This Week in the CCHA: March 17, 2003

Safety First

On the brink of what the U.S. is calling war, everyone is obviously concerned about security. This week, the NCAA debated whether or not to postpone the roundball tournament because of impending military action, but has decided instead that the show must go on, something that truly does define the American spirit.

Because of the very real threat of retaliation, CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos opened Wednesday’s Super Six press conference with a few words about security at Joe Louis Arena.

“We’ve gotten assurances here that — Joe Louis Arena feels very, very confident that they’re in a very good position to protect all of our athletes, coaches, administrators, fans,” said Anastos. “We’re prepared. We don’t really know how [circumstances] will play out, but we’re moving ahead.”

Notice that there was nothing in that statement about protecting the press. I’m sure that’s an oversight.

Anastos also made it very clear that league wants to appear “very respectful” of the current circumstances.

Talk about perspective — and sadness.

Six Is Super

How did we ever get by with four? Or five? Six is where it’s at.

Remember math? You know, that class that you may have skipped in favor of the Dreck’s Sub Shop across from William’s Supermarket, right there on Route 11?

(Oh. That was my senior year … of high school … .)

Well, I remember a few things about the number six, aside from the fact that three of those little boogers appeared on Damien’s scalp.

Six is a triangular number. Why? Because 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. One, two, and three are consecutive integers, and triangular numbers are the sum of consecutive integers.

(Bear with me. Do you know how long ago that senior year was?)

Six is also a perfect number. Why? Because the sum of all its factors (except itself) equals itself. Perfect numbers are nearly as rare as perfect people. (My father — who reads this column faithfully — is perfect. Ask him. He’ll tell you.)

Then there are all the cool things that six does in nature. Honeycombs have six hexagonal chambers. Snowflakes are six-sided. The sixth element, carbon, is the basis of all life as we know it.

You can deep six a person, who then would be six feet under. You can 86 something, which is the same thing as deep-sixing it.

In Western religion, we know all about six (that Damien kid). The Star of David is six-sided. An I-Ching consists of six lines (two hexagrams of three).

According to Western astrology, the planet Venus “resonates” to the number six, or the number six “vibrates” to the planet Venus — take your pick. Venus, as you know, is the Goddess of Love.

Six is the number of love.

Tell us something we didn’t know.

The Super Six

This year, there are not only six teams, but six games played in the span of three days. A consolation game has been added Saturday afternoon, something that may (or may not) boost an NCAA tourney hopeful’s chances.

Here’s a look at this year’s Super Six participants, in order of post-first-round seeding.

The Wallflower

“We thought we had a darned good chance to finish in the top six or four, but never thought we’d finish first.”

So says Bob Daniels, head coach of this year’s regular-season championship team, the Ferris State Bulldogs (27-8-1), and all-around nice guy.

This year, the ‘Dogs completed their best regular season in team history, and captured their first-ever regular-season title.

These might be heady circumstances for some teams, but not for these Bulldogs.

“It’s hard to put your finger on the pulse of what they’re going through,” says Daniels, adding that the team is “very even tempered, even after losses.”

Perhaps that’s because this talented bunch of players thinks it underachieved last year. For the 2001-02 season, the Bulldogs finished sixth in goals scored, goals allowed, power-play percentage, and penalty kill — and ninth in league standings.

“We thought we were a better team than maybe what we had shown the year before,” says Daniels.

Injuries to two key players at key times hampered the Bulldogs last year when they were in the hunt for home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. First, stellar goaltender Mike Brown went down, and then Hobey Baker candidate Chris Kunitz made an unanticipated exit.

The Good

Where to start?

FSU is riding an 11-game win streak into the Super Six, with the last Bulldog loss in the long-ago month of January — the 31st, to be exact, a 6-4 decision going Michigan’s way in Yost Arena.

It’s clear that FSU has power both fore and aft, with Kunitz (30-40–70) leading the way on the offense, and Brown (.928 SV%, 2.19 GAA) holding the fort. Kunitz is second nationally in scoring, and Brown is fourth nationally in both save percentage and goals-against average.

