This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 6, 2005

Happy New Year!

So it’s the new year, and you’ve resolved to lose 20 pounds, score 20 goals, save 20 bucks, whatever. Good for you.

In this arbitrary world — Why is Jan. 1 the beginning of the New Year? Why do Christians celebrate Christmas Dec. 25 when Easter migrates annually? Why did the Buffalo Bills play their worst game of the season when it mattered most? — the majority of us find comfort in imposing some form of order on chaos, and I am no exception.

For me, everything in the world falls into one of three categories: things I know, things I don’t know, and things about which I speculate wildly.

That first category is obviously so small as to be insignificant, the second too vast to grasp.

That third category, of course, keeps me in the rink and endears me to the hearts of dozens of CCHA fans, some of whom are not actually related to former and current collegiate players.

It is in the spirit of Category 3 — not to be confused with the snow emergency here in Columbus just prior to Christmas, because central Ohio was once again surprised by winter — here are some New Year’s declarations, girl reporter style.

I Don’t Know What’s Wrong with Al Montoya

He’s shaky this season. I don’t know why, given that there’s no NHL to distract the Rangers’ first-round pick. I saw his World Juniors play and thought he played just as consistently as he has all season for Michigan, which is to say that he was inconsistent.

I do know that Noah Ruden can play, and the rest of the Wolverines can certainly compensate. I also know that when Montoya’s on, it’s game over for Michigan’s opponent.

I Don’t Know Why UNO and OSU Don’t Play Well on the Road

I think it’s youth. Really. These two teams are great at home and haven’t yet learned that it’s much harder to win on the road.

The Mavs are 1-7-0 on the road this season, the Buckeyes 4-4-2. The Bucks the added distinction of not playing nice in the closing minutes of road games, further adding to their reputation — deserved or otherwise — of, well, not playing nice.

I Don’t Know What’s Wrong with Michigan State

Why isn’t Jim Slater scoring? I don’t know. Why aren’t any of the Spartans finding the net? I don’t know.

I do know that MSU is a team that has a very difficult time competing when its opponent takes the body. The Spartans can’t take the heat when things get physical. I’m not saying they get dirty; rather, they can’t play through it.

Where’s Brock Radunske when you need him?

I Have No Idea What’s Going On With Notre Dame

How and why has Notre Dame regressed so drastically just months after its first NCAA tournament appearance? I don’t know.

Yes, the Irish lost a significant senior class at the end of the 2003-04 season. Yes, the Irish play in a facility that is the league’s absolute rock bottom. But what undermines Notre Dame’s success has to go beyond one single class and a rink that looks out of place in its own building.

During the 2002-03 season, ND head coach Dave Poulin began to talk about why his draft-pick-heavy Irish hadn’t yet arrived in the CCHA. Poulin talked about the mistakes he had made as a coach, believing that talent alone — rather than the right mix of talent — would bring the Irish program to prominence.

During the 2003-04 season, Poulin pointed to his team’s success as proof that he and the Irish coaching staff had learned from mistakes and were on track to building a winning tradition at Notre Dame.

Would that it had been true. I like Poulin very much, and I like his assistant Andy Slaggart. I like the kids I’ve met who play for Notre Dame.

What I don’t understand is how Poulin, now in his 10th season, has just reached his 100-win milestone. What I don’t understand is how a program as high profile as is Notre Dame can languish for so long.

I know that Morgan Cey (2.55 GAA, .926 SV%) is splitting net time with David Brown (3.74 GAA, .888 SV%), and that numbers can be deceiving; there are nights when the defense is dead-on in front of Cey but not Brown, and the offense doesn’t seem to perform in front of either.

It’s a shame, because Notre Dame — with its big-name recognition, huge alumni base, and financial resources — could do a lot for the sport of college hockey.

I Don’t Know Why Fans Obsess about Players’ Private Lives

In December I received a lot of email from fans around the league about what’s “really” going on at Lake Superior State, and what “really” went on at Bowling Green.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Frank Anzalone suspended a number of players for “violation of team rules.” In my last column, I wrote about Ryan Reid, Mark Adamek, and Barnabas Birkeland, all of whom have been reinstated by the Laker hockey team.

Reid’s suspension was the result of his actions at an off-campus party. I can only speculate about what Adamek and Birkeland did, and my speculations lead me to believe — given what Anzalone said and what I’ve learned — that it’s garden-variety college stupidity.

As for the BGSU players, think more of the same.

What I do not understand is why fans think they have the right to know every detail of the private lives of these young men. They are not professionals, and while they’ve signed some of their lives away for four years, they are not obligated to share every moment with the general public.

