This Week in the CCHA: Oct. 28, 2004

Happy Halloween, and Merry Christmas

About this time of year, I try to tie a column to Halloween. This year, I can’t.

All curses are now officially lifted.

Feel free to say “shutout” before the end of a scoreless game, even in your own arena.

A Nightmare

I wish I could write off the scary story unfolding in Bowling Green as some seasonal mischief.

Seven players — Ryan Barnett, Steve Brudzewski, Bryan Dobek, Mike Falk, Don Morrison, Brett Pilkington, and Alex Rogosheske — have been suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into a photograph in which five of the players appear.

The Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune received a photograph Monday, mailed anonymously from a location near Toronto. The photo is allegedly from a party in April of 2003.

In the photo, one player — and it’s not clear whether it’s one of the players named — is reportedly face down, naked, covered with profanity and racial slurs written in magic marker.

The status of the players is unclear.

BGSU athletic director Paul Krebs told the Toledo Blade Tuesday that an investigation is underway. “I don’t know what’s important right now,” said Krebs. “What’s important is our values and what we stand for as a hockey team, athletic department and university, and trying to protect our program and our university.

“There is still fact-finding going on, but the folks in Student Judicial Affairs are aware of the situation.”

I was unable to reach BGSU head coach Scott Paluch this week, and I don’t want anyone to read anything into that. Phone tag is an unfortunate part of my job. I do know that both Paluch and Krebs are men with high moral standards, and that this won’t just simply go away.

What I don’t know — what none of us knows — is what happened. I won’t even speculate. I know that coaches all over the country are thinking about their own programs, and about how this could be any number of them.

I would never condone the type of behavior that leads to a situation like this. Racial slurs? If true, that is abhorrent beyond expression.

But I will say that you can’t babysit your players round the clock. Granted, this allegedly happened over a year ago, but Rogosheske is the captain, for heaven’s sake.

As we at learn more, we’ll pass it on.

Not So Fast …

Last week, after the Spartans had lost a game to St. Lawrence, MSU head coach Rick Comley said, “Around here, you lose one, it’s a panic.” If one’s a panic, what are three?

After Saturday’s 4-1 loss, Comley singled out seniors Ash Goldie, Kevin Estrada, and Mike Lalonde to Lansing State Journal, calling them “mediocre” and adding that “it’s their turn to be the best players and right now they’re not.”

Comley told my esteemed colleague Neil Koepke in an article published in the Oct. 28 State Journal that he “regretted harshly” what he said about the seniors. “Some things need to be internal and don’t need to be external,” Comley told Koepke. “I think I’ve been guilty of being too public. It was out of line for me. It’s a cop-out to do that.”

One of the things I admire most about Comley as a person is his candor, and he’s certainly not the first coach to call out players — by name — who aren’t pulling their weight. It takes more candor, however, to apologize for remarks that Comley thought went too far.

Another coach known for his candor is Michigan’s Red Berenson, whose Wolverines haven’t exactly torn it up so far this young season. Goaltender Al Montoya’s performance and save percentage (.897) remind the Michigan faithful of the start of the 2003-04 season.

“I think we’ve had more goals against than we’d like,” says Berenson. “I’m sure he would like to take some back. He looked really good his first game.”

Montoya is now 8-0 against Lake Superior State, having owned them outright in several games prior to last weekend, when the Wolverines had to come from behind to earn those wins.

Let’s not forget, however, where the Wolverines finished the 2003-04 regular season.

Also in the category of too-soon-to-tell are the Ohio State Buckeyes. After dropping two at the Ice Breaker, the Bucks are 4-0 to start the CCHA season. Anyone who’s followed Buckeye hockey knows how astounding this is. In fact, you have to go back to 1983-84 for the last time OSU began a season with four league wins — before many of OSU’s players were born.

Nine goals against Miami at home, and a win the following night to snap the RedHawks’ 14-game unbeaten streak in Goggin Arena? Nine goals? With eight rookies skating nightly?

“I guess what it is, is how much fun these guys are having playing,” says head coach John Markell. “Casey and I are really enjoying this.” That’s associate head coach Casey Jones.

Markell says that in the past, he’s had to worry about what kind of effort he would get from the Buckeyes on a nightly basis, but this year, everyone competes. “I haven’t had this before here.” He sounds gleeful.

Then there are the Mavericks, of the Maverick Stampede champion Mavericks, the undefeated Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. Last weekend, the Mavs swept Western Michigan at home, marking the first time since Jan. 2003 that UNO took two in a row from a CCHA opponent (OSU, at home). In fact, the Mavericks didn’t put together back-to-back wins in the entire 2003-04 season, and haven’t taken four in a row since 2001-02.

