Green And White And Frustrated
When Ron Mason stepped down as Michigan State’s head coach and Rick Comley stepped in, it was obvious that things would be different in Munn Arena. Not only had Mason left, but Hobey Baker winner and goaltender extraordinaire Ryan Miller had decided to forego his senior season in favor of pro hockey, so not one but two anchors of the program were suddenly gone.
As a result of changes in style — Comley favors a more wide-open brand of hockey, rather than Mason’s conservative, defensive approach — and personnel, the Spartans are still adjusting to all the changes.
“They’re coming,” says Comley of his squad. “I think it’s a team that’s going to be a pretty good team. I think that we’ll be a second-half team rather than a first-half team.”
Last year at this time, the Spartans were 6-2-1 and nationally ranked. So far this season, MSU is 5-3-0 and unranked; the most recent Spartan loss was Friday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Niagara, a team MSU squeaked by Saturday night.
“Patience isn’t something they [the players] like,” says Comley. “Last year, they never dropped below sixth in the country.”
There are several reasons — some obvious, some not so — for MSU’s slow start.
“Ryan Miller was so good,” says Comley, “and this team had the best power play in the conference, the best penalty killing in the country, and the best goaltending in the country. It takes time to rebuild that.”
Comley also says that this team misses Adam Hall and Andrew Hutchinson, who together were responsible for 29 of MSU’s 129 goals last season.
“We aren’t scoring,” says Comley, “and you let teams stay around, and there’s really not a team in this league you can do that with.”
The Spartans are averaging nearly 30 shots per game, but just can’t seem to bury their chances. In overall games, MSU is even in scoring with opponents (25-25), and is barely edging league rivals (17-13).
Another contributor to the slow start is not the absence of Ryan Miller per se, but the presence of Matt Migliaccio — and it’s not even the netminder’s fault.
“Matt has played well in goal,” says Comley, “but there was a period of time during which that had to be proven to the team.”
Finally, the biggest factor to MSU’s period of adjustment is, well, adjustment.
“It’s style of play,” says Comley, whose Northern Michigan teams were traditionally more offensive-minded and played the body like nobody’s business. “I’ve got a different approach with them, and I’m going to stay with that.”
Games Of The Week
There was a time when this would be a grudge match, pure and simple. With a new coach at MSU and 1998 so long ago, now this pairing is simply a great series between two Big Ten schools close in the standings.
Michigan State (5-3-0, 3-1-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (6-2-1, 3-0-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Ron Mason coached both Rick Comley and John Markell. A few years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find the evidence of such a pedigree on the ice; Comley prefers a wide-open, take-the-body style of hockey, while Markell had stuck to the more conservative play favored by Mason himself.
Oh, how times have changed.
Now Comley — a logical successor to Mason at Michigan State — has had to allow for an adjustment period with the Spartans.
Markell, on the other hand, has opened it up at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are outscoring opponents in both overall (33-24) and league (16-7) play. And while every OSU goal so far this season has come from a forward, blueliners are encouraged to jump into the play when the situation calls for it.
And these Buckeyes really want to score; OSU is averaging 34 shots on goal per game.
Markell says, “We’re playing our systems right now. I think the young kids are doing a good job. Our defense is playing solidly, and our goaltending is solid.”
The only thing that worries Markell at this point is unnecessary penalties. “It continues to be a problem and it’s frustrating.”
Buckeyes fans have been surprised to see backup goaltender Dave Caruso play a game at home and on the road. Last weekend, Caruso, a sophomore from Georgia of all places, earned his first league win Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie.
Markell says that Mike Betz, the Buckeyes’ top netminder, is using Caruso’s play the “right way — as motivation.”
“He [Betz] likes the fact that Dave can play,” says Markell, “but naturally he wants to be in net himself.”
Markell is happy to be able to give a backup time between the pipes, a luxury he didn’t really have in Betz’s first two years of play, and he’s been careful about when he’s played Caruso.
“He’s been in two situations where he could have success.” The Buckeyes also beat Colgate with Caruso in net.
Starting Caruso produced more than just a 5-2 win against Lake Superior State; all five OSU goals came from sources other than the first line of RJ Umberger, Dan Knapp, and Dan Kesler.
“[Caruso] works way too hard in practice for the team to not respond in front of him,” says Markell.
While it seems as though the Buckeyes are off to a more solid start than are the Spartans, Markell knows what happens when these two teams square off. MSU has a commanding 69-13-7 all-time lead over OSU, leading 25-10-6 in Columbus, 7-1-2 in the last 10 meetings.
“They’re just adjusting to a new coach and a new system,” says Markell. “It’s part of getting to know what’s going to be acceptable and not acceptable. Watching them on tape, they’re still a good hockey club.”
