This Week in the CCHA: Dec. 2, 2004


The Minnesota Golden Gophers swept the CCHA in last week’s College Hockey Showcase, spanking Michigan 5-1 on national television Friday night. That was the Wolverines’ first-ever road loss in the Showcase.

In that contest, Ryan Potulny scored at 3:10 and 3:38, and the Wolverines found themselves in a hole from which they could not escape.

“They were a much better team with the puck,” UM head coach Red Berenson told publisher and occasional arena reporter, Tim Brule, after the loss. “Our defense could not handle their offense.”

Defense? Well, goaltending is, technically, defense. To say that Al Montoya, Michigan’s junior goaltender a first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers, is struggling would be kind. True, his goals-against average (2.69) is unusually high for a Michigan netminder, but Montoya’s save percentage — .893 — is a more accurate indication of Michigan’s defensive woes.

Still, Minnesota did put 36 shots on goal in the contest and Berenson didn’t blame Montoya, who was replaced by Noah Ruden at the start of the third. “It wasn’t him, it was the team. I thought it was a good time to get him out.” Ruden stopped all 10 shots he faced.

The Wolverines dropped their second game of the weekend to Wisconsin, 3-1.

“We’re not very good right now, obviously,” said Berenson after the loss. “We scored two goals in two games. I can’t tell you that we played poorly. We just didn’t show that we were better than either of these teams.”

Michigan’s T.J. Hensick found himself warming the bench Saturday after being on the ice for the first three of Minnesota’s goals Friday night.

The lone bright spot on the weekend for CCHA fans was Michigan State’s 4-0 blanking of Wisconsin. “It’s one of those games where I don’t think it’s the best Wisconsin team you’ve seen all year,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley after the contest.

The news following the Showcase weekend isn’t especially good for the Spartans. Senior forward Mike Lalonde will be out with a knee injury until after the Christmas break. Lalonde, who led the CCHA with 22 goals last season, has just one marker this year.

Also out is sophomore defenseman Ethan Graham. The status of Graham, who also injured his knee in the win against Wisconsin, is unknown.

Three Is Better Than Two

The Fighting Irish traveled all the way to Fairbanks and came home with something they don’t see very often: two points.

In spite of travel delays that led to a 27-hour journey to Alaska, Notre Dame picked up its third win of the season, 3-2, in the opening game of the series against the Nanooks.

David Brown made 35 saves as the Nanooks outshot the Irish 37-16. Jason Paige had the game-winning goal on the power play in the last minute of the second period.

UAF head coach Tavis MacMillan said that the Irish were “the best 3-6-4 team” he’s ever seen.

Notre Dame’s two other wins this season were against Western Michigan and then-No. 1 Boston College. The Irish have tied Minnesota-Duluth, Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, and Western.

Many Cases of the Shorts

Miami’s injury woes continue. “The second half of the season can’t come soon enough,” says head coach Enrico Blasi, who jokes that the RedHawks will skip practice and go straight to games, since most of the injuries are incurred away from competition. The newest injury — and I’ve seriously lost track of all of them — is junior forward Chris Michael.

And the RedHawks were already playing three blueliners up front.

Michigan captain Eric Nystrom sat out Saturday’s game against Wisconsin because he was ill.

The already injury-addled Northern Michigan Wildcats will be without the team’s third-leading scorer, Dirk Southern (3-7–10) because of an ankle injury. NMU was without Pat Bateman for last Friday’s 3-1 Wildcat loss to Lake State. Bateman was serving a game for a disqualification earned against Ohio State Nov. 14.

The Lakers, however, seem to have everyone trumped in the losses department. Last week, head coach Frank Anzalone dismissed junior Mark Adamek, sophomore Barnabas Birkeland, and freshman John Nogatch — all defensemen — for “disciplinary reasons.”

The Laker bench was even shorter for Saturday’s 3-0 road loss to NMU. Junior defenseman Kory Scoran and senior goalie Matt Violin were injured Friday, and junior forward Mike Adamek — Mark’s brother — left Saturday’s game with an ankle injury. The three are questionable for this weekend’s games against Bemidji State.

Games of the Week

Feeling bloated after the Thanksgiving holiday? This series should help, since these teams are likely to knock the stuffing out of each other.

