Here I was in hockey heaven last weekend, watching two of the top teams in the country — rivals in both the CCHA and the Big Ten — battle to a hard-earned split in Columbus, thinking for all the world that life was as good as it could possibly be.
There was Buck-a-Brat night. There was Script Ohio on ice. There was Dwight Helminen, scoring his fourth and fifth goals against the Buckeyes in three games. There was Al Montoya, shutting out OSU for the second consecutive contest. There were the Buckeyes, answering the call the following night with a decisive victory.
If I had only listened to my psychic, Madame Zelena, who told me just last week to go fishing in Nebraska.
Forget the Michigan-OSU split. Forget that Miami broke Michigan State’s win streak. Forget the 0-0 Bowling Green-Lake Superior State tie. Forget that Northern Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha split a series, too.
It’s all about the fish.
It is customary in certain hockey venues to fling a flounder onto the ice after the home team scores its first goal.
Sometimes customs are good things. Turkey until you drop late in November is a good thing, followed by generous amounts of football and pie (and remember to clean up after yourself, please).
Other examples of good customs include saying, “Please,” and “Thank you,” where appropriate, holding the door open for someone who has his or her hands full, giving up your seat on the bus to someone significantly older than you or to a pregnant woman, using your turn signal whenever necessary, and using a tissue rather than your sleeve after you sneeze.
As far as customs go, throwing a fish onto the ice after your team scores its first goal ranks right up there with firing a gun into the air to celebrate the New Year, toilet papering your own campus before the OSU-Michigan game, and adding a string of obscenities to the end of the “C-Ya” chant.
Tossing a fish onto the ice during a hockey game is wrong. Period. Nothing — no fish, no beer, no paper, no nada — should be thrown onto the ice while a game is in progress, even when the play is stopped. This is potentially dangerous for everyone on the ice, including the home team. It’s also potentially dangerous for people in the stands, should said object not make it over the glass.
It should always be a two-minute minor for the home team. Delay of game. Period.
Of course, in Omaha last weekend, it was much more. In Saturday’s 4-2 loss to NMU, Mavericks fans threw out that customary fish after UNO captain Mike Lefley tied the game 1-1 just after the second period began.
Wildcat Pat Bateman pushed the fish away with his stick, and a melee ensued.
After all was said and done, the teams received a combined total of 38 penalty minutes. For UNO, Lefley received a double minor and a 10-minute misconduct, and Justin Chwedoruk, Brent Kisio, and Jason Krischuk each received two-minute minors. For NMU, Pat Bateman received a 10-minute misconduct, Jordan Bianchin earned a double minor, and Zach Tarkir was given a two-minute minor.
The Mavericks were not assessed a delay of game penalty, but NMU found itself on the power play, on which they did not score. And instead of spurring on the home team — a team that had just tied the game 1-1, an underdog that had beaten the Wildcats the night before — all the UNO momentum was lost. Once the Wildcats regained the lead late in the second, they never let it go.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this incident is the post-game commentary of NMU head coach Walt Kyle, as reported by my esteemed colleague Rob White in the Sunday edition of the Omaha World-Herald. Kyle remarked not only on the game of the day, but on a certain perceived history between the Mavericks and the Wildcats. Here are the comments as they appeared in print:
“Last year they make a (expletive) call on a curved stick — nobody makes that call. Last night we put down the wrong starting goalie, and he goes to the ref and asks for a penalty. That’s (expletive). You just don’t do that. So our guys are (expletive).
“They throw the stupid fish on last night, and they do it again tonight. Our guy goes over and whacks it, and he gets a 10-minute misconduct. That (throwing the fish on the ice) is delay of game, and the league’s got to handle that.
“I like [UNO coach] Mike [Kemp], and I have a lot of respect for him. But those are (expletive) calls. Everywhere I’ve ever coached, those are (expletive).”
I’m heading to Oxford this weekend, where the Nanooks are playing the RedHawks, and there is a certain amount of “history” between these two teams in recent years as well. Watch. These games will be as clean as a hospital floor, and all the action will be in South Bend.
Clean As That Whistle
For those of you playing along at home, the Lakers and the Irish are the two least-penalized teams in the league. Averaging eight minutes per game is an accomplishment for any team, but it’s especially telling for a team with just two league wins, four overall, as have the Lakers.
