This Week in the CCHA: Dec. 12, 2002

Just grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and relax. It’s been a tough week, my Christmas shopping is nowhere near done, and I haven’t even thought about sending out cards.

This may be the most informal column I’ve ever written.

There’s another column coming in two weeks, and I promise to sound more like a sports guy in that one.

Thank You, [email protected]

This is the second year that I’ve participated in the USCHO Message Board holiday gift exchange. My recipient will receive her gift package this week, and if I’m really lucky, she’ll publicly complain on the Message Board about what she receives as per last year’s recipient.

Ah, the holidays.

Thank you, Heidi, a.k.a. [email protected] Heidi sent me a WMU hockey tee shirt and an absolutely adorable tiny little plush Bronco mascot. I love them both, and the horse is very, very cute.

Thanks, too, to Jenna for organizing this. What a great way to get to know people who are part of the USCHO community.

The Other CCHA Team

Fans of former Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson haven’t had much of a chance to miss him in these past two seasons.

After leaving WMU, Wilkinson landed at Wayne State University in Detroit where he is currently building a program.

What he really wants to do, however, is build an arena.

The Wayne State Warriors play at the Great Lakes Sports City Arena, a nice arena but a venue that is not near campus. “We’re in the architectural stage,” said Wilkinson, who calls a proposed new on-campus rink the “final piece to the puzzle.”

“We’ve got to raise the money,” he added — and he implied that he may be charging for interviews in the future to help add bricks to the stack.

(Kidding. Wilkinson’s sense of humor is legendary. In a silent elevator in the Xcel Center during the Frozen Four at the end of last season, Wilkinson broke the ice with, “Hey, can someone tell me how to spell Minnesota?”)

The Warriors host Notre Dame at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night. This will be their third game in a row against a CCHA opponent; WSU lost two in a row in Fairbanks last weekend, 8-2 and 6-2.

“One of my seniors [Brent Renfrew] is from Fairbanks,” said Wilkinson. “We went up there his freshman year, and I told him that I’d take him back again, honest man that I am.

“We played okay. They [UAF] were a better team than we were; they could just fly on that ice surface. Their defensemen jump into the play — at times it seemed like they had nine guys out there.”

While building the WSU program, Wilkinson has naturally taken advantage of his friendships with CCHA coaches to fill out the Warriors’ schedule. There are just six teams in College Hockey America (CHA), so the Warriors play 14 nonconference games per year. Since WSU is right smack dab in the middle of CCHA country, who better to turn to than old friends?

It’s “geography and quality,” said Wilkinson. “You want your kids to play against quality competition to improve. And you want them to know what they’re striving for.”

During the 2001-02 season, Wilkinson scheduled five series against CCHA opponents, through which the Warriors went 2-7-1. This season, WSU split a pair against Ferris State and dropped two to Alaska-Fairbanks. After playing Notre Dame Saturday night, the Warriors will have one remaining CCHA game this year, when they host Bowling Green at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

In addition to the tough competition for his burgeoning program, the number of nonconference games provides a luxury that Wilkinson never had in the CCHA.

“It maybe takes a little bit of an effort to put the schedule together … [but] it’s fun,” said Wilkinson. “You get to experiment a little bit, play different players, and you don’t have the constant pressure of playing a league opponent.

“You can go anywhere. Obviously, we went to Fairbanks. We’re going to play in the RPI tournament. We played St. Lawrence at home [this year] and we go there next season. I enjoy getting to see teams from all over.”

Wilkinson is enjoying the opportunity to build a program from scratch as well, and to do so in Detroit. “You’re in the hockey hotbed, no question. The kids know all the teams in the CCHA. Everybody [fans] knows those teams, so it’s nice from that standpoint.”

The support from the university also makes coaching hockey at Wayne State a pleasure for Wilkinson. University president Irvin D. Reid is one of WSU hockey’s biggest fans.

