The Envelope, Please
In the aftermath of this year’s Oscar brouhaha — what, you didn’t know that Antonio Banderas offended everyone in South America with his version of Jorge Drexler’s nominated song, “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” because he’s a European Spaniard and not just because he can’t sing? — thank goodness we have more important awards to consider.
It is time for he 2004-2005 Girl Reporter Awards, given annually for CCHA performances admirable and otherwise. This week, it’s Part 1, for various and sundry. Next week’s Part 2 will include the GR All-CCHA Team and the GR CCHA All-Rookie Team.
Player of the Year
My pick for the CCHA Player of the Year is Northern Michigan goaltender Tuomas Tarkki. Not only are Tarkki’s numbers impressive — .931 save percentage, 2.00 goals-against average — but the Finn proved himself this year after taking over the starting duties when Craig Kowalski was injured last season.
He’s also the kind of goaltender who can and does win games for this team.
I do not think he will be named POTY, however. My best guess is T.J. Hensick or Jordan Sigalet
Coach of the Year
My pick for Coach of the Year — again — is Red Berenson. The Wolverines will earn their 15th consecutive NCAA invitation this year, and will, for the 15th straight year, finish no lower than second in the league.
To maintain that level of excellence is extraordinary, and Berenson does so with teams that differ from year to year.
I do not think he will be named COTY. My best guess for that is Scott Paluch, a worthy contender for the title.
Rookie of the Year
My pick for CCHA Rookie of the Year is Nebraska-Omaha’s Bill Thomas.
With 17 goals and 23 assists through 34 games so far this season, Thomas leads all rookies in the nation in scoring.
I think he’s the league’s pick, too.
Team of the Year
This was a tough decision to make. Two teams have struggled through roster-juggling adversity, one team has had more injuries than any other in recent memory, and one team finds a way to stay at the top of the league’s standings in spite of inconsistency on a couple of fronts.
Ultimately, the early-season controversy, Jordan Sigalet’s illness, and home ice for the first time since 1995-96 is convincing enough.
My Team of the Year is the Bowling Green Falcons.
Surprise of the Year
Michigan State is the team that has surprised me most this year.
This wasn’t an easy choice, either. Notre Dame’s last-place finish really amazes me, and Ohio State’s finish no lower than second is another feat I could not foresee.
But when Jim Slater can’t buy a goal — okay, can’t buy more than half a dozen goals — for the first half of the season, I’m surprised.
Some MSU fans are calling for Rick Comley’s head, which is premature. Give him some time. He built a successful Northern Michigan program from scratch in Marquette, and before Ron Mason traded offices in East Lansing, there were signs that a few lean years could be on the way for the Spartans.
Now that they’re here, give Comley a break, or at least the time that other coaches without his track record are allowed to turn a program over.
The Ferris State Memorial Defenders of the Realm Award
The stats alone would indicate that, with a 5-1-0 nonconference record, the Western Michigan Broncos should earn this award.
Statistics, however, have been known to lie. Given that all of WMU’s non-league games were played against CHA opponents, the Broncos were pretty selective about the teams against which they would defend the realm.
No other CCHA team put the smack down on outsiders consistently, although you have to give the Fighting Irish their due for shutting out Boston College in the early going.
The team that best represented the CCHA in nonleague play this season is the team for whom this award was named: The Ferris State Bulldogs.
FSU, 5-3-0 in nonconference play, won the Badger Showdown in December, beating host Wisconsin for the second consecutive year for the title. Now that’s what I call defense.
Honorable mention goes to Michigan State, which showed Cornell what a CCHA team can do in its own rink, and Ohio State, which showed a WCHA team what can happen when the latter travels east of the Rockies before March.
In a category with many worthy nominees, this award has to go to the Miami RedHawks, who at times this season didn’t have enough healthy players to run a full practice.
Runners up: BGSU and LSSU.
BGSU’s Jordan Sigalet. Can there be any doubt?
The Chris Richards Man-Most-Likely-To-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award
This year’s award goes to a goaltender who plays for the same program that spawned Chris Richards.
Ohio State junior Dave Caruso (.919 SV%, 2.15 GAA) is another goalie who, like Tuomas Tarkki, stepped in for a starter late last season and ran with the position.
Caruso, playing in the shadow of other CCHA goalies and OSU’s excellent defense, is one of the league’s most underrated players. Like Tarkki, he can win a game outright, and without him OSU’s penalty kill wouldn’t be among the best in the nation.
Tarkki will be named to the CCHA First Team, Sigalet to the Second Team. Or vice-versa. Caruso won’t even be a footnote.
Honorable mention goes to MSU’s Dominic Vicari, whose save percentage equals Sigalet’s. Vicari has often been the best Spartan on the ice this season.
The Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Memorial Award
There was a time when no Wolverine would even entertain the idea of leaving early. Red Berenson is very vocal about his belief that all student-athletes should remain for their entire eligibility, and not because Berenson hates to lose a good player to the pros.