The Mavs needed overtime to sweep the Broncos, and Kaleb Betts came through at 1:50. After the Saturday OT win, UNO head coach Mike Kemp told the Omaha World-Herald that he sees his young team develop game by game. “Even when we got behind tonight,” said Kemp, “it was positive all the way through.”

But, folks, the season is young. Last year, Montoya caught up, the Spartans caught on before tanking in the postseason, the Buckeyes faded before scorching through the Super Six tournament, and the Mavericks — well, Scott Parse had a great season.

That’s not to say that the current climate may not hold, but before we lament the Wolverines, call for Comley’s head, anoint the Buckeyes, or predict home ice for UNO, let’s play a few more games.

Games of the Week

So the Wolverines have four wins and the Bulldogs just one. So what? Four of the last five home-and-home series between Michigan and Ferris State have resulted in splits. That’s good enough for me.

Ferris State (1-5-0, 0-2-0 CCHA) vs. Michigan (4-1-1, 2-0-0 CCHA)
Friday 7:35 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Saturday 7:05 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, Mich.

“I think he’s playing just fine.” That’s what FSU head coach Bob Daniels says about Michigan goaltender Al Montoya. Daniels is no fool, and so isn’t misled by Montoya’s early-season stats.

And he thinks you shouldn’t take the Bulldog goaltending stats at face value, either. “If you looked at our goalie stats right now, you’d say that Brown and MacIntyre are struggling. The reality for us is that we’re not playing great team defense in front of them. I think our problem is more of a team problem, not a goaltending problem.”

The Bulldogs earned their first win of the season last weekend on the road against Bemidji State. After losing 5-2 Friday, the ‘Dogs rebounded with a decisive 7-2 win.

“Obviously we’re not where we want to be, but realistically we’ve played pretty well,” says Daniels. “In those five [losses], we were only beaten once. The other four … were close and we feel they could have gone either way.

“The one game we got beaten was Friday night in Bemidji. From the drop of the puck we weren’t in it.”

Bemidji scored three goals within the first six minutes of that loss and added a fourth later in the first period to lead 4-1 after one.

FSU’s other four losses were two close games with Colgate and Ohio State — the defending ECACHL regular-season champ and the postseason CCHA champion.

“I really wish this series was in the second half in the year. I think we’ll be a better team. We really don’t do ourselves any favors with our early schedule.”

The first four teams the Bulldogs face this season are champions of some kind. After Colgate and Ohio State, there was Bemidji, the CHA regular-season champs and now Michigan, last year’s CCHA regular-season title holders. “And then we get a break,” quips Daniels, “with Michigan State. We’re cutting our teeth on some pretty good teams.”

In spite of the obvious differences in the win-loss columns, Michigan head coach Red Berenson is not taking this series with FSU lightly. “Ferris has played us tough. I don’t know what it is. They seem to play their best hockey against us.”

With no disrespect intended toward Daniels and the Bulldogs, Berenson is a bit more preoccupied with the Wolverines than he is with the Bulldogs at the moment.

“We’re loaded with seniors. It’s not like we’re loaded with talent; it’s more we’re loaded with experience. We have Milan Gajic and David Moss playing well, but the only two players on our team who have ever scored 20 goals in a season are [Brandon] Kaleniecki and [Jeff] Tambellini, and they have one goal each.”

Berenson says that the Wolverines struggled in both wins against Lake State last weekend. “We were down 3-1 in the game up there and down 2-0 in Detroit. We’re not a lot better than anyone we’ve played at this point.

“I don’t know if you can change what we have, but our team can play better in the power play and the penalty kill. We need our scorers to score. T.J. Hensick had his first really good game last Saturday.”

Here’s a look at the series by the incredibly young numbers. These are overall stats.

  • Goals per game: UM 4.50 (second); FSU 3.33 (seventh)
  • Goals allowed per game: UM 2.83 (tie eighth); FSU 4.00 (12th)
  • Power play: UM 20.0 % (tie fifth); FSU 17.6% (ninth)
  • Penalty kill: UM 84.1% (sixth); FSU 83.9% (seventh)
  • Top scorer: UM T.J. Hensick (2-7–9); FSU Matt Stefanishion (3-3–6)), Mark Bomersback (1-5–6)
  • Top ‘tender: UM Al Montoya (2.80 GAA, .897 SV%); FSU Derek MacIntyre (3.80 GAA, .883 SV%)

Mike Brown (.384 GAA, .844 SV%) has split time in net with MacIntyre.

