This Week in the CCHA: Dec. 9, 2004

All Wolverine, All the Time

When it comes to world-caliber players in the CCHA, apparently only Michigan has bragging rights.

On Dec. 7, USA Hockey announced its roster for the upcoming 2005 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship, and five Wolverines were chosen to represent the U.S. in international competition.

The five Michigan players are junior goaltender Al Montoya, forwards T.J. Hensick and Mike Brown, both sophomores, rookie forward Kevin Porter, and sophomore defenseman Matt Hunwick.

Only one team in the 27-year history of the IIHF tournament has sent more players. That was the 1979 Minnesota Golden Gophers, with six: Aaron and Neal Broten, Bryan Erickson, Jim Jetland, Mike Ramsey, and Steve Ulseth.

The 1992 Boston University Terriers also sent five: Rich Brennan, John Lilley, Mike Prendergast, Scott LaChance, and Keith Tkachuk.

Overlooked for the Wolverines was rookie Chad Kolarik, whom UM head coach Red Berenson called “every bit as deserving.” Quoted in the Ann Arbor News, Berenson said, “When you look at it, though, there’s a lot of good players — Marty Turco, Brendan Morrison, Mike Comrie, Mike Knuble — who never got a sniff at this tournament, and they went on to have good careers.”

There are a couple of good non-Michigan players, too, who were overlooked this year, since only the Wolverines represent the CCHA on the roster. Among those who come immediately to mind is OSU’s Tom Fritsche, whose older brother, Dan, is on the squad.

“I’m very surprised,” said Markell. “I don’t understand it. They could have used this kid. He’s never detrimental on the ice. He plays with a passion. Obviously, it would have been very justified if he would have been picked.”

Brother Act

Speaking of brothers, it was an all-Sigalet night last Friday as the Falcons won in Munn Arena for the first time since Dec. 7, 1997.

Senior goaltender Jordan Sigalet made 46 saves in the 2-1 win, and sophomore Jonathan netted both goals.

The elder Sigalet didn’t play in Saturday’s 6-4 loss. He had the ‘flu.

Loose Lips

Who would boast that his team was ready to take three or four points on the road from a squad that hadn’t lost at home yet this season? Apparently, UAF’s Corbin Schmidt, that’s who.

In an article in the Fairbanks News-Miner dated Dec. 3 — that was last Friday — the UAF senior told my esteemed colleague Danny Martin, “I’m hoping for four points, and I think we’ve got a good shot at it.”

By the time Schmidt took a five-minute penalty for slashing everyone’s favorite dirty hobbit, Andrew Schembri, late in the third period of Saturday’s 5-2 OSU win, it was pretty clear that the Nanooks would take no points at the Schott, something that Buckeye players were reminding their opponents of in the game’s closing minutes.

Schmidt isn’t the first player to make this mistake before traveling to Columbus.

The week before the Northern Michigan Wildcats visited Columbus in mid-November, junior Nathan Oystrick told the NMU student paper, the North Wind, “We’ve been pretty good on the road right now. Hopefully we can keep that rolling and get three, maybe four, out of four points.”

Ohio State is now 7-0-0 at home this season.

These young gents need to pay more attention to what their coaches say. These are the party lines: Anyone can beat anyone on any given night in this league. The CCHA is a tough place to get points on the road.

Haven’t these guys ever seen Bull Durham?

Home Sweet Home

So, the Buckeyes are undefeated at home this season. So are the Northern Michigan Wildcats (6-0-0) and the Michigan Wolverines (6-0-1). It’s no surprise, then, that those three teams top the CCHA standings.

Also performing well at home this year at UNO (6-1-1) and Western Michigan (7-3-1). Two of the more interesting stats about where folks are or aren’t winning include Notre Dame’s 1-3-3 record at home and BGSU’s 5-1-1 road record. Last year, the Irish lost just once at home during the regular season and it was early — to Bowling Green. The Falcons are even at home this year (3-3-1).

Games of the Week: Two-for-One

Michigan plays Bowling Green and MSU takes on Notre Dame? Sometimes, a girl’s prerogative is to take both choices offered.

Bowling Green (8-4-2, 5-3-2 CCHA) vs. No. 4 Michigan (11-4-1, 9-1-0 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, Ohio

After beating Notre Dame 6-1 in Ann Arbor last Friday night, Michigan head coach Red Berenson told, “It was a closer game than the score. They’re a good team. They’re better than their record, and we’re still finding out where we are.”