No, Berenson thinks that student-athletes should get the whole college experience, give themselves a chance to graduate, and enjoy four of the best years of their lives.
That is why it pains me to say that my pick for this award is Michigan sophomore T.J. Hensick. I just think that Hensick is more interested in his future than his present, which is a shame.
The Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award
What the Irish wouldn’t do this season for another Aniket Dhadphale, a guy who can station himself near the net and pick up the trash.
Like many others, this was a difficult decision. Even though goal-scoring is down in college hockey, the CCHA boasts many talented frontmen, guys who have a real touch with the puck.
In the second half of the season, OSU’s Matt Beaudoin has shown his ability to read a situation and score, and UNO’s Scott Parse is another one with a knack for garbage.
(Garbage, my friends, is a good thing.)
But the award has to go to Bronco Brent Walton, who seems to be able to redirect a puck near the net with his mind.
The Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Memorial Award
Michigan’s Jeff Tambellini has found his scoring touch again. Isn’t that great?
Tambellini is also just plain fun to watch. When he’s on the ice, try taking your eyes off of him. You can’t.
Jeff Tambellini, you are poetry in motion. Don’t let it go to your head.
And stay in school.
Best Offensive Goalie Award
Last season, as stunning as it sounds, not one goaltender had more than one point for the season, and so no one earned this award.
This year, however, three goaltenders have earned three points each, all assists.
Michigan’s Al Montoya, Nebraska-Omaha’s Chris Holt, and Ohio State’s Dave Caruso each have three points, tying them for this year’s award.
Of course, these assists are indications of how well the goalies can transition the puck up on an offensive play, and it’s no accident that each plays for a team at or near the top of the standings.
Girl Reporter All-Goon Squad
These are the guys I want on my side in any dark alley. Three of these gents are making consecutive appearances.
Ferris State’s Matt York — a real-life cop — is a returnee who tops the league with 123 minutes. Ohio State’s Nate Guenin, another repeat offender, is second with 116.
Then there’s this trio from Northern Michigan: Pat Pateman (81), Nathan Oystrick (83), and Geoff Waugh (81). Any one of these guys by himself is impressively aggressive and physical; that all three play for NMU is a thing of beauty. This is the second year in a row for Oystrick.
Several players earn honorable mention: UNO’s Kaleb Betts, Michigan’s Mike Brown, LSSU’s Alex Dunn. A couple of OSU rookies, Dominic Maiani and Johann Kroll, have potential.
Team Most Likely to Surprise Folks in the Postseason
Depending on where they play, the Western Michigan Broncos may score their way to the Super Six.
Quote of the Year
“We make it a full-time job. It’s our mission to make you wrong.” Maverick head coach Mike Kemp, directly to me, with his tongue-in-cheek explanation of UNO’s turnaround from last season.
Kemper, you’re the best.
Travel Is Overrated
Here’s where things stand going into the last weekend of regular-season play, in terms of the final standings. The five CCHA tiebreakers are:
1. Number of CCHA wins
2. Head-to-head competition
3. Goal differential in head-to-head competition
4. Regular-season winning percentage against the league champion
5. Coin toss.
Confused? No need to be.
The Wolverines can finish no lower than second — did I mention that this the 15th consecutive year that Michigan has finished no lower than at least a second-place tie? — and, with a three-point lead on Ohio State, are most likely going to take the CCHA regular-season crown.
This is not, however, a given. Michigan plays Bowling Green this weekend, a team capable of anything, and if they lose both games and OSU gains three points, the Buckeyes take the crown.
The Buckeyes have had their best season in nearly two decades, and they still may not get an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
That’s another story, though.
OSU took two games from Miami early this season, but don’t think that’s likely to happen again this weekend. Although the Buckeyes know they need to keep winning for that NCAA invitation, the RedHawks need to win to get home ice in the playoffs.
And these teams hate each other.
OSU should finish second.
The Wildcats are locked into third. Will they face FSU or WMU in the first round?
The Mavericks will have to wait it out to see whom they welcome to the Qwest Center, as UNO is done with CCHA play. They can finish no lower than fifth, and their fate rests in the hands of the Falcons.
Just one point behind UNO in the standings, a win this weekend will flip-flop the position of these two teams in the standings, moving BGSU to fourth and UNO to fifth.
A tie gives BGSU fourth place as well. One point would give the teams identical league records, a tie in goal differential for head-to-head competition (each having scored eight goals in that weekend), and fourth place would come down to the third criteria, winning percentage against the league’s regular-season champion.
In this scenario, the regular-season champion would be Michigan, because BGSU and UNO can only tie in points and wins if the Falcons take one point only from the Wolverines.
And if the Wolverines take three points, they finish the season with 47, giving them the championship outright, as OSU can reach only the 45-point mark by winning out.
My money’s on Michigan this weekend, so I say BGSU finishes fifth. But I wouldn’t run to Vegas with that if I were you.
Miami, Michigan State, and Lake Superior State
It’s still mathematically possible for the Lakers to take sixth place, but it’s highly unlikely, given LSSU’s track record against NMU.
