This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 7, 2002

Voros Watch

Alaska-Fairbanks’ Aaron Voros has a tumor in his leg, and has returned to his home in Vancouver.

Voros learned of the tumor after receiving results of a bone scan on Monday. Because of the waiting list for Canada’s subsidized health care, it is not known how long Voros will have to wait before a biopsy can be done.

Quoted in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Voros said, “It doesn’t seem real right now, I keep praying that I’ll wake up, that this is just a nightmare. I’m pretty worried about it. I am just going to keep my faith in God and hopefully everything will work out.”

I’ve been keeping a watch on Voros this season because of the way he racked up penalties along with points during 2001-02, his rookie year. It never occurred to me that I’d be keeping an eye on him for more serious reasons.

This certainly puts penalties into perspective, doesn’t it?

Not In My Backyard

“No coach wants to say it, but everyone worries that Danny Ellis will get hot against your team. You know it’s just a matter of time.”

That, from a CCHA coach this week about the Nebraska-Omaha junior netminder. And every coach in the league is hoping that RJ Umberger, Brian Maloney, and any number of Michigan forwards find their groove against some other coach’s team.


The Cambridge International Dictionary of English defines chemistry as “the basic characteristics of substances and the different ways in which they react or combine with other substances.”

The substance in question is Ferris State hockey. How covalent can you get?

“Obviously, Mike Brown is playing very well,” said FSU head coach Bob Daniels. Brown (.957 SV%, 1.38 GAA) is — again — CCHA Defensive Player of the Week, the first player to be so honored four consecutive weeks in one season.

Most recently, the Bulldogs went to Alaska and beat UAF 5-0 and 5-1. Oct. 25-26, FSU traveled to South Bend and beat Notre Dame 5-2 and 4-1. While those scores look lopsided to the average fan, Daniels cautions that the games were much harder-fought than the stats would lead you to believe.

“Realistically, when I look at the games, when you look at the score you think, ‘They were able to win fairly easily,’ but that’s not the case,” said Daniels. “Every game is a one-goal differential going into the third, and then Mike Brown was able to make the key saves, and that’s the difference.”

Well, technically speaking, some FSU games were a two-goal difference going into the final 20 minutes, but here’s what Daniels means. The Bulldogs play a tight game, leading an opponent by one or two goals going into the third. In the third, opponents pour it on trying to solve Brown. Brown becomes a wall, frustrating opponents and jazzing the Bulldogs.

The combination of opponent frustration and FSU confidence adds up to more third-period Bulldog goals, lopsided-looking wins, and a team that’s on a serious roll.

“We feel pretty good about ourselves,” said Daniels. “I think we’ve got a pretty good grip on things here; we’ve got confidence, but we’re grounded.”

For example, said Daniels, when the team set goals before the season began, none had to do with coming out of the gate fast. “All the goals seem to have to do with how you finish. It’s a long way to the finish.”

If Ferris State were the sum of Mike Brown, everyone would be waiting for the other shoe to drop. The scary thing about the Bulldogs this season is that they have the whole package.

“We got beat by Ferris, plain and simple,” said Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. “They’re a very, very good team. They’re hitting on all cylinders right now. They’re transitioning well. Their speed is very evident up front. I think they’re bigger than they’ve been up front.

“There’s a reason they’re 6-0-0 [in conference].”

One reason is Brown; another is Ferris State’s explosive offense, led by Chris Kunitz.

Kunitz (10-10-20) leads the league in scoring, and is flanked by Jeff Legue (7-4-11) and Derek Nesbitt (3-8-11). Nesbitt was moved from left to right wing this season, and it “just gelled,” said Daniels.

“Chris Kunitz, that’s reality,” Daniels said. “There’s nothing fluky about it.”

If FSU were a one-line team — just one more element more than the sum of Mike Brown — CCHA opponents might breathe a little easier. But against Fairbanks last Friday night, four different Bulldogs tallied goals and none of them was named Kunitz, Legue, or Nesbitt (although Kunitz did have the second assist on Greg Rallo’s power-play goal).

Another strong point for FSU this year is defense, something unexpected, according to Daniels.

“I was very nervous about what we were going to do with that; we had three freshmen (Steve Later, Jeremy Scherlinck, and Andrew Winnik) coming in. They have really stepped up and played well.”

Senior Phil Meyer has been moved from offense to defense. “We saw him play both offense and defense for the Soo Indians [NAHL]. We can’t take the credit for how he’s playing defensively, [but] maybe we deserve some of the blame for not moving him back there sooner.”

So, what’s the difference between this FSU squad and last year’s team, which finished ninth in the standings in spite of being sixth in the league in nearly every category? Daniels isn’t certain, but it may have to do with timing.

“We were in the hunt [for home ice] when Mike Brown went down with his knee injury. Then Chris Kunitz injured his knee and we were without him for the playoffs.”

Daniels is enjoying his team’s early-season success, but he calls it “pretty well-tempered, too. As easy as it comes, it can go.”

As for the publicity in a league dominated by the Michigans and Michigan States, said Daniels, “I’d rather it [the attention FSU is receiving] be the norm. The reality is that this is not the norm, at least over the last few years. If we all had our druthers, this would be a ho-hum kind of thing.”

Daniels said the truest barometer of his team’s progress will be the first setback the Bulldogs face. “We’re going to take a nick — that’s our next test. This can’t go on forever in our league. I think our team is pretty well-grounded, too. They realize we have a long season ahead of us.”

