This Week in the CCHA: Dec. 4, 2003

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like …

… a full weekend of CCHA play! Thank you, Santa! This is the best Christmas present ever!

It’s also the perfect antidote for that snakebite of a College Hockey Showcase last weekend. Final score: WCHA 4, CCHA 0. How does such a thing happen?

Start with a penalty-plagued Michigan State. The Spartans had 13 penalties for 37 minutes in their 5-1 loss to Minnesota Nov. 28. Defenseman Corey Potter earned a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind midway through the second, leaving MSU down a defender for the rest of the game.

“Obviously there were things that happened in the game that gave you no chance, but at the same time they’re a better team,” MSU head coach Rick Comley told USCHO’s Stephani Cramer. “Our youth at some positions showed, I thought, tonight, inexperience at positions showed at times tonight, but they put such pressure on you if you’re going to put them on the power play.”

Last week, Comley warned that the Gophers shouldn’t be overlooked. Comley said that the notion that Minnesota was having a down year was a misconception.

“They played without [Keith] Ballard and without [Chris] Harrington for long stretches this year. You don’t take someone like Ballard out of the lineup … without some consequences.”

Ballard and Harrington each had an assist in Minnesota’s 4-2 win over Michigan the following night. “That’s the hardest our team has played all year,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson told USCHO’s Courtney Lewis.

Berenson said that the Wolverines’ effort in the loss is what Michigan needs for the remainder of the season. “We need to show up and compete harder,” Berenson said. “Part of that is going to show up in practice; part of that is going to be a mental part that we have to put into our game.”

According to Berenson, there was a reason for Michigan’s competitive showing in a loss to the defending national champions. “It took an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin to get our team to realize the kind of competition that’s out there.”

The Wolverines lost to Wisconsin 3-1 Nov. 28, the same night that the Golden Gophers downed the Spartans 5-1.

(That’s WCHA 8, CCHA 2, for those of you playing along at home.)

“I think they just beat us at our own game,” Berenson said. “They created turnovers. They got good chances. We couldn’t get a good flow to our game. We weren’t skating well. We weren’t shooting well. We couldn’t get shots through when we did have the puck.”

Embarrassing? Maybe, if you were playing a team that hadn’t already gone unbeaten in eight straight. The win was, however, Wisconsin’s first over Michigan since 1993, the first year the four Big Ten teams got together for the College Hockey Showcase.

Of course, the Badgers went on to beat the Spartans Saturday 2-1 in overtime, with the winning goal coming on the power play.

It was a tripping penalty on Ash Goldie with 48 seconds left in regulation with the score tied 1-1 that led to the Badgers’ man advantage to being OT. Comley was understandably upset about the call — and when I say “understandably,” I mean that it’s any coach’s job to be upset about a call that late in a game when the score is tied. I am not, in any way, commenting on the officiating, since I wasn’t there.

“It was tripping, but the stick [Goldie’s stick] was held first,” Comley said. “Ash reacted to being held. I think better judgment maybe sends both guys. Certainly it was a penalty, but I thought there could be one called with it.”

(Please stop emailing me about this, Spartan fans. Not only was I not at the game to see the call, I have no control over who officiates CCHA games, as some folks have suggested in their messages. Brian Hart, head of officiating for the league, does a fine job with that.)

Jeff Likens scored at 1:48 in OT to give the Badgers a weekend sweep of their CCHA opponents.

“We played hard,” said Comley. “Obviously I thought we got better as the game went on, and it’s just unfortunate to lose it on a power play. I think we need to learn to play hard long enough. I thought we went toe-to-toe with them the entire night. [Saturday] we played well enough to win and gave up an unfortunate goal in the end. You don’t want to see a game in overtime decided on a power-play situation.

“Too many bad penalties all weekend certainly caused problems for us.”

Defending the Realm Once Again

Ferris State will be in Bowling Green just in time for the Mid-American Conference football championship, between CCHA teams BGSU and Miami. The Bulldogs will probably be skating just yards away from the football field when the two Ohio teams play what will undoubtedly be an outstanding game.

