Brent Walton, Bill Thomas, Scott Parse, Matt Christie, Wylie Rogers. The first four are among the top 19 scorers in the country. Rogers is the nation’s top goaltender.
Western Michigan’s Walton (9-11–20) tops the heap. Nebraska-Omaha’s Thomas (7-12–19) is tied with three other guys for second, and those three young men play for Alabama-Huntsville, Michigan Tech, and Rensselaer. Thomas’s teammate, Parse (7-11–18), and five other guys are tied for sixth. Among those six, including Parse, only two — UMD’s Evan Schwabe and Wisconsin’s Robbie Earl — play for teams that saw NCAA tournament action last year.
And only Parse and Miami’s Christie (6-11–17) were on the radar last season. Among the top scorers in the country, there’s nary a Wolverine or Spartan in the bunch. Yet.
Then there’s Rogers, a freshman like Thomas, who is announcing his presence with authority. With a .957 save percentage and a 1.36 goals-against average, the Alaska-Fairbanks netminder leads all goalies in both categories and is 4-1-1 on the year.
Al who? Dominic who?
Speaking of which, with a .917 save percentage, Dominic Vicari is not what ails the Spartans. I couldn’t attend the Nov. 18 game between the Wolverines and Spartans, but I did watch on CSTV, and I was struck by how slow MSU looked. In fact, in the third period the Spartans looked like a wind-up toy running down.
Neil Koepke of the Lansing State-Journal wrote this week that MSU is no match for speed and skill — which, of course, means the Spartans are no match for Michigan, Ohio State, UNO, UAF, and a few other teams in the league, and especially against this weekend’s opponents, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The inability to play with the puck — which seemed evident in at least Thursday’s game — is just one problem; scoring is clearly another.
Last year, through the first 10 games of the season, of Jim Slater (4-7–11), Tommy Goebel (2-4–6), Mike Lalonde (1-2–3) had 22 goals and 22 assists for 44 points. Now, through 12 games, the trio has put up fewer than 10 goals; Slater netted his first in seven games in last week’s 4-2 loss.
“We have so many guys struggling to score that sometimes that dominates a player [mentally],” Comley told Koepke. “Instead of just playing hard and enjoying the battle, you worry about what you’re not doing. It’s a hard thing.”
The Spartans are 45-37-2 against Wisconsin all-time, 40-100-9 against Minnesota all-time.
The RedHawks aren’t suffering from the curse of Coach of the Year. Even if the Red Sox World Series win hadn’t obliterated all curses for all time — or, at least for the next six months or so — Miami wouldn’t be able to blame this year’s woes on head coach Enrico Blasi’s 2004 award.
It’s injuries, plain and simple.
“There are too many to tell you,” says Blasi. “No coach wants to use that as an excuse, but it’s certainly affected our preparation. It changes the way you think and the way you prepare.”
This week, it’s Matt Christie (6-11–17), the team’s leading scorer, and freshman forward Nino Musitelli (1-3–4).
“We got Marty Guerin back last week,” says Blasi. “Every time we get one back, two go down.”
The shorthanded bench — “We had 13 guys practice Monday,” says Blasi — provides a challenge for the coaching staff.
“We have forwards that are defensemen, guys playing center that are wingers. It’s been a lot of mixing and matching,” says Blasi. “It’s really tough to run practice when you don’t have a full team. We’ve tried different strategies and think we’re onto something, but we don’t know yet.”
Senior Joe Pomaranski (2-1–3) and junior Matt Davis (0-1–1) are two defensemen who have played up front. “If it’s not them, it’s another guy,” says Blasi. “It’s been interesting. Any time you’re playing shorthanded you’ve got kids playing in positions they shouldn’t be.”
There are a couple positives through all of this, says Blasi. “Our team has really come together. Everything we’ve asked from them as a coaching staff, they’ve done.”
Another plus is the play of goaltender Brandon Crawford-West (.914 SV%, 2.72 GAA), a sophomore. “Brandon’s playing really well,” says Blasi. “He’s been the one steady hand through all of this.”
And the third positive: “This isn’t a sprint,” says Blasi. “It’s a long season. Hopefully we’ll have everybody back in January in time to make a run.”
The RedHawks travel to Bowling Green for two this weekend in what should be a “tough series,” says Blasi. The Falcons — no strangers to adversity themselves this year — are one of the surprises of the league, tied for fifth with a 6-3-1 overall record.
Miami is 5-7-0 overall, and tied with Michigan State for ninth.
What can you say after you’ve taken a 7-2 shellacking at the hands of a team made up of players that can’t even register to vote yet?
Well, you can praise Kyle Lawson, a kid on the opposing team who has committed to making your squad his future home, even though he had just one point — an assist — in the game.
That was the weird angle of the South Bend Tribune’s recap of Notre Dame’s 7-2 loss to the U.S. NTDP team last Friday night. Now, I’m not knocking the writer, my esteemed colleague Steve Lowe. After all, it’s a positive spin for a local audience.