“If you talk to the president, it’s fabulous,” said Wilkinson. “He’s been wanting hockey as the major program to put the school on the map. [Athletic Director] Rob Fournier has done a great job — not just with hockey, but with all sports.”

Wilkinson said that he and his players are looking forward to Saturday’s game against Notre Dame with excitement and a bit of apprehension.

“I think it will be an intense type of game for us. They’re a big, strong physical team. We don’t see that a whole lot, especially in the CHA.”

After having played so many teams in the CCHA during the 2001-02 season — and after taking on Ferris State, UAF, and St. Lawrence this year, as well as Wisconsin last year — Wilkinson said that his players, who know that they are clearly outmatched at this point, remain anything but discouraged.

“I would certainly say the strength of our team is our experience. Even though we’re facing a pretty good team [Notre Dame], we’ve faced good teams all the way through. I think we’ve got pretty good speed up front. Dusty [Kingston] and Jason [Durbin] are playing well.”

In typical Wilkinson style, however, he added, “Our special teams have been killing us lately.”

Wilkinson made many friends in the CCHA during his 17 years as head coach at Western Michigan, and every one of us is glad that he was not only given this opportunity at Wayne State, but that this position has kept him close. And he really is enjoying himself.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of hard work, obviously, but I’m having a lot of fun too.”

Impressions Of The RedHawks

I finally had the opportunity to see Miami play last Saturday, in their 5-3 loss to Ohio State. I missed the 4-0 shutout of the night before.

Frankly, I was surprised that the Buckeyes scored nine goals against David Burleigh, whose goals-against average going into the series was 2.06. Burleigh had also previously made a career against Ohio State.

Both teams had been coming off a bye week, and the series going into the weekend had OSU holding a slim 44-42-6 edge, with Miami 3-6-0 in Columbus in the nine games previous to last weekend — but the series was tied 5-5-0 in the last 10 meetings between the squads.

Even though he allowed nine goals, Burleigh made some spectacular saves against OSU in the 5-3 win. Scott May’s power-play goal at 19:18 in the third was a pure goal-scorer’s goal, and there was little Burleigh could do about it.

Burleigh also faced 60 shots from the Buckeyes this weekend, a team that is very patient offensively.

I was impressed with Miami’s speed, and the RedHawks’ eagerness to jump into offensive play. I was impressed — in spite of the stats — with their defense, which looked sharp.

It was a choppy game I saw, though, so it was difficult to get an accurate gauge of Miami’s play. The game was called fairly both ways, and Miami never got “chippy,” but the RedHawks were taking some frustration penalties and making some frustration turnovers that disrupted the flow of the game.

In fairness to the RedHawks, they were playing a very determined, relaxed, patient Ohio State team. And RJ Umberger was on fire, garnering seven points on OSU’s nine goals of the weekend.

Miami’s offense was stymied by an Ohio State team willing to block anything before it became a shot on net.

“I credit Miami,” said Umberger. “They were coming hard.”

“I thought it was a good game,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi after Saturday’s match. “Two good teams going at it, and you have to be opportunistic … and they [OSU] were two goals more opportunistic than we were.”

That may be a fair assessment of the game.

I picked the RedHawks to anchor the CCHA this season, in part because of the number of newcomers to the Miami roster and what I perceived to be a lack of leadership on the part of Miami’s senior class last year (and if that class couldn’t provide leadership, I reasoned, no one else could either).

I was wrong, and I am happy about it. I think they’ll be in the mix at the end of the season, but I have to see them play a few more times to get a more accurate “feel” for their team this year.

Games Of The Week

Yes, it’s the only CCHA series on tap this week, but even if it weren’t I’d still be excited about this Mike Betz — Dan Ellis showdown.

Nebraska-Omaha (7-7-2, 5-5-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (10-4-1, 7-2-1 CCHA)
Friday 7:05 p.m., Saturday 8:05 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

I don’t care where OSU is in the standings. I don’t care that UNO hasn’t been beaten in its last five.

