This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 18, 2004

Six Goals? Lake State? Really?

In last weekend’s split with Alaska-Fairbanks, the Lakers scored six goals, all in their 6-2 Friday win, an indication that LSSU is coming to grips with the “little annoyance of putting the puck in the net,” as head coach Frank Anzalone put it at the start of this season.

“I think we’re a little bit better than we were from a year or two,” says Anzalone. “I think we’re doing okay but I think we can be doing a little better. There are games that you lose that you could have won, and it’s not necessarily a break.”

Jeffrey Rainville had two goals in the contest, and Bo Cheesman, Trent Campbell, Nathan Ward, and John Booras pitched in for the other four.

Anzalone still has rebuilding on his mind, and he believes it will take years to become truly competitive. Having his own recruits is one thing, but having players left over Scott Borek era come around is crucial to LSSU’s success this season. “People say, ‘Now you have your players here,’ but I think we could have had those players years ago. Some players take longer to acclimate to change.”

Just as they had by mid-November last year, the Lakers have two league wins in the early going, but there’s hope that LSSU won’t have to wait until mid-December for another W. The Lakers are playing solid defensively in front of goalies Jeff Jakaitis (.933 SV%) and Matt Violin (.887 SV%), who split time in net last weekend.

“Jakaitis is pitching one-run games and he’s not getting any hits,” says Anzalone. “I think that’s where his teammates need to step up.”

Anzalone says that defender Kory Scoran has played very well, and that the Lakers look forward to the return of Ren Fauci, who has been injured. In fact, Anzalone compliments the entire Laker D-corps. “[Alex] Dunn and [Steve] McJannett are playing well back there, and a couple of freshmen, [John] Nogatch and [Derek] Smith have seen a lot of playing time. They’ve probably been overplayed, but I think that’s good for them.

“When everybody’s playing well defensively, it’s because the forwards are kicking in, in the system that we use.”

The status of defenseman Ryan Reid is in question. Anzalone will only elaborate a little on the senior, who he says is in a “Bowling Green-type situation.”

“He had an incident a few months back locally and we’re still working out the details. It was a campus situation that still needs to get taken care of.” Anzalone says that’s once it’s resolved — whatever “it” is — Reid will return to the lineup to shore up the blue line.

The Lakers welcome Ferris State this weekend, a team they split with last season, breaking a seven-game losing streak against the Bulldogs. “Ferris plays totally opposite us,” says Anzalone. “It’s going to be hard for us because we’re going to have to figure them out. They rock and roll. They play a real wheel-and-deal style. Alaska-Fairbanks doesn’t play that way on the road; they do at home. Ferris State plays that way all the time.

“We’ve got to be careful with these guys in spite of their record because they have awesome foot speed and play a wide-open style. We can just leave this alone and win by natural process, but we can accelerate it by making some adjustments.”

The Bulldogs and Lakers meet at 7:35 Friday, 7:05 Saturday, both games at Abel Arena.

And a League Win, Finally

Notre Dame took three points from Western Michigan last weekend. Three points means there had to be a win in there somewhere, the Irish’s first league win of the season.

Until the Irish beat the Broncos 3-2 Saturday, Notre Dame’s only win had been against No. 1 Boston College.

“I think the big plus for me over the weekend was the carryover Saturday night, early in the game, from Friday night,” Irish head coach Dave Poulin told the South Bend Tribune.”

“I think the feeling is, that it’s starting to come.”

Games of the Week

Every time these two teams meet, it’s an event.

No. 2 Michigan (7-2-1, 5-1-0 CCHA) vs. No. 14 Michigan State (5-4-1, 3-3-0 CCHA)
Thursday, 8:05 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, Mich.
Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.

“Corey Potter was the major addition to the lineup this weekend,” says Rick Comley. “I cannot stress enough how important he is to the team.”

Potter separated his shoulder in an exhibition game against Toronto Sept. 10 and missed the first eight games of the season. Comley said that having him back for last weekend’s series against Cornell was the defensive shot in the arm the Spartans needed.

“Major,” he reiterated.

The slow-starting Spartans tied and beat Cornell last week in a Friday-Sunday series, blanking the Big Red 2-0 in the win.

“They’re a very good team,” said Comley. “It certainly a weekend we needed. I thought Friday, [Cornell goaltender David] McKee was outstanding. Then Dominic [Vicari] earned a win for us on Sunday.”

Comley called Cornell “the biggest team I’ve ever seen. They’re so darned big that they just wore us down on Sunday.”

Even though the Spartans took three points from a ranked team, they did so by scoring just three goals on the weekend. That offensive output has been an issue for MSU; the Spartans are scoring on average 2.80 goals per game, 10th best in the league.

Part of that equation is the line of Jim Slater (2-6–8), Tommy Goebel (2-4–6), Mike Lalonde (1-2–3), who have combined for 17 points (5-12–17) this season. Through the first 10 MSU games last season, the three had 22 points and 22 goals for 44 points.