These would be impressive all by their lonesome, but this a deep team with plenty of firepower and decent defense. Along with Kunitz, the Bulldogs boast three of the league’s top scorers in overall numbers. Jeff Legue (22-32–54) and Derek Nesbitt (18-30–48) are second and fourth, respectively. Nesbitt leads the nation in game-winning goals (nine)

And as Daniels says, with Brown between the pipes, the Bulldogs “don’t have to worry about giving up a lot of shots on goal.”

The Bad

The Bulldogs take a lot of penalties. “Physical” is a generous word used to describe FSU’s style of play.

“We do have some concerns,” says Daniels, “Team discipline — we want to lower our penalty minute numbers.”

You can’t score if you’re in the box, and spending a lot of time on special teams will wear out the most talented of squads.

The Not-So-Pretty

While FSU is riding that 11-game win streak into JLA, it’s been a while since the Bulldogs have been challenged by an opponent. FSU finished its season with four series consecutive series against teams in the bottom half of the league: Lake Superior, Western Michigan, Nebraska-Omaha, and Bowling Green.

FSU’s last loss was to Michigan, and the Bulldogs have lost to Northern Michigan and Michigan State as well. That having been said, though, FSU is 8-3-1 against other teams in the Super Six field.

Says Daniels, “Coming into this year, we were picked ninth — but we thought we were a better team than that.”


The Perennial

Michigan (24-9-3) returns to the Super Six as the defending Mason Cup Champions.

This isn’t news. In fact, it’s not surprising that Michigan returns to The Joe, since the Wolverines are there every freakin’ year. Well, for the last 14, at least.

It’s Red Berenson. He’s a wizard, I swear. He’s the McGuyver of college hockey, except that he has better raw materials with which to build his bomb du jour.

“We’re glad to be here,” says Berenson. “Our season was a bit of a bumpy one with some key injuries during the season and losing a player to ineligibility at mid-season, and losing two key players last summer.”

Yes, the Mikes departed (Cammalleri, Komasarek), but look at who remains and who arrived: John Shouneyia (7-6–33) is second in team scoring and leads the Wolverines in assists: David Moss and Jed Ortmeyer (14-16–30 each) are players any team would be happy to have; Jeff Tambellini (25-16–41) and Al Montoya (.908 SV%, 2.39 GAA) are CCHA All-Rookie picks.

Then there are a slew of other players who step up on any given night. Of course, most of them are young. “Most nights, fifteen of our twenty dressed players are freshmen and sophomores,” says Berenson.

And all but this year’s newcomers have been here before.

The Good

The Michigan penalty kill is tops in the nation, effective 89.8 percent of the time. And lately the Wolverine power play has become lethal. Michigan has netted a power-play goal in eight of its last nine games, finding the net at a .268 rate (11-for-41) in that span.

While Tambellini is clearly a player who will become a star CCHA play maker, the Wolverines score by committee, and that’s a good thing. Seven players, including Tambellini and fellow freshman Brandon Kaleniecki, have registered 10 or more goals this season, and another rookie, Andrew Ebbett, has scored nine.

The Bad

The Michigan defense could be stronger. The Wolverines have given up three or more goals in six of their last seven outings, including in the second game of last weekend’s first-round series against Bowling Green.

As good as Montoya is, he’s young and needs a solid defensive effort in front of him.

Oh, and one more thing — the Wolverines don’t like to be checked. Michigan does not benefit from a physical game.

The Not-So-Pretty

While Michigan is 8-5 all-time in the CCHA semifinals and has advanced to the CCHA title game in eight of the last 11 years, the Wolverines are just .500 against each of their possible semifinal opponents.

“We’re playing pretty well,” says Berenson. “We’re a competitive team.

“This is the best [tournament] field I’ve seen in recent years. I don’t think there’s an underdog team, unless we’re it, and I don’t think there’s a favorite team outside of Ferris State — and they deserve to be the favorite.”

