Grudge Of The Week
Let’s get this out of the way, right from the top. Everyone has a grudge against Michigan, okay? Everyone. We’re going to start with me.
I live in Columbus. It’s “Michigan Weekend” here. What does that mean? In a word, hell.
It means that if the undefeated Buckeyes (we’re talking pigskin, and I apologize for that) lose to the Wolverines this weekend — even though they are otherwise undefeated — OSU football fans will damn Jim Tressel to hell and curse his seed forever more.
It means that if the No. 2 Buckeyes win, Buckeye football fans will grouse about the Rose Bowl — because, in all likelihood, a Big Ten (even though it’s really 11 teams) will not go to the Rose Bowl. Avec!
It means that students at The Ohio State University toilet paper their own campus.
It means that — win or lose — there will probably be rioting in the undergraduate slums south of campus.
Coming from a state (New York) with no discernable border-dispute hangover, this alleged rivalry is a mystery to me. Ohioans, in general, seem pretty nice. (Unless they’re driving, of course.) The further north they are, the nicer they seem to me, but that’s probably because I’m a northerner myself.
Having visited Michigan once or twice, I can safely say that Michiganders are also very nice. In fact, I’m quite fond of Michigan. It’s (mostly) a lovely state where people know how to drive in the snow, dress for winter, and eat properly.
But because of that school in A-squared, I can’t get a moment’s peace. People yell, “Go Bucks!” at random intervals. Every third car in the city is waving a clip-on OSU flag. Every local news outlet features (if not leads with) this weekend’s “big game,” and what’s worse is that the local newscasters are nothing more than cheerleaders for the Buckeyes.
It’s like watching coverage of a national political convention, only more glassy-eyed.
But my biggest beef with Michigan is not really a complaint about the Wolverines, not really a complaint about Michigan hockey — in fact has nothing to do with hockey whatsoever. My biggest grudge against “the whole state of Michigan” is that they egg their southern neighbors on. They fan the flames. They rub salt in old wounds. They know that Buckeyes can’t resist a good goading — them’s fightin’ words, dammit! — and the Michiganders perpetuate this mythical (and I mean that literally) rivalry for the sake of their own amusement.
They enjoy working Buckeye football fans into a total froth, a display of sixth-grade social mores picked up by national news media and broadcast for the entire known universe to see.
And my zip code is 43202. That’s my grudge against Michigan.
Grudge Of The Week, Part Deux
This is a legitimate, in-the-rink grudge, but these teams don’t meet this weekend. It’s a guarantee, though, Wolverine fans will be rooting for Ferris State this weekend, and Buckeye fans will positively love Notre Dame.
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 13 Ohio State
Each team is 5-0-1 in league play. Each team is tied for goals scored (4.17) and allowed (1.67) in CCHA play.
The last two undefeated teams in conference play, these two will be duking it out for the regular-season title.
Red Berenson’s squad has been beaten up, shaken up by offseason departures, and shored up by a young goaltender who has started the season in fine fashion.
John Markell’s team is deep — in a very scary way. The Buckeyes are fast, also a bit beaten up, and paced by a junior goaltender who is having a career season.
As someone who’s had to eat crow on many occasions, I won’t mind if I’ll have to do so again in March, but something tells me that this one’s bankable. Especially since Michigan travels to Columbus March 7-8 for the first and only regular-season games between these two clubs, during the last weekend of regular-season play.
One more thing about this hockey rivalry. When there’s a minute left in a given period at the Schott, and the announcer says, “There’s one minute remaining in the period,” the OSU fans — led by the OSU pep band — say, “And Michigan still sucks.”
Every time. OSU could be hosting Nebraska-Omaha. Or Colgate. It doesn’t matter.
Grudge Of The Week, Part III
It’s Michigan week! Haven’t you heard?
Notre Dame (4-3-2, 3-3-0 CCHA) at Michigan (8-1-1, 5-0-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Wolverines lead this series 54-38-5, and Michigan is 6-1-3 vs. Notre Dame in their last 10 meetings.
This week’s Notre Dame press release calls Yost Arena a “House of Horrors” because of Notre Dame’s lack of success there. Since returning to the CCHA in 1992-93, the Irish are 1-14-1 at Yost, and in their last 17 games there they’re 1-17-1.
(It should be noted, however, that the “one” in question was significant: a first-round CCHA playoff upset in 1997-98.)