Nor do I feel inclined, in an editorial column, to investigate the nature of their transgressions. They were stupid. They did stupid things. They were caught. Their respective academic institutions — and in Sault Ste. Marie, the local police — have held them accountable, meted out justice, and given all the details they care to give.

What I can tell you is that Lake State plays steady, risk-free hockey in front of two good goaltenders — and Jeff Violin is back in the lineup — that the Lakers have a hard time finding the net, and that Anzalone is content to let the rebuilding continue at its own pace.

As for BGSU, the early going gave some kids a chance to play and grow, you know about Jordan Sigalet, Scott Paluch is a hell of a coach, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in Detroit in March.


From the “That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen File,” Part 1

Congratulations to the Ferris State Bulldogs, who apparently own the Badger Hockey Showdown. When they beat Wisconsin 5-3 on Jan. 1, the Bulldogs became the first visiting team ever to capture back-to-back Badger Hockey Showdown titles.

FSU is currently the hottest team in the CCHA, having gone 4-0-1 in the last five games, 6-2-2 in the last 10.

“Now our goal is to find a way to use this as a springboard to keep on playing well,” said head coach Bob Daniels after the win. “Even though our record’s still on the wrong side of .500, we have been playing very well over the last 10 games.”

Senior Jeff Legue (14-6–20) scored two goals in the championship game, including the final go-ahead tally. Legue said that the Bulldogs were “underestimated” during the tournament. “Everybody knew it was hard work that would come out on top, and each individual guy stepped up tonight, including our goaltender Mike Brown, who’s been there all season for us.”

After scoring three unanswered goals in the first, the Bulldogs let the Badgers back into the contest with three UW goals in the second period. Brown (2.94 GAA, .891 SV%) made 18 saves in the game but faced just four shots in the closing stanza.

From the “That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen File,” Part 2

Congratulations to Michigan State, the 2004 Great Lakes Invitational champions.

The Spartans beat the Wolverines 2-1 in overtime to take that title, their first since 2000, and while many will pooh-pooh the accomplishment because Michigan was short five key guys, it’s on the record books and is perhaps the shot in the arm MSU needs to spur a decent second half.

“Both games were really, really tight games,” says MSU head coach Rick Comley. “Obviously, Michigan was very shorthanded. You’d better beat them when they’re down five players, because that might be your only chance.”

Comley said Michigan played “very well” but that the Wolverines were hampered “in missing a couple of quality kids.”

Still, says Comley, “Emotionally for us it was a good win.”

Jim Slater had a goal in the first period for MSU, Brandon Kaleniecki scored unassisted in the third for Michigan, and Colton Fretter had the game-winner at 9:24 in OT.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, have lost the last five GLI title games in which they’ve been involved, dating back to 1997 when they lost to MSU.

Of course, the Wolverines took nine straight GLI titles, from 1988-1996, so there’s no need to cry for Michigan — not that you do, really.

From the “That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen File,” Part 3

Congratulations to the Colorado College Tigers, champions of the inaugural Ohio Hockey Classic.

No, that’s not the part that wasn’t supposed to happen. The No. 2 Tigers were naturally the favorites coming into Nationwide Arena.

What wasn’t supposed to happen was the amount of time the Tigers spent in the box, not, at least, according to head coach Scott Owens.

“We’re the 50th least penalized team in the country out of 58 teams, and they had nine or 10 power-play opportunities. Now, I’m not saying that they were all poor calls, but it just seemed like a lot of the ticky-tack interference was being called and down the stretch it seems like there were some slashes were not being called.”

That was part of Owens’ statement to the press after CC beat Miami 4-3 on the first day of the tourney.

Owens and his WCHA colleague, Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting, also commented on the size of the ice surface. Given that the games were played in Nationwide Arena, the ice was regulation, not Olympic. How inhospitable of the hosting Buckeyes.

I talked to Scott Owens on his Dec. 27 radio show, and the only question he asked me was about the officiating “out east.” I was confused by the question, and answered that I had only seen one ECACHL official this season and that it was early in the year, when we were all still adjusting to the stricter enforcement of rules.

Given my vast lack of knowledge (see above), I didn’t realize that Columbus is “out east” and that Owens was referring to CCHA officials. Silly me.

That on-air conversation with Owens combined with both his and Jutting’s reaction to the officiating led me to believe that things are very, very different “out west.” This is something that my esteemed colleague and good friend, WCHA correspondent Todd Milewski, had a bead on in early December.

