This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 13, 2005

It’s That Time of Year, Again

January. Specifically, mid-January. The first half is over. The thrill of the holiday tourneys is gone. We’re left with regular, old January, too early for serious discussions of home ice, too soon to make travel plans for the Joe.

Of course, it’s never too soon to discuss the PairWise Rankings, since the NCAA tournament title now seems to be the only point of playing a given season. Well, at least to most teams.

I don’t know where you are, but where I live, central Ohio is dishing up its best “winter” weather: rain — for days on end — temperatures in the 60s, not a ray of sunshine to be found.

And CSTV’s Game of the Week tomorrow is Army vs. Air Force. Honest.

And, of course, Michigan sits atop the CCHA standings. Again. Still. Whatever.

The actual doldrums are these swaths of sea just north of the equator, and are famous for extended periods of complete calm, so little wind that sailing vessels can be stranded for weeks at a time.

Ironically, these are also the seas that give birth to hurricanes.

It’s the doldrums, that time of year when the minutiae of college hockey can either alleviate your cabin fever or take your homicidal fantasies to brave new levels.

Don’t believe the season is hitting that lull spot? Just to be absolutely, positively, one-hundred percent certain we get the message, the NCAA announced Tuesday that it has, indeed, made the right decision regarding its rules initiative this season.

That’s news.

And don’t forget the 1-1 overtime tie between Notre Dame and Lake Superior State.

January isn’t a total wash. After all, there is college hockey action, even if the NHL can’t get its collective act together, and last week there were a few events that can keep even the most jaded of fans interested.

Bulldogs Beat Buckeyes

When Ferris State upset Ohio State, 3-2, in overtime Saturday in Columbus, the Bulldogs did more than snap the Buckeyes’ 13-game home win streak. Ferris State beat a nationally-ranked opponent for the second consecutive week.

“It’s a good win for us,” said Daniels after the game. “We hung tight, we hung in there. Derek MacIntyre played very well in net, and when you can do that on the road and get into overtime, good things can happen.”

With the win, the Bulldogs climbed out of last place and into a three-way tie for ninth — or next-to-last — with Miami and Notre Dame. After a rough start to the season, where FSU faced Colgate, Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State right off the bat, the Bulldogs have recovered nicely, going 7-3-2 in their last 12 games.

The tenacious FSU defense held OSU to just five goals in two games, when the Buckeyes had been averaging 4.71 goals per game at the Schott.

Montoya Gets Mad

It was one too many Western Michigan goals for Michigan goaltender Al Montoya’s liking in the Wolverines’ 6-5 overtime victory Saturday night. And maybe the trash-talking didn’t help, either.

Several people who attended Saturday’s game emailed me similar accounts of what happened, and the Michigan Daily had a great write-up on it Monday. Bronco Mike Erickson scored on the power play with 13 seconds left in the second period, making the score 5-4 in favor of the Wolverines. Bronco Daryl Moore got into Montoya’s face and then skated away — and then Montoya went after Moore and dragged him down from behind.

The fans, as they say, went wild.

“I think I tripped,” Montoya told the Daily. “I’m not sure.”

Montoya received two minutes for hitting after the whistle. A total of 62 penalty minutes were given in the game, 18 of which were for hitting after the whistle.

“No comment on the officiating and I couldn’t be more proud of my hockey team,” WMU head coach Jim Culhane told the press after the game.

The series really typified both Michigan’s and Western Michigan’s seasons. The Wolverines allowed nine goals on the weekend, but scored 12, so came out the winners. The Broncos scored nine goals, but allowed 12. Get the picture?

And Montoya, undoubtedly frustrated, has a career-low .893 save percentage.

But who am I to argue with a 15-4-1 record?

A Maverick Weekend

Nebraska-Omaha swept Northern Michigan with a couple of 3-1 home wins, claiming sole possession of third place in the CCHA standings, and dispelling any doubts that the Mavs are for real this year.

“This was very big for our program,” head coach Mike Kemp told the Omaha World-Herald. “We came out of a pretty dismal December. At this point in the season, I don’t think anyone gave us a hope in heck to be third in the conference.”

The Maverick faithful may miss the atmosphere of the old Bullpen, but no one is quibbling about the way UNO is playing in the Qwest Center this season, where the Mavs are 9-2-1. With their ninth and 10th wins of the season registered against NMU, the Mavericks have now surpassed their win total of eight from last year.

But Don’t Forget about the Falcons

Two six-goal games is as good a way to announce, “Here we are!” as any other I can think of.

The Falcons beat the visiting Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks, 6-2 and 6-1, last weekend, giving them 16 points and a share of fourth place in the CCHA.

“We’re fortunate that scoring has been spread out, but our overall contributions to our team have been spread out among a lot of guys,” said head coach Scott Paluch. “We have a lot of hockey players that are giving us quality minutes and quality time this season.”

