This Week in the CCHA: Dec. 26, 2002

How’s It Going?

For several seasons now, CCHA coaches have been declaring their league one of the toughest in D-I college hockey. They’ve also insisted that “any team can beat any other team on any given night,” which is the actual mathematical formula for parity found on both the GRE and the LSAT.

For as long as the coaches have been discussing parity, CCHA teams have done their best to contradict the coaches; rather than proving the existence of parity, for several seasons many teams have proven that they can merely play down to the level of any given opponent on any given night.

Rather than attempting to define parity according to the coaches’ formula, however, this season CCHA fans are witnessing what at the start of this season Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Guy Gadowsky called “quashing.” What Gadowsky meant is that rather than real parity — equality of any kind, and let’s not forget that parity doesn’t automatically equal excellence — the teams traditionally near the top are pushing down on the middle packers just as the teams traditionally at the bottom are pushing upward.

The result? Quashing, and what will undoubtedly be more of a logjam than usual in the middle.

With half a season to go, 10 points separate No. 1 Ferris State from Nebraska-Omaha and UAF, both tied for eighth place with 10 points each. That’s five league games. That’s quashed.

FSU head coach Bob Daniels told my good friend Neil Koepke at faceoff.com that there are “five or six teams that have a legitimate chance to win it.”

Daniels added, “We’re trying to prove ourselves every week, and it’s going to be tougher in the second half.”

Daniels and the Bulldogs have Mike Brown and Chris Kunitz and the confidence that winning brings. One point behind FSU is Ohio State, with its balanced attack and outstanding defense.

Then there’s Michigan, with rookie-of-the-year candidate Al Montoya and Red Berenson’s Hogwart’s pedigree.

Northern Michigan seems to have found its collective legs and Miami can score goal after goal.

And is Michigan State really a 10th-place team?

Midseason Report Card

Alaska-Fairbanks

I honestly thought that the Nanooks would break the curse of Coach of the Year. Having lost just three seniors from last year to this, and returning a solid goal-tending duo, UAF should have been a contender this year. Maybe the Nanooks will yet, but they have to overcome an anemic offense, a porous defense, and a lack of confidence. C+

Bowling Green

If I could give a team an A for effort, I would. Scott Paluch isn’t working miracles, but he’s working — and that’s a good start for the Falcons. As it is, this is a team that doesn’t score much and has difficulty defending, but given the way in which the players are responding to Paluch’s leadership (very well) and given how hard they work, it won’t be long before Bowling Green climbs up from the bottom of the pack. It just won’t happen this season. C-

Ferris State

The Bulldogs are an example of what happens when all the planets align, when all your i‘s are dotted and your t‘s crossed. In other words, this is a team that has worked hard for what it has and has the luck of health on its side. FSU lost goaltender Mike Brown and superstar forward Chris Kunitz at critical times last season; with both healthy and a cast of outstanding supporting players — fast, smart supporting players — FSU has performed up to its potential in the first half of the season. A

Lake Superior State

Another hard-working team with absolutely no offense. None. Good to great goaltending (Matt Violin can be poetic in net), so-so defense, and don’t get me started on the coaching. C-

Miami

This team is the biggest surprise — to me — in the CCHA. With 11 newcomers, nine of them freshmen, I thought for sure that the RedHawks would falter this season. But the junior class is showing signs of real leadership, the offense is deep and happily productive, and the defense young but very good. David Burleigh works it between the pipes, but could be more consistent. I’m still not convinced Miami is not overachieving. B+

Michigan

Oh, the woes of the Wolverines. Making the best of some bad situations — offseason departures, injuries, uncertainty in several positions — Michigan is competitive, feisty, and on good nights a lot of fun to watch. What I like about this Michigan team is its grit and determination. The offense needs to pick up its pace. Montoya is amazing. B

Michigan State

This is a team in transition, not just from Coach Mason to Coach Comley, but from the Miller Era to life without Ryan. The offense is sleepy and on the slow side; the defense is decent, and leads the team in scoring. Goaltending could be much more consistent. Anyone who thought that Miller was overrated should be convinced by now. C

Nebraska-Omaha

Like a few other teams in the league, UNO is better than its place in the CCHA standings would indicate. Off to a slow start because of an amazing amount of personnel turnover close to the start of the season, the Mavericks are recovering nicely and will make a real run at home ice during the second half. Goaltender Dan Ellis is simply superb, and the team plays hard in front of him. The Mavs could be speedier, and they have to start scoring goals. Don’t even ask about the power play. C+

