This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 6, 2003

The Measure of Success

At the end of January, 2002, the Bowling Green State University Falcons were struggling, having gone 7-16-5 for the season until that point.

One year later, BGSU is 7-16-2, prompting this week’s lesson in how numbers can deceive.

“What we’re happy about with this group is that we’re getting better effort from October until now. We’ve really got a pretty solid base of hard work right now. We work hard during games; we practice hard during the week.”

That, according to BGSU first-year head coach Scott Paluch, is the measure of success.

“Most teams this time of year,” said Paluch, “you always want more wins. But we’re a lot more dangerous offensively than we were at the start of the year.”

More dangerous than ever is junior forward Mark Wires, who had three power-play goals and an assist in two games against Nebraska-Omaha last weekend. Wires is riding a career-best point streak into Saturday’s game against Michigan State, having notched four goals and five assists for nine points in his last five games.

In fact, the totals from Wires’ five-game point streak equal his entire offensive output for last season — nine points, and he now has a team-best 21 points on the season. His six power-play goals this year triples his career total on the man-advantage for his previous two years.

Last weekend, the Falcons recorded their first road shutout since Nov. 27, 1999, when they beat UNO 5-0. The shutout also marked the first time in 63 games that the Mavs had been held scoreless in the Bullpen.

Sophomore Jordan Sigalet made 31 stops for the Falcons in that game, the first shutout of his career. Paluch said that Sigalet has been “consistent.”

The Falcons finished January 4-3-1, the first time a BG team has posted a .500 record or above in a month since March of 2001. Said Paluch, “We’ve got a long way to go from where we need to be in our overall game.”

This weekend, the Falcons face the Spartans in a rematch of BGSU’s first league win of the season, a 3-2 overtime decision Nov. 22.

And what a time to catch Michigan State. MSU is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games, owing much to the success of the Spartan power play, which has netted 16 goals in the past nine games.

John-Michael Liles (10-20–30) and Brad Fast (9-17–26) anchor the MSU man advantage; Liles has five power-play tallies this season to Fast’s four.

Also effective on the PP are David Booth (15-11–26) and the now-hot Brian Maloney (8-8–16), each of whom has five goals on the power play. Maloney has six goals and one assist for seven points in his last six contests.

“We all know the power play comes and goes, and right now we’re working (the puck) around and it’s clicking,” Liles told the Lansing State Journal this week.

Because of their recent success, the Spartans have pulled themselves up to fourth place in the league standings, and when they win, they tend to win big; MSU has outscored opponents 68-22 in wins this season. In five of their nine contests in January, the Spartans registered five or more goals.

Up There, It’s OK

When Alaska-Fairbanks sophomore Aaron Voros was diagnosed with a tumor on the bone in his thigh, suddenly everybody found a little perspective.

Voros is back on the UAF campus, having had the tumor removed Thursday, Jan. 30. “He ended up having a bone graft,” said Nanooks head coach Guy Gadowsky. “He’s in a lot of pain, but he was determined to come back to campus. He arrived Wednesday night (Feb. 4). He really wanted to get back and take care of his classes.”

Because of what this could have been, Voros’ teammates are “just happy he’s able to come to school,” said Gadowsky.

The Nanooks and Gadowsky continue to suffer the curse of Coach of the Year. UAF is struggling offensively, and — surprisingly — in net.

With the returning tandem of Preston McKay and Lance Mayes between the pipes, no one, including Gadowsky, thought that goaltending would be an issue for UAF this season.

“That was my most confident feeling, that we had proven starters that can win you hockey games,” said Gadowsky. “It’s funny how things work out. I still believe in them very strongly. They’re going through a tough time right now.”

Enter Keith Bartusch, a sophomore who has become UAF’s most dependable netminder. In 219 minutes of play (he’s seen action in seven games), Bartusch has compiled a .915 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against average.

“I don’t know, but you’ve got to be really happy for Keith,” said Gadowsky. “We’re starting him this weekend. Right now, he gives us the best chance to win.”

Gadowsky said that McKay and Mayes would be the first to admit that they’re struggling, adding, “Once they figure it out, that will be a huge positive for this team.”

As for the Nanooks’ offensive woes, Gadowsky said, “I don’t think there are any excuses to be given. You know what? The season’s not over. We’re still building toward being the best team that we can come March. As a group, we expect more of us.”