The Felos-de-se

It’s the second straight appearance at The Joe for the Buckeyes, who were prepared for this weekend at JLA by playing two “home ice” games last weekend at another NHL venue, Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

“It was a venue that we weren’t used to,” says John Markell, “but it was an atmosphere that we needed to [help us] concentrate on getting the job done.”

OSU answered critics last weekend with two decisive wins over Nebraska-Omaha, one week after posting back-to-back ties against Michigan.

“I think we’re playing pretty well right now,” says Markell. “We went on a little bit of a four-game slide. We had a very good series against a very good Michigan team, and that [felt like] playoffs.”

Indeed, a slide followed by five games that felt like the Buckeyes of old — or at least the Bucks of the first half of the season. That’s a team that shoots, scores, blocks pucks, and stays out of the box.

The Good

The Buckeyes have players who can score, they can roll four lines, they’ll shoot from anywhere — and they shoot often — they have the fourth-best penalty kill in the country (86.3 percent), they have the league’s best defense (2.18 goals allowed per game), and a goaltender who lives for the playoffs.

RJ Umberger (25-27–52) is nearly impossible to contain, and is tied for second in the nation with game-winning goals (eight). Six other Buckeyes have 10 goals each, including Dave Steckel (10-7–17), who will return from a knee injury this weekend.

(Note to CCHA fans: Watch Miguel Lafleche and Nate Guenin this weekend.)

Then there’s Mike Betz (.906 SV%, 2.21 GAA), who is good during the season — and really good during the playoffs.

The Bad

Will the real Ohio State Buckeyes please stand up?

The Not-So-Pretty

OSU is an experienced team, but has traditionally not done well in post-season (29-44-4 all-time). Additionally, the Buckeyes are 4-3-3 against teams advancing to the CCHA.

Markell is cautiously optimistic, given that last weekend’s games felt like contests at a neutral site not dissimilar from JLA. “We treated the series as two road games. I thought it was a good build up for the Super Six.”

Many CCHA fans may be anticipating an OSU-Michigan rematch, but the Buckeyes are “not looking past Notre Dame,” says Markell.

The Late Bloomer

What a season the Spartans have had — or, rather, what a couple of seasons the Spartans have had, just this year.

“It’s been an interesting year for me,” says Rick Comley. “We’ve had really two seasons; we took one half of the year to find each other [and] in the last twenty games we started to play pretty good hockey.”

Pretty good hockey? MSU is 15-5-1 since Jan. 1; the Spartans scored five or more goals in 10 — that’s 10 — of those 15 wins. Over the past six games, MSU has averaged 5.7 goals per game.

The Spartans are making their 11th trip to the CCHA championship tournament, and MSU is looking for its first post-season CCHA title since 2001. All told, MSU has captured 10 CCHA tournament titles, and leads the league with 14 championship game appearances.

The Good

Take Ron Mason’s defensive style of hockey, and add to it Rick Comley’s healthy respect for Mason’s defensive style plus Comley’s more wide-open offense, and you get one of the scariest teams in the country right now.

Last Friday, the Spartans absolutely humiliated the Nanooks with an 11-1 win. Comley, a true class act, says that the downside of that was that “the dream came crashing down for a young, walk-on goaltender,” UAF’s Kevin Bartusch.

Senior defenseman John-Michael Liles (16-32–48) leads MSU in scoring for the second straight year, and the Spartans are loaded with other offensive talent, including Jim Slater (18-25–43), blueliner Brad Fast (11-32–43), and Brian Maloney (16-16–32).

In some games, it appears as though the Spartans can score at will.

The Bad

At this point, there may not be much that’s “bad” about the Spartans. An Achilles heel may be — ironically — the MSU defense; starting netminder Matt Migliaccio gives up 2.48 goals per game overall. Yup. That’s just awful.

The Not-So-Pretty

The Spartans tend to win big — and lose big. They either score a lot of goals — or they give up a lot of goals. In their losses this season, the Spartans were outscored 64-25 — and not all of those losses are ancient history.

The Hardy Annual

Walt Kyle is a chip off the old Rick Comley block. Kyle played for Comley at NMU, and since Kyle’s coaching style is similar to Comley’s, it should come as no surprise that the Wildcats and Spartans — clustermates during the season — split their four games down the middle.