Brett Pilkington (3-13–16) had two goals Friday, and Rich Meloche (8-4–12) and Derek Whitmore (9-3–12) had two markers each in Saturday’s game. Six different Falcons scored the other six goals in the two-game set.

Senior goaltender Jordan Sigalet had 55 saves combined in the two wins, his ninth and 10th of the season.

Paluch isn’t kidding about the contributions of many this season. Not one Falcon has as many as 10 goals this year, with freshman Jonathan Matsumoto and Whitmore tied for the team’s lead in goals with nine each.

And because of the suspensions earlier in the season, only a handful of Falcons have actually played all 20 games this year: Matsumoto, James Unger, Michael Hodgson, Ryan Minnabarriet, Jonathan Sigalet, Ben Geelan, and Taylor Christie.

That you’ve never heard of a few of those guys is arguably a good thing for the Falcons. Flying under the radar never hurt any bird.

What the Effinger’s Happening?

Miami freshman Charlie Effinger played both games against Michigan State this past weekend, making his second career start in Friday’s 4-0 loss, and earning his first career win in Saturday’s 4-1 victory.

Given how well Brandon Crawford-West played in the Ohio Hockey Classic, I have to wonder if Effinger’s starts were disciplinary. Yes, this is speculation, but this is an editorial column and occasionally, I dabble that way.

When the RedHawks played Ohio State in Columbus Oct. 21, Effinger started between the pipes for Miami and was relieved by Steve Hartley in the second period. The Buckeyes won the contest 9-3.

What I didn’t report in the game recap — which was news, not opinion — was that several people told me after the game (and, indeed, during the following months) that every time Ohio State scored, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi turned to Crawford-West on the bench and delivered some variation of, “That goal is your fault.”

When I asked Blasi about his decision not to start Crawford-West, he just said that it was a “coaches’ decision.” I have heard many rumors about why Crawford-West didn’t start, and most of them boil down to some sort of team violation.

How this translates to this dim-witted girl reporter is that there are some disciplinary issues surrounding at least this one player on the Miami hockey team. And while I know that the RedHawks have had more than their share of injuries this season, I have to now wonder how many players — if any — have been benched because of a “coaches’ decision” and have been lost in the shuffle because of the injury head count.

I like this Miami team. They’re fast, talented up front, and way better than their record. Maybe Effinger’s two starts are some indication of just what is going on in Oxford.

The Yost Saga, Revisited

We at received an interesting email this week from Matt Trevor, the Michigan hockey sports information director.

On Tuesday night, Jan. 11, the Michigan Student Assembly arranged a meeting between members of the Michigan athletic department and Michigan student season ticket holders to discuss the current undignified way in which many U-M students present themselves at Michigan hockey games.

Trevor wrote that the “C-Ya” chant was the central point of discussion, and that ideas to eliminate the profanity were bandied about.

Because of my schedule, I was unable to talk to him about this for this column, but I will follow up next week.

I also want to point out a couple of things here. I love going to Yost Arena. That barn has the best atmosphere in the CCHA, if you take away the profanity. The band is great, the ushers are helpful, the fans are knowledgeable and rabid, the people are generally friendly, and the hockey is, as we know, first-rate.

I’ve been privileged to meet several long-time season ticket holders, members of the Dekers Club, and I can’t say enough about these folks. They are everything you’d expect hockey people to be, and their support — even before the Red Berenson age — is a big part of what makes Michigan hockey so wonderful.

So, it isn’t just with small children in mind that I call for the profanity to stop. It isn’t just for the sake of the reputation of the Michigan student body, which suffers every time something I can’t even hint at here is chanted in unison. It isn’t just for the families of the players and the visiting players, for the team and program, that I want this stupidity to end. It’s for all the folks who have been there all along, who deserve an atmosphere that is electric, but not in a Maury Povich kind of way.

And I know that the swearing goes on in other arenas. I know what the Bowling Green student section chanted — loudly, profanely, and in unison — at Al Montoya when Michigan visited.

When I think about the unimaginative, curse-laden chants in today’s college arenas, I can’t help but think of the one word that seems to slip so accurately from the mouths of young children, when they are trying to describe something that doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t make sense in a given context. It’s stupid, they say.

And it is.

Something Else to Ponder

As of Jan. 9, 2005, Michigan State had compiled a record of 11-10-1 (6-8-0 CCHA), and was in seventh place.

At the beginning of January 2004, the Spartans were 11-10-1 (8-5-1 CCHA) and tied with Miami for the top spot in league standings.

A difference of several points in league play, to be sure, but the same overall record. It’s not merely that the Spartans are having difficulty finding the net this season; the 17 points that they had at the start of last year’s second half would have been good enough for a tie with UNO for third, but would have been a full nine points behind Michigan, four points behind Ohio State.

Games of the Week

Okay, so maybe not every mid-January series lacks potential.