The last time Notre Dame visited this horrorland, the Irish managed to rally from a 4-2 deficit and escape with a 4-4 tie, snapping a 13-game regular-season losing streak at Yost. That was two years ago. Last year, the Irish and Wolverines tied 3-3 Jan. 4, and Michigan beat Notre Dame 2-1 the following night. Both games were in South Bend.
For the most part, Michigan has had Notre Dame’s collective number, but this is a new Irish team, a hard-working Irish team, one with a decent goaltender.
With a .903 save percentage in league games, Morgan Cey isn’t exactly a wall in net, but he’s more than good enough to keep Notre Dame competitive in every contest.
The Irish are 1-1-1 in their last three games, having tied Boston College at home and split with Miami in Oxford. Lest you forget, the Eagles and RedHawks are both ranked teams. In their 3-1 loss to Miami Nov. 8, the Irish threw everything they had at Miami goaltender David Burleigh, but were still down 2-0 after the first and were outshot 37-22 in the game.
The following night, the RedHawks turned the tables, but the Irish returned the favor. Cey made 44 stops en route to Notre Dame’s 2-1 win.
Consistency is an issue with Notre Dame. If the Irish can keep the score close against high-powered offenses (Miami, and this Michigan team), they have a chance to take some points.
Their opponents, however, will be loath to give anything away this weekend. Al Montoya, the CCHA Rookie of the Week, has garnered a .936 save percentage in six league games. Only FSU’s Mike Brown is hotter, and we know what he’s been doing this season.
The Irish are significantly outmatched offensively and defensively; Michigan ranks second in both categories in league play.
Special teams are a wash — but, again, it’s Notre Dame’s inconsistency (giving up a late shorthanded goal against Miami cemented that loss) that will be an issue.
Both teams have potentially explosive forwards, but what Michigan has that Notre Dame lacks is significant depth. For a team that averages 4.17 goals per game in league play, there isn’t a single Wolverine tearing it up; Michigan is, however, scoring by committee, and that could be the undoing of the Irish this weekend.
Picks: Michigan 4-2, 5-2
Games Of The Week
Was there any doubt?
Ohio State (8-2-1, 5-0-1 CCHA) at Ferris State (9-3-0, 7-1-0 CCHA)
Friday 7:35 p.m., and Saturday 7:05 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, Mich.
Two hot offenses. Two solid defenses. Two great goaltenders.
And neither team has played anyone the other has faced, so who knows what we’re really looking at this weekend?
“It’s awful early in the year to label anything as a big series, but obviously we’re looking to see how each team stacks up against each other,” says Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels.
It is difficult to say how this series will pan out. The Bulldogs have the best line in the CCHA at this point, perhaps the best line in college hockey: Chris Kunitz (10-13-23), Jeff Legue (8-7-15), and Derek Nesbitt (4-11-15). Mike Brown is hotter than hot, the defense is tight (the team is +101 in league play), and the entire team is fast.
The Buckeye special teams are extraordinary, with a power play converting at 30.8%, a penalty kill that’s successful 96.9% of the time, and a goaltender who is making saves he never could just one season ago.
“We think we have a great penalty kill,” says OSU captain Scott Titus. “We build off that as a team, the guys working out there on the ice. It definitely gets everybody into the game, even the guys who aren’t on the PK.”
How will these teams match up? According to Daniels — who has seen OSU on tape this week — these should be two tightly contested games.
“Both teams play a very similar style of hockey,” says Daniels. “They Forecheck similarly, there are a lot of the same philosophies, our systems seem to be similar.”
One early weakness in the Ohio State game was OSU’s reluctance to take the body. Ever since Cornell came in and reminded the Buckeyes what it was like to get hit, OSU has had no problem with checking.
Given that Ferris State is never reluctant to check, this series should be an especially physical one, and that may work to OSU’s advantage.
Another advantage that Ohio State may have — and I stress the word may — is the squad’s depth. The Buckeyes don’t have a “first” line or a “second” line. The lines are labeled by color, and head coach John Markell himself will tell you that there’s no first line.
The “blue line,” what might be considered a fourth line, consists of Chris Olsgard (3-0-3), Lee Spector (1-1-2), and J.B. Bittner (1-1-2). While this line doesn’t put up incredible numbers, what it does do is give the other three lines a break while maintaining the status quo on the ice.
“From myself, Spector and Bittner, we love going out there and just banging,” says Olsgard. “That’s what we do and that’s what we’re out there for. It’s nice to actually pop in a couple of goals.
