This Week in the CCHA: Oct. 21, 2004

Eric LeMarque

Sometimes there are events that touch the college hockey community that help us put sport in perspective.

In February of this year, former Northern Michigan Wildcat and U.S. Olympian Eric LeMarque lost both of his legs below the knees after surviving seven days in California’s High Sierras without shelter, food, or fire. LeMarque had become lost after snowboarding alone in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, having gone off track in search of fresh powder.

But don’t feel sorry for LeMarque. “He walked with a bounce, he skated with a bounce, and he’s probably still bouncing,” says LeMarque’s former coach and current MSU skipper, Rick Comley.

During this weekend’s Michigan State-NMU series in Marquette — the Hockey Parents/Alumni Weekend — the Wildcats will host various fundraisers to help raise money to purchase athletic prostheses for LeMarque. The man who gives meaning to the word “survivor” will himself be present at Friday’s Blue Line Luncheon at noon in the Peter White Lounge of the University Center. Several other alumni will attend, as will — of course — head coaches Walt Kyle and Comley.

Fundraising activities include several raffles at hockey-related events throughout the weekend. The destination for the monies raised this weekend says everything you need to know about LeMarque — athletic prostheses, so LeMarque may continue to bounce.

Donations to help with LeMarque’s overall medical expenses can also be sent to:

Sherman Oaks Hospital Eric LeMarque Foundation
Attn: Stanley M. Baratta
5000 Van Nuys Blvd.
Suite 305
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Any questions? Call Sherman Oaks Hospital 818-817-3288.

Games of the Week

After that intro, who else?

Michigan State (1-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (1-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Berry Events Center, Marquette, Mich.

The media and fans like to make a big deal out of any series between the Spartans and the Wildcats because MSU head coach Rick Comley coached NMU forever, and NMU head coach Walt Kyle played for and coached with Comley once upon a time.

If LeMarque’s story doesn’t put it all into perspective, Comley’s comments certainly can.

“It’s not a player issue anymore. It’s a fan and media interest, much like the first time Northern Michigan and Michigan State played. That was mentor-student [Ron Mason and Comley] as well.”

So if it’s not about the stuff that the media and the fans think it is, what’s it all about, Coach?

“It’s a good early-season series. We’re two of many teams that are chasing Michigan. One coach isn’t going to beat the other; it boils down to players playing.”

This is the league opener for both teams, and both teams split in nonconference play last week. For both teams, last week’s games were dominated by injuries, rules enforcement, and the newness of the season.

“I don’t really know right now where we are,” says Kyle. In their 2-1 loss to St. Cloud State last Friday, the Wildcats played from behind after the Huskies netted two in the second. Andrew Contois scored the only NMU goal, on the power play at 14:41 in the third. NMU turned up the heat in the third period of its 4-2 win Saturday, registering three in the third period to come from behind.

Tuomas Tarkki stopped 32 shots in the loss; Zaniboni stopped 33 in the win. The Wildcats were outshot both nights.

“We have a ton of guys banged up,” says Kyle. “We probably have six regulars who are going to be out of our lineup. When it gets like that you’re playing a lot of guys who aren’t expected to play in certain spots. We have some injuries in defense — an area that we hoped would be an area of strength for us.

“Friday they had us back on our heels and we were able to weather the storm. The first night they outshot us badly, and they had a [bunch] of power plays.”

Of course, with special teams such a factor this season, goaltending becomes even more crucial. Now that Craig Kowalski is gone — and having seen two NMU goalies in action — Kyle says, “We don’t know who’s going to be the goalie and who’s going to emerge. Goaltending is a bit of a question.”

Like the Wildcats, the Spartans dropped their first game last Friday and rebounded for a Sunday win. Ash Goldie scored the only goal in the 3-1 loss to St. Lawrence; Colton Fretter had two in the 5-1 win against New Hampshire. Matt Migliaccio had 31 saves in the loss to Vicari’s 30 in the win.

“Around here, you lose one, it’s a panic,” says Comley. “The first night, it was obvious that St. Lawrence had played two games. We looked rusty, and they looked real, real sharp. It was a good, hard-earned win for St. Lawrence.

“The Sunday game had much more flow, fewer penalties called.”

Ah. Penalties.

