This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 28, 2002

Talking Turkey

That would be me. It’s a short week this week, and a brief column.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

And Then There Were None

Going into last weekend’s games, two teams — Michigan and Ohio State — were undefeated in league play.

OSU was swept by Ferris State, and Michigan split with Notre Dame at home, leaving no undefeated conference teams.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson was disappointed with the loss to Notre Dame, a team he said was the best the Wolverines have played since they took on North Dakota.

“We were outshot in both games,” says Berenson. “We had the lead in the third period and gave it up, and we usually don’t do that.”

The Wolverines led 2-1 going into the third, when the Irish scored two unanswered goals to go up one. Michigan finally tied it at 16:05, but Rob Globke netted the game winner just 15 seconds later.

“It was untimely goals that killed us,” Berenson says. “To lose at home is disappointing, and of course, Notre Dame hasn’t had much success in here, and to give them any confidence is also disappointing.”

Before last weekend’s 4-3 win, the Irish had won 18 times in 51 tries in Yost Arena. Michigan still leads this all-time series, 56-37-5.

Meanwhile, in the two games at Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids last weekend, the Bulldogs and Buckeyes earned enough penalty minutes to become the two most-penalized teams in the league, each team now averaging more than 18 minutes per game.

Check The Stick Before The Shot

In Nebraska-Omaha’s 5-4 win over Northern Michigan last weekend, Wildcat Chris Gobert scored on a penalty shot, using an illegal stick.

Apparently, the UNO bench didn’t challenge Gobert’s stick until after he scored — and by that time, it was already too late.

From the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Rulebook:

“Rule 3-1(d): If a goal is scored with a stick that is found to be illegal, the goal is allowed and the penalty is assessed and begins immediately.”

So after Gobert scored at 18:19 in the third period — pulling the Wildcats within one — he spent the remainder of the game in the box.

College Hockey Showcase

This is the 10th annual Showcase, which features four of the five Big Ten schools with men’s hockey programs. The Showcase was originally played in neutral venues, with all four teams playing in the same place, on the same day.

Now the Showcase is played in campus arenas, and you’d need to have astral projection capabilities to see all four games.

Berenson says that moving the event to campus arenas was necessary because of low attendance in the neutral sites. “Since we went on to the campus sites [attendance] has probably been better. We used to do it in a major rink, and you’d have all four teams right there. It wasn’t as successful in Joe Louis or in the Palace as it was in [Milwaukee’s] Bradley Center.”

You have to wonder now if the growing popularity of college hockey would attract a significant audience in a single arena, over the course of two days.

This year, Wisconsin and Minnesota host, so Michigan and Michigan State travel. For the WCHA side of things, check Todd D. Milewski’s WCHA column.

Michigan (9-2-1, 6-1-1 CCHA)

Red Berenson is both a king of understatement and a master magician. Berenson — whose extraordinary teams have captured two NCAA Championships and made eight trips to the Frozen Four — thinks that his Wolverines have seen more than a little luck in the early going this season, given how banged up the team has been.

But anyone who follows the CCHA knows that Berenson’s team will somehow have it all together by the end of this season, will emerge as a contender for the league title and possibly the national title.

“We’ve had so many injuries to key players that it’s amazing we are where we are,” says Berenson. The Wolverines have been — at times — without John Shouneyia (wrist), Andy Burnes (mono), Milan Gajic (academics), Jed Ortmeyer (MCL), and Jason Ryznar.

Ryznar is questionable this weekend, and Ortmeyer remains out for quite possibly the remainder of the first half of the season.

Still, the Wolverines are in third place in CCHA standings (behind Ferris State and Miami), and Michigan is outscoring opponents 48-23.

And don’t forget freshman goaltender Al Montoya, who won’t be 18 years old until next February. Montoya’s numbers (.928 overall SV%, .929 league SV%) place him among the best netminders in the conference.

Berenson, however, is realistic about his team’s chances out west. “We’re playing on the road. We need to bounce back against Wisconsin. [Wisconsin coach] Mike Eaves has got them working hard and they’re in every game. Our team needs to pick it up if we’re going to come out of there with any success.

“And then we play Minnesota, one of the best teams in the country.”

Berenson says that while Michigan is “better than we were last year at this time,” the Wolverines can improve in several areas.

“Our power play needs work,” says Berenson. “Our PK has been strong. Our offense in general has been sporadic. We don’t have a real big-time scorer, and we need to score by committee.”