“Friday” Is a Dirty Word
“I don’t want to talk about Friday,” said OSU head coach John Markell. He wasn’t talking about the Buckeyes’ 4-0 loss to Michigan last Friday; what he means is Friday, all the way around.
The good news for Buckeye fans is that OSU hasn’t lost a Saturday game, having gone 5-0-0 so far this season. Friday games, however, are another story. The Bucks are 2-5-0 in those contests, and Markell does not think it’s fair that everyone’s making such a big deal out of it.
“We played well Friday night in Northern Michigan and didn’t score goals,” said Markell. “Same with last Friday night. We played well in that game [against Michigan]. Pucks go in the net, and it’s a different story.
“I don’t think there’s a pattern there. It just happens to be the night that pucks are not going in.”
In fairness to Markell and the Buckeyes, he’s right. In their 3-2 home loss to Mercyhurst, OSU ran into goaltender Andy Franck. In their 2-1 loss to NMU, the Bucks couldn’t solve Craig Kowalski. And last Friday in their 4-0 loss to Michigan, OSU found a brick wall named Al Montoya.
It isn’t as though OSU isn’t playing well on Friday nights. Last Friday, the Buckeyes did everything but score in the second period, one of the best periods of college hockey I’ve seen in a long time.
But, as Markell said, when pucks go in the net, it’s a different story.
The league-leading Buckeyes travel for two games to my beloved motherland of central New York, where they’ll face Colgate and then Cornell. Dave Caruso gets the start in net for OSU in the first game — I hesitate to call it a Friday contest — because, as Markell said, “It’s a chance to get him some game time.”
Friday, Part 2
I don’t know why Al Montoya is giving up close to three goals per game overall. If he played every night like he did Friday against the Buckeyes, Michigan would be darned near unbeatable.
Having seen the number of goals Michigan has given up in certain games this season — the 8-3 loss to Miami, 5-4 win over Quinnipiac, and 6-5 loss to Ferris State come to mind — I was prepared to see a sophomore goalie having, well, a sophomore year.
Not so. Montoya is still outstanding, occasionally stunning in net. The 4-0 win over OSU marked his second consecutive shutout of the Buckeyes, dating back to last season’s Super Six. Yes, he allowed five goals Saturday, but only one of those was “soft,” a puck that rebounded — ironically — off Dwight Helminen’s skate and back into the Michigan net, after Montoya made a save. Dave Steckel was credited with the goal.
Why was that rebound ironic? Because Helminen has been a Buckeye slayer. The junior had a hat trick in Michigan’s 3-0 CCHA semifinal win last year, and netted a goal in each game against the Buckeyes last weekend. In the loss, he scored on his very first shift, 21 seconds into the contest.
Unfortunately for Montoya, Helminen, and the Wolverines, the Buckeyes scored four goal-scorer’s goals.
Why couldn’t I have been in Omaha?
“It was a great game.” That’s how Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch described the 0-0 tie in Sault Ste. Marie last weekend.
“Both teams had some chances. Both teams have trouble scoring goals. Neither team is offensively gifted.”
It should surprise no one in the league that a game between the Falcons and the Lakers could end 0-0. Not only are both teams underperforming offensively — BGSU averages 2.27 goals per game, LSSU 2.00, and they’re 11th and 12th, respectively, in overall play.
But each team has solid goaltending.
In the tie, Jordan Sigalet blocked 36 shots for the Falcons, while his Laker counterpart, Jeff Jakaitis, stopped 30. Sigalet has a .918 save percentage in 11 games, while the freshman Jakaitis is making a name for himself with a .960 save percentage in four games.
“Both teams played hard,” said Paluch.
The Falcons continue their five-game road trip this weekend, partnering up — travel-wise, at least — with OSU. BGSU plays Cornell Friday and Colgate Saturday.
“Ohio State set up the series,” said Paluch, who added that the trip was already arranged when he took the reins at BGSU a year ago.
“It’s a great road trip. A Cornell-Colgate type of swing is good for our program. They’re two tough buildings to play in. Those are the types of situations we want to situate ourselves in.”
