This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 16, 2003

Reversals of Fortune

The Bowling Green Falcons work too hard to avoid even a little success, especially with Jordan Sigalet in net. Last weekend, the Falcons earned their second and third league wins with a home sweep over Northern Michigan, 5-3 and 3-2.

Sigalet (.920 SV% CCHA) had 60 saves and a .923 save percentage in the series.

In beating Alaska-Fairbanks 5-3 and 6-2 at Munn Arena last weekend, the Spartans accomplished something they hadn’t since Oct. 24-25, 2002 — a sweep of their own. In fact, the Spartans will bring a three-game win streak into their series against Nebraska-Omaha this weekend.

I Said It, and I Was Wrong …

What was it I said last week about Lawson not being as tough a venue as in years past? Well, it isn’t — but that didn’t stop the Broncos from beating the Wolverines at home Saturday night, 4-3.

Western Michigan fans were encouraged to wear black to the game; the ensuing blackout dulled the senses of the Wolverines so much that by the third period they were unable to defend their own end.

Games of the Week

Just one point separates these two teams — one team that is just waking up, and another still struggling to find its feet. What’s on the line here? Home ice, maybe.

Nebraska-Omaha (8-11-3, 6-9-1 CCHA) at Michigan State (11-9-1, 7-6-0 CCHA)
Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 7:05 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, Mich.

Something unusual happened last weekend in Munn Arena; the Spartans won — twice.

MSU carries a three-game win streak into this series, a streak in which the Spartans have outscored opponents 17-4. In fact, MSU has scored five or more goals in seven of its 11 wins this season, games in which the Spartans outscored the opposition by a combined total of 41-12. And don’t forget the 5-5 tie against Minnesota.

As pretty as those stats look in pixels, MSU’s good games sandwich some glaring losses. Before beating Lake Superior State 6-0 Jan. 4, the Spartans lost to the Lakers 7-1 the night before. The day after beating league-leading Ferris State 6-2, MSU lost to the Bulldogs 5-3.

“Our goaltenders really struggled,” said head coach Rick Comley of the loss to LSSU — the Lakers’ only league win so far this season. “It happens. The Lakers play hard, and everything they shot at the net went in that night.”

Justin Tobe and Matt Migliaccio combined for 24 saves on 30 shots.

Since that night, though, said Comley, “Things have bounced back.”

In years past, the defense-minded Spartans looked to their blueliners for scoring as well. For the first half of the season, two MSU defensemen were quieter than usual in that respect, and one of them led the team in scoring for the 2001-02 season.

“The encouraging thing right now is that [John-Michael] Liles and [Brad] Fast have really taken off,” said Rick Comley.

Liles (7-14–21) leads all CCHA defensemen in scoring, is tied for second in scoring for MSU, and is tied for seventh nationally among defensemen in points per game (1.00). Liles has four goals and six assists for 10 points in his last six games.

Fast (8-11–19) is the fifth-leading scorer for the Spartans, and has nine points in his last nine games.

Comley attributes MSU’s three-game streak to “steady goaltending [and] balanced scoring.” What concerns the coach most is “lack of depth on defense.” Comley said that Duncan Keith, who left for major junior hockey was “a game away from turning it around.”

The Mavericks are 1-2-1 in January, 3-4-1 in their last eight games, having lost to Miami 3-0 before skating to a 2-2 tie with the RedHawks in Oxford last weekend.

“I think they’re almost a mirror of Fairbanks,” said Comley of the Mavs. UNO has been a streaky team this season; the longest streaks for the Mavericks, winning or losing, have consisted of three games.

Comley knows that UNO brings with it solid goaltending. Dan Ellis, perhaps the league’s most elegant netminder, has also run hot and cold this season, but Comley is reluctant to comment on Ellis’ inconsistency. “One thing about great goaltenders,” said Comley, “is that you don’t want to say that they’re having a bad year: they’ll bounce back.”

Here’s the matchup, by the league numbers:

  • Goals per game: UNO 2.44 (11th), MSU 3.77 (third)
  • Goals allowed per game: UNO 3.06 (sixth), MSU 3.31 (seventh)
  • Power play: UNO 10.4% (11th), MSU 24.1% (fourth)
  • Penalty kill: UNO 83.8% (fourth), MSU 77.4% (ninth)
  • MSU’s top scorer: Jim Slater (4-10–14)
  • UNO’s top scorer: David Brisson (9-6–15)
  • MSU’s top ‘tender: Matt Migliaccio (.915 SV%, 2.57 GAA)
  • UNO’s top ‘tender: Dan Ellis (.913 SV%, 2.81 GAA)

    Said Comley, “This past week, we had a great week of practice. We’re still trying to get [everyone] to the same page. We have very solid goaltending.”

    Picks: None of this bodes well for the Mavericks. These teams match well in terms of speed, but the UNO defense is even shakier than MSU’s. Ellis can stand on his head in net, stop 45 shots, and still lose a game. MSU 4-3, 3-1

    They’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain When They Come

    After sweeping Fairbanks at home, Comley is understandably excited about his team’s possibilities, but he’s always been a cautious guy — at least publicly.