Milan Gajic (4-4–8) leads the Wolverines in goal production, and it looks as though the senior may finally have that long-awaited breakout season. “I hope so, because he’s been a player who hasn’t reached his potential — except for a few moments,” says Berenson. “From time to time we’d see bright spots.”

Given that the Wolverines return nearly everyone from last season, Berenson says that the team chemistry is good. “I think we have a good group of kids and a good group of players. Are they playing their absolute best? No. Are they playing poorly? No. They’re playing about as well as any team in the CCHA.”

Daniels is hoping that his squad will “get there fairly quickly,” come together enough in front of the goalies to become competitive in league play.

Both coaches say that the tighter enforcement of penalties has nothing to do with their respective — and relative — slow starts. Daniels welcomes the officiating crackdown.

“Things are going to get better once we learn to play within the framework. I’ve seen progress [regarding penalties] with our team from the first two weeks to last week. I do say that we need to do something. If you look at a year ago, you were realistically allowed to wrap guys up.”

Not surprisingly, Berenson sees the new rules enforcement as an opportunity. “It gives us an opportunity to get on the power play and do some things, and supposedly your best players are on your player.”

Picks: Last season, the Bulldogs won 6-5 in OT at home before Michigan came back for the Yost Arena rematch, 3-2. Of the past 19 meetings — regardless of relative position in the standings — 14 games were decided by two or fewer goals. This is going to be the series to see, if history repeats. Michigan 4-3, FSU 5-4

Pass That Stash, Please

I want some of what my esteemed colleague, Adam Wodon, is smoking. In his Oct. 26 column “Between the Lines,” Adam wrote, “The bottom will still be lowly, but overall, the ECAC may be stronger than the CCHA this year.”

That’s the ECACHL’s goal, to catch the CCHA, a league that has looked so pathetic in NCAA tournament play in recent years — in spite of actually getting more than two invites on a regular basis — that every fan with a brain is left wondering whether we should rethink the collective tournament invitation criteria?

I don’t know what strikes me as sadder, that Adam posits this a barometer for success, or that he actually wrote that it may happen. This year.

I’ve known Adam forever, and he’s been generally tolerant of my lifelong devotion to the Boston Red Sox, although he has been rather unsympathetic about my love of the Buffalo Bills.

But I would never tell a guy he can’t dream.

Unrequited No More

Tut had his tomb, Hope his diamond, Tecumseh his revenge.

There were two gone in the bottom of the ninth, and I finally stood up. It all felt so anticlimactic. I was numb.

Then Keith Foulke scooped up Edgar Renteria’s infield hit and trotted to shorten the throw to Doug Mientkiewicz at first, and suddenly I was crying, jumping up and down in my living room, screaming, “We won! We won! We won!”

I grew up in Syracuse when the Chiefs — now the SkyChiefs — were the Yankees’ AAA affiliate. I learned how to keep a scorecard in MacArthur Stadium, where I watched Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry play.

My dad, however, was born and raised in Caribou, Maine. Every Weston, Lister, Evans, and Thompkins from Aroostook County to South Portland made sure early and often that I understood to whom my allegiance was genetically tied.

In 1975, I was 11 and couldn’t recall a day in my life when I hadn’t been a Red Sox fan. I was in love with Carlton Fisk. I had an electric AM radio pencil marked around the dial, all spots where I was able to pick up a faraway Red Sox broadcast through those long summer nights on Wellesley Island, N.Y.

My dad and I talked of nothing but baseball that year. I clipped the Boston boxes out of the morning paper and pasted them into a scrapbook. I wrote a song called, “I’m a New York Yankee Hater,” sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” — 11, okay? — and distributed the lyrics to all my disbelieving friends at St. Margaret’s School.

On Oct. 21, 1975, when Fisk hit that 12th-inning homer to win Game 6, little did I know that my first official broken heart was less than 24 hours away.

Years later at North Syracuse Central High, I fell for a fan of the Big Red Machine. My second official broken heart followed shortly. No coincidence.

In 1986, I was 22, married just over a year to my college sweetheart, a lifelong Mets fan. He was kind on Oct. 25, when that wretched grounder squibbed through Bill Buckner’s legs. He even tried to subdue his celebration two nights later, when the tears filled my eyes after the camera panned to Jim Rice sitting alone on the Red Sox bench.

Obviously, that marriage was doomed.

I don’t remember 1967. 1978 isn’t even worth mentioning.

Johnny Damon is so much better looking than Derek Jeter.

Life does begin at 40.

Go Bills.