Lalonde, who led MSU with 22 tallies last season, has just one so far.

“We struggled to score,” said Comley. “We get 36, 37 shots a game and two goals. Our quality of play is fine … our work ethic is good and out goaltending has been very, very good.

“If we weren’t getting any shots, then you’d really have a concern. If you dind’t know that Slater, Goebel and Lalonde were good players, then you’d really have some concern about your team. To me it’s more of a slump rather than quality of play.”

One player missing from action has been captain Adam Nightingale. The senior forward has played just four games. Comley wants to be sure that people know that Nightingale isn’t being disciplined.

“It’s quality of play,” says Comley. “I picked him. I brought him here. He’s a great kid. He’s got a great attitude.”

The Wolverines return to play this weekend against the rejuvenated Spartans after an idle week. When Michigan last played, they swept then-ranked Miami at home, Nov. 5-6. In that series in which the Wolverines outscored the RedHawks 10-5, junior forward Jeff Tambellini accounted for half the Michigan goal scoring, racking up a hat trick Friday and adding two Saturday. He has just six goals this season.

Michigan’s Al Montoya had little work to do in that set; he stopped just 30 shots total out of 35.

Like the well-coached creature they collectively are, the Wolverines are not taking the Spartans lightly in spite of MSU’s current perch in seventh place in the CCHA standings.

“I don’t think it matters if we’re in first and they’re in last,” UM defender Matt Hunwick told the Michigan Daily. “It’s still a rivalry game and I think both teams are going to come out and play strong. It doesn’t matter who’s playing well and who’s not. It’s still an intense game.”

Here’s a brief look at the series, by this year’s numbers:

• Goals per game: UM 4.00 (tie first); MSU 2.80 (10th)
• Goals allowed per game: UM 2.30 (second); MSU 2.20 (first)
• Power play: UM 18.3 % (fifth); MSU 14.3% (10th)
• Penalty kill: UM 87.7% (third); MSU 84.9% (sixth)
• Top scorer: UM Jeff Tambellini (6-7–13); MSU Colton Fretter (6-5–11)
• Top ‘tender: UM Al Montoya (2.28 GAA, .908 SV%); MSU Dominic Vicari (1.77 GAA, .938 SV%)

While Tambellini came on strong for the Wolverines last weekend, T.J. Hensick (3-9–12), Milan Gajic (5-5–10), and Chad Kolarik (4-2–6) have been more consistent offensive threats; Kolarik leads UM in power-play goals with three.

There are enough notes on this rivalry to fill a symphony, but here are a few that are particularly interesting:

• In the last 24 meetings between these teams, 23 games have been decided by two or fewer goals; five were tied games.

• The Wolverines are winless (0-3-1) in their last four trips to Munn Arena, and are 0-3-2 in their last five trips to East Lansing, if you count the Cold War game.

• The teams exchanged back-to-back 2-0 shutouts in their first two meetings last season. Al Montoya and the Wolverines won Dec. 5; Dominic Vicari and the Spartans won Dec. 6.

• According to UM records, Michigan is 122-111-11 all-time against MSU.

• According to MSU records, Michigan is 126-112-11 all-time against MSU.

These teams last met in the final regular-season weekend of 2003-04, with the CCHA regular-season championship on the line. In the end, the Wolverines took three of four points from the Spartans (Mar. 5-6) with a tie and a win, and in the final standings Michigan was in first place, MSU in third — just one point behind Miami, two behind the Wolverines.

“Last year’s game [in East Lansing] ended up meaning first place,” head coach Red Berenson told the Ann Arbor News. They lost the chance for first place when [Jason] Ryznar scored that tying goal late in the game.”

How late in the 4-4 tie? 18:42, third period. The kicker? It was shorthanded.

Bad blood? Not really, claims Comley, who has said repeatedly that the experience of participating in a Michigan-MSU hockey series is something he couldn’t have anticipated when he left Marquette for East Lansing.

“The games are always great. We’re just coming off a weekend when our field hockey beat Michigan in Ann Arbor. The whole week is just geared toward this. When you play them in December or January after football, it’s bigger.

“The kids all know each other.”

Many of the players on both rosters have grown up playing together or against each other throughout Michigan. The captains of each team — Slater, a Lapeer, Mich. native, and Eric Nystrom, from Syosett, N.Y. — played together on the U.S. Junior Team in 2001.

That’s the same Slater who’s slumping, who led the team in plus/minus a year ago at +27 and is now at the bottom of the team at minus-6.

Berenson told the Daily that Slater is not to be underestimated. “He can do everything well, and that’s what makes him so good. He’s a very hard-working player, he’s a scorer, and he’s a leader.”

Picks: Do not be fooled. The Spartans are not a seventh-place kind of team. Remember last season? MSU started slowly and climbed the standings to contend for first place. And Michigan had to rely on Ohio State to keep Miami from leap-frogging the Wolverines at the last minute. Then there’s this whole rivalry thing, and the way these boys get up for these games. If I had a stronger spine, I’d pick back-to-back shutouts for this weekend, too. These games may be a wash in the final standings, but oh what games they’ll be. MSU 2-1, UM 2-1

Well, If Crash Davis Couldn’t Say It …

… neither should you. And you know who you are.