This is what matters. Five of the nine games in this all-time series have been decided by one goal. It took UNO three games — the last of which was double-overtime — to beat OSU to advance past the first round of the CCHA playoffs at the end of the 2000-01 season.

Last year, the Mavs won their first game at the Schott, defeating the Buckeyes 4-1 Nov. 3, one night after being shutout by the Bucks 1-0.

OSU brings a high-flying offense into this series, but last year the Bucks were outscored by the Mavs 4-2.

Oh, Christmas has come early for CCHA fans in Columbus this weekend.

“They’ve won five in a row, and they think they’re playing pretty good hockey right now,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “We watched them play against Merrimack on tape, and they were pretty good. When they went up to Lake Superior, they played Lake Superior the same way we did.

“We’re well aware that [Greg] Zanon is one of the best defensemen in our league, and Ellis is one of the best goalies, and they’ve got guys who can put the puck in the net — Wong and Brisson.

“They’ve got other kids who work hard, finish their checks, and they hustle. It’s what you expect from their team.”

Ohio State is 7-1-0 at home this season; the lone loss was Cornell’s first game of the year, a contest in which the Bucks were completely stymied by Cornell netminder David LeNeveu, who stood on his head in his first outing of the season.

After dropping two road games to another hot CCHA club, Ferris State, the Buckeyes took a bye and returned to convincingly sweep Miami in Columbus last weekend, 4-0 and 5-3.

The Mavericks are unbeaten in their last five games, most recently having swept LSSU in Sault Ste. Marie, 4-1 and 3-0. UNO beat Merrimack 5-3 in the Bullpen Nov. 30 one night after tying the visiting Warriors, and the week before that the Mavs split a home pair with Northern Michigan.

UNO started slow this season, going 3-6-1 before that split with NMU, in large part because of last-minute changes that affected the program in the offseason.

Both assistant coaches left, a fifth-year senior graduated and got married, another player was “trying to chase an NHL career,” and a couple of players opted for major juniors — all in July and August.

“We’ve gone through our changes in the last year,” said UNO head coach Mike Kemp, “and we’re starting to get everyone on the same page. It’s taken some time to get everyone adjusted. We’re not anywhere near where we need to be, but we’re making progress in that direction.”

Kemp knows — as would anyone who’s paid attention to this budding rivalry — that the real draw of the weekend is the battle between Dan Ellis and Mike Betz.

“There are two great goaltenders here, and it will be an excellent match up, because both of them do rise to the occasion. They competed with each other at the junior level, so it all helps to build up.”

This all-time series is tied 4-4-1, with the Buckeyes leading in Columbus 2-1-1. Here’s the match by the numbers. They’re all conference game stats.

  • Goals per game: OSU 3.70 (third), UNO 2.70 (ninth)
  • Goals allowed per game: OSU 1.90 (first), UNO 1.62 (first)
  • Power play: OSU 25.5% (third), UNO 06.0% (11th)
  • Penalty kill: OSU 94.9% (first), UNO 87.8% (fourth)
  • UNO’s top scorers: Andrew Wong (4-7–11), David Brisson (7-4–11)
  • OSU’s top scorer: RJ Umberger (5-9–14)
  • UNO’s top ‘tender: Dan Ellis (.913 SV%, 2.57 GAA)
  • OSU’s top ‘tender: Mike Betz (.921 SV%, 1.86 GAA)

    UNO is among the least-penalized teams in the league, while OSU is the most-penalized team in the league. This shouldn’t be an issue one way or another; although fans should expect a physical series, it should be clean. These teams respect each other in the best sense of the word.

    Oh, and one more note: not only should this be an exciting showdown between Ellis and Betz, but it’s also a great challenge for last week’s CCHA Defensive Player of the Week, Ellis, who faces last week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week, Umberger.

    “They’re in our cluster, so it’s going to be up to us to dictate how we want to play and let them know they’re in our building.”

    If OSU is going to get the better of UNO, it’s because of two things: depth and patience. This is a Buckeye team that rotates four solid lines and three power-play units. This is a Buckeye team that never panics when it’s behind, that gladly plays the coaches’ systems, and that enjoys every single minute it’s on the ice.