In his Dec. 2 column, Todd reported on Comley’s comments regarding referee Todd Anderson’s pregame instructions to the Spartans. Comley’s comments came after MSU’s Nov. 26 win over Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase.

“He warned us what he was going to call, and he warned us that they call it different than our league,” said Comley.

Todd said that Comley was referring to “quicker whistles in scrums along the boards from a WCHA ref than from a CCHA ref.”

In that same column, Todd quoted WCHA supervisor of officials, Greg Shepherd, who said that by the end of November, teams were just adjusting to the new rules.

“The holding along the boards I think is gone,” said Shepherd. “I think what you’re seeing now is the normal stuff — slashing, high sticking and stuff like that. I think the obstruction itself through the center ice, you still get a little bit of it, the holding, the hooking, but it wasn’t like in the beginning.”

Okay. So if the WCHA refs call more of the board-bordering scrums and the players have now adjusted to the point of normality, you have to wonder what the issue was, exactly.

“I try not to comment on the officiating but there’s no question about it,” said Jutting. “They’ve made a concerted effort this year in college hockey to take away some of the obstruction away from the puck, and I don’t know if that’s what the emphasis was this weekend. There were a lot of calls around the puck, but I didn’t see any calls away from the puck.”

Maybe — just maybe — the Tigers and Mavericks committed the kinds of infractions the officials are supposed to be enforcing this season. CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said that the assertion that CCHA officials are not doing as the NCAA instructed at the start of this season is “absolutely, positively not the case.”

Anastos, who is arguably D-I hockey’s biggest proponent of tightening the rules, added, “We have been working strictly off the NCAA enforcement. We are not giving any instructions that are beyond the bounds of the NCAA initiative.”

Of course, as my colleague pointed out in his column, infractions are sometimes in the eye of the beholder, and of course officiating is going to change subtly from league to league. One way to counter that is to play more nonconference games somewhere other than in your home rink. The WCHA is notoriously stingy when it comes to traveling for nonleague games. The Tigers’ games in Columbus were their seventh and eighth nonconference of the season, and their first on the road — if you don’t count one against crosstown rival Air Force.

Referees Mark Wilkins and Kevin Hall called between them four consistent hockey games at the Ohio Hockey Classic. In the 2-2 title game tie between Colorado College and Ohio State, all four goals were even strength; CC had six power plays to OSU’s nine.

The comments about the officiating and rink size were the only things other than my horrible case of bronchitis that dampened an otherwise terrific holiday tournament. The CC-OSU game felt like an NCAA playoff game, and neither team was satisfied with the tie. The game between the Tigers and Buckeyes drew more than 6,000 fans, and it were not for the all-powerful Church of Ohio State Football — OSU played in the Alamo Bowl the first night of the OHC — I’m sure there would have been at least 7,000 folks for each day.

Next year, I believe the field for the OHC includes Ohio State, Miami, Rensselaer, and Sacred Heart — or is it Holy Cross? No one seems certain. It’s for certain, though, that not one of those visiting coaches will ask about the officiating “out east.”

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi had the best lines about the OHC, to which the RedHawks are committed through 2006. “Ohio State should have a tournament. They’re a big-time school in a big-time city. Columbus … should embrace the tournament.”

Games of the Week

From where each of these teams sits, the top of the CCHA standings is a long way off — but don’t be surprised if either the Spartans or the RedHawks manage make a second-half climb.

Michigan State (10-9-1, 5-7-0 CCHA) at Miami (7-10-3, 3-7-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, Ohio

“Whether we’re playing well or not is in the eye of the beholder.” So says MSU head coach Rick Comley, whose Spartans have surprised everyone by floating near the basement of the CCHA standings.

“It’s becoming fairly obvious to everybody that we’re not a very good offensive team. I still think we have some players who are better offensively than their numbers would indicate.”

MSU’s scoring slump is no secret, but the really confounding thing about the Spartans is the complete lack of consistency in their play. In 10 wins this season, MSU has scored on average 4.1 goals per game while allowing 1.5 goals per game. In nine losses, the Spartans have averaged 1.7 goals per game while allowing 3.8 on average.

When they’re good, the Spartans are very good — but they seem completely incapable of holding onto that. MSU is 4-5-1 in games following a win this season.

Comley says that he doesn’t quite know what to expect from the RedHawks, and with good reason. Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said that Ohio Hockey Classic was the first time since early October that he’s had a full roster ready to go.

Brandon Crawford-West was outstanding at the OHC, as were Andy Greene and Nathan Davis. The rest of the RedHawks weren’t shabby either, showing the speed and smarts that got them to the NCAA tournament last season, as well as great puck movement on a lethal power play.