Northern Michigan

I have always been a fan of the hardest-working team in college hockey; NMU lives up to that again this season. Finishing the first half with a home sweep of Michigan made quite a statement. This is an aggressive, smart, fast hockey team with the ability to score and to grind down the opposition. When Craig Kowalski is good, he’s very good. And look at Mike Stutzel go! B+

Notre Dame

Last season, the Irish impressed me with their work ethic. This year, they’re impressing me with their ability to maintain — to put together strings of points and keep in the thick of it. Notre Dame has the ability to score, can defend well, and gets relatively consistent goaltending from Morgan Cey. What the Irish need, though, is more: more goals, more ardent defense, more aggression, and a better balance. B-

Ohio State

This is an incredibly patient and balanced team that knows it has a chance to win if it sticks to the coaches’ systems. Who are these guys? Four lines that can score, three power-play units, defenders who will do anything they can to block shots, and a very confident Mike Betz. Although no one wants to hear it, this may be the best overall team in the league. A

Western Michigan

The Broncos are playing the kind of grinding, all-out hockey they’ve been playing since Jim Culhane took the reins, a method that relies more on offense than team defense. Since WMU can score and Mike Mantua is good between the pipes, this type of game works much of the time, but if WMU wants to contend for home ice, the Broncos will have to play much better as a team, especially in their own end. B-

U.S. Junior Team

Michigan sophomore forwards Dwight Helminen and Eric Nystrom, and OSU freshman forward Ryan Kesler have been named to the 22-member U.S. National Junior Team which will compete in the 2003 International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championship.

The three represent the smallest CCHA class to join the Junior Team since 1998. This is also the first year since 1995 that has not seen a player from Michigan State joining the squad.

The 10-team tournament continues through Jan. 5 in both Sydney and Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. The U.S. team, which features 17 collegians, faces off against Russia, Switzerland, Belarus, and Slovakia in Pool-A competition.

Tournament Time

The holidays mean not just long and arduous bus travel for certain CCHA writers, but college hockey tournament time, a midseason chance for fans to see how their teams stack up against mostly nonconference opposition.

Here’s a look at each tournament in which a CCHA team participates.

Bank One Badger Showdown

Dec. 29-30, Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Northern Michigan faces Harvard in the first game of this tournament. The Wildcats are 1-1-0 all-time against Harvard. Wisconsin hosts and Colgate is the fourth participant.

Denver Cup

Dec. 27-28, Magness Arena, Denver, Colo.

Another student-mentor matchup as Miami faces Denver in the first round; Miami head coach Enrico Blasi played for and coached with Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. Miami and Denver are the second game on the first night. New Hampshire and Clarkson round out the tournament.

Dodge Holiday Classic

Dec. 27-28, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minn.

Bowling Green takes on Boston College in the first game of the former Mariucci Classic, a contest that pits BGSU head coach Scott Paluch against his mentor, BC head coach and all-around nice guy, Jerry York. Game two sees host Minnesota and Yale.

Everblades College Classic

Dec. 28-29, Teco Arena, Estero, Fla.

Founding members OSU, Maine, and Cornell are joined this year by Massachusetts, OSU’s first-round opponent. Northern Michigan won this tourney last year, with OSU coming in third. The game between OSU and Massachusetts is the first-ever match between the two schools.

Great Lakes Invitational

Dec. 28-29, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Mich.

It’s MSU vs. Boston University in the first game, followed by Michigan vs. Michigan Tech. The Spartans have captured a total of nine GLI titles, but the Wolverines have more than any other participant (11). Michigan has lost its last two GLI semifinal games, 7-3 to Michigan Tech (2000) and a 5-4 overtime loss to North Dakota last year.

Ledyard National Bank Auld Lang Syne Classic

Dec. 28-29, Rupert Thompson Arena, Hanover, New Hampshire

Notre Dame faces off against Dartmouth in the second game the first night of this tourney. The Irish are 16-30-2 all-time in in-season tournament action. Vermont and UMass-Lowell round out the field.

UConn Classic

Dec. 29-30, Joseph J. Morrone Stadium, Storrs, Conn.

Ferris State — the once and future Defenders of the Realm — play Alabama-Huntsville in the first round of the UConn Classic. Host Connecticut and Findlay are the other participants in a tournament that FSU should win, hands down.

More To Come

Next week, my very trying journey on a busline ironically named for a speedy and friendly dog, as well as that promised feature on Matt Shegos.

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