And so they meet again in the Super Six.

“I don’t mind playing Rick at this time,” says Kyle. “I just wish it was three weeks from now.”

The Wildcats have won five of their last seven games, including the pivotal March 8 4-1 win over Notre Dame that secured home ice for NMU.

“For me to get in here and take this team down here — I’m happy with the job the guys have done in Marquette,” says Kyle. “We’ve played each of these teams [in the Super Six field] in the second half of the season, and they’re certainly the best teams in the league.”

The Good

Chris Gobert (12-32–44) leads NMU in scoring, but Mike Stutzel is the stud, with 25 goals — 13 of them on the power play, seven of them game winners — and 15 assists.

Converting at 24.5 percent, the NMU power play is the fifth-best in the nation.

The Bad

It’s difficult to call NMU starting netminder Craig Kowalski “bad” — that’s unfair — but Kowalski is, for lack of a better word, rattleable. When Kowalski (.899 SV%, 2.77 GAA) is rattled in a game, he has a very difficult time refocusing.

The Not-So-Pretty

The Wildcats have indeed played each of the Super Six teams in the second half of the season, and split with every one them. This seems utterly fitting for Northern, a team that has blown hot and cold all season.

This isn’t all that bad — but having a less than .500 record against the field isn’t great either.

And about that Comley-Kyle match up, says Kyle, “When [Comley’s] team’s playing, I cheer for them and I’m sure Rick cheers for us. Would I rather have had another draw? Absolutely.

“Certainly, I don’t want to see him continue after [Thursday]. If he does, I’ll cheer for him.”

The Enigma

For the second straight year, the Irish dropped their opening first-round road game before rebounding to win two consecutive games and advance to The Joe.

In other words, for the second straight year, Notre Dame has backed into the Super Six.

Assistant coach and all-around nice guy Andy Slaggart says, “We had a terrific series last weekend.”

Terrific may be an understatement, and “we” may be a bit misleading.

Sophomore goaltender Morgan Cey posted back-to-back shutouts to help the Irish rebound after dropping Game 1 against Miami. In the middle game of the best-of-three series, Cey made 37 saves en route to Notre Dame’s 1-0 win (Tim Wallace had the lone Irish goal); in Game 3, Cey posted 32 saves as four different Notre Dame players scored in the 5-0 win.

The Good

Well, there’s Morgan Cey (.912 SV%, 2.86 GAA), who has proven himself again and again this season.

And there’s a host of other players on this team that can really play. Rob Globke (25-15–30), John Wroblewski (17-16–33), Aaron Gill (13-12–25), and Yan Statsny (14-9–23) are among the top Irish scorers.

Globke’s game-winner against Miami last Sunday night gives him 20 on the season, making him the first Irish player to net 20 in a season since Aniket Dhadphale notched 25 in 1997-98.

More good news: the Irish play better on the road than they do at home. This season, Notre Dame was 7-7-3 at home, while going 10-9-3 away. “For us,” says Slaggart, “to go on the road is not as big a deal. It helps us focus on hockey.”

The Bad

Pssst. I’ll let you in on a secret. Notre Dame and OSU don’t like each other. At all. Irish head coach Dave Poulin and OSU’s John Markell were hired the same year, at similar institutions, and to this girl reporter’s mind, there’s a bit of a rivalry there because of that alone.

Well, that and OSU’s record against Notre Dame in the past few years. And then there’s the Schott vs. the Joyce.

Although Notre Dame leads this all-time series 22-19-6, you have to go back to Feb. 5, 2000, for Notre Dame’s last win over OSU. In the last 13 meetings between the teams, Notre Dame trails this series 2-8-3.

The Not-So-Pretty

The Irish have appeared in the CCHA playoffs nine of the 13 years during which Notre Dame has been a member of the league — but — Notre Dame is 11-18-0 all-time in the CCHA tournament.

“We have a great deal of respect for Ohio State,” says Slaggart. Since losing to OSU, the Irish have gone 8-3-0, although five of those wins were to teams in the lower half of the league.