    That having been said — and in spite of my picks — these two games could go either way.

    Picks: OSU 4-2, 4-3

    Just Plain Ugly

    Ohio State’s RJ Umberger notched seven points against the RedHawks last weekend, earning him USCHO national POTW honors.

    He also scored his first-ever ugly goals as a Buckeye. I am not making this up. Until Saturday night — when Umberger sent a slo-mo goal through David Burleigh’s five-hole — I had never seen this guy score anything but highlight-reel material.

    Umberger said that he’d been “working on finishing.”

    “Well,” said his coach, “he’s putting it on net.”

    Apparently, all he had to do was aim. Who knew?

    Slacking

    Here the hockey content ends, so if you don’t want to know about my gall bladder, stop reading.

    (And for those of you who simply like to complain about the amount of “personal” items in any given column, you should know that if you’ve been reading up to this point, you’ve already taken in more than six single-spaced pages of hockey content. So there.)

    My apologies for the last-minutedness of this column, and for missing last week. I was pumped for the OSU-Miami series as I hadn’t yet seen the RedHawks play when my gall bladder decided that it needed to exit right away, stage center.

    (They take it out laparoscopically, through your naval. Honest.)

    After two painful, seven-hour attacks earlier in the week — without ever having displayed a single symptom prior — when I felt the third one coming on I decided to drive myself to the ER at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus.

    Earlier in the week of course, after I’d determined that I couldn’t possibly be having a heart attack because the heart is on the left side of the body, I went online to research my symptoms.

    On site after site — even on pages published by medical organizations — I found the five Fs of gall bladder trouble: Female, forty, fat, fair, and fertile.

    My reaction? I’m … ..still … .FERTILE!!!! Yessss!

    (I also added my own F to the list, bringing the grand total to six.)

    Lying on a gurney in a holding bay in the ER late Thursday night, after having been addressed by three utterly humorless surgical interns, I began to realize that I was going to have gall bladder surgery.

    My reaction? This killed Andy Warhol.

    Maybe some people experience something akin to normalcy when they spend time in the hospital. My 48 hours at Riverside was like an episode from some theatre of the absurd.

    There was 80-year-old Mrs. Parker (not her real name) in the bed next to me, deaf as a stone and recovering from surgery for her incontinence. How did I discover her hearing problems and her latest malady? When I was on the phone with my frantic mother after I’d been admitted.

    One of my nurses — Pam, a wonderful woman — came into check on Mrs. Parker while I was trying to calm Dolly (my mother, and how could I make that up?), who was panicking because her daughter was in a hospital bed 1,000 miles from where Dolly could administer hands-on mothering.

    “Mrs. Parker,” shouted Pam, “I think you should be able to eliminate on your own now!”

    “What?” said Mrs. Parker.

    “I think,” said Pam, “that you can eliminate on your own!”

    “What?” said Mrs. Parker.

    “If you can pee on your own,” shouted Pam, “you can go home tomorrow!”

    Dolly finally laughed.

    Then there was Dr. Larry Lilly, the apparently excellent surgeon who performed the operation. Early Friday morning, the overnight nurse, Lana, and two personal care assists — Jackie and another PCA whose name I have forgotten — and I were laughing about something when Larry and a very short surgeon whose facial expression never changed entered the room.

    It was 5:30 a.m. Mrs. Parker was still deaf as a stone, although I’m happy to report that she had, indeed, eliminated. Larry and the short guy walked in, with Larry shushing me. Shushing me.

    I said, “You did not just shush me. Please tell me that you did not just shush me.” I was in no mood to be trifled with. I was going to miss the Miami-OSU series.

    Larry made a stab at humor. “Well, now that the doctors have arrived you have to stop talking about us.”

    I don’t know what was dripping from my I.V., but I liked it. “There are four women in this room, laughing,” I said. “Do you honestly think we’re talking about any man?.”