St. Lawrence went 2-for-9 on the power play compared with MSU’s 0-for-11 in the Friday game, but Sunday’s box looks surprisingly, well, normal. UNH had five penalties for 10 minutes, MSU six for 12. UNH went 1-for-5, MSU 2-for-4.

And the difference in the boxes, says Comley, is an indication of what’s not quite right yet this season. “Coaches have bought in, but it’s totally up to the officials. There has to be a comfort zone for them, too. I don’t mind what they’re doing, but we have to see the same thing every night.”

That lack of consistency is frustrating for everyone, says Comley. Friday night, “every little thing was called,” says Comley, leaving players to wonder “why wasn’t that called?” Sunday.

“I don’t care which way they [call the games],” says Comley. “I think we’ve all bought into it. I just want it to be the same every game, from crew to crew.”

It is too early in the season to give a point-by-point comparison of teams, but these early overall stats give you some idea — albeit a skewed one — of how these teams match up. Sort of.

  • Goals per game: NMU 2.50 (tie eighth); MSU 3.00 (sixth)
  • Goals allowed per game: NMU 2.00 (tie third); MSU 2.00 (tie third)
  • Power play: NMU 30.8 % (second); MSU 13.3% (eighth)
  • Penalty kill: NMU 94.4% (second); MSU 78.6% (ninth)
  • Top scorer: NMU Four guys tied with two points each; MSU Five guys tied with two points each
  • Top ‘tender: NMU Bill Zaniboni (2.00 GAA, .943 SV%); MSU Dominic Vicari (1.00 GAA, .968 SV%)

Keep in mind that Vicari and Migliaccio (2.02 GAA, .939 SV%) have played just one game each. Of the five players tied with two points each, only Mike Lalonde (0-2–2) has shot totals in the double digits (13). Jim Slater (1-0–1, 12 shots) was less than effective in Friday’s game, having been dinged up early in the contest.

Likewise, both Zaniboni and Tuomas Tarkki (2.01 GAA, .941 SV%) have logged a game. Only Patrick Murphy is on the plus side of things (+1) for NMU in this young season.

“The biggest thing you know about State is that they’re a very good team,” says Kyle. “Very few teams have a blessing of two All-Americans. They have some big-time talent and a pretty big senior class, five guys who are all playing. They and Michigan were picked high for a reason.”

The Wildcats are injured — perhaps none of Comley’s former players will take the ice Friday night — and both squads are adjusting to the enforcement crackdown. Comley says that the Olympic sheet may be a factor, but the Spartans are fast. One thing the larger ice surface may do is cut down on the number of penalties.

Who that situation favors this early in the season is anyone’s guess.

The Wildcats dressed seven freshmen against St. Cloud, and 13 of MSU’s players Sunday were freshmen or sophomores. Both teams are young, although MSU’s senior class is an advantage.

Goaltending? The inconsistency on each side — coupled with the special teams play — makes that too close to call. Defense? An edge to MSU. While it’s hard to get points on the road, the Spartans have a couple of clear-cut advantages.

Pick: NMU 3-2, MSU 4-2

A Banner Day

Ohio State will raise its 2004 postseason CCHA championship banner before Thursday’s 7:05 p.m. start against Miami.

Head coach John Markell just wants bodies in the building when the banner goes up. “I hope we don’t do it in front of just 3000-5000 people. I hope the people come here and experience us raising the banner. There were 8,000 here who saw us fighting for our lives [in the playoffs] and quite a few up at Joe Louis, and now they get an opportunity to come here on a Thursday night … let’s hope they come and enjoy it as much as we did.”

Captain JB Bittner says that this is a sort-of belated christening of Value City Arena. “We’re trying to establish this as our home and have a little atmosphere here and I think that will add a little bit to it.”

Adds Bittner, “I hope I’m not starting during the game because it’s going to be pretty emotional.”

The series between the Buckeyes and the RedHawks should be very competitive this season. Each team skates a lot of rookies, each has good goaltending, the RedHawks are faster up front and the Buckeyes may be more solid on the blue line. The Miami special teams — especially the power play — may dictate the play.

These teams usually meet in December for their first series of the season. Given that they played each other six times last year — splitting down the middle — and that their last meeting was OSU’s 4-3 OT win at the Super Six, and that it was Miami’s loss to OSU in the final game of the regular season that ensured Michigan’s regular-season league title, neither team is likely to play “young” hockey. Friday’s game is in Oxford, at 7:35 p.m.