Which is exactly what the Wolverines have been doing. Averaging four goals per game, Michigan has been spreading the love. With nary a Wolverine in sight near the top of league scoring, Michigan still manages to be third in the CCHA in overall offense, with players like Dwight Helminen (5-7-12), Jeff Tambellini (6-3-9), Eric Nystrom (5-4-9), and Mark Mink (5-3-8) leading the goal production.

Only three Wolverines are without point this season, and those three have played no more than five games each. Even Montoya has two assists in 12 games.

Berenson says he always looks forward to the Showcase, but adds, “It’s always a strange thing. Thanksgiving does strange things to teams.” He means that a team can play great hockey in the Showcase, and flounder down the stretch.

Michigan State (5-6-0, 3-4-0 CCHA)

“They’re coming. We have many young kids. They try hard. We give up goals we shouldn’t and don’t score as many as we should.”

That’s how head coach Rick Comley describes his Spartans, a team struggling in the post-Miller era of college hockey.

“They’re good kids and they work hard,” says Comley. “There just aren’t as many all-American type players in college hockey.” Comley says that the Spartans could use a Mike Weaver, a Mike York, a Shawn Horcoff.

The Spartans are now winless in three games, having lost to Bowling Green 3-2 last weekend after being swept by Ohio State the week before.

“To win a game or two [in the Showcase] would be tremendous for us, emotionally,” says Comley.

MSU is led offensively by defensemen Brad Fast (6-4-10) and John-Michael Liles (2-7-9), as well as forwards Jim Slater (5-4-9) and Duncan Keith (3-5-8). Like the Wolverines, the Spartans must score by committee — but fewer committee members have contributed to the cause this season, as MSU is being outscored by opponents 37-30 in 11 games overall.

“We’re in the process of getting better,” says Comley. “There are keys to us doing well. We need good goaltending. Our power play has to be effective. Scoring is not easy.”

Matt Migliaccio is solid in net for the Spartans, with a 2.04 goals against average and .922 save percentage. Justin Tobe has struggled, but has seen half the time Migliaccio has seen.

Fans have blamed Comley for Michigan State’s slow start, but anyone who follows college hockey knows that it takes more than just a coaching turnover to turn a program in any given direction. This is a team that was built for Ryan Miller, and anyone who claimed that Miller was merely as good as the defense in front of him should be convinced by MSU’s collective -44 plus/minus rating that Miller was more than the sum of teammates’ parts.

For Comley, this is his first College Hockey Showcase, and he tries to understand what it means to his players. “Obviously there’s something special when Big 10 schools play. I can see that and I sense that. I think the fans love the idea of the two Michigan schools coming into Minneapolis and Madison.”

For fans who take big-school hockey for granted, Comley puts these games into perspective. “Every time you played a Michigan or a Michigan State at home [at Northern Michigan], it was the highlight of the year.”

CCHA Showcase Notes

  • Goals per game: Michigan 4.00 (third), MSU 2.73 (ninth)
  • Goals allowed per game: Michigan 1.92, (first) MSU 3.36 (seventh)
  • Power play: Michigan 19.1% (fourth), MSU 18.3% (sixth)
  • Penalty kill: Michigan 94.1% (first), MSU 81.2% (seventh)
  • Michigan’s top scorer: Dwight Helminen (5-7-12)
  • MSU’s top scorer: Brad Fast (6-4-10)
  • Michigan’s top ‘tender: Al Montoya (.928 SV%, 1.93 GAA)
  • MSU’s top ‘tender: Matt Migliaccio (.922 SV%, 2.04 GAA)

    The Wolverines are the winningest team in Showcase history (12-5-1), and are unbeaten in road Showcase games at campus sites.

    Minnesota leads Michigan 121-113-15 all-time. That’s according to Michigan’s records. Also according to Michigan’s records, the Golden Gophers have faced the Wolverines more times than any other team in Minnesota’s 80-year history.

    (Minnesota has a different story: 117-111-14, with North Dakota facing the Gophers a few more times than have the Wolverines.)

    Minnesota leads its all-time series against Michigan State 97-41-7. MSU leads Wisconsin 44-36-2 all-time.

    The Gophers have won consecutive nonconference home games.

    The Wolverines lead the Wisconsin Badgers 58-48-7, according to Michigan’s records, and Wisconsin is 0-8-1 vs. Michigan in their last nine contests. The Badgers are 2-15-1 in the previous 18 Showcase games.