I’ve received a small virtual mountain of email regarding Yost Arena’s potty-mouthed fans. I cannot get over the number of people who wrote in defense of such deplorable and unimaginative public behavior.

I asked one reader how he would feel if I called him by the new word being chanted, in unison by over 1,000 people, at the end of the “C-Ya” penalty box cheer. He replied, “The newly added word truly is a horrible one, but please don’t confuse directing vulgarity at an individual with general usage. I would most likely be offended if, for example, you directed that or any obscenity at me, but the folks who are complaining about language are not the folks at whom the C-Ya chant is directed.”

Oh. How stupid am I, confusing general usage of a truly “horrible” word — chanted, in unison, by over 1,000 people — with person-specific vulgarity? If something vile is done by a crowd in a public venue, it’s A-OK. Now I know.

The reality is that such vulgar language isn’t appropriate for a college sporting event. Several readers defended the vulgarity by claiming that Michigan games are not “family” destinations.

Given the current climate at Yost, it’s likely to remain that way, too.

Last season, the Michigan athletic department sent out letters to fans to ask them to keep it clean. Berenson brought his grandson out on the ice before a game and asked the fans to behave. Apparently, some Michigan fans have no respect for the university or the hockey program.

CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos says that the situation at Yost — mirrored to a lesser extent at other rinks, most notably Western’s Lawson Arena — is “way beyond a hockey issue.”

“I think there is a great number of us that is tremendously concerned about it,” says Anastos. “How do we solve the problem? We don’t have the right answer yet, because we haven’t achieved it.”

Anastos says he spoke with Michigan athletic director Bill Martin after Michigan’s Nov. 5 win over Miami, which sparked an altercation in the stands where the mother of a Miami player was allegedly hit in the head with an object that was thrown. Several spectators were escorted from Yost.

“It spilled onto the ice,” says Anastos, who was attending the game. “There was some anxiety with some of the players.”

That anxiety was a free-for-all in the closing minutes of the game for which 16 penalties were assessed.

“I can tell you that the schools are embarrassed by it,” says Anastos. “They’re trying to take proactive steps. They’re trying to achieve the goal.”

The league itself has produced a “sportsmanship video” which was distributed to schools with the capability of showing it before games. Saturday, Michigan will be giving memos to everyone who walks into Yost, warning that fans using improper language will be ejected. The problem, says Anastos, is that you can’t eject over 1,000 fans at once.

And Anastos doesn’t like the idea of penalizing the home team for fan behavior. “I don’t want to ever rule anything out as a potential solution, but I’m not in favor at this time in putting our officials in charge of paying attention to what the fans are doing during a game. The officials’ one-hundred percent focus should be the activity on the ice. To ask them to be responsible for what goes on in the stands is inappropriate. That should be something for the building management and security.”

WMU head coach Jim Culhane also appealed to fans before a game last year, and when coaches do that, says Anastos, there is an immediate effect, but one that’s short-lived.

“I want to be able to take my seven-year-old son to a game,” says the Commish.

It’s Not That I Don’t Give a %$#! about the Whole State

I like Michigan. I just don’t like Michigan Week, and it’s definitely Michigan Week here in Columbus.

It’s a gentler kind of Michigan Week, since the Buckeyes have so little on the line in this game, and the state of Ohio went red when Michigan went blue, yet Franklin County was blue indeed. We felt an odd kinship in this city with the whole state of Michigan for quite some time this year, yet we’re perfectly willing to put that aside in favor of calling a girl named Ann Arbor a dirty, well, you know.

The Buckeyes sit atop the CCHA standings and are playing a much-improved UNO team, while the Wolverines — it’s hard for me even to discuss them this week, simply because of geography — are in the rare position of giving chase and are engaging in one of sport’s greatest rivalries while attempting to do so.

Yet I’d wager real, American dollars that the majority of the local population thinks that because there’s no NHL in Columbus this season, there’s no hockey.

My esteemed colleague Craig Merz covers the Buckeyes for the local daily, the Dispatch. Merz does a great job with the space his editors allot, which is roughly one-fifth what’s allowed the weekly sport fishing news.

(You can’t eat any fish caught in the freshwaters of Ohio, by the way.)

I don’t understand the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan, which seems fueled more in Columbus than Ann Arbor, stems from an actual war in which Toledo was the prize, and inspires OSU students to toilet paper their own campus.

All in all, Michigan has more than just a gridiron advantage this weekend. The Wolverines don’t have to deal with Maurice Clarett, and as much as I like Toledo, the Yoop is beautiful and the fish are probably edible.

I hope it isn’t Michigan Week where you live, unless you’re in East Lansing where such a thing actually has real meaning on and off the ice.

I just wish it weren’t Michigan Week in Columbus, Ohio.