Between the Lines: Weekend Wrapup, Oct. 27, 2003

Another week that was.

• Woe to poor Quinnipiac. Coming off two one-goal losses in always-rocking Yost Arena, to perennial powerhouse Michigan, the Bobcats went to Wisconsin for a pair of games. And while the Badgers have dropped off in recent years, we’re still talking about a long-time national power. So what happens? Again on Friday, Quinnipiac lost a one-goal heartbreaker, this time coming on a power-play goal in overtime. Atlantic Hockey is still waiting for one of its teams to knock off a major power such as that, but it’s coming. Saturday, Wisconsin had a three-goal win, leaving Quinnipiac to go home with another close-but-no-cigar weekend, but made all the stronger for it.

• Speaking of Yost Arena, Michigan coach Red Berenson has made a plea to Wolverines fans to cool it on the vulgarity that’s pervasive during games. A couple of years ago, colleague Paula Weston wrote a great section in her CCHA column taking the Yost fans to task, and challenging them to do better. And I followed up with a column supporting her. Now, Paula has used Berenson’s plea as an opportunity to reiterate her points, and I’m using this opportunity to reiterate my support of Paula. … To plagiarize myself, such fans are not an insult to my morality, they are an insult to my intelligence. Being vulgar does not bother me so much for moral reasons — although it would be nice if kids didn’t have to hear that — but moreso because it’s just dumb. It takes no creativity to be vulgar. That said, vulgarity can be clever, if used cleverly. But 95 percent of the time, it isn’t. Organized fan chanting is one of the great things about college hockey, and no place does it better than Cornell and Michigan. In an oft-repeated, but still true point, Cornell fans invaded Michigan during the 1991 NCAA tournament, and “taught” Michigan fans what this kind of clever, loud, organized cheering was all about. Over the years, fans of both teams proceeded to bastardize these chants, introducing more and more vulgarity. Cornell coach Mike Schafer, with two young kids, put his foot down right away when he was hired in 1995, and Cornell fans listened. Vulgarity is at a bare minimum, and mostly of the aforementioned clever variety. No similar “putting down of the foot” was ever done at Michigan, and the vulgarity at Yost now is simply out of control, not to mention dumb. Many of us have written about this over the years — mostly Paula and Joe Bertagna — so no use in raising all the points again. But what we have said will suffice, as another challenge for Michigan fans to listen to us — and listen to their legendary coach — and figure out a better, more creative way, of antagonizing the living hell out of their opponent.

• Of the 16 possible combinations of World Series when the baseball playoffs began, the one I absolutely didn’t want to see was Marlins-Yankees. For sure you don’t want to see the Damn Yankees in there, but if they’re going to be there, you certainly didn’t want it to be against the Marlins. I mean, c’mon, they already won a World Series. If I’m going to have to give my heart and soul to rooting against the Yankees, I want to put that energy behind a team that’s been around for more than 10 years. It’s the same way I felt in 2001, but I had to hold my nose and root for Arizona. Of course, the Marlins are a great story from a baseball sense, but my sense of justice wanted some other long-suffering city to win the thing. Furthermore, Florida owner Jeffrey Loria handled the Montreal Expos situation contemptibly, so you really have to hold your nose to root for that guy. Nevertheless, Yankee hatred prevails over everything, and so it was with great exhultation that I watched Josh Beckett turn in one of the greatest performances in World Series history to win Game 6 and the championship.

• It was another night of satellite dish bliss last Friday night. Three games started at the same time, and all three came down to the wire, with two being decided in overtime. There were two upsets, and another near-upset. The clicker got a workout that night. … We start in Wisconsin, with the aforementioned Quinnipiac game. This one was tied in the third period by the Badgers, then went to overtime as the other two games were winding down. … Over on CSTV — the station that has brought college hockey its first-ever national game of the week — Notre Dame was putting up a big upset on the road over the Ben Eaves-less Eagles of Boston College. Two straight appearances on CSTV, two losses. Has a new jinx begun? … Meanwhile, one channel over, the Gophers were playing Minnesota-Duluth in an absolute barnburner, and the best game of the night. In the first period, a rocket by T.J. Caig gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. But Minnesota came back with two goals that should go right in the time capsule, for different reasons. The first one was by Grant Potulny, a prototypical deflection from in front of the net for a guy whose toughness helped bring the Gophers into a new century, and brought two championships with it. The other was an absolutely sick (or was it “sweeeeeeeet”) goal from Thomas Vanek, who made the UMD defense look ridiculous, weaving in and around them before depositing the puck in the net. But UMD overcame that and a 3-2 deficit with a late third-period goal, then won it on another blistering shot from Caig in overtime.

• Does anyone know why the ECAC is the only remaining conference that isn’t hockey only? Does anyone know why the ECAC is the only major conference without a deal with CSTV? Does anyone think this could be related?