    Larry made a stab at smiling. “I have to go,” said Lana.

    “You need a sense of humor,” I said to the man who was going to cut me open in fewer than 12 hours.

    “Well,” said Larry, “it’s been a long night. And sometimes this job just drains the humor out of you.”

    “Maybe,” I suggested, “you should seek other employment.”

    Thank you, Dr. Lilly, for removing my gall bladder in a completely professional manner.

    Then there was me, post-op. It was only half an hour after the surgery, and I was coming up from under fast. I was in a little holding room, and it was one of those moments when I knew I should just keep my mouth shut.

    The rational part of me knew that I was drugged, that I was receiving excellent care, and that I should just lay still. Unfortunately, that part was really, really tired.

    I grabbed the attending nurse’s arm. “I can’t breathe!” I yelled.

    She gave me the kind of look that mothers give to whining children. “Yes you can, Miss Weston.”

    “No!” I screamed. “I can’t breathe! I am not breathing!”

    “You are breathing Miss. Weston.” She sounded as though she had been spending some time with Larry Lilly.

    “NO!” I screamed again. How could this woman be so obtuse? “I … AM … NOT … BREATHING!”

    “Just take the tube out of your nose, Miss Weston! It’s no longer connected to anything!”

    Giving it something in common with my mouth, apparently.

    A post-surgery conversation between Larry and me.

    Larry: “There was only one gallstone, Paula.”

    Me: “Oh.”

    Larry: “It was the size of an egg.”

    Me: “Oh.”

    Larry: “Do you know how big your gall bladder is?”

    Me: “No.”

    Larry: “About the size of an egg.”

    To prevent blood clotting, the good doctor advised me to walk around a mall later in the day of my release, last Saturday. I decided to walk around the press box at the Schottenstein Center instead.

    In all seriousness, I received outstanding care at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. I hadn’t had to spend a night in a hospital since I had my tonsils out when I was six years old, also the last time I had been under general anesthesia.

    My parents and sister were 1,000 miles away. My best friend, 300 miles away. I was scared, alone, in real pain, and everyone at Riverside — from Rhonda, the most excellent ER nurse, to Dris, the attendant who wheeled me down to surgery — was wonderful. Their desire to not only heal but comfort overwhelmed me.

    So a sincere and public thanks to the folks at Riverside.

    The Old Gray Mare …

    Having to have my gall bladder out made me feel old, even though my PCA Jackie had had the same procedure done at Riverside just two weeks before, and she is a mere pup of 23.

    I used to think that age was relative, until I heard one of my best friends — a lad of 28 — this week responding to a radio broadcast of The Bangles’ “Manic Monday” with the exclamation, “Wow! This is really old school!”

    Old school. “Manic Monday” was released in 1986. I was 22. I had already earned one bachelor’s degree. I had already been married for a year. I vividly remembered the 1975 World Series (which took place one month before this friend was born), and was about to mourn my Red Sox yet again.

    Old school? Old Paula.

    Then I thought back to Ohio State’s captains’ practice before the start of this current season. A couple of rookies introduced themselves to me that day, and one of them — for the life of me, I can’t remember which one, and it has nothing to do with age — said, “Wow, I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time!”

    Flattered, I smiled broadly and thanked the child.

    Gushing, he continued. “Yeah, I’ve been reading you since junior high!”

    Ouch.

    “Hey, I think you’re my mom’s age.”

    Nothing like a healthy dose of perspective, eh?

    And Finally …

    Happy holidays, folks. And as an old-school recovering Catholic, I feel compelled to say Merry Christmas as well.

    Look for a feature on Matt Shegos next week. I think you’ll like it.

    And during Christmas week — when I am, thankfully, at Darrell and Dolly’s house in Summerfield, Florida, eating as many perogi as my body will allow (Dolly’s mothering extends itself to good Slavic soul food) — I will write my next column, one that is much more guy-like and which will include a midseason report card for the CCHA.

    Safe travels, and na zdravi!