The following night, the Wolverines found out that they were located on the winning side of an 8-0 shutout in South Bend. Kevin Porter and Jeff Tambellini each had two goals in the game, and four other Wolverines contributed to the offensive output that included five power-play goals.

Outscoring an opponent 14-1 in a two-game sweep is never a bad thing, and the understated Berenson — while hardly gushing — was unusually upbeat. “I thought our team probably had its best game of the season in terms of offense, defense, power play, penalty killing, and so on,” Berenson told the Michigan Daily. “I don’t think it’s fair to say that we’re that much better, if any better, than they are. This weekend, we were.”

In spite of their 11-4-1 overall record and one league loss, it has been a quasi-frustrating year for the Wolverines, who have been lacking in a certain amount of consistency. Junior netminder Al Montoya has been struggling in net — well, at least he was until last weekend — and Berenson has benched a couple of key players to shake up the team.

After being held out of Michigan’s game against Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase for his play the night before against Minnesota, leading scorer T.J. Hensick returned with two goals and an assist against Notre Dame last weekend.

Perhaps inspired by this success, Berenson sat senior Nick Martens against Notre Dame, giving senior defenseman Reilly Olson his first chance to play since 2002-03. Olson contributed an assist in the 8-0 win in South Bend.

Michigan’s opponents this week, the Bowling Green Falcons, are no strangers to roster-jostling. The Falcons came through a rough patch early in the season when seven players were suspended for a violation of team rules by uniting as a team. Head coach Scott Paluch said that the incident was a blessing in disguise, forcing some Falcon players to step up their game.

It also didn’t hurt to have Jordan Sigalet in net during that — or any — stretch. “We have a few more people who can get the goal-scorers’ type of goals, so we’re not always having to bang away to get goals,” Paluch told the Lansing State Journal before last weekend’s split with Michigan State.

“Jordan Sigalet has been excellent again.”

Sigalet has faced 428 shots this season, making him fourth in that category among D-I goaltenders. His overall save percentage of .928 is 10th in the nation, and he’s the all-time save-percentage leader at BGSU (.916 in 83 games).

In the Falcons’ 2-1 Friday win over MSU last weekend, Sigalet stopped 46 of the 47 shots he faced, including Jim Slater’s penalty shot. The goal he gave up was on the power play.

Here’s the match by the conference numbers:

• Goals per game: BGSU 2.80 (sixth); UM 4.50 (first)
• Goals allowed per game: BGSU 2.90 (tie fifth); UM 1.80 (first)
• Power play: BGSU 20.5 % (second); UM 24.6% (first)
• Penalty kill: BGSU 81.2% (10th); UM 87.9% (third)
• Top scorer: BGSU Jonathan Matsumoto (4-3–7); UM T.J. Hensick (7-7–14)
• Top ‘tender: BGSU Jordan Sigalet (2.51 GAA, .927 SV%); UM Al Montoya (1.80 GAA, .914 SV%)

The Falcons have five — yes, five — players with stats totals in the double digits in overall play, yet BGSU is still struggling offensively. Matsumoto leads the team in power-play goals (six), with Rich Meloche not far behind (five).

The Wolverines have three players in double digits in conference games — Hensick, Jeff Tambellini (7-3–10), David Moss (2-10–12), and Andrew Ebbett (1-9–10) — and a whopping nine overall. Montoya is playing considerably better against conference foes than nonconference, but perhaps his performance against Notre Dame has something to do with those stats.

Picks: Michigan has a chance to move ahead of the league-leading Buckeyes for sole possession of first place this weekend, and don’t think the Wolverines don’t know it. OSU, which plays out of conference, is just one point ahead of UM; these two games will have both teams caught up for league play. The Falcons have a 5-1-1 record on the road, and everything in me wants to call a split, with BGSU winning in Yost. Instead, I think these two will be close, with both teams playing well and Michigan sweeping. UM 3-2, 3-2

Michigan State (7-8-1, 4-6-0 CCHA) vs. Notre Dame (3-8-4, 2-7-3 CCHA)
Friday, 8:05 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, Mich.

When the Spartans rebounded from a 2-1 home loss to Bowling Green with a 6-4 home win the following night, MSU head coach Rick Comley seemed more relieved than happy.

“This was a big win for us,” Comley told my esteemed colleague Neil Koepke of the Lansing State Journal after the game. “We played our hearts out on Friday. We’ve been in so many games in which we couldn’t score but played well and lost.”