The Falcons are definitely making progress under Paluch. Through 11 games, BGSU is 3-5-3; through their first 11 games last season, the Falcons were 2-8-1, and had endured a five-game losing streak. The longest BGSU has gone without a point this year is two contests.
“We’re obviously doing a lot of things better in the defensive end of the rink,” said Paluch. “We’re still looking for defensive consistency.
“Our work ethic has been outstanding. It’s exciting for us that our defensive game and defensive awareness have improved from a year ago.”
Paluch points to Donny Morrison as one example of what’s going right in BG. Morrison, said Paluch, “has made a good jump.” The 5-9 sophomore blueliner from Bentley, Alberta, was pressured to perform as a rookie last year, and Paluch said that this season Morrison has done “a good job of taking that experience” from a year ago and building on his success. Morrison (1-1–2) is one of five Falcons with a positive plus-minus rating.
Further testimony to the improvement of the Falcon defense is BGSU’s outstanding penalty kill, successful 93.1 percent of the time in overall play, having coughed up a mere four goals in 58 opportunities.
There Are No Coincidences In Hockey
Why, you ask, would two CCHA teams from Ohio travel to play two ECAC teams in New York? The answer is simple: hockey is a small world.
Casey Jones, associate head coach at OSU, is a 1990 graduate of Cornell, where he captained the hockey team and amassed 112 career points. Ron Fogarty, BGSU assistant coach, is a 1995 graduate of Colgate, where he dressed for a school-record 135 consecutive games, registering 141 points.
The Buckeyes and the Big Red — along with the Maine Black Bears — are founding participants in the Everblades College Classic, played annually in December in Estero, Fla.
Home Sweet Home
Just ending a six-game road trip are the Western Michigan Broncos, who return to Lawson Arena this weekend against Mercyhurst, having earned a 2-3-1 record in those six away games.
“We can take a lot of positives from the trip,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “Obviously, we would like to be above .500 on that road trip. We’re within about two-and-a-half minutes of a couple of ties.”
In Fairbanks Nov. 7, the Broncos dropped a 5-4 contest to the Nanooks when Nathan Fornataro scored at 3:33 in OT to give UAF the win. That game was a wild one. The Broncos jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first before giving up four unanswered goals to the Nanooks between the second and third periods — only to tie the game with less than a minute left in regulation.
In Niagara last weekend, the Broncos held a 2-1 lead through two periods, only to see the Purple Eagles score early in the third to tie it up, then again with 1:33 in regulation to win the game.
The Broncos first two games of that road trip included a win and tie in Ithaca to Cornell. “That was a good weekend for us,” said Culhane, “a good weekend for our league.”
When told his team seems improved this season compared to last, Culhane responded with, “Thank you, but not enough.”
The Broncos are 4-6-2 after 12 overall games this year; they were 4-7-1 at this point last season, but had then endured three-game and four-game losing streaks. Like their counterparts in Bowling Green, the Broncos haven’t had a losing streak of more than two games this season.
“We need to improve on special teams,” said Culhane. “One game that got away from us was a disappointing loss against Michigan State.” The Broncos dropped a pair to MSU earlier this season, but in the 7-3 home loss Oct. 25, the Spartans tallied four power-play goals, including the game-winner.
Culhane is proud that WMU is the third least-penalized team in the league — quite an accomplishment compared to years past — but added, “We need to play better defensively.”
Once again, the Broncos have shown that they can score goals, although their offensive stats are not as impressive as seasons past — 2.92 goals per game in 12 overall contests, sixth best in the league. But just as in seasons past, WMU is having difficulty controlling play in the defensive end, allowing 3.50 goals per game, 11th best in the CCHA.
And Scott Foster (3.34 GAA, .886 SV%) is averaging 25.11 saves per game.
Adding to WMU’s struggle to improve is the injury and illness bug. “We had a full lineup for one weekend, and we had a full lineup for just one practice,” said Culhane, whose Broncos are now recovering from flu-like symptoms.
What’s encouraging for WMU, though, is that with that full roster, the Broncos were able to take three points from Cornell in Lynah.
“I really like our team,” said Culhane. “There’s a lot of hockey to be played. I’m really interested and encouraged that we play our next seven games at home.”
Games of the Week
Games with grudges — and so few know.