Alaska-Fairbanks (6-4-0, 5-3-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (9-4-1, 7-2-1 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday 7:05 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When the Nanooks returned to the Schottenstein Center Wednesday afternoon for showers following a practice in the OSU Ice Arena — the old Ice Rink — several UAF freshmen went to the goal end of the ice surface at arena level on the west side, a pit stop between their locker room and the team bus.

Several OSU players, mostly freshmen, were still on the ice. Even though the Nanooks weren’t looking at the Buckeyes — really, the newbies just wanted to see the big arena, probably dreaming in vain of a game night with a full crowd — they were greeted with a flurry of pucks directed at the glass where they were standing.

“Closed practice,” quipped one of the players.

The moment was the impending series in the proverbial nutshell: youth, enthusiasm, splashed with some inexplicable animosity.

“I think the first thing that stands out when you look at both teams is the number of freshmen on both teams,” says MacMillan. “That immediately is what I think about. If you look at their team, they’re being carried by their youth, and we’re being carried by our youth. There should be lots of energy.”

There should, indeed, be lots of energy. The UAF roster boasts 11 freshmen; OSU regularly dresses eight rookies. That’s a significant number of newcomers, so there should be no tension between the two squads, right?

Tell that to OSU hockey fans. There are over 9,000 tickets sold for each game this weekend. That number isn’t inflated by PSLs, or complimentary tickets, or any other gizmo that Ohio State may have used in the past to measure attendance. That’s actual tickets sold to actual human beings, and it’s a far cry from the meager 3,000 or so fans who bothered to watch the Buckeyes raise their CCHA championship banner against arch-rival Miami Oct. 21.

“Do they all want to see us come in on dogsleds or what?” jokes MacMillan, who can’t offer an explanation for the draw of the Nanooks at the Schott. “Voros isn’t even here, so I have no idea why.”

This series always brings them out in Columbus, and former UAF player Aaron Voros — the Nanook Buckeye fans loved to hate — was just one reason. The teams are split in their all-time series 15-15-2, and OSU holds just a slim 8-5-1 advantage in Columbus. OSU swept UAF in Columbus last year, but the Nanooks were 2-1-1 against the Buckeyes in 2002-03 when the teams were clustermates, those two wins earned in Value City Arena. On Feb. 22, 2003, Nanook Tom Herman scored with 20 seconds left in regulation to seal that sweep.

Then there was the 6-5 overtime OSU win at Joe Louis Arena that ended UAF’s 2002 season. In that game — played on the Ides of March — Buckeye Paul Caponigri scored at 16:39 in the third to knot the game, and Chris Olsgard had the game-winner, also unassisted, in OT.

“I don’t know if it’s a rivalry,” says OSU head coach John Markell. “People are aware that we’re playing. Football season is over … and this is our time to get fans into the building. They’re just enjoying the game of hockey. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing or the Blue Jackets are playing, they just enjoy seeing high-level hockey.”

The Buckeyes are coming off an idle weekend, regrouping after a one-point trip to Omaha, their poorest showing of the season against a league opponent.

“We didn’t play well,” says Markell. “It wasn’t just one person; it was everybody. We didn’t play our systems. We tried to play lazy hockey. We were unfocused. We tried to play perimeter hockey, didn’t engage, and it was just complacent hockey that you can’t play in the CCHA or in any college hockey.”

Toward the end of their 4-0 loss to Nebraska-Omaha Nov. 19, the Buckeyes lost their cool and the penalties were plentiful. Nate Guenin, Rod Pelley, and Matt Beaudoin each received 10-minute misconducts, and Kyle Hood earned a game disqualification, sitting him for Saturday’s 4-4 tie.

“Maybe you can say that youth reared its ugly face and we didn’t have enough older guys to combat it,” says Markell, whose Buckeyes are the most penalized team in the nation. “But we got a point out of it the next night, which isn’t easy.”

MacMillan says that he knows that OSU takes a lot of penalties, but says, “At the same time, they’re near the top in both special teams, both power play and penalty kill. You know what? I’ve always said that if you have a good penalty kill, be aggressive. If you have to kill some penalties, you kill them. I think that’s what they’re doing, and I think they’ve got five shorthanded goals so even when they’re shorthanded they have some skill.”