But in that article — that focused only on Lawson, even though Ryan Stoa and Phil Kessel each netted two goals, and ND allowed three unanswered power-play tallies in the third, two five-on-three — head coach Dave Poulin says little to nothing about the contest, focusing on Lawson, whom the Irish head coach called a “very mature kid.”
Nothing about switching out David Brown, who allowed three goals, for Morgan Cey, who allowed four. Nothing about the two shorthanders in the second period, including Kessel’s game-winner.
Nothing, in fact, about Notre Dame.
What did Lawson think of the win against his future college team? “It was definitely weird,” the youngster told Lowe.
Giving Until It Hurts
For the second time in three weeks, a CCHA contest ended with two teams coming to blows on the ice. In a Nov. 5 game between Miami and Michigan in Yost Arena, a slew of penalties were assessed in the closing minutes as things got out of hand between the losing RedHawks and winning Wolverines.
Last Friday, the same thing happened at the Qwest Center, where the losing Buckeyes and winning Mavericks mixed it up. After all was said and done — and done again, apparently — a total of 160 minutes of penalties were assessed in UNO’s 4-0 blanking of OSU Nov. 19.
I looked at the box, and my eyes glazed over; there were simply too many penalties to sort through for my feeble mind. The worst of it broke out at 18:57 in the third, which was only five seconds after Buckeye Nate Guenin’s 10-minute misconduct.
OSU’s Kyle Hood and UNO’s Jason Krischuk each received game disqualifications, along with fighting penalties. Buckeyes Rod Pelley (four minutes for roughing, 10-minute misconduct) and Matt Beaudoin (10-minute misconduct) were part of the fray, as were Mavericks Dan Hacker (10 minute-misconduct), Brent Kisio (four for roughing, 10-minute misconduct), and Rob Chappell (four for roughing).
I was switching back and forth between announcers for each team — Neil Sika for OSU, and Greg Harrington for UNO — and each seemed to think that both teams got off easy, so it must have been some scrum.
There is little love between these teams, but that’s beside the point. UNO freshman Brandon Scero added fuel to the fire earlier in the week by telling the Omaha World-Herald that he wanted “payback” against Ohio State, who he claims promised to sign him and then dropped him because of his grades.
That, too, is beside the point, although World-Herald writer Lee Barfnecht could have contacted Ohio State for the other side of the story.
The point is that this is the second time within a month where tensions have spilled dangerously over in the closing minutes of a game, and that officials need to better exert control over situations where players have clearly lost theirs or are clearly about to.
Two side notes: Congrats to Greg “Harry” Harrington on his 1,000th college broadcast. The Maverick play-by-play announcer has been with UNO since 1997.
Congrats, too, to Chris Holt. That 4-0 win over OSU was the sophomore goaltender’s first career shutout.
Something’s Got to Give
The Ann Arbor News reported Nov. 20 that the University of Michigan issued a third written warning to Yost fans about their behavior at games.
“There’s definitely a concern,” UM head coach Red Berenson told the News. “We can’t tolerate that.”
“That” is the vulgarity chanted en masse by what amounts to nearly 2,000 spectators at Michigan home games. There have also been reports of altercations between Michigan fans and families and friends of visiting teams’ players.
“We have great fans, and they mean a lot to our program and our team,” said Berenson. “But you don’t want other teams and kids and people to be offended by the language.”
Berenson said something to the News that I’ve been saying all along: the vulgarity is not only offensive, but base and unimaginative. “Surely, we’re more creative than that.”
In Kalamazoo, WMU head coach Jim Culhane says that he’s seen a real improvement in fan behavior at Lawson Arena. Last year, the profanity prompted a pre-game, center-ice appeal to students, much as it had at Yost with Berenson.
Unlike Berenson, Culhane is pleased with the results at home. “We continue to monitor that. We have such a strong student base, and we need to educate.”
Culhane says there’s a delicate balance between getting kids to clean up their act and putting a damper on student enthusiasm. “They don’t want to offend anybody, but they want to be college students. I’ve asked them to be creative … but not to say something they wouldn’t say in front of their mothers. They’re college students and we want them here.”
He admits, though, that students “will make mistakes” and slip from time to time, but they’ve been generally improved this season.
Improved doesn’t mean quiet, though. Culhane himself named the student section “The Lawson Lunatics” and had T-shirts and hats made for them. “I’m trying to thank them for their support. It’s something that we genuinely appreciate.
“If I have to go back out to center ice and talk to them again I will, but right now I love them to death because they’re a huge part of what we do.”
I’ve received many email messages regarding the atmosphere at Yost, and it appears to be an even split between folks who think the chanting and behavior are inappropriate, and those who defend it as a “student” activity. Many apologists claim that college hockey isn’t a family venue, and that people simply shouldn’t bring their children to games.
Of course, if the atmosphere at Yost continues — if the University of Michigan doesn’t go far enough to curb unruly and reportedly violent behavior as well as the profanity — parents will no longer bring children to Michigan hockey games, and that particular argument will be moot.
But it’s not merely children who are affected by this behavior, and if children stop coming to Michigan games because of vulgarity and potential violence, the Wolverines will lose more than just a healthy future fan base. They’ll lose some dignity, and everyone will share the blame for that.