So, whom does FSU head coach Bob Daniels favor? “I want a good game,” said Daniels, in his typical, good-natured style.

In fact, it’s difficult to find something to dislike about Daniels, last year’s CCHA Coach of the Year and skipper of the Bulldogs for the past 11 years. After taking the 2002-2003 regular-season title and earning their first NCAA tournament invitation, the ‘Dogs have had a difficult first half of the 2003-2004 season — and Daniels takes the blame himself.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for our team. A big part of the problem is myself. I think it took me a while to diagnose some of the problems at the start of the year.”

The problems? The basics, fundamentals like passing, transitioning, forechecking. Daniels said that he, as a coach, expected to return this season to the same level of play the Bulldogs exhibited at the end of last season. When FSU didn’t bolt out of the gate, Daniels said he “hit the panic button.”

“[It wasn’t] fair to the kids,” he said. “As a coach, sometimes you forget some of the simple things you need to do to be successful. Maintaining that level of success doesn’t come overnight.”

Daniels said he put into effect what he called a February game plan too soon, and didn’t “put enough time into the non-glamorous parts of the game.”

Four weeks into the season, said Daniels, and the Bulldogs were 2-6-0, and suddenly the coaching staff had to get back to fundamentals to turn frustration back into confidence.

The approach has worked: FSU is 3-2-1 since those first eight games, something Daniels attributes to his players. “We have a ways to go. The good news is that the kids always work hard. There’s really no negativity at all.”

The Bulldogs — who lost Hobey Baker finalist Chris Kunitz as well as key players Phil Lewandowski and Troy Milam — lost more than just numbers on the board, Daniels said. “It was the quality of the players, both on and off the ice.”

Daniels said that the Bulldogs Derek McIver and Brett Smith have become leaders for the team, and he praised an entire senior class that found itself in a very unfamiliar position at the start of the year, that of defending league champs.

“That’s a lot to dump on these kids,” said Daniels, “defending a title and everything that goes with it.”

Last weekend, the once and future Defenders of the Realm — and no one takes nonconference games more seriously than Daniels — tied Niagara 2-2 before beating the visiting Purple Eagles 8-3 in the second game.

“That game was much closer than the score indicates,” he said, always gracious in victory as well as defeat.

Niagara led 1-0 after the first before allowing three straight and then another Bulldog goal in the second; after Niagara cut FSU’s lead to two early in the third, the Bulldogs unleashed another three on the Purple Eagles.

After such a rocky start to the season, said Daniels, the Bulldogs have their work cut out for them. “When you start off low, you want to climb the ladder, but none of the rungs will be easy.

“[CCHA parity is] providing fans with good hockey, and coaches with a lot of sleepless nights.”

Pure Daniels.

Defending the Realm, Part 2, or Our Ninth-Place Team Is Better Than Your Second-Place Team, Needer Needer Needer

As predicted, it did get ugly in Omaha last weekend — for the Minutemen, that is. The Mavericks beat visiting Massachusetts, then the No. 7 team in the country, by a definitive 7-2 score Friday, Nov. 28, before tying 1-1 Saturday.

Senior Andrew Wong — not a former Miami RedHawk, for those of you playing along at home — netted his first hat trick as a Maverick, the third in the program’s history.

“He’s been slowly picking up all season long and we’ve been waiting for him to explode,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp told USCHO’s Brian Brashaw. “He’s been doing good things without the puck and it’s nice to have it go in for him. He has good hockey instincts.”

Wong himself told the Omaha World-Herald, “Those weren’t the prettiest of goals. They weren’t goal-scorer goals. But the puck was bouncing the right way tonight.”

Hey, you have to be in the right place at the right time to get the bounces, don’t you?

The Mavericks improve to 4-8-2 on the season, all four wins coming on Friday nights. Bolstering the Mavericks’ cause is the play of rookie goaltender Chris Holt, who earned the win and tie against the Minutemen and CCHA Defensive POTW honors.

