What is this, the NFL?
Last weekend CCHA winners outscored their opponents 69-26. Northern Michigan beat Michigan State 10-4. Ferris State punished Bowling Green 10-1. In their second game, it was Notre Dame 8, Western Michigan 5.
Just what’s going on here? Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin has a theory.
“I think teams are spending more time on [offense],” said Poulin. “People are getting away from the systematic, stifling play we’ve seen for years.”
At this year’s preseason CCHA Media Day, Poulin did predict that college hockey fans would see more goals scored this year, in spite of the excellent goaltending with which the CCHA seems to have been blessed.
“I don’t know if it will maintain,” said Poulin this week. “These things go in cycles, almost as if there are trends.
“Offense doesn’t have to be ten goals, but will be many good scoring chances.”
Poulin said that this trend toward more offense in college hockey has been coming for some time, and that recruiting now plays into it.
“You’re looking at different players for different things now. If a kid can score but needs to develop in other areas, you might be more willing to overlook what he lacks, thinking that he’ll pick that up later.”
Poulin added that there’s an emphasis on special teams that was absent in years past.
“More and more, at every coaching conference I’ve seen, it’s all about scoring, in every situation.”
Although the season is very young, Poulin is clearly attempting to catch the offensive wave; through four games played, Notre Dame has averaged 4.75 goals per game.
While that stat in itself is interesting, even more telling is that it’s only good enough for third in overall scoring in the CCHA in the early going. Through four games, Ferris State has averaged 5.50 goals per game for the top spot, but through six games Miami has averaged 4.83.
Notre Dame’s Rob Globke and Ferris State’s Chris Kunitz each have five goals in four overall games to lead the league.
“But it’s too early,” cautioned the prophetic Poulin, “to tell if this will last even for this season.”
Games Of The Week
Ferris State notched 15 goals against Bowling Green last weekend. Notre Dame found the net a dozen times against Western. This one will be fun.
Ferris State (3-1-0, 2-0-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (3-0-1, 2-0-0 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT, Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.
The Irish are enjoying their best start since the 1998-99 season, when Notre Dame bolted at the beginning for a 6-0-0 run.
“We did play pretty well against Western,” said Poulin. “We played better than we did the weekend before.”
Poulin’s Irish were more disciplined, more focused last year than any squad he’d coached, and this season they have experience on their side. “They’re a year older. They’re more mature. We’re really led defensively.”
That may seem like an odd statement from a coach whose teams notched 12 goals in a two-game, home-and-home sweep of WMU last weekend, but it’s true.
Neil Komadoski has a power-play goals and three assists, and is staying out of the box. Evan Nielsen is +6.
Poulin said he expects “very tight and very good games” this weekend against the Bulldogs.
In sweeping Bowling Green last weekend, FSU scored 15 goals, four of which came from Chris Kunitz (4-4-8 in the series). The Bulldogs also bring a hot goaltender to the Joyce Center in Mike Brown, who was named CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row after nearly shutting down BGSU. Through four games, Brown has a 1.76 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
His counterpart for the Irish, Morgan Cey, has a 2.92 GAA and .906 SV% through three games.
These two games will be FSU’s eighth and ninth consecutive matches against Notre Dame in South Bend. Here are a few facts about this pairing:
The eight goals Notre Dame scored against WMU in the 8-5 win last weekend were the most registered by an Irish squad since Nov. 20, 1998, when Notre Dame beat WMU 9-5.
That 8-5 over the Broncos was Dave Poulin’s 100th career win behind the Notre Dame bench. Congrats, coach.
FSU’s streaky offense netted seven goals in two different games last season.
Quirky note of the week: When all is said and done, the Irish will have faced opponents nicknamed Bulldogs a total of eight times this season — four against clustermate FSU, two in their opening weekend against Minnesota-Duluth, and twice in January against Yale.
This note proves two things: 1) the season is young, and b) Notre Dame SID Tim Connor needs a nap.
Picks: Notre Dame 4-3, FSU 4-3
Grudge Of The Week
I don’t like to highlight the same team two weeks in a row, but the Nanooks are playing the Wolverines.