Nebraska-Omaha (10-9-1, 8-7-1 CCHA) at Ferris State (9-11-2, 4-8-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, Mich.

At the start of the season, when I read that CSTV was going to air the Jan. 7 game between the Buckeyes and the Bulldogs from the Schottenstein Center, I thought, “Couldn’t they have picked a better match?”

Apparently, those guys at CSTV know something I don’t.

OSU beat FSU 3-1 in that cablecast game, but the Bulldogs rallied for a 3-2 overtime win the following night, and both contests were everything college games should be.

“I thought we carried the play in the first, they carried it in the second, pretty even in the third,” said FSU head coach Bob Daniels after that Friday’s contest. “I guess my impression is overall that the game was a pretty even game.”

Daniels said that he wasn’t disappointed with the Bulldogs’ effort Friday night, and he couldn’t possibly have been upset with what he saw Saturday — a unified, team effort that went toe-to-toe with the ranked Buckeyes. Ferris State won the majority of faceoff draws and never gave up, even when the ‘Dogs had to rely on freshman goaltender Derek MacIntyre to carry some of the play.

MacIntyre made 31 stops in the win and shut down the OSU power play six times. Daniels said that the decision to go with MacIntyre over Mike Brown — who was named to the Badger Hockey Showdown all-tournament team the week before — was based on instinct, and MacIntyre’s 2-1 road win over Miami Dec. 11.

“The last time he played, he played well, and he looked good in practice. It was a gut feeling, and I said, ‘Hey, I want to give this kid another shot.'”

MacIntyre is now 2-0-0, with a 1.46 goals against average and a .956 save percentage in his last two appearances. Compare that with his unimpressive early-season work, in which he was 1-3-0 with a 3.82 GAA and .875 SV%.

The Buckeyes were the second ranked team that the formerly lowly Bulldogs upset in as many weeks, having plowed through then-No. 4 Wisconsin to take the Badger title. What’s the key to Ferris State’s success?

“We’re playing the same game, working harder, and we’re trying to accomplish some goals,” said Andrew Winnik, the junior defenseman who had the game-winning goal against OSU.

Jeff Legue, the Badger Showdown MVP, said simply that “winning breeds winning.” The Bulldogs are confident.

Also confident are the Mavericks of Omaha. Last year’s last-place team, the Mavs have proven this season that a little patience with a lot of young talent goes a long way.

Last weekend, UNO swept Northern Michigan at home to gain even more confidence and sole ownership of third place in the CCHA standings.

Both wins were 3-1 games, and after Saturday’s contest head coach Mike Kemp told the Omaha World-Herald that the team’s pregame talk focused on who makes “little plays … who gets it out of our end, who gets it into their end and who is a patient player.”

Kemp called the home sweep “an immense turning point” for the Mavericks.

“The road is littered with good intentions and with pitfalls and craters,” said Kemp, “but we come out of this weekend with some enthusiasm that is refreshing, and a focus on how we need to play to continue this.”

Youth is a cornerstone of the Maverick hockey team, and not by design; freshmen and sophomores combine for 18 spots on the UNO roster. The all-rookie line of David Phillips (6-6–12), Bryan Marshall (6-12–18), and Brandon Scero (6-6–12) accounted for three goals and four assists in the two wins.

Here’s how the teams compare, by the overall numbers:

• Goals per game: UNO 3.30 (tie fourth); FSU 3.05 (seventh)
• Goals allowed per game: UNO 3.05 (seventh); FSU 3.09 (eighth)
• Power play: UNO 18.2 % (sixth); FSU 13.1% (ninth)
• Penalty kill: UNO 79.7% (11th); FSU 85.4% (fifth)
• Top scorer: UNO Bill Thomas (9-17–26); FSU Jeff Legue (15-6–21) • Top goal scorer: UNO Scott Parse (10-14–24); FSU Legue
• Top ‘tender: UNO Chris Holt (2.73 GAA, .904 SV%); FSU Mike Brown (2.95 GAA, .891 SV%)

Parse and Legue are the only players on their respective teams to have scored at least 10 goals this season, but that doesn’t mean that the Mavericks and Bulldogs are without offensive talent. Both teams have balanced attacks, and each has three lines that can score, albeit not consistently.

UNO absolutely has the advantage up front, with more speed and skill, but the cagey Bulldogs are better defensively, and all four of their lines can play two-way hockey.

The serious advantage that Ferris State has in this series — maybe the only advantage, or maybe not an advantage at all but one plus against several factors that don’t measure up — is that the Bulldogs are at home. The Mavericks are a dismal 1-7-0 on the road this season.

Picks: It’s hard to call against the Mavericks, given what I know about their play, but the Bulldogs looked great last weekend in Columbus — hardly the last-place team they were in the standings — and UNO has yet to pull it together on the road. FSU 4-3, UNO 4-3