“We have a confident club,” says Slaggart, “a veteran hockey club. We have a lot of balanced scoring.

“We’re happy to be here, but we’re not just happy to be here.”

Joe Exter

When you’re at The Joe this weekend, you should realize that all of those blue and gold ribbons are for Joe Exter, not necessarily for the Wolverines.

If you want to send a card, here’s the address:

Hockey Office
c/o Joe Exter
Merrimack College
315 Turnpike Street
North Andover, MA 01845

And to give you a little more hope, a little more perspective, here’s a story with a happy ending.

We’re Going to Dave’s!

OSU fan Gary Ford needs to get a life. Once again, Doc Ford was the first to identify last week’s verse. The lines read:

If we had no Winter, the Spring would not be so pleasant;
If we did not sometimes taste the adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.

The author, of course, is Anne Bradstreet, the mother of American poetry. (It would take 200 years for a “father” of American poetry to come along — can you name him?) The lines are from Meditations Divine and Mortal (1655).

OSU volunteer goalie coach and former OSU goaltender himself, Kurt Brown — a man who obviously doesn’t have enough to do between coaching, grad school, and wedded bliss — was the first to identify these lyrics from Lauryn Hill:

What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually

If you’re an R&B fan and you don’t have The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), shame on you.

And Finally …

“Darkness visible” is what William Styron called it. Nell Casey called it a “foretaste of death.”

Elizabeth Wurtzel called it a “fog” that is “a cage without a key.”

The past 24 months have been a little slice of hell. The kidney stones, chronic sinus and ear infections, emergency gall bladder surgery (and the six-weeks-lingering, post-surgery infection) — all of that, even all of that together, doesn’t compare to what has truly defined my life for these two years now.

More than 19 million Americans suffer from clinical depression in any given year. I hate being a statistic.

Diagnosed in December of 2001, my road to recovery has been an altogether too familiar one for many of us. Living with depression has been more than a mere challenge; it’s been a life-altering experience. Trying to work with depression is like trying to run a marathon in quicksand, trying to breathe at the bottom of the ocean. You’re mired, buried alive and clawing your way to the surface.

Depression is a physical illness, a real, medical issue that manifests itself in behavioral as well as physical ways. I’m about as ashamed of my depression as I am of my hypothyroidism, which is to say not at all.

What causes it? There are genetic predispositions, but environmental factors can contribute as well. I had a healthy dose of each.

Ironically, the only column I missed during all this time was the week my gall bladder decided to make its normally quiet presence uncomfortably known. Yes, the quality of my writing has fluctuated; I know this, and if I could have done anything differently — done anything better — I would apologize right now.

The one constant through these two years of incredible pain, isolation, loneliness, fear, and shame — there was shame, there was guilt — has been my writing, the fact that I write, period. To be brutally honest, there were weeks and weeks when the only thing — then only thing — that forced me out of bed was the obligation to write this column.

And for that, I want to thank you.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank a few of my fellow staffers, people whose names you may or may not know.

Thanks to Scott Brown, Lynn Burke, Mike Machnik, Jayson Moy, Ed Trefzger, Lee Urton, Mike Volonnino, and Adam Wodon for their work on the weekends to enter box scores and game recaps.

Thanks to Scott Brown and the edit staff for their work with weekly columns and features.

(By the way, Dr. Brown is especially fond of hyphenated adjectives. And dashes. And — I think — sentence fragments.)

Thanks Lee Urton for being Lee, and for running the Men’s D-I poll.

Thanks to Ed Trefzger for being Ed, and for all the behind-the-scenes script stuff he’s done.

Thanks to all the D-III guys — Ed T., Chris Lerch, Scott Biggar, Russell Jaslow. They have a special place in my heart.

Thanks to Todd Milewski, hands-down’s best writer and a dear friend.

Thanks to Pops Hendrickson, who has always pushed me to be my best. In these past couple of years, Dave has also proven to be a true friend.

Thanks to Craig Roberts for the moral support.

And thank you, Immy, for making it all possible.