA, and he defends the sophomore’s style of play. “I’d rather have him play with passion” than have to motivate him, said Gadowsky.
Gadowsky also said — and rightly so — that Voros goes to the box with company from the opposing team far more often than he goes alone.
Enough about one player (but isn’t it great that UAF has such a player, one who can generate points and publicity?)
This is the gist of this series: The Buckeyes and the Nanooks will play a good game on Friday night, and then UAF will take it to OSU Saturday.
Why? I don’t know. I called Miss Cleo. I consulted the tarot. I read a random person’s palm.
That and the fact that the Buckeyes look like they’re not prepared for this season, let alone this series.
OSU lost 7-2 to Minnesota in the Hall of Fame Game in St. Paul last weekend. Losing to the defending national champions is no shame, but it is, apparently, enough for Buckeye fans to call for the head of the coach on a platter.
Fan disgruntlement aside, the Buckeyes were simply flat against the Gophers. After the loss, OSU head coach John Markell expressed displeasure with his team, a team that blew a five-minute advantage (including what would have been a full minute of five-on-three) at the end of the first by taking two penalties of its own within that five-minute span.
“[After the second] I told them, ‘We’ve got to stay out of the box, and we’ve got to win one period. We’ve got to do something for ourselves,” said Markell.
OSU goaltender Mike Betz was peppered with 51 shots in the game, 39 through the first 40 minutes.
Conversely, the Nanooks split a weekend series with in-state rival Alaska-Anchorage, rebounding from Friday’s 4-2 loss to shut out UAA 4-0 in the second game. Lance Mayes had 27 saves in the opener; Preston McKay stopped 22 in his first shutout of the season.
Freshman Kelly Czuy had two goals in the win.
“They came out storming,” said Gadowsky of the Seawolves in UAA’s win. We came back in that game, and we played a strong game Saturday.”
Gadowsky sees the series against Ohio State for what it is — the CCHA opener, and an important chance to take points from not just a league opponent but a clustermate.
“I expect good hockey because they’re an excellent hockey team,” said Gadowsky. “This is a new year, and if we want to be successful we have to play well at home.”
The bottom line? It’s a long way from Columbus to Fairbanks. It’s a big sheet of ice. Either team could sweep this weekend, and the teams are — in theory — evenly matched.
If the Buckeyes mail in another performance, it will not only be a long weekend for OSU fans, but a very long season. The Nanooks will be ready, and if OSU is ready, fans in Fairbanks should be treated to some good hockey watching their favorite and least favorite teams.
Picks: OSU 4-3, UAF 5-2
UAF sophomore forward Aaron Voros earned two minor penalties for four minutes last weekend in two games against UAA. He also picked up an assist and finished +2 on the weekend.
With the Buckeyes in town this week, however, both Voros’ point and penalty totals may be higher.
Picks: four points, no more than 10 minutes in the box