Alaska-Fairbanks (1-2-1, 0-1-1 CCHA) at Michigan (3-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA)
7:35 p.m. Friday, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Wolverines open their conference play against the Nanooks, after taking two from Merrimack at home last weekend. The Nanooks cruise the lower 48 after a disappointing home opener against Ohio State; OSU beat UAF 6-3 in the first game, and the teams tied 1-1 the second night.
Michigan leads this series 23-3-0, and is 12-2-0 in Yost against Fairbanks. Last season, the Wolverines embarrassed the Nanooks 7-0 (Jan. 11), but UAF responded the following night with its second-ever win in Ann Arbor (3-1).
These two were clustermates last season, with Michigan taking the series 3-1-0.
What to watch in this series:
This is the first time in six years that the Wolverines haven’t had to make the trek to Fairbanks. Do you think they’re happy?
Picks: Michigan 4-3, UAF 3-2
UAF sophomore forward Voros earned three minor penalties for six minutes against OSU last weekend, bringing his season total to five penalties for 10 minutes. Voros picked up an assist in the two-game set.
I predicted he’d earn four points and no more than 10 minutes in the box last weekend, so he was a surprise all the way around.
Picks: In Ann Arbor, expect Voros to earn two points and no more than four minutes in the box.
The Western Michigan Broncos did something unexpected last weekend: they lost in Lawson.
Last season, WMU was 13-7-2 at home, and three of those losses were the Broncos’ last three home games, including two to OSU in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs.
Last weekend, Notre Dame took it to WMU, sweeping the Broncos in a home-and-home set — 4-2 in South Bend, and 8-5 in Kalamazoo.
“[Notre Dame] played well,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “They are the better team right now. They outworked us. If we had worked hard, we would have been more competitive.”
That’s what disappointed Culhane most about the losses — the Broncos’ work ethic, or lack thereof.
“Hopefully we learned a valuable lesson on the weekend,” said Culhane. “You can’t expect to have success if you’re not working hard for 60 minutes. We came out flat down there and we came out flat up here. They set the tempo for the games.”
This weekend, WMU travels to Orono to face the Maine Black Bears, a team from which the Broncos took three points in Lawson Arena last year.
This year, Culhane quipped that Maine head coach Tim Whitehead “stacked the deck against us.”
“It’s homecoming weekend out there,” said Culhane. “The game’s been sold out for weeks. It’s an exciting opportunity for us.”
Culhane, whose Broncos have been successful Defenders of the Realm (12-2-1 against nonconference opponents under Culhane), said that all he’s looking for from his team against Maine is effort.
“The big thing is that if we’re going to have any success is that we need to work hard for 60 minutes. If we’re not willing to do that, we’re not going to give ourselves a chance to win.
“Regardless of the score outcome, if we play hard for 60 minutes, then we can work on other things.”
A disturbing Bronco trend carries over from last season. None of WMU’s top scorers are on the plus side of things.
After embarrassing themselves with a 7-2 loss to Minnesota in the Hall of Fame Game Oct. 12, the Buckeyes rebounded in a big way, with three points from clustermate UAF in Fairbanks.
“We adjusted our systems [after the loss to Minnesota],” said head coach John Markell. “We thought we could be a little more open on the forecheck and we couldn’t.”
Rookies and veterans played a role in OSU’s 6-3 win and 1-1 tie in Alaska. In the win, Junior Daymen Bencharski had two goals and an assist in the win, while freshman Dan Knapp had the game-winner and the only goal in the tie, earning him CCHA Rookie of the Week honors.
“We played even better on Saturday,” said Markell, “but just didn’t win. The players weren’t happy with the tie, and that’s something we can take away from those games.”
This weekend, the Bucks host Clarkson for two, a Friday-Sunday set that allows the visiting team to take in the Penn State-OSU football game Saturday — if they can get tickets.
(Next weekend the Bucks will host another Sunday hockey game; no one wants to compete for attendance with OSU football.)
These early nonconference games — two against Clarkson, one each against Colgate and Cornell next weekend — are a luxury that the Bucks haven’t had recently, and allow OSU to work on the essentials before returning to league play.
But don’t think that Markell and the Buckeyes are taking these games lightly just because the foes aren’t from around these here parts.
“These are very, very important in the big picture,” said Markell. “We want to win. We are the type of competitor who has to play with emotion; we have to play with a good attitude, and we have to defend our home.”
What’s Markell looking for this weekend? “Consistency.”