I Am Not a Jinx

RJ Umberger took his first penalty in league play last weekend against Notre Dame. I was listening on the radio. Not even in the same building.

I am not a jinx.

Games of the Week

What have the Broncos been eating for breakfast? Are the Buckeyes going to swoon in the home stretch?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Western Michigan (13-12-1, 11-7-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (18-6-3, 12-4-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

Last weekend, the Buckeyes broke their road curse with a last-minute tie — well, really, nearly a last-second tie — against Notre Dame Friday (3-3), and a 2-0 blanking of the Irish the following night.

What were the Broncos doing last weekend? Resting — and that’s a good thing.

WMU head coach Jim Culhane said that there was “a lot of jump” and “enthusiasm” when the Broncos returned to practice Monday. “I think the break came at a really good time, especially coming back from Alaska. We have some guys who are nursing some things that really won’t heal until the end of the year — welcome to being a hockey player.”

The Broncos busted the Nanooks, beating UAF 6-4 and 6-2 Jan. 24-25. And while much has been made of WMU’s road record this season (3-8-1), the Broncos love Value City Arena. They just love it.

“Facility-wise, the Value [City] Center is beautiful,” said Culhane. “It’s a great place, an NHL venue. You look at their record, they have done a great job at home and it will present us with a big challenge.”

Um, sure. Given that the Broncos swept the Buckeyes in Columbus last year. Oh, and of course the Buckeyes swept Western in Kalamazoo, both during the regular season and in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs.

So the team with a questionable road record — WMU — is visiting a team with a great home record — OSU — and has an outstanding chance of taking more than just two points this weekend.

How’s that?

“I can’t put my finger on it,” said Culhane. “There have been great games, down there and even here last year — two games in overtime, both one-goal games. I think we are going to see that again this weekend.

“I think it’s going to be a close series; special teams and goaltending will play a factor and again, probably one-goal games. At this time of the year, it is tough to sweep. You’re seeing a lot of splits.”

The Broncos have more than history to give them confidence coming into Columbus this weekend. WMU started its current five-game win streak with a win over Michigan, and freshman phenom Vince Bellissimo (what a name!) leads the team with 24 points. The line of Bellissimo, Jeremy Cheyne, and Dana Lattery is among the hottest in the league, clicking for 14 goals and 12 assists — 52 percent of the team’s scoring — during the win streak. Bellissimo has seven goals all by his lonesome.

This powerful offense will face off against the league’s toughest defense — and who would have thought that would be the case? The Buckeyes are the only team in the conference to limit opponents to two or fewer goals per league contest. And while starting goaltender Mike Betz appeared to have a shaky start to the second half of the season, the junior rebounded last week to allow just three goals against Notre Dame, none five-on-five, in OSU’s 3-3 tie with the Irish Friday. Betz shut out Notre Dame Saturday, and his effort earned him CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.

In addition to Betz and his partner, David Caruso, in the OSU net, the Buckeye defense has been absolutely smothering this season, limiting opponents to approximately 20 shots on average.

“The big thing we have to do is get pucks to the net,” said Culhane. “You’re not going to score I think on the initial shot. They play very well, very sound defensively. We need to get some traffic in front of Betz and try to get some rebound goals. We need to drive to the net to create some things.

“That in itself will present a real challenge because they play so well defensively. We’re going to have to manufacture things as best as we can, especially on the power play. Special teams will play a factor in things, too.”

The Buckeye special teams struggled through the middle of the season, but OSU went 8-for-8 on the PK against the Irish in the second game last weekend. In their last five games, the Buckeyes have clicked at the anemic rate of 12.1 percent on the power play.

Here’s the pairing, by the league numbers:

  • Goals per game: WMU 3.67 (fourth), OSU 3.44 (sixth)
  • Goals allowed per game: WMU 3.56 (ninth), OSU 1.94 (first)
  • Power play: WMU 16.9% (ninth), OSU 19.8% (fifth)
  • Penalty kill: WMU 81.9% (fourth), OSU 88.8% (second)
  • OSU’s top scorer: RJ Umberger (10-16–26)
  • WMU’s top scorer: Jeff Campbell (8-12–20)
  • OSU’s top ‘tender: Mike Betz (.918 SV%, 1.84 GAA)
  • WMU’s top ‘tender: Mike Mantua (.887 SV%, 3.22 GAA)

    Culhane said that the Buckeyes are “no surprise.”

