This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 5, 2004

The Power of Positive Thinking

Last week, I picked Michigan State to sweep Miami, and called MSU junior Jim Slater a senior, in print. Given that I admitted in my column last week that I didn’t know why I have no faith in the RedHawks, and given that this was the second time this season that I’ve had a mental block about Slater — the first being when I said, in my season preview, that he’d already graduated — I knew that I had to ask myself some hard questions.

Why in the world would I pick against the Miami RedHawks? Why am I in denial about the existence of Jim Slater? Why can’t I just embrace Frank Anzalone with all the love I feel in my heart?

As someone raised Catholic — not an “ex”-Catholic, since you never really escape — I immediately recognized this as a crisis of faith. Naturally, I turned inward, meditated long and hard on my shortcomings, beat myself up roundly and soundly, flirted with the idea of a visit to a confessional, and finally had a vision, an epiphany, insight distilled, a one-word flash:


The great Jim McKenny said of hockey, “Half the game is mental; the other half is being mental.”

From now on, I just need to be in touch with that other half.

“I will not be clapped in a hood…”

William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem “The Hawk” that once the hawk had “learnt to be proud,” it would never again be “…clapped in a hood/Nor a cage, nor alight upon wrist… .”

Now that the RedHawks have tasted flight, they can’t be tamed again.

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi called last week’s road sweep in East Lansing “huge,” and it was so in many ways; with the four points, the RedHawks distanced themselves from everyone but Michigan, which has two games in hand on Miami and two games remaining with the ‘Hawks.

I’ve written ad nauseum about Miami’s veteran team, but freshman Matt Christie summed up the secret to Miami’s success after the 2-1 Friday win. “Our whole team is scrappers — everybody in there wants to play for each other.”

What’s not to believe?

I Do Believe In Slaters, I Do, I Do

Perhaps the reason I have such difficulty wrapping my brain around the mere concept of Jim Slater is that he was born in 1982, the year I graduated from high school. I’m old enough to be his mother. Unquestionably the source of my denial.

Slater, a Detroit native, has 15 goals and 18 assists in 30 games this season, with a staggering plus-20 rating. He’s second in the league in overall scoring, but has just four goals in his last 10 games.

Scoring has been difficult for all of the Spartans as of late; last weekend, MSU netted just two goals against visiting Miami, prompting head coach Rick Comley to tell my esteemed colleague Neil Koepke of the Lansing State Journal, “Scoring was so difficult, it was almost miraculous when a puck went in.”

Miraculous? Only if one doesn’t believe — and I believe in Jim Slater.

If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say …

When Lake Superior State came to Columbus to play Ohio State a few weeks back, I talked to Laker play-by-play announcer Bill Crawford between periods in the first game.

Crawford, for those of you who don’t know, is also LSSU’s athletic director.

What struck me in my on-air conversation with Crawford was his repeated insistence that LSSU has little talent. He said this. On the air. More than once.

It’s a refrain I’ve heard often from head coach Frank Anzalone as well. In fact, anyone who’s covered a Laker game during Anzalone’s second coming has heard it.

If the AD is talking about the untalented Lakers, and the head coach is talking about the untalented Lakers, doesn’t it stand to reason that said Lakers have heard about their lack of talent?

This is what sophomore Kory Scoran told USCHO after LSSU’s 4-0 loss to Michigan last Saturday:

“We shoot ourselves in the foot every game. We let up for six minutes. It happens every weekend — we just let up … Once a game, we get buried, and we can’t come back.”

If this were a professional player, I’d have little sympathy. This is, however, a college player who hears — day in and day out, from both his coach and his athletic director — that he and his teammates have no talent.

I’ve seen these Lakers play for the past few seasons, and I have to say that they play tough, disciplined hockey, they stick to their systems, and they play with heart.

How heartbreaking it is, then, to think that I believe in the Lakers more than they do.

I Believe In That Old Plus-Minus Magic!

The week before the Wolverines played the Buckeyes in Columbus back in November, Michigan was minus-five as a team, an indication that the Wolverines were having trouble scoring goals anywhere but on the power play.

Look at UM now.

The Wolverines split that weekend at OSU, lost twice at the College Hockey Showcase, split with the Spartans, and finally ended the first half of the season with a loss and a win at the Great Lakes Invitational.