That lack of scoring has been the bugaboo haunting the Spartans this season. With consistent performances from starting goaltender Dominic Vicari and a respectable defense, MSU has played well but has been unable to find the net, leading to a rethinking of the Spartan game plan, said Comley.

“It’s becoming more obvious with us that we can’t give up three goals in a game,” Comley told Koepke. “We haven’t won where the opposition scores three. We have to hold teams to two or less.

“As much as we have some players who are capable of scoring more, there’s nothing to indicate that it’s going to happen.”

Of course, four goals is more than two, and the Spartans did explode for six in Saturday’s win. In fact, six different Spartans accounted for the goalscoring: Adam Nightingale, Drew Miller, David Booth, Kevin Estrada, Tyler Howells, and Chris Snavely.

Notice that not one of those players is named “Jim Slater,” something of a good news-bad news scenario for MSU.

The good news, of course, is that the Spartan offense can be more than the sum of Slater, something that is particularly good since Slater is without linemate Mike Lalonde, who is out with an injury until after Christmas.

The bad news is that Slater — who seldom saw a game without a point last season — wasn’t among the scorers, although he did account for MSU’s lone goal the night before. Slater, who had 19 goals last season, has just six this year.

This weekend, the offensively challenged Spartans face the even more offensively challenged Fighting Irish, a team that until last weekend seemed to share much of MSU’s fate — playing well but not winning. Last weekend, the Irish fell 6-1 to Michigan in Yost before being blanked 8-0 at home to the Wolverines.

Poulin called the 6-1 loss “a lot closer” than the score indicated, but told that the Irish let some key moments slip away. “We have to capitalize on our opportunities. We had some real good opportunities — two empty nets when Al [Montoya] was out of net — and we have to capitalize on those chances.

“I thought when it was 2-1 we were right where we needed to be. Then we gave up a couple of power plays and they scored on both of them.”

Power plays were what bedeviled the Irish at home Saturday, where Notre Dame gave up five man-advantage tallies in the 8-0 drubbing, prompting Poulin to tell the South Bend Tribune that it was a “tough night at the office, in every which way.”

“We have no excuses,” continued Poulin, “because we went out and did not play well, we didn’t execute in any portion of the game — particularly with five power-play goals. That’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”

Only two Notre Dame players have at least three goals in conference play, Wes O’Neill and Evan Rankin. O’Neill leads the team with four goals.

Complicating Notre Dame’s play this season is the young defense. Collectively, the Irish are at minus-61 as a team in conference play and are being outscored 44-20 by league opponents.

Here’s the match by the conference numbers:

• Goals per game: MSU 3.20 (fourth); ND 1.67 (12th)
• Goals allowed per game: MSU 3.20 (eighth); ND 3.67(11th)
• Power play: MSU 19.5 % (fourth); ND 11.5% (10th)
• Penalty kill: MSU 83.1% (eighth); ND 75.9% (12th)
• Top scorer: MSU Jim Slater (4-9–13); ND Cory McLean (2-5–7)
• Top ‘tender: MSU Dominic Vicari (3.05 GAA, .892 SV%); ND Morgan Cey (3.04GAA, .904 SV%)

The Spartans, traditionally a strong defensive team, are at minus-27 in conference play and need four points this weekend to get back into the CCHA mix. Although Slater leads the team in scoring, Miller has four power-play goals for a team best.

Interesting note: Like Berenson, Comley isn’t afraid of a little tough love. Sophomore defenseman A.J. Thelen found himself on the bench for Saturday’s game after taking too many penalties Friday. Senior forward Adam Nightingale spent time in the stands earlier in the season for his on-ice performance.

Picks How will the Irish respond to being outscored 14-1 in two games against Michigan? That is as big a question for the weekend as whether and who will score for Michigan State’s ailing offense. Consistency hasn’t been something that either of these squads can claim, but both of these programs need to turn a corner — and soon — to even challenge for home ice in the opening round of CCHA playoff action. I suspect that MSU has the team to do it, and that the Irish will spend this season and maybe the next rebuilding. A good goaltending duel this weekend, with Vicari and Cey. MSU 3-1, 3-1

Bah Humbug

The Sault, Ontario, soup kitchen — right across the border from Sault Ste. Marie and Lake Superior State — was broken into last weekend and over $1,000 in food was taken. If you’re in that area and want to help, call (705) 942-2694.