This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 12, 2004


In this era of eggshell-walking, perhaps this truly is a scary topic.

This weekend brings one of my favorite days of the year. No, not Saturday’s annual Hallmark Holiday (although the post-holiday chocolate sales are fabulous). Friday is the 13th. Want to show someone that you really love him or her? Then get your sweetie the help he or she desperately needs with that pesky Fear of 13, a.k.a. triskaidekaphobia.

Let’s be clear from the start here: I am not mocking anyone’s specific neuroses. Possessing a whole library full of issues myself, I’m not about to judge.

Henry Ford himself wouldn’t do business of Friday the 13th. Franklin Delano Roosevelt wouldn’t dine with a party that numbered 13. It’s estimated that 85 percent of the world’s skyscrapers don’t have an official 13th floor, skipping the number and going straight from 12 to 14.

Some people trace this fear back to Norse mythology, some back to Christianity’s Last Supper. Whatever its source, the fear for some is real — but not for BGSU’s Rich Meloche, FSU’s Matt Rutkowski, Michigan’s Mike Brown, Notre Dame’s Brett Lebda, NMU’s Justin Kinnunen, OSU’s Bryce Anderson, and UNO’s Bobby Henderson, all of whom wear No. 13.

Anderson, Brown, Henderson, and Meloche are freshmen, Rutkowski is a sophomore, and Kinnunen and Lebda are, of course, seniors. The seven players have 16 goals among them this season, so perhaps there’s something to this superstition.

For those who suffer from triskaidekaphobia — or even parakavidekatriaphobia, a fear of Friday the 13th itself — there are clinics, and drugs, and Buffy reruns. In fact, some studies have shown that just the right mix of Buffy and chocolate cures everything from alliumphobia (fear of garlic), to xylophobia (wooden objects), to bibliophobia (books), as well as road rage and tired blood (no pun intended).

No matter how you approach this Friday — and it will probably be with joyful anticipation, because there’s plenty of great hockey on tap — you may get a kick out of this: “eleven plus two” is an anagram of “twelve plus one.” Each phrase contains 13 letters.

Let’s just hope that you don’t have pagaphobia (fear of ice), chionophobia (snow), or philophobia, in keeping with the season. That last one’s the fear of falling in love.

Happy holiday!

Other Numbers

With just four weeks of the regular season remaining, not only is the race for first too close to call, but determining who will stay home and who will travel in the first round for the CCHA playoffs is also maddeningly difficult.

Sure, there are 16 points separating first-place Miami from 10th-place Bowling Green, but with seven league games yet to play, the Falcons have a mathematical shot at securing home ice. As is usually the case with this league, what’s going on in the middle of the pack is just as interesting as the race for first place.

Miami With six league contests remaining and a two-game set to end the regular season against rival Ohio State, the RedHawks may have to win out to take first place. Why? Because Michigan is three points behind with two games in hand on Miami, and the two teams meet this weekend.

Michigan Four of Michigan’s last eight regular-season games are against clustermates Miami and Michigan State, and the other two are against Notre Dame and Bowling Green, teams that are fighting for home ice. The Wolverines have a knack for getting hot at the right time, and they’re just beginning to peak.

Michigan State The Spartans are in Fairbanks this weekend, a place that has proven difficult for nearly every visiting team this season. They also end the season with two games against Michigan. Five points behind Miami and two behind the Wolverines, it’s unrealistic to expect MSU to make a run at the regular-season title, in this season that head coach Rick Comley has called “disappointing.” Playing in Munn in mid-March? Yup.

Alaska-Fairbanks The Nanooks have the fewest remaining regular-season games, just four — two at home and two on the road. UAF is 11-3-0 at home, and last weekend took two points from Michigan in Fairbanks, just its fourth-ever win over the Wolverines. The Nanooks host MSU this weekend and travel to Omaha Feb. 27-28, and while they beat the Mavericks twice at home, they’re 2-11-1 on the road. Look to UAF to take four — maybe five — points down the stretch, bringing their total to 29 or 30 on the season, good enough to host.

Ohio State The Buckeyes, who seem to have fallen into old habits with a Friday (loss)-Saturday (win) split against Ferris State last weekend, have six remaining games. Even if they win out — and they won’t — they’ll never catch Michigan. OSU may take as few as four points in its final six games, especially since it’s prone to splitting at home faces a tough Miami team. If the Buckeyes stay home for the opening round of the playoffs, it will be because they beat Western Michigan, twice.

Western Michigan The Broncos have had enough of the Buckeyes. OSU has a way of putting a damper on any given Western season. The Broncos dropped two to the Bucks last year toward the end of the regular season when they were contending for home ice; in 2001-02, it was OSU that ended WMU’s season in the first round of the CCHA playoffs in Kalamazoo. Two of WMU’s final five games are against OSU, and two are against Miami. If the Broncos stay home, they’ll do so because they beat OSU, twice.