    “We knew around the league, they were going to be right up there challenging for a championship.”

    As for how this year’s Bucks stack up against last year’s — and, remember, last year is when WMU took two from OSU in Value City Arena — Culhane said, “I think they’re very similar. They’ve added depth with their recruiting classes. They have all the horses in the stable to make a real push.

    “Obviously we’re an underdog going in there, but with that said, we control our own destiny and we’ll be rested, well prepared and ready to go.”

    The Buckeyes are 12-1-0 and home this season, 8-0-0 in CCHA games at the Schott, and are 12-0-3 in their last 15 home league games, dating back to last season. That’s a streak that may come to an end.

    Another streak that the Bucks would like to see end: OSU’s streak of games without a hat trick. It’s been 101 contests since a Buckeye recorded a hat trick, dating back to Nick Ganga’s three-goal performance Oct. 21, 2000 against Niagara. This season, the Buckeyes have had 11 two-goal games, while last year the squad had a player score twice in a game 17 times.

    Picks: Sometimes, it’s good to live in C-bus. WMU 5-4, OSU 4-2

    Notes From The League

    UAF: The Nanooks cannot get past the Wildcats, period. Following last weekend’s losses, UAF is 0-13-3 all time against NMU.

    BGSU: Jordan Sigalet earned his first career shutout last Friday when the Falcons blanked the Mavericks in Omaha, 5-0. It was the first conference road win for BGSU in over a year and the Falcons’ first conference shutout since Nov. 27, 1999.

    FSU: The Bulldogs are looking at a sweet schedule down the stretch. Three points ahead of second-place OSU in the CCHA standings, FSU has four series and eight games remaining against teams with a combined .351 win percentage.

    LSSU: The series between LSSU and FSU pits the league’s lowest-scoring team against the highest. Laker first-year assistant coach Tim Christian is a former FSU standout. Christian was the Bulldogs’ 1992 Rookie of the Year and their 1995 MVP. Christian was also the top-scoring Bulldog three of his four seasons at FSU.

    Miami: Miami’s 5-3 win over MSU last Friday snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Spartans and a nine-game losing streak at Munn Arena. Miami’s last win in East Lansing was Feb. 14, 1997.

    Michigan: The Wolverines have the nation’s best penalty kill. Clicking along at 92.4 percent, Michigan is a perfect 24-for-24 on the kill in its past six games.

    MSU: Until Greg Hogeboom scored at 3:44 on the first period last Friday, the Spartans had kept the RedHawks off the scoreboard for 284:14 of regular-season play at Munn Arena. The shutout streak included four of Ryan Miller’s NCAA-record 26 blankings.

    UNO: Bowling Green’s 5-0 shutout of UNO in Omaha last week was the first time in 63 games that the Mavs had been blanked in the Bullpen. UNO also allowed four power-play goals in the contest, the first time the Mavs had done so since Feb. 10, 1998.

    NMU: Senior forward Chris Gobert returned to the NMU lineup with style. After missing five games with a groin injury, Gobert netted a goal and earned three assists in NMU’s 8-2 win over UAF. It was the fourth four-point game for Gobert, the 2000 CCHA Rookie of the Year.

    Notre Dame: The Irish are on the verge of tying their longest winless streak in nearly a decade. Notre Dame is 0-6-3 in its last nine games, and after a bye week, the Irish head to Bowling Green on Valentine’s Day. Notre Dame has not gone 10 games without a win since the 1993-94 season.

    OSU: The Buckeyes, three points behind the Bulldogs in the CCHA standings, have been tough at home in conference play, and have an opportunity to successfully defend the Schott for the rest of the season. They’ve already swept MSU, Miami, UNO, and BGSU at Value City Arena, and face three teams behind them at home down the stretch: WMU, UAF, and Michigan.

    WMU: The Broncos are hot. Idle last week, WMU rides a five-game win streak into Value City Arena this weekend. WMU is 6-1-0 in the new year.

    On a Personal Note …

    One of the perks of this job is the number of wonderful people you get to meet. Of course, the downside is that every few years or so, you have to say goodbye to some of them.

    This weekend, I look forward to seeing Dave Cousineau’s parents. Dave’s parents are also Dan’s parents.

    Even More So …

    Please, Chris. Please.