    “We’re close, much closer than we’ve been all year,” said Comley of his rebounding Spartans. “It doesn’t mean we have the whole package; we certainly have work to do.”

    Comley is quick — and right — to point out that the Spartans are a very young team, one of the youngest in D-I hockey. “We dress 14 freshmen and sophomores, and it takes time for a team like that to mature.”

    And while it also takes time for a team to adjust to a new coach, Comley’s style isn’t that different from his legendary predecessor, MSU athletic director Ron Mason. After all, Mason coached Comley.

    “I come from Ron’s mode,” said Comley. “I believe in the same defensive style he did. I just want more offense. That should be something the players want, too.”

    The Spartans have a “more balanced” schedule down the stretch — more home games — although Comley doesn’t use the first-half schedule as an excuse for his team’s slow start. But, given the way in which his team is gelling and the strength of their second-half schedule, the Spartans could be dangerous down the stretch.

    “I see a situation developing where we can win every night,” said Comley, emphasis on can. “We’re becoming a team you don’t want to play.”

    Speaking of Schedules …

    The Spartans’ opponent this week, Nebraska-Omaha, has the toughest remaining schedule in the league. The Mavericks have yet to face Ferris State and Michigan, and still have two games left against clustermate Ohio State — the top three teams in the conference.

    UNO plays clustermate UAF in Fairbanks in February, and the Mavericks also have a two-game set against archrival Bowling Green.

    The Ohio Cup

    The battle for the Ohio Cup, presented annually by the Buckeye Sports Bulletin to the CCHA team in Ohio with the best record in-state, continues with this weekend’s match between BGSU and OSU.

    Since the Buckeyes and Falcons — and the RedHawks and Falcons — meet just twice per year (the Bucks and ‘Hawks always play each other four times per season), the second game in the first series between OSU and Miami counts toward Cup standings, as will the last game of the season between OSU and Miami in Oxford, Feb. 13.

    In that second game of their first series in December, OSU beat Miami 5-3 in Columbus.

    The RedHawks swept the Falcons in two league games earlier this season.

    Coverage North of the Border

    The CCHA has announced a deal to air 21 regular-season games and four playoff games, including the Super Six semifinals and championship game, with Leafs TV, the only all-hockey television station in North America.

    “Leafs TV’s mandate has always been to provide an expanded perspective of the game of hockey to the Ontario market,” said John Shannon, executive producer of Toronto Maple Leafs Network Ltd. “These games give us the opportunity to showcase an outstanding level of hockey, while raising the profile of local hockey talent. ”

    Ontario is an area in which the CCHA recruits heavily.

    “This distribution agreement will provide more people in Canada with an opportunity to see the quality, energy and excitement surrounding U.S. college hockey, as well as watch all the Canadian players who compete in the CCHA,” said CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos.

    Coverage began with the UAF-MSU series Jan. 10-11, and continues with the UNO-MSU series this week.

    Eleven of the CCHA’s 12 teams have Ontario-born players on their rosters.

    Notes From The League

    UAF: The Nanooks probably never want to face another Rick Comley-coached team again. After losing twice to the Spartans last weekend, UAF is now 0-14-2 against Comley; the ‘Nooks were 0-12-2 against NMU when Comley coached there.

    BGSU: The Falcons’ sweep of NMU was the first sweep for BGSU in nearly two years.

    FSU: So far this season, the red-hot Bulldogs have taken 23 of the 28 possible points available to them this season. FSU is 10-0-0 when Chris Kunitz scores a goal.

    LSSU: Junior Kyle Anderson has scored four times in his past four games — compared with four times in his previous 81 games.

    Miami: Miami, that little school tucked into the southwest corner of Ohio, has seen four of the current 60 Division I men’s ice hockey coaches through its doors: current coach Enrico Blasi, Denver coach George Gwozdecky, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, and Ferris State’s Bob Daniels. In a small-world twist, Miami assistant Jeff Blashill played for and coached with Daniels at FSU. If you want the world to get even smaller, look at how many current D-I head coaches can trace their lineage back to Ron Mason …

    Michigan: The Wolverines have given up three goals in the third period in their last three losses. The Broncos got three last Saturday, as did NMU and BU when they beat Michigan.

    MSU: John-Michael Liles is one point behind Jim Slater in scoring for the Spartans, putting him in the running to become the first blueliner to lead MSU in scoring for two consecutive seasons.

    UNO: Junior goaltender Dan Ellis reached the 100-game mark in UNO’s 2-2 tie with Miami last weekend.

    NMU: Freshman defensemen Jamie Milam and Juha Alen are tied for the lead in scoring among rookie blueliners with Miami’s Andy Greene. Each has 13 points.

    Notre Dame: Senior John Wroblewski had a hand in six of Notre Dame’s seven goals in last weekend’s Irish loss and tie to FSU in Big Rapids.

    OSU: The Buckeyes are 10-1-0 at home this season, and ride an eight-game home win streak into the Schott, where the Bucks have given up just 1.60 goals per game on average this season.

    WMU: Former Bronco Joe Corvo (1995-98) netted his first NHL goal last week for the L.A. Kings.

    Happy Birthday

    Happy birthday to Parker, who shuttled me safely home after Thursday’s game. You’re still young, kiddo.