Holt, who has been competing for time between the pipes with sophomore Kris Tebbs (.912 SV%, 2.59 GAA) and senior Brian Haaland (.888 SV%, 3.13 GAA), may have earned himself the starter’s spot after last weekend’s performance. Holt is 3-4-1 in eight contests with a .915 save percentage (2.77 GAA).

Disclaimer: The title of this section is in no way intended to offend either my colleague, Dave “Pops” Hendrickson, or our good friend Noah Smith, Director of Media Relations for Hockey East. However, I expect offense to be taken and retaliation to follow in short order.

So, How Are We Really Doing?

For those of you who care, here’s how last weekend broke down:

CCHA vs. CHA, 1-0-1
CCHA vs. Hockey East, 1-0-1

For the season, it’s like this:

CCHA vs. CHA: 7-4-1
CCHA vs. ECAC: 6-4-5
CCHA vs. Hockey East: 2-0-2
CCHA vs. AHA: 5-2-1
CCHA vs. WCHA: 3-11-0

So, who’s your daddy?

A Blue Christmas for the Brown and Orange?

Not really. In spite of anchoring the league, evidence of improvement is there for Scott Paluch’s Falcons.

The Falcons hung tough through one period of play against top-10 Ohio State last weekend, in a game that looked for all the world after the first 20 minutes that it would be decided by a goal, in large part because of Jordan Sigalet’s play in the BGSU net.

Seven Buckeye goals later, the Falcons found themselves on the losing end of a definitive spanking. Nearly every BGSU mistake found its way into the net, including two turnovers on the power play that led to Dave Steckel’s two shorthanded goals.

“Like most really good teams, they were very opportunistic,” said Falcon head coach Scott Paluch. “Most breakdowns that we had tonight were on special teams.” OSU also netted three power-play goals in the penalty-filled affair.

The blowout came on the heels of a hard-fought, 4-3, overtime road loss to Western Michigan the previous Tuesday, a game in which Sigalet stopped 31 of 35 shots on net. Once again, the second period proved to be the Falcons’ undoing. Leading 1-0 after the first, the Falcons allowed three unanswered Bronco goals in the second period. Unassisted tallies by Brett Pilkington and D’Arcy McConvey tied the game for the Falcons in the third, but Bronco Lucas Drake scored with just 21 seconds remaining in overtime to deliver BGSU’s first loss in four games. The Falcons had recorded ties in their three previous games, against Colgate, Cornell, and Lake Superior State.

The frustration was clear in the third period of the contest with OSU. After coming so close in their last four games, getting blown out was not what the Falcons needed or expected. Both teams became chippy and earned a passel of penalties in the last 20 minutes of the game.

But when the Falcons stick to their game plan and are disciplined, the building blocks for future success are clearly evident. Paluch is a smart coach and he learned much from Jerry York at Boston College. In fact, in the first period of play, it was very much like watching OSU play BC.

That, of course, doesn’t bode well for OSU teams of the future, and is a great harbinger for the Falcons. The Buckeyes have never beaten BC.

Games of the Week

It’s green and white and maize and blue. Of course these are the games of the week.

No. 10 Michigan (9-5-0, 5-3-0 CCHA) vs. Michigan State (8-7-1, 6-3-1 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich. Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, Mich.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this weekend’s series is this: Neither team is in first place.

Who cares? This is the 252nd meeting overall between the two squads — according to the people in Ann Arbor, that is. It’s the 245th meeting, according to the folks in East Lansing.

That’s about the size of this rivalry. These two programs can’t even agree on how many times they’ve played each other.

One thing is for certain: neither of these squads is the national powerhouse it was just a season ago, at least not yet this year. Perhaps that’s the reason why press releases for both teams go into little detail about the history of this rivalry.

It’s true that each team is hurting, much of it on the offensive side of things. Fourteen games into the season, and the Wolverines have — surprisingly — no 10-goal scorers. Jeff Tambellini is close, with nine goals, but the sophomore hasn’t netted one in five games. The team sits at a collective -15 on the season, indicating a specific lack of production five-on-five.