“Bittner and myself are on the PK, and it gives some of the bigger guys — Umberger and May — a little bit more time to rest and get ready for their shift.”
Titus adds, “Just seeing that line out there .seeing those guys go out there and busting their tails every shift, everybody builds off that. That’s the type of game they play. If they keep doing that we won’t lose anything [with lines] one through four.”
Or lines red through blue, as the case may be.
Kunitz attributes Ferris State’s early success to leadership and chemistry.
“We’re doing basic things and jelling well as a team right now,” Kunitz told the CCHA earlier this season. “Those are the things you need for early success and we also like to be together, we like hanging out together away from the rink, so it’s just good team chemistry right now.”
In the same interview, Brown said, “The defensemen have been awesome. It seems that they have a lot of confidence. It seems like a lot of the freshmen are playing like seniors, guys like Jeremy Scherlinck and Steve Later, so they’ve been really solid in front of me, and it’s been working out great.”
Here’s a look at this top-shelf series, by the league game numbers:
Ironically, no one wants to believe that these two teams are for real. Even though the Buckeyes had just two losses going into last weekend’s sweep of Michigan State — both to top-ten teams — it took that convincing sweep to get OSU ranked.
Ferris State, which has always been a steady team, also fights perennially for respectability.
“Every year I’ve been here we’ve been [picked] ninth I think,” said Kunitz earlier this season. “We don’t usually get too much respect until midway through the season or until we do something. We have to prove ourselves and we know that.”
Neither team seems especially concerned about the proof, though. Each is focusing on its own task at hand.
The Bulldogs have a definite home-ice advantage, as Ewigleben is a tough place to play and the fans are understandably rabid this season. “We enjoy a home-ice advantage because of our crowd,” says Daniels. “Being at home for us is an edge.”
The Buckeyes lead this all-time series 48-30-10, but the Bulldogs lead in Big Rapids (20-19-3). OSU leads in the last 10 games, 6-3-1.
FSU has the home-ice advantage. OSU may be a tad deeper. Everything else is a wash.
Picks: I’m not picking against the Buckeyes — or the Wolverines — until they lose a league game. OSU 4-3, 5-4
Eh, It’s Nothing New
When Mike Mantua scored his first collegiate goal — from his own net, in Lawson Arena — last week in Western Michigan’s 4-1 win over Ferris State, there was one person who wasn’t particularly shocked.
“We’ve seen it twice,” jokes FSU head coach Bob Daniels. “It’s getting to be a habit here.”
On Feb. 28, 1998, Michigan State goaltender Chad Alban notched his only collegiate goal in MSU’s 6-3 win over FSU. He became the fourth collegiate goaltender to be credited with a goal, but the first to shoot the puck himself into the opposing net. Alban also registered an assist in that game.
This time around, Mantua’s goal was an interesting postscript to Ferris State’s first league loss of the season.
“The defining moment of the game was a penalty shot we had that Mike Mantua stopped,” said Daniels. “The game was 1-1 at that point.and the game was slowly turning in our favor. They had a big crowd there [at Lawson Arena] that night and when Mike stopped that shot that kind of rejuvenated the crowd and gave them an advantage.”
Mantua said that he had “promised his teammates this year” that he was going to score a goal. He had done so while playing with the Des Moines Buccaneers, and he fired one wide of the Michigan net last season.
“I just wanted to make sure I got the puck down flat and I wasn’t going to miss this time,” said Mantua, who became the fifth goaltender in collegiate history credited with a goal, the second to have shot the puck himself.
By the way, Daniels thinks that Western has a pretty good team. “They’ve got a good group of forwards. A good collection of offensive talent there. Jim [Culhane, WMU head coach] would have to speak to it but from my perspective what’s been a little bit questionable has been their goaltending.”
But not their offensive goaltending.
A Couple of Things
Rumors have been flying about alleged suspensions of key Northern Michigan players. According to everyone I’ve talked to, no one knows anything.
And everyone “key” made the trip to Omaha.
Perhaps we’ll find out Friday night if there was anything to this. I’m doubtful.
Skate With The Spartans
If you are within driving distance of East Lansing and have a burning desire to spend time on the ice with the men in green and white, you can skate with the Spartans next Tuesday, Nov. 26, from 7 to 8 p.m. in Munn Arena.
The annual event is sponsored by the MSU Blue Line Club. Says team captain Brad Fast, “This is one of our favorite events and a chance to meet our fans in person.”