Markell says he expects the games this weekend to be physical. “I expect a very emotional series — a Big Ten school, and we have quite a few kids from Michigan who looked at MSU at one time or another.” Markell adds, “They demand our respect, and that’s something that creates emotion.”
Here are a few stats to consider:
Here are two more stats of the feel-good variety, one for each team:
MSU freshman forward David Booth netted his first goal in D-I play when he scored the Spartans’ only goal in their 2-1 loss to Niagara. Congrats, David.
OSU senior Miguel Lafleche registered the first multi-goal game of his career and his first three-point game in the Buckeyes’ 5-2 win over LSSU. Lafleche had previously recorded 24 one-goal games as a Buckeye. Congrats, Miguel.
The Spartans enter the weekend with the league’s best power play (in conference games) while the Buckeyes have the league’s best penalty kill.
Last year, the Spartans spanked the Buckeyes in East Lansing in two games by the collective score of 8-2, but the teams tied two consecutive nights y the same score, 3-3, in Columbus.
This series kicks off a six-game road stretch for MSU. “It’s been kind of a sporadic start to the year,” says Comley, “in who we’ve played and the amount of games we’ve played. I don’t think we’ve gotten into a positive rhythm yet. These [road] games will be good games for us; they’re conference games and then we have the College Hockey Showcase.”
Comley calls Ohio State the “sleeping giant.” He may be right.
Picks: I could call a split. I could call a lot of things. What I can’t do right now is call against this Buckeye offense. OSU 4-3, 4-3
Grudge Of The Week
Nothing like bringing back an old favorite with two teams that share some serious history.
Lake Superior State (3-7-0, 0-6-0 CCHA) at Michigan (6-1-1, 3-0-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
When the CCHA went to the Super Six playoff format, one little detail gnawed at the minds of all those concerned with the PairWise Rankings:
What if a team low on the totem pole beat a team gunning for an NCAA berth?
Well, the world didn’t end, but that’s exactly what happened. The first-place Wolverines needed three games to beat the last-place Lakers in best-of-three, first-round CCHA playoff action to advance to The Joe.
If that weren’t bad enough, the Lakers are the only team in the CCHA to own a winning record against the Wolverines, leading this all-time series 44-39-6. However, in both regular-season meetings between Michigan and LSSU last year, the Wolverines outscored the Lakers by a collective score of 6-0. In fact, Michigan has blanked Lake State four the last six times the two teams met in regular-season play, dating back to the 2000-01 season.
Lake Superior is off to its worst league start, ever, although in 1999-98 the Lakers went 0-5-1 in their first six CCHA games, a close second.
Last weekend, LSSU lost two at home to OSU, going 0-for-11 on the power play and scoring three goals on the weekend. The Buckeyes outshot the Lakers 78-42 in the two games. Netminder Matt Violin stopped 38 pucks in his Friday night loss; Terry Denike had 31 saves Saturday.
The Wolverines have had to contend with injuries, illness, and suspensions early this season. Currently, Milan Gajic is out, having been suspended by head coach Red Berenson because of academics (although Gajic is skating with the team). Senior Jed Ortmeyer (MCL) will miss four to six weeks. Jason Ryznar is questionable this weekend. Andy Burnes (mono) came back last weekend. John Shouneyia missed the first six games with a broken wrist.
Last weekend, the Wolverines had their hands full on the road with an earnest Bowling Green team. Michigan beat BGSU 6-4 Friday before tying the Falcons 1-1 in the Saturday rematch.
Have you seen Al Montoya in net yet? Have you seen him out of the net? Rumor is that the youngster (and he is young, so I’m not being patronizing here) likes to wander a bit, in an entertaining way.
Picks: Not to buck the odds, seeing as Lake State leads the series all-time, but… Michigan 4-2, 5-2
Is The Sky Falling?
Chris Kunitz is not the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week. Mike Brown is not the league’s Defensive POTW.
Ferris State lost to Wayne State. What happened?
“I feel we played a solid game except for that five-minute span of time in the second period where we made those mistakes,” said head coach Bob Daniels.
And what happened?
With the score tied 1-1 on two power-play goals, the Warriors exploded for three goals in less then two minutes. Maxim Starchenko scored at 10:41; Tyler Kindle at 11:17; Billy Collins at 12:17. All even strength.
One Down, A Few To Go
Congratulations to Scott Paluch and the Bowling Green Falcons for their first league point of the season. The struggling Falcons did it in style, tying No. 5 Michigan 1-1 Saturday night.
A Personal Bias
Congratulations to the Fredonia State Blue Devils on their wins last weekend, their first home games of the season. The Blue Devils play in the SUNYAC, for those of you unfamiliar with Division III hockey.
When it comes the Blue Devils and the SUNYAC, I’m a mere fan. Fredonia State is my alma mater.