Who’s Got Whose …
… number? With the release of the PairWise Rankings this week, the potential field for the NCAA postseason tournament has become a little clearer.
So has the importance of earning an automatic bid.
Michigan (9) is the highest-ranked CCHA team, followed by Ohio State and Ferris State (tie 10), Miami (16), and Northern Michigan (18).
With 20 points, the Bulldogs currently sit atop the CCHA standings, one point ahead of the Buckeyes — whom FSU swept in their only two meetings of the season.
With 19 points, the Buckeyes are two points ahead of the Wolverines, three ahead of the Wildcats, and four in front of the RedHawks. OSU swept Miami in their first two-game set of the season in December, but the Buckeyes face the RedHawks later in the season.
The Buckeyes also face NMU on the road, and their last regular-season meeting is a two-game home set against Michigan.
Northern Michigan swept clustermate Michigan in Marquette earlier this season, but the Wildcats and Wolverines will face off again in Ann Arbor in February. Michigan also has yet to face FSU in a home-and-home series later this season.
FSU has yet to play NMU and Miami, and let’s not forget about the games I just mentioned.
As for Northern, the Wildcats lost two to Miami earlier this season.
Who’s got whose number? My guess is that OSU’s losses to FSU will cost the Buckeyes, big time — and that should tell you who I think, at this point, has everyone’s number.
IHCCA Player Of The Month
Congratulations to OSU junior forward RJ Umberger, named the Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners’ Association Player of the Month for December.
Umberger posted nine goals and four assists for 13 points in December, a month through which the Buckeyes went 5-0-1.
The 6-2, 202 pound native of Pittsburgh, Penn., a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, earned his 100th point as a Buckeye by scoring OSU’s only goal in the Buckeyes’ 1-0 shutout over Cornell in the Everglades College Classic.
OSU freshman forward Ryan Kesler earned honorable mention for the IHCCA’s December Rookie of the Month, and was the only other CCHA player considered for either ROTM or POTM honors.
North Dakota forward Zach Parise was named Rookie of the Month. Parise registered two goals and seven assists for the Fighting Sioux before leaving to play for the U.S. squad in the IIHF World Junior Championships in Nova Scotia.
The IHCCA is composed of the commissioners of each D-I men’s league: Bob Peters (CHA), Tom Anastos (CCHA), Phil Buttafuoco (ECAC), Joe Bertagna (HEA), Rich Ensor (MAAC), and Bruce McLeod (WCHA).
And In Case You’re Slacking …
OSU freshman goaltender Dave Caruso recorded his second consecutive collegiate shutout for the Buckeyes with OSU’s 4-0 win over Findlay. Caruso (1.20 GAA, .950 SV% in five games) posted his first in Florida, when the Bucks blanked Cornell 1-0.
When WMU faces Michigan this weekend, the Broncos will be without assistant captain Paul Davies, who broke his wrist in Tuesday’s practice. Davies is likely to be out for a couple of weeks.
Earlier this season, captain Dana Lattery missed six games with a broken right hand. Freshman Daryl Moore just returned to the lineup last weekend; Moore was out since mid-November.
The Broncos are just 1-7-1 on the road this season, and they face Michigan in Yost Friday night before heading back to the slightly more friendly confines of Lawson Arena Saturday.
Head coach Jim Culhane told the Western Herald that the Broncos have talked “all week” about what it takes to win on the road, where WMU has lost and lost big; owing often to turnovers and weak defense in their own end, the Broncos have been outscored 35-12 in road losses this season.
Mike Mantua (3.50 GAA, .876 SV%) will get the start Friday night.
What A Drag It Is Getting Old
The oldest player in the CCHA — WMU’s Ben Gagnon (b. Feb. 12, 1978) — faces off this weekend against the league’s youngest player — Michigan’s Al Montoya (b. obscenely recently, Feb. 13, 1985).
To put this in perspective, Gagnon is seven years and one day older than Montoya. To further put this in perspective, Gagnon was born as I was preparing to exit eighth grade; Montoya was born 10 months shy of when I first graduated from college.
Who’s That Handsome, Big-Headed Guy?
Last season, CCHA fans were treated to the Ron Mason bobblehead doll. Not to be outdone by that institution down the road, the Wolverines have introduced the Red Berenson bobblehead.
The first 1,000 fans through the door at Yost for Friday’s game against WMU will get a doll free; the remaining 1,000 dolls — only 2,000 have been produced — will be available for $15 during the game.
Forty-five of those dolls for sale have been autographed by Berenson himself, and will sell for $40 each. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7:35 game.
Speaking Of Michigan
The Wolverines swept the RedHawks last weekend, and that was nothing new. Michigan has now won 14 straight games against Miami, dating back to 1998.
Congrats Lake State
The Lakers won their first league contest last week in grand style, defeating visiting MSU 7-1. Six different Lakers scored in the win, and Jeremy Bachusz had a two-goal game.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, LSSU followed the victory with a 6-0 loss to the Spartans. Laker head coach Frank Anzalone said he was more disappointed with the way in which the Lakers lost than the loss itself. LSSU gave up four third-period goals in the shutout.
“I try not to talk about winning,” said Anzalone. “I do talk about it sometimes, but it scares them [the players] because there is no one in the room to look at who knows about it.
“Chemistry and confidence are a very delicate balance. It is a magic or a mystery. Right now we don’t have it, and it takes a while to acquire that.”
Anzalone looks to sophomore netminder Matt Violin (3.42 GAA, .909 SV%) as the glue that can hold the Laker squad together.
“I think the greatest catalyst we have is Matt Violin, and he’s a quiet guy,” said Anzalone. “I think out team needs to learn that he is a gem for them, that he has played consistently every game, giving our team the chance to either win or lose in a respectful manner. I think the players need to understand that they should get out there and defend him better.”