    Picks: As per usual, I’m going with the CCHA in this year’s Showcase. I know that I’ll be burned at least once. Michigan 4, Wisconsin 2; MSU 3, Minnesota 1; MSU 3, Wisconsin 1; Michigan 4, Minnesota 3

    Games Of The Week

    You were probably expecting the Notre Dame-UAF series, but since Thanksgiving has a familial feel to it, let’s keep it all within one state.

    Lake Superior State (3-9-0, 0-8-0 CCHA) at Western Michigan (5-7-1, 4-6-0 CCHA)
    Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, Mich.

    The Lakers are looking for their first CCHA win, but more importantly, says head coach Frank Anzalone, they’re looking for a consistent work ethic, game in and game out.

    “The number-one thing we’re looking for is our players working hard every single game, every single shift,” says Anzalone. “It’s a difficult time because we’re trying to reconstruct, and that takes time.”

    To say that the very young Lakers are having difficulty putting the biscuit in the proverbial basket is an understatement; LSSU averages one goal per conference outing, and fewer than two per game overall.

    The Lakers do have two competent goaltenders, Terry Denike (3.57 GAA, .893 SV%) and Matt Violin (3.62 GAA, .894 SV%), and Anzalone wants his players to work on curtailing opponent chances.

    “Our success right now is having all of our players work hard, hopefully limiting the other team,” says Anzalone. “We have shown signs of improvement each weekend. It’s gotten a little bit better.”

    The good news in Sault Ste. Marie is that spirits don’t necessarily sag because players aren’t scoring. The returning players were never goal-scorers to begin with, and the many rookies have little by which to compare themselves.

    “We don’t really have a lot of upperclassmen who have scored,” says Anzalone. “I don’t know if they’re gripping the stick. I think they want to do better. I think they’d like to win a game, [but] I don’t think it’s that sort of frustration.”

    This weekend the Lakers face the Broncos in Lawson Arena, one of the toughest venues in college hockey. “I guess our goal at Western is just to play our best and get good goaltending,” says Anzalone.

    Anzalone’s counterpart, WMU’s Jim Culhane, is not taking the Lakers lightly. “I’m really impressed with their discipline and work ethic,” says Culhane. “They work extremely hard. They keep to their systems really well.”

    Culhane says that sometimes a hungry team is a dangerous team, and there are no teams hungrier than the Lakers.

    “I think we have a lot of respect for the Laker program and a lot of respect for Frank,” says Culhane. “I think what you’re seeing right now is Frank and his staff and his players working on re-energizing the program. Even though they haven’t won in league play, I think they’ve played very, very well.

    “It gives us some concern that we have a very, very hungry hockey team coming into Lawson Arena.”

    The Broncos have been up and down this season, but Culhane sees a recent split with high-flying Ferris State as a turning point for WMU.

    “That win [Nov. 16, 4-1] for us gave the team a lot of confidence and Mike [Mantua] a lot of confidence. Mike has made some big saves in that game.”

    Mantua also scored a goal in that game. Talk about confidence.

    Culhane says that the Broncos “need to play with more consistency, but that’s whether it’s college or pro or whatever. Isn’t that out of the coaches’ handbook or something?”

  • Goals per game: WMU 3.30 (sixth), LSSU 1.00 (12th)
  • Goals allowed per game: WMU 4.00 (tie ninth), LSSU 4.00 (tie ninth)
  • Power play: WMU 13.7 (ninth), LSSU 05.0% (12th)
  • Penalty kill: WMU 77.1% (eighth), LSSU 66.7% 12th
  • WMU’s top scorers: Brent Walton (7-5-12), Jeff Campbell (5-7-12)
  • LSSU’s top scorer: Chris Peterson (2-4–6)
  • WMU’s top ‘tender: Mike Mantua (3.32 GAA, .886 SV%)
  • LSSU’s top ‘tender: Matt Violin (3.62 GAA, .894 SV%)

    The difference between these two squads at this point may be experience. The Lakers are young.

    “We don’t have to be great,” says Anzalone, “but we can’t be bad. The minute we’re bad, the other team gets a goal, and it’s hard for us to come back.”

    He adds, “One of these weekends, something good has to happen.”

    Picks: Lake State’s inability to score is, again, its downfall. WMU 4-1, 4-1

    Quote Of The Week

    It’s Thanksgiving, and what’s Thanksgiving without a little gravy?

    “I know that Western has six or seven guys who can do some damage. Their goalie is very confident this weekend. They probably look at this weekend as a chance to make some gravy, and that’s fine — they should.”

    That’s Anzalone, giving his honest assessment of the LSSU-WMU series this weekend. It should be noted that Anzalone was not being derogatory toward his own players, but rather telling it like it is.