Northern Michigan, Notre Dame, Ferris State Each of these teams has a legit chance of hosting a first-round series, and for each team it will come down to goaltending. The Wildcat cause is bolstered by the number of league wins NMU has. NMU, ND, and FSU have each played 22 games — meaning each has six contests left — but Northern has 11 wins to Notre Dame’s and Ferris State’s nine each. League wins are the top tiebreaker. It doesn’t hurt that NMU beat ND twice in January.

It also doesn’t hurt that NMU faces LSSU and BGSU for four of those contests, but — again — head-to-head competition, right down to the wire, may decide who travels and who hosts. The Wildcats travel to Big Rapids for the final two regular-season games for both the ‘Cats and the ‘Dogs. Notre Dame — with such promise early in the season, and such great goaltending — faces Michigan twice, plus a tough trip to Sault Ste. Marie to end the season.

Bowling Green, Nebraska-Omaha, Lake Superior State It’s fairly safe to say that each of these teams will be on the road mid-March, but each also has a good chance of playing spoiler and improving its road odds between now and then.

BGSU plays Michigan and Northern twice, giving the Falcons a chance to ruin one team’s regular-season title hopes while quashing another’s bid at first-round home ice. With the way Jordan Sigalet is playing in net, anything can happen with the Falcons.

UNO has the chance to rain on OSU’s parade while making life more interesting for the Nanooks and the Spartans. I’m thinking that the Mavericks will be making another trip to Ohio in the near future, to someplace a little south of Columbus.

Like the Wolverines, the Lakers have eight games left, giving them a chance to earn 16 points. They could very well vault ahead of UNO — and maybe even BGSU, since the teams are playing head-to-head this weekend. LSSU has a home-and-home series remaining against NMU, two games in Big Rapids, and two at home to end the season against Notre Dame — six games against three teams right on the home-ice cusp. Talk about your spoiler potential.

As close as this season has been, predicting the playoff pairings this early seems foolish, but here goes:

No. 12 LSSU at No. 1 Michigan
No. 11 UNO at No. 2 Miami
No. 10 BGSU at No. 3 MSU
No. 9 Notre Dame at No. 4 OSU
No. 8 FSU at No. 5 UAF
No. 7 WMU at No. 6 NMU

I know I’m going to regret this. Or maybe that’s my atychiphobia talking.

Eight and Out

The Nanooks snapped the Wolverines’ eight-game win streak with a 5-3 victory of their own last Saturday, just their fourth win over Michigan in the two programs’ 30-game history. Ryan Campbell’s shorthanded goal in the first period tied the game for UAF, and the contest was knotted at 3-3 going into the third.

Kelly Czuy had the game-winner at 6:46 in the third. Keith Bartusch made 28 saves for his seventh win of the season.

Pilkington’s Luck

For the second time in two weeks, BGSU sophomore forward Brett Pilkington had to leave the game with an injury. Pilkington left the Falcons’ 4-3 loss to OSU (Jan. 31) in the first period; last weekend Pilkington exited BGSU’s 3-1 win at UNO, again in the first period.

Who could blame Pilkington if he develops traumatophobia?

BGSU head coach Scott Paluch told the Bowling Green News that Pilkinton’s injury forced the rest of the Falcon squad to adjust. “When you lose a player that plays a lot … you’re forced to juggle lines. Guys are thrust into different positions. We got a great effort from a lot of different guys. It was a game that was a real strong effort and is a great road win.”

The Falcons took three points from the Mavericks last weekend, and have taken at least one point in seven of eight back-to-back, two-game conference series this season. Only Northern Michigan has swept BGSU in two consecutive games.

Three’s a Good Number

FSU junior forward Jeff Legue netted his first career hat trick in last Friday’s 5-2 win over OSU. OSU sophomore forward Dan Knapp returned the favor the following night, in the Buckeyes’ 6-0 blanking of the Bulldogs.

Then There’s Two

When the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks visit Columbus this weekend, fans will be seeing double — at least in name.

OSU sophomore Dan Knapp has a doppelganger in UNO freshman Dan Knapp. The Buckeye Knapp, a forward, is actually younger than the Maverick freshman defenseman. OSU’s Knapp (7-15 — 22, +12) hails from Rochester, Mich.; UNO’s Knapp (1-2 — 3, -3) is a native of Hermantown, Minn.

Other differences? OSU’s Knapp, at 5-11 and 175 lbs., likes to mix it up, with 15 penalties for 38 minutes. Lately, this Knapp has been rather feisty, which could be an issue as UNO brings its nationally-ranked power play to the Schott.