Alaska-Fairbanks (5-5-0, 4-2-0 CCHA) at Miami (6-6-2, 4-3-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, Ohio
Last weekend, the Miami RedHawks stopped the then-hottest team in the nation, the Michigan State Spartans, with a 4-2 win in Oxford. MSU picked up Saturday’s rematch 3-1.
“Both nights, the team that won played 60 minutes,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “Friday we played 60. Saturday they played 60. They’re well coached, and Dominic Vicari is obviously going to be their starter.”
Blasi said the RedHawks are playing “a lot more consistently,” and that Miami’s lines are “set the way we want them.” Miami is a young team, with just four seniors in the line up. “We’re a sophomore-dominated team,” said Blasi. “There’s a little bit of growth that needs to occur, but we get better every day.”
Four RedHawks — Greg Hogeboom, Mike Kompon, Todd Grant, and Marty Guerin — had the goals in last Friday’s contest, and Brandon Crawford-West earned the win in net. Saturday, Matt Christie had the lone Miami goal; Steve Hartley had the loss.
Blasi has been splitting net time between freshmen Crawford-West and Hartley, and although their win-loss records are significantly different — Crawford-West is 4-1-1, Hartley is 2-5-1 — Blasi said he’s comfortable with the situation, as the goalies’ numbers are otherwise nearly identical, each with a 2.63 overall GAA. Crawford-West holds a very slight edge in save percentage.
The Nanooks travel to Ohio after a much-deserved week off. Their last action was a home sweep against WMU, 5-4 and 4-0 wins that included UAF’s first-ever shutout of a league opponent in 234 CCHA games played. Senior goaltender Preston McKay earned CCHA Defensive POTW honors after that series; with four goals and four assists on the weekend for UAF, Kelly Czuy was named Offensive POTW.
“We feel this is a big-time weekend, a real challenge,” said Blasi. It’s not too soon to speculate how these games may affect CCHA post-season play. In a league where the word parity has gone from cliché to reality, one point separates the RedHawks from the Nanooks entering this series. Miami is five points behind league-leading OSU, but has two games in hand; UAF is six points out of first with four games on the Buckeyes.
Here’s a look at the match. The stats are for overall games played.
The RedHawks lead this all-time series 22-9-3 with a commanding 12-3-2 lead in Goggin Arena. Since Guy Gadowsky became head coach at UAF at the start of the 1999-2000 season, the RedHawks hold a slim 4-3-3 edge.
There is a bit of “history” here, albeit all fairly recent — which makes these games all the more interesting.
“We’ve had some bad karma there,” is how Gadowsky put it this week to Richard Larson of the Fairbanks News-Miner. “They’ve called goals against us that definitely were not goals. We’re trying to erase a bit of bad karma there.”
In February of 2000, Gadowsky’s first trip to Oxford, Miami beat UAF 4-3 in a penalty-filled game, then followed up with a controversial, last-minute, 5-4 overtime win the following night. UAF led that game 4-2 going into the third, but Miami rallied with two third-period goals. The UAF bench disputed Jake Ortmeyer’s game-tying goal at 11:36, protesting that the puck hit the crossbar and never went into the net.
In overtime, Evan Cheverie won the game for Miami at 4:51, and Gadowsky’s protests led to a disqualification penalty, forcing the first-year head coach to stay home for UAF’s home series against Ferris State the following weekend.
The following year, Gadowsky missed the trip because of the birth of his first child, and then-assistant Tavis McMillan brought a win and a tie back to Fairbanks.
Last Nov. 22, the Nanooks led the RedHawks 2-1 after the second period, but Matt Medvecz scored with eight seconds left in regulation to send the game to OT, and the game ended 2-2. Miami pounded UAF the following night, exploding for four third-period goals en route to a 6-2 win.
Oh, and by the way, the UAF bench disputed Mike Kompon’s goal at 6:05 in the third period of that 6-2 Nanook loss, the goal that stood up to be the game winner, the first goal in that four-goal avalanche.
Gadowsky said that the bye week came at the right time, as several Nanooks are recovering from illness.
Picks: Miami is 4-2-0 at home; UAF has yet to win a road game. Karma schmarma. Miami 4-3, 3-2