The Lakers face Canisius this weekend. So far this season, LSSU is 3-0-0 against the MAAC. Anzalone calls the Golden Griffins “dangerous,” because they’re seeking an autobid for the NCAA postseason tourney.
Voros Watch, Revisited
The CCHA’s favorite sophomore (okay, my favorite sophomore) scared us all again after BGSU’s Jon Sitko hit the Nanook so hard that Voros lay unconscious on the ice for several minutes.
Voros, who needed six stitches to his chin, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he had “never had [an] injury before this year,” and that he hopes “they are all just coming in a group.”
He added, “My head doesn’t hurt.”
Earlier this season, doctors found a benign tumor in Voros’s leg. Voros is questionable for the Nanooks’ series against the Spartans this weekend.
Sitko earned a five-minute major penalty for the hit, which didn’t appear to be intentionally malicious.
In 14 games this season, Voros has two goals and five assists, and — God bless him — 17 penalties for 34 minutes. Voros led the CCHA in penalty minutes as a rookie last year.
Games Of The Week
It’s now or never for the Spartans, and the Nanooks are feeling pretty good.
Alaska-Fairbanks (8-7-3, 5-6-3 CCHA) at Michigan State (9-9-1, 5-6-0 CCHA)
Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 7:05 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, Mich.
Only three points separate the 10th-place Spartans from the seventh-place Nanooks; in fact, there are just 10 points between first-place FSU and No. 10 MSU.
Is this tight — in every sense of the word — or what?
Michigan State leads this all-time series 22-5-0, and the Nanooks have failed to muster more than two goals per game against the Spartans in their last 15 meetings. In those same 15 games, UAF has just one win over MSU, a 2-1 victory Nov. 30, 2001 — in Fairbanks.
If history is any judge, then the Spartans should have the Nanooks’ number … unless more recent history is a more accurate barometer of each team.
Last weekend, the Spartans were on the losing end of LSSU’s first league win (a 7-1 loss in Sault Ste. Marie) before shutting out the Lakers 6-0 the following night.
Earlier this season (Nov. 22), the Spartans were on the losing end of BGSU’s first (and so far only) league win, a 3-2 victory for the Falcons in Bowling Green.
The Nanooks ride a six-game unbeaten streak into East Lansing, their longest unbeaten streak since going 6-0-1 for seven games in 1988-89. Of course, just as it’s important to note who has beaten MSU, it’s important to look at the recent Nanook wins; two of the four wins in UAF’s recent streak were over Wayne State, at home.
The ‘Nooks have performed laudably against Miami (loss and tie) and OSU (loss and tie), two teams ahead of UAF in the standings and PWR; UAF has also made quick work of more “comparable” teams (for lack of a better word), having beaten both Notre Dame and UNO twice this season.
While the Nanooks seem to have found some consistency, the Spartans can’t seem to decide who they are. In their nine wins, the Spartans have scored 40 goals; in their nine losses, just 15. In their wins, the Spartans average 35 shots per game; in their losses, it’s just 25.
When they win, the Spartans convert 25 percent of their power plays; when they lose, it’s just 18 percent. When they win, the Spartans kill penalties at a rate of nearly 87 percent; when they lose, it’s just 75 percent.
UAF is most likely a team in control of its own destiny, now that the squad seems to have adjusted to the departure of last year’s senior class and has recovered from Voros’ tumor scare. Still, it’s easy to wonder when the Spartans will wake up and join in on this season’s fun — if, indeed, they wake up at all.
Here’s the pairing by the league numbers:
The Spartans are 3-2-0 at home this season, and fare better on Saturdays than Fridays.
Picks: On paper, it seems as though the Spartans have an edge, but the Nanooks — who have been in the Lower 48 since last week’s series against BGSU — have something resembling momentum on their side. UAF 4-3, 5-2
Notes From The League
UAF: The Nanooks are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, after opening the season 1-6-1.
BGSU: The Falcons dressed just 14 skaters in their 3-3 tie with UAF last week. Five Falcons were benched for violating team rules.
FSU: Linemates Chris Kunitz and Jeff Legue combined for 10 goals and 17 assists last week as the Bulldogs outscored Niagara 15-2.
LSSU: The Lakers had just 11 goals in 12 league games until pounding the Spartans 7-1 last weekend. The win over MSU was the first for LSSU on home ice since 1994.
Miami: Senior goaltender David Burleigh made his 2,500th career save last Saturday in Miami’s 3-2 overtime loss to Michigan.
Michigan: Red Berenson — of bobblehead fame — is just 10 wins shy of 500 career victories. The Wolverines have 16 regular-season games remaining.
MSU: The Spartans are 2-7-1 in weekend-opening games this season, and 7-2 in the second of two-game sets.
UNO: With two goals in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Notre Dame, senior David Brisson is now just two short of Jeff Hoggan’s school record of 61 career tallies.
NMU: The Wildcats are 6-2-0 at home this season, and own a 41-19-10 record on the Olympic sheet in the Berry Events Center, now in its fourth season of use.
Notre Dame: Senior forward Connor Dunlop needs just one more point to become the 38th player in Notre Dame history to reach the century mark. Dunlop had three assists in Friday’s 5-3 win over UNO.
OSU: If junior Mike Betz continues his current winning ways, he’ll become OSU’s all-time winningest goaltender. Betz has 47 career victories; Bill McKenzie (1970-72) currently holds the record of 54.
WMU: Senior defenseman Dave Cousineau appeared in his 67th consecutive game for the Broncos. If he suits up against the Wolverines Friday — and he should — Cousineau will become the 68th Bronco to see action in 130 games.
Part 1 is on the way. Part 2, next week.
MacDonald Orson Gadowsky, who turns one Jan. 10.