UNO’s Knapp, at 6-1 and 190 lbs., is a saint by comparison, with seven penalties for 14 minutes.

This is one of those weekends when I’m glad I don’t do radio.

The Buckeye Knapp was chosen as this week’s Detroit Free Press Player of the Week, which annoys everyone in Michigan except for those living in Rochester. Of this weekend’s home games against the Mavericks, Knapp told the Free Press, “I don’t know if too many people know, but there’s a rivalry there. Both teams get each other’s best games.”

It was Ohio State that ended Nebraska-Omaha’s season last year in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, delivering 4-1 and 3-1 losses in Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Dan Ellis made 100 saves in the two games, including 53 the first night.

At the end of the 2000-2001 season, it was the Mavericks who handed the Buckeyes their walking papers in a stunning three-game, first-round CCHA playoff series in the Omaha Civic Center. Each game was decided by a goal; two went to overtime.

Statistics Can Be Deceiving

That the Spartans scored eight goals in their Feb. 5 win over the Lakers was surprising enough; that the Lakers scored five of their own is nearly unbelievable.

The lead changed hands four times in the contest, and the game was tied 5-5 with less than four minutes remaining in the second period.

In a stop-the-presses kind of moment, LSSU head coach Frank Anzalone said, “Our guys gave it everything they had tonight,” after the 8-5 loss.

Given Anzalone’s usual postgame comments, one wonders how many Lakers lost a vital organ in the contest.

Hail to the Victors!

Lately, I get a lot of email from people who just don’t like me. I know you’re shocked. So is my mother. Everyone will adjust.

The subject of last week’s column — my crisis of faith, CCHA-style — was actually prompted by several readers who, over the course of the past few weeks, have written to tell me that I am not positive enough in print.

Of course, there are many readers who think I don’t spend enough time talking about their team, who become incensed because I’ve only been to Sault Ste. Marie once, who find fault with the colors I wear when I cover games.

(I am not making this up. This weekend, I’ll get to wear red — one of my favorite colors, a staple of my wardrobe — at Value City Arena in Columbus because Nebraska-Omaha is playing Ohio State. Of course, I still have to be careful that my blouse is not too scarlet in hue. Does Cokie Roberts have to watch what she wears in Wisconsin because South Carolina might feel slighted?)

So, last week, in an attempt to find a way to explain some of the parity of this season and Michigan’s recent reemergence as a regular-season title contender, I talked briefly about UM’s ability to score five-on-five, seemingly at will.

Apparently — although I was positive, which meets the criteria for “good writer” for some CCHA readers — I wasn’t brief enough.

Irate Reader No. 3,516 emailed me to say, “You mention in your article how this is the most exciting CCHA season you have covered in a long time, then spend the majority (admit it, the true majority) of the rest of the article singing Michigan’s praises.”

I’m not a genius — just ask UNO fans — and higher math was never my strong suit, but I have to admit that I am stumped by this reader’s definition of true majority; of the 1,743 words in last week’s column, 230 were devoted to discussing Michigan in any depth.

I also mentioned that Al Montoya was January’s RBC Financial Group CCHA Player of the Month, and I talked about a Wolverine fan who was sickened by fan behavior in Lawson Arena.

The following should make Irate Reader No. 3,516’s day.

Games of the Week

Three points, two games in hand, and 15-game home win streak to defend.

Miami (18-9-3, 15-5-2 CCHA) at Michigan (19-8-1, 14-5-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Pity the RedHawks. Even though Miami has topped the CCHA standings for nine consecutive weeks and is vying for its first regular-season title since 1992-93, the press around southwest Ohio is oblivious. In the “Miami RedHawks story archive” section of the Hamilton Journal-News online, the link “RedHawks get giant win” doesn’t take you to recaps of Miami’s weekend sweep in East Lansing, just as the link “Road doesn’t get any easier for Miami” has nothing to do with two games pending in Ann Arbor.

If you type “Miami hockey” into the Cincinnati Enquirer’s search engine, the top matching story begins, “The Miami University hockey team and head coach Mark Mazzoleni are starting from ground-zero this season.”

The season? 1998-99.

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi has said repeatedly this season that he doesn’t mind the lack of attention, that, in fact, obscurity is okay by him.

This week, however, the Detroit Free Press has figured out something that the Hamilton Journal-News and the Cincinnati Enquirer have yet to discover, something CCHA fans knew long ago: the RedHawks are contenders.

So much for obscurity.

The Feb. 12 edition of the Free Press features this week’s series in Ann Arbor, where the RedHawks look to prove their worth and the Wolverines look to prove them wrong.