In spite of Ferris State’s 7-1-0 start, Daniels and his coaching staff do not take lightly this weekend’s visitors, the Wayne State Warriors, led by former Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson — but it’s quite possible that the Bulldog players don’t know what they’re in for.

“They have a good team. He’s a great coach,” said Daniels. “Another thing, too, is they had the longest unbeaten streak in college hockey going into last weekend.

“The hard part is that once you get in season playing nonconference [games], I don’t care who you’re playing, there’s a natural tendency to let down, to take a breather. I don’t care if it’s Maine you’re playing.”

The “breather” for the ‘Dogs — and for CCHA opponents — is short; Ferris State returns to league play with a home-and-home series against Western Michigan Nov. 15-16.

Games Of The Week

If you didn’t think Bowling Green was a test last week for the Miami RedHawks, then you’re not Enrico Blasi. This week, Miami travels to Notre Dame.

Miami (8-2-0, 5-1-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (3-2-2, 2-2-0 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.

The Miami RedHawks are one hot team, plowing through opponents seemingly at will, and carrying a five-game win streak into this weekend against Notre Dame.

But don’t think that’s gotten to them.

“Just like every other weekend we talk about, it’s going to be an unbelievable challenge,” said Miami head coach Blasi. “They’re well-coached, they have a lot of skill. They have arguably one of the best players in the country in Rob Globke.

“For them to tie Boston College tells me that they’re a hell of a team.”

The RedHawks — with nine newcomers to their roster this season — are tearing it up offensively, but Blasi said that Miami’s formula for early-season success is a simple one, one that hasn’t changed since he took the job as head coach in 1999.

“We just play hard. Everyone is contributing, whether they’re in the lineup or not. Joe Pomaranski was asked to play forward last weekend, and he did so without hesitating.”

Blasi said that he credits the seniors, especially, with Miami’s quick start. “I think the seniors and juniors are really doing a good job in the locker room and keeping everyone focused. The seniors have been through a lot.”

Last year, the RedHawks finished 9-17-2, in spite of a fast start. At midseason, Miami seemed to take a downward turn, and the RedHawks lost all seven games they played in February.

The confidence, teamwork, and success are welcome this year, but Blasi and his upperclassmen remember.

“It works both ways,” said Blasi. “We were on the other end of that a year ago, when we didn’t have any confidence. There’s no question that when things are going well, it continues.”

Blasi also credits David Burleigh for keeping the RedHawks in some close games and giving the offense confidence — much as Mike Brown is doing for Ferris State.

Burleigh was certainly “the difference” in Miami’s 3-2 win over Bowling Green last Friday night. “They [BGSU] played great on Friday night. I thought they worked hard and executed their game plan pretty well.”

(Blasi also notes that he thinks that Bowling Green won’t remain a cellar-dweller for long, under the direction of Scotty Paluch.)

The RedHawks are outscoring opponents in every period — and 51-21 overall — but watch out for those 20 minutes in the middle, where it’s Miami 21, everyone else 6.

None of this is good news for Miami’s opponent this week. It seems that Notre Dame is a bit short on that legendary Irish luck. Two weeks after facing the league’s highest-scoring offense and toughest defense, one week after facing one of the top teams in the country, the Fighting Irish host Miami, the league’s second-highest scoring offense and third-toughest defense.

The Irish tied No. 2 Boston College last weekend, 3-3, in what Poulin calls “a big emotional weekend.” Every year, when the Irish and Eagles meet in football, their hockey counterparts play a game as well. It’s become quite a rivalry.

“The Holy Cross Fathers vs. the Jesuits — we can’t even have the same priests,” said head coach Poulin.

Poulin has been watching tape on the RedHawks all week. “They have a very good team. “They play with real confidence. They’re special teams are, well, special.

“We’re going to have to play very, very well.”

If Notre Dame has an edge this weekend — and a slight edge at that — it’s goaltender Morgan Cey, who had a rough couple of games but rebounded with 35 saves in the tie against BC.

Another plus for Notre Dame — although not necessarily an advantage this weekend, per se — is the improved Irish special teams. Last year, the Irish PP performed at 14.6%.

Here are some numbers to consider for this series:

  • Goals per game: Miami 5.10 (second), Notre Dame 3.57 (fourth)
  • Goals allowed per game: Miami 2.10 (third), Notre Dame 3.43 (sixth)
  • Power play: Miami 25.4% (third), Notre Dame 21.6% (fifth)
  • Penalty kill: Miami 82.5% (fifth), Notre Dame 80.6% (tie seventh)
  • Miami’s top scorer: Mike Kompon (7-11-18, second in league)
  • Notre Dame’s top scorer: Rob Globke (6-4-10)
  • Miami’s top ‘tender: David Burleigh (.897 SV%, 2.00 GAA)
  • Notre Dame’s top ‘tender: Morgan Cey (.902 SV%, 3.11 GAA)
  • Notre Dame leads this all-time series 20-10-5
  • Miami is 5-9-4 all-time in South Bend

    Most recently, these teams split a pair in Oxford, with Notre Dame winning in overtime Jan. 25, 2002, and Miami taking the game the following night.

    Picks: My gut tells me that the Irish have something in them, and maybe even something to prove this weekend, but I can’t call against a team as hot as Miami. Miami 5-3, 4-2

    Note Of The Week

    If a few names on the Notre Dame roster sound hauntingly familiar, they should. Connor Dunlop’s father, Blake, played 11 seasons of pro hockey, including the NHL. Neil Komadoski’s father, Neil Sr., played eight seasons in the NHL, and Yan Stastny’s dad, Peter — one of my all-time favorite players — spent 15 years in the NHL (as if we could forget).