“I thought this weekend our players played extremely hard and I was very pleased with the effort,” said Blasi after the 3-3 overtime tie with Mankato. “If we play that way down the road, I’ll be very happy. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I’ll be happy — and I really don’t care about the outcome, it’s how you play the game.”

Here’s a look at how the two teams compare, by the overall numbers:

• Goals per game: MSU 2.85 (ninth); MU 3.25 (fourth)
• Goals allowed per game: MSU 2.50 (fourth); MU 2.80 (fifth)
• Power play: MSU 17.7 % (seventh); MU 20.0% (tie second)
• Penalty kill: MSU 85.3% (sixth); MU 87.8% (first)
• Top scorer: MSU Colton Fretter (12-10–22); MU Todd Grant (9-10–19), Matt Christie (6-13–19), Andy Greene (3-16–19)
• Top ‘tender: MSU Dominic Vicari (2.31 GAA, .922 SV%); MU Brandon Crawford-West (2.43 GAA, .918 SV%)

Grant, who leads the RedHawks in goals, had two official goals at the OHC — one in each game — and one unofficial tally in the shootout following the tie against Mankato. Both goals against Mankato were two of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Grant’s second-period shot that beat Chris Clark did so through the only six square inches available to the Miami senior. In my game recap I described the goal as beating Clark over the goalie’s glove, but the truth was that Grant’s shot was such a rocket that Clark never had a chance to get his glove up in time. Beauty.

While no one in the league has been as unfortunate as Miami in terms of injuries, the Spartans were hurting when senior forward Mike Lalonde missed five games because of a knee injury. Lalonde returned for the GLI, scoring a goal against New Hampshire.

The Spartans certainly hope that the GLI title will inspire their second half, but even though the RedHawks went 0-1-1 for the OHC, their full roster is music to any Miami fan’s ears.

Both of these teams work hard, although I think the RedHawks — if healthy — are much more physical, and that can spell bad news for the Spartans.

Picks: If Miami’s healthy and everyone on the squad remembers how to play with everyone else, there’s no way the RedHawks won’t be rewarded for their efforts at least once this weekend. Miami 3-1, MSU 4-2

One More Thing I Don’t Know: How to Begin to Say Goodbye

This week, OSU’s athletic director, Andy Geiger, announced his plans to retire in June. This is bad news not just for Ohio State, but for all of Division I hockey.

Geiger, one of the most positive people I’ve ever met, is a strong proponent of ice hockey in a very visible position, so his loss will be felt more than just locally. OSU head coach John Markell says that without Geiger, OSU wouldn’t play in the Schottenstein Center — for which no ice was originally planned — and that “one of the big thrills for Andy was our hockey club raising that banner” in Joe Louis Arena after winning the CCHA postseason title last year.

“It was because of his vision that we’re in this arena,” says Markell. “We’re a Big Ten school, and you have to have the facilities to recruit and the financial backing to build a program like this. He was a big part of that.”

When Geiger spoke to the media about his retirement, his voice broke when describing how lucky he and his family have felt to be a part of the Ohio State community for the last 11 years. That reminded me of another time that I heard the big man’s voice crack with emotion, when he addressed the 1997-98 hockey team at that year’s banquet, after those improbable Buckeyes made it to the Frozen Four.

“I love you guys,” is all he said. It was enough.

Geiger is a rare commodity in a world where athletic departments are PR machines, and the press expected to be big schools’ lapdogs. He’s a straight shooter, a good guy, a man with ethics who never once pressured me to say something I didn’t want to say, never once chastised me for writing something with which he didn’t agree — and I have, frequently.

In announcing his retirement, he told the reporters that he’ll miss them, and he will. He likes us and we like him.

Lately, though, the pressures of being one of the most visible guys in collegiate sport have overcome Geiger. At his press conference this week he said, “I’m just tired, bone weary. Not the kind of tired that a good night’s sleep fixes.”

It’s this sort of thing that the Maurice Claretts of the world interpret as victory, but anyone with a brain cell knows that Geiger didn’t lie to the press, Geiger didn’t lie to Jim Tressel, Geiger didn’t commit insurance fraud, and Geiger never cheated.

Geiger also told the press that in having come to this decision to retire some weeks ago, the thrill of the Alamo Bowl and “a terrific 2-2 hockey game” — that would be last week’s OHC title match — were diminished just a little.

See? Even as he announced his impending retirement, Andy Geiger was thinking about Ohio State hockey.

And that’s the real reason why I and every NCAA hockey fan will miss him.