Last weekend, the Nanooks split at home to Notre Dame, dropping their first home game of the season. The night was fluky, says MacMillan; two goals went in past freshman standout Wylie Rogers off the pads of his teammates.

MacMillan says that Rogers’ “athleticism and competitiveness” give him a winning edge in net, but credits the UAF defense as well. “I really think we’ve done a good job in limiting teams’ quality shots, but this will be a new test for us against these guys because they can get to the net and they can create quality shots.

“We’re going to have to defend against a skilled team. Some of the teams we’ve played this year have had some good players, but … there aren’t a lot of those top-named guys out there that have been in the past, and I think Ohio State has some of those guys we haven’t seen yet.”

Both teams are fast and skilled. The Nanooks play on an Olympic sheet, but MacMillan says that UAF has only been able to practice on the big ice in the Carlson Center once per week this year, the Thursday before games. “I still don’t have a good gauge on our team speed,” says the coach.

That’s something the Nanooks have in common with the Buckeyes, who often find themselves practicing in the Ice Arena as someone else claims priority for the Schott. For the first time this season, OSU has had the VCA every day this week for practice. Probably won’t happen again.

Here’s a look at the match by the conference numbers:

• Goals per game: UAF 3.00 (fifth); OSU 3.70 (second)
• Goals allowed per game: UAF 2.75 (tie fifth); OSU 2.60 (tie third)
• Power play: UAF 13.0 % (10th); OSU 18.7% (fourth)
• Penalty kill: UAF 87.2% (second); OSU 89.1% (first)
• Top scorer: UAF Kelly Czuy (4-6–10); OSU Rod Pelley (7-4–11)
• Top ‘tender: UAF Wylie Rogers (2.04 GAA, .929 SV%); OSU Dave Caruso (2.63 GAA, .903 SV%)

With one goal and 14 assists, Tom Fritsche leads the Buckeyes in scoring. Pelley’s seven goals in conference play is a league-leading stat; his six conference power play goals also top the charts. Buckeye Lee Spector’s plus-eight rating also leads the league.

Make no mistake about it: even without Aaron Voros in the lineup, penalties will play a big role in this series, as will special teams. This may be the CCHA version of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.

Picks: Ohio State’s offense is more balanced and the Buckeyes may be a little older on the blueline, but Wylie Rogers is for real, and Fairbanks has the ability to exploit an opposing goaltender. Remember the first weeks of play, when teams were adjusting to the new regulations enforcement? Remember the number of power plays? Come to Columbus if you’re feeling nostalgic. UAF 4-2, OSU 4-3

A Clarification

Last week, I mentioned that UNO’s Brandon Scero talked to the Omaha World-Herald about what he perceived as mistreatment by Ohio State.

Scero did in fact sign a national letter of intent to play for Ohio State, but was denied admission to the university. The OSU coaching staff can’t comment on this because laws protecting student privacy prohibit them from discussing any student’s grades or other personal information.

For the record, though, when a player is denied admission to an academic institution, his or her letter of intent is no longer an issue. Such decisions are not up to athletic departments but to admissions offices.

Just Good Kids

Recently I had the rare opportunity to talk to a couple of CCHA players who do not live in Columbus. The conversations served as a reminder of why I enjoy this job so much. For the most part, college hockey players are just good kids.

Last week I talked by phone to WMU’s Brent Walton, and we laughed a lot during our conversation. He’s a likeable, funny, down-to-earth guy who is honestly taking his success in stride.

At the end of our conversation, he said, “But you haven’t even asked me about hockey yet!” He just didn’t figure that maybe fans would like to get to know Brent Walton, the person, a little bit.

On Wednesday, I met Wylie Rogers, another young man loaded with personality, but completely unpretentious. Rogers, a product of the U.S. Developmental Program, was genuinely jazzed to visit OSU, and looked forward to seeing former teammate, Buckeye Tom Fritsche.

“I’m really excited to see Tom,” he said. “I haven’t seen him since we played on the national team together and were in school together.”

Everywhere he goes, says Rogers, it’s a national team reunion. “It’s kind of cool. Every time you play somebody, you see somebody you know.”