• (Full disclosure: I work as Cornell play-by-play announcer.) I finally got to see the Big Red on the ice last weekend, in an exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 team. Last season — me being woefully superstitious in nature — I was trying so hard not to jinx the Big Red’s glorious run to the Frozen Four that I made a prediction for that Boston College would defeat Cornell in the NCAAs, for which the kangaroo court promptly, and rightfully, threw the book at me. (no shaved head, thankfully.) Never mind that the reverse jinx worked, because Cornell won the game and made it. This is one reason why I never make predictions, although when ESPN asks you to do something, you do it. So, anyway, this year, I’ll put all that superstitious mumbo-jumbo in the closet (temporarily). This year, I will go out on a positive limb for Cornell, and sing the praises of an outstanding recruiting class. Judging from one exhibition game is bound to get you into trouble, but trouble is my middle name, right? This could be the best recruiting class the ECAC has seen in a long time, with some big, mobile forwards, along with a talented, strong-skating group of defenseman, and a goaltender that could be the surprise of the group. Join in last year’s already strong crop, and Cornell may not take long to get back in the thick of things nationally. They all still have a lot to learn, and Mike Schafer may pull out a lot of hair before they all figure out how to play Cornell Defense, but this year will be entertaining for Big Red fans at the very least. Of course, they could all completely go south, at which point, I’ll be bludgeoned at the altar of the woofing gods. Start planning my penance.

• Yankee fans like to delude themselves into saying that having the most money doesn’t really matter. (Not just the most money, by the way, but $50 million more in payroll than the next highest payroll team.) They point to the last three years as proof that money doesn’t matter. Which, basically, is just like saying they’d rather live in Vietnam just because the United States lost one war to them. Let’s see them erase $50 million in payroll, which would eliminate four of the biggest stars from their roster, and see if they still think the money doesn’t matter. Yankee fans are the only ones who don’t get this. Fans of other teams with high payrolls realize that this is lousy for the sport. The NHL has similar issues, though it’s not nearly as severe. Hopefully the NHL can work it out before the sport becomes as ridiculous as major league baseball.

• So much for Michigan State’s freefall. This should give the “Comley must go” knuckleheads a week to chew on things. The Spartans came off a tough home two-game thumping at the hands of Ohio State, and took it to Western Michigan in two games this weekend. The power play was clicking all weekend, and Jim Slater continues to go nuts, now with seven goals. The goaltending remains a concern, with Matt Migliaccio’s save percentage at 88.0% and freshman Dominic Vicari at 82.0% after three games each. But the defense did a good job making sure the opportunities were limited on Saturday, holding high-flying Western Michigan to 16 shots in the 7-3 win.

• The ECAC’s nonleague record has gone steadily down in the last four years, but this year could be its best chance to reverse the tide. That said, two great chances fell by the wayside this weekend, when North Country brothers Clarkson and St. Lawrence each blew 2-0 leads to nationally ranked teams. Friday night, Clarkson led Colorado College and St. Lawrence led Maine, at home, before each of them lost the lead and the game, 3-2. ECAC Nation, which always roots for its rivals to win out of league games, put up a collective groan on that one. Clarkon did get a tie against CC the next night.

• Speaking of nonleague records, have you noticed the CHA’s. Yes, that’s right, the CHA (.474) has a better nonleague record than the ECAC (.462) and the CCHA (.420). It’s early, but it’s a noteworthy event nevertheless. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the ECAC was challenged by one of the new leagues, but the CCHA? Well, if you’ve been paying close attention in recent years, you’ll notice that the CCHA has been slipping in top-to-bottom strength. Last season, the CCHA was just .500 against the ECAC. … Interestingly, if you look at the numbers a little closer, you will see that the ECAC is actually faring better than the other two conferences right now. That’s because the ECAC’s nonleague record is being dragged down by the record against Hockey East (1-7-2), which it plays the predominant number of nonleague games against. This includes five losses to BU, Boston College, Maine and New Hampshire, four of the top six teams in the country. Head-to-head, the ECAC is 2-0-3 against the CHA and 3-1-1 against the CCHA, while the CHA is 2-0 against the CCHA, which includes Findlay’s win over Michigan State. … That makes the CCHA fifth right now.

• The CHA did get a big win over Hockey East this weekend, though it was with eight New Hampshire players sitting out suspensions for violating team rules. Still, Niagara’s 5-2 win over the Wildcats was impressive, and brought back memories of the 2000 NCAA tournament, when the Purple Eagles knocked out UNH.

• I hate to say it, but does Bruce Crowder have much more time left to turn things around at Northeastern?

• I rarely make much fuss over polls. They are, after all, meaningless. But what does Duluth have to do to get some love from the pollsters? A 2-2-1 record includes one-goal losses on the road to North Dakota and Michigan State, and a home tie against Boston College. They were unranked after that, though at 0-2-1 I guess it was understandable. But then they swept the Gophers on the road. At that point, you’d hope pollsters would reassess things, but they only got slotted 12th. It points out a flaw in polls of all kinds — teams can only move up in relation to where they were before, instead of reassessing things as they go.

• Kudos for Union. Yes, their schedule ranks in cupcake territory so far, but for Union’s program to be undefeated so far is impressive no matter what. Nate Leaman had no head coaching experience, and took over late in the summer, but has picked up the foundation Kevin Sneddon left and gotten the most of it.

• So I saw Lost In Translation last week, over Kill Bill. Snuck out of the house for the late-night showing after everyone was asleep. It’s probably the kind of movie that 80 percent of the population will despise — not enough violence, action, comedy or sex (though there are some overweight strippers) — and critics completely love. And I loved it too. Sweet, beautiful film, and Bill Murray is officially awesome.