Head coach Red Berenson told the Ann Arbor News that he’ll move defenseman Eric Werner from defense to forward to see if that sparks the offense.

“I’ve thought about it for some time,” said Berenson. “Given the fact that we’re not scoring and given the fact that [Mike] Woodford is probably out, we’re looking at our next best option.”

Woodford injured his hand Saturday.

“Who knows?” said Berenson. “Werner could be one of our best forwards because he has that patience, poise and puck sense. We’ll see.”

For the Spartans, David Booth returns this weekend, out since injuring a knee Nov. 1 against Ferris State. Booth had 17 goals last season, and may provide the spark that Michigan State is looking for.

“This is the first week that we have our choice of who to play, although not everybody is 100 percent,” MSU head coach Rick Comley told my esteemed colleague, Neil Koepke, of the Lansing State Journal earlier this week.

The injury bug has taken its toll on the Spartans; seven MSU players have combined to miss 28 man-games for the Spartans this season.

Here’s a look at the match. The stats are for overall games played.

  • Goals per game: MSU 3.38 (fourth), UM 3.43 (third)
  • Goals allowed per game: MSU 2.81 (fifth), UM 3.00 (tie seventh)
  • Power play: MSU 20.0% (tie fourth), UM 21.3% (third)
  • Penalty kill: MSU 70.8% (12th), UM 83.9% (sixth)
  • Top scorer: MSU Jim Slater (10-14–24), UM T.J. Hensick (5-10–15)
  • Top goal scorer: MSU Mike Lalonde (11), UM Jeff Tambellini (9)
  • Top ‘tender: MSU Dominic Vicari (.900 SV%), UM Al Montoya (.900 SV%)

    To be perfectly fair, Vicari’s overall save percentage is less than that of Matt Migliaccio (.910), but Vicari appears to be the go-to man in net, and his conference save percentage (.915) is .010 better than Migliaccio’s. Vicari and Migliaccio have been splitting time in the MSU net, but the buzz is that Vicari will wind up the sole starter by the end of the season.

    According to records in Ann Arbor, Michigan leads this series 121-109-10, with a 61-41-2 lead in Yost. According to records in East Lansing, Michigan leads the series 125-110-10, with a 63-43-2 lead in Yost. In Munn, the Spartans lead the series 54-40-6 — according to the people in A2 — or 54-43-5 — according to the people in EL.

    From whatever perspective you choose, and no matter where these teams are in the standings, this is a series to be seen, not missed. Bonus: each team is going to be mighty eager after last week’s losses in the College Hockey Showcase.

    Picks: I’m afraid I’m going to play this one safe and call it a wash, with each team winning at home. How else would you call it? Perhaps the Spartans are hungrier, and they have shown significant improvement since the start of the season, compared with the Wolverines’ seeming — and bewildering — stagnation. That could set up an MSU sweep. Or Michigan could wake up, engineering a sweep for the Wolverines. Safety first. Michigan 3-1, MSU 4-3

    A Present for the Blueliners

    Nine players have been honored by the CCHA this season as Defensive Player of the Week; just one of them, OSU’s Nate Guenin, was a defenseman.

    Nine players have been honored by the CCHA this season as Rookie of the Week. None were defensemen.

    None of the league’s Offensive Players of the Week were defenders either, but given the stellar performances of the frontmen so far this season, that’s hardly surprising.

    This lack of recognition for hard-working blueliners has me, well, blue. When the second half of the season begins, I’ll be giving out my own Blueliner of the Week award, for the best performance by a CCHA defenseman in a CCHA contest.

    I’ll be encouraging schools to lobby for their picks, but I want your comments, too. If you attend a game between two league teams and see a defender performance worthy of recognition, send me your nominee. Be sure to include details of what made this player’s game noteworthy.

    For years now, I’ve been complaining that the Player of the Week honorees are too often forwards and goaltenders — and that’s not to say that those who received such honors didn’t deserve them. I just think it’s unfair that hard-working guys whose heads-up defense makes the difference in a game are being ignored.