Since then, however, Michigan can’t lose; the Wolverines were 6-0-0 in D-I play in January, and also beat the U.S. NDTP Under-18 squad. Now, Michigan is outscoring CCHA opponents nearly two-to-one (63-35 in 18 games), and the team is a whopping plus-80 overall. This is up not only from the minus-five in November, but from plus-11 as of Jan. 11.

Does Hockey East still eschew the plus-minus ratio? Some fans pooh-pooh the significance of the stat, but I believe that team plus/minus is an excellent barometer of performance.

In January, the Wolverines outscored D-I opponents 30-5 in six games; 21 of those goals were even strength. Of the Wolverines’ second-half surge, head coach Red Berenson said, “I think it’s confidence. I can’t tell you it’s coaching.”

Of Michigan’s ability to peak at the right time, Coach, it’s confidence and coaching. And that’s a plus.

The Power of Self-Actualization

How bad does the atmosphere of a rink have to be for a Michigan fan to complain about it?

In the Feb. 5 Letters to the Editor in the Kalamazoo Gazette, Dan Mickelson wrote of his experience at Lawson Arena. Mickelson didn’t give the date he attended, but he wrote that he is a Michigan fan and that “the rude welcome” he received “was a shock.” He wrote, “The classlessness of fans absolutely made me sick,” and claimed that he was “punched and ridiculed,” which, he added — quite understandably — was not his “idea of a good time.” He implied that the Bronco fans were Neanderthals.

Although science has recently proven that we modern humans carry absolutely no Neanderthal DNA, one can see how Mr. Mickelson might be persuaded otherwise.

Call Him … Player of the Month

Michigan sophomore goaltender Al Montoya is the RBC Financial Group CCHA Player of the Month for January. Montoya was 6-0-0 during the month with a 0.86 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage.

I Believe Consistency Is Best, Don’t You?

Montoya is the second RBC Financial Group CCHA Player of the Month. NMU goaltender Craig Kowalski was the first.

Wanna bet that another goaltender will earn the title next month?

Take a look at the CCHA Players of the Week. Add up the number of defensemen.

Yes, I’m trying to be positive — about consistency!

Thank God for Corporate Sponsorship

From now on, I want to be the Citigroup USCHO CCHA Correspondent. Or the Ford Motor Company USCHO CCHA Correspondent. Or the Nabisco USCHO CCHA Correspondent.

I’ll even wear the figman costume!

It’s a good thing!

Classy Quote of the Week

After UMass-Lowell had to forfeit nine games because of an ineligible transfer player, MSU picked up an extra win. Spartan head coach Rick Comley told the Lansing State Journal, “It’s a tremendous benefit to us but I feel bad for Lowell and the player.”

I Believe, I Believe

I believe that the BGSU pep band rocked the packed house during last Saturday’s game with their rendition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”

I believe that the fact that the BGSU pep band plays “Hey Ya!” is a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

I believe that in three years, the Bowling Green Falcons will be a force to be reckoned with in the CCHA, playing a style so similar to Boston College that Ohio State will never be able to beat them.

I believe that the Buckeyes don’t believe, and hence their perennial second-half swoon.

I believe that UAF will play in Detroit this year.

I believe that Notre Dame will play in Detroit this year.

I believe that Dave Poulin has turned the corner at Notre Dame, and that if he doesn’t get a rink soon the powerful, varied, and successful Irish alumni should, indeed, atone.

I believe that the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ version of “I Believe I Can Fly” is tremendous.

I believe that any rock and roll song that begins with a simple ukulele-voice introduction is tremendous.

I believe in David Brown, Rich Meloche, Jim Slater, the Michigan offense, the Nebraska-Omaha power play, Dominic Vicari, Morgan Cey, Miami’s one-two-three punch, A.J. Thelan, Bo Cheesman, the Dirty Hobbit, the Ferris State Bulldogs, J.B. Bittner, Vince Bellissimo, and that this is the most exciting season of CCHA hockey I’ve covered to date.

I believe that you can drop a Sony VAIO laptop once; it’s the second time that’s a killer.

I believe that composing a weekly column during stolen moments at the Columbus Public Library — with your Yahoo! email account, because the library has no word processing on its networked computers — is something to be avoided.

I believe in the power of positive thinking, or prayer, or whatever you want to call it, as my mother does not have breast cancer, as we feared.

I believe in a yearly mammogram, and don’t mind saying so.

I believe that the Blueliner of the Week will return next week.

I believe that the Games of the Week will return next week.

I believe that my Gypsy, my 15-year-old Jetta, will start in the morning.

And I believe that the library is closing.