What’s interesting about this mini-preview is each coach’s contrasting approach to this weekend’s games. Michigan head coach Red Berenson tells the Free Press that the games are “a battle for first place,” while Blasi says, “We’re focused on Michigan because we have to play them next.”

Each man’s style is key to his team’s success this season. In Yost Arena, the high-profile Wolverines are perennial targets. Michigan is the CCHA’s most successful team of the last dozen or so years, playing in a Big Ten setting, the barometer of the league. Miami is a small school in the middle of basketball country, where too much attention to or over-analysis of the hockey team’s spectacular season may be detrimental.

If you’re Michigan, and everyone always wants to beat you, every game is a battle for first place; if you’re Miami, trying to maintain a successful season, maybe the only team that can beat you is Miami.

What better proving ground for Miami than Yost Arena? The RedHawks bring with them the league’s most creative offense, with five goal scorers in double digits, including two of the league’s most talented freshmen — Matt Christie and Marty Guerin — and the CCHA’s best one-two-three punch, according to a well-respected coach in East Lansing — seniors Derek Edwardson, Mike Kompon, and Greg Hogeboom. Miami plays tight defense, outshooting opponents 995-750 overall, fielding an aggressive forecheck, exhibiting extraordinary stinginess in front of a young goaltender just coming into his own.

Where the Wolverines and RedHawks differ on ice is almost indiscernible. Michigan is outshooting opponents 998-740 overall, has an aggressive forecheck, and is fairly tight in front of its own cage, too. Sophomore netminder Al Montoya gives UM an edge, as he seems to be a different man since returning from the IIHF World Junior tournament.

It’s where the Wolverines and RedHawks differ off the ice that may make this weekend memorable for the home team. Why? Because they’re the home team. This is Yost Arena, where the Wolverines beat St. Cloud State and top-seed Denver in the 2002 West Regional to advance to the Frozen Four in St. Paul. The same Yost Arena where the Wolverines beat Maine and top-seed Colorado College in last year’s Midwest Regional, advancing to their fourth straight Frozen Four.

Michigan’s edge this weekend is not in its now-awakened offense, or in the inspired play of Al Montoya, or even, necessarily, Red Berenson’s ability to motivate his squad. If Michigan wins this weekend, the Wolverines should thank their fans.

Here’s a look at this series, by the incredibly close overall numbers:

  • Goals per game: Miami 3.37 (second), UM 3.54 (first)
  • Goals allowed per game: Miami 2.47 (tie fourth), UM 2.32 (first)
  • Power play: Miami 20.5% (third), UM 20.9% (first)
  • Penalty kill: Miami 8.27% (seventh), UM 85.5% (fourth)
  • Top scorer: Miami Derek Edwardson (15-23 — 38), UM T.J. Hensick (9-24 — 33)
  • Top goal scorer: Miami Matt Christie (17), UM Brandon Kaleniecki (13)
  • Top ‘tender: Miami Brandon Crawford-West (.909 SV%), UM Al Montoya (.917 SV%)

    Blasi has said all season that Miami’s senior leadership has been the team’s greatest asset, and he’s absolutely right. He also told the Free Press that luck and bounces have helped along the way.

    This weekend, if Miami makes its own luck, it may be enough. Maybe.

    Picks: I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not picking against Miami again. And after this weekend, at least the residents of Michigan will know a little bit about a team from southwest Ohio, courtesy of the Free Press and Fox Sports Net. Friday’s game is televised. Miami 4-3, 4-3

    Because February Needs Another Holiday

    Feb. 12 has been declared “National Championship Hockey Day in Bowling Green” by that town’s mayor, John Quinn. This is to commemorate the 20th anniversary of BGSU’s 1984 NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey national championship.

    The whole weekend will be one for celebration, as the Falcons take on the Lakers in the rockin’ BGSU Ice Arena. Players from the 1984 team will be on hand for autographs pregame each night, and free Falcon hockey trading cards and pucks will be available in limited quantities.

    Blueliner of the Week

    Well, my faith is shaken.

    Last week, I said that I believed there would be a Blueliner of the Week awarded this time around. There were two nominations, and I didn’t think either was particularly outstanding — not horrible, mind you, but not outstanding.

    A quick read of the CCHA weekly press release shakes my faith even further; with the exception of goaltenders, every “notable performance” focuses on offense, even when a defender is mentioned.

    Those whose performances are noted by the league are among those who were nominated by their SIDs for Player of the Week. I realize that SIDs are busy, hard-working guys and gals, and I’m grateful for everything that they do to make my job and life easier. It is, however, discouraging that no one nominates a player because of his hard work on the defensive side of the game, unless that player is a goaltender.

    If you see a noteworthy defensive performance by a defender in any games you attend this weekend, pass the nomination on to me so that more of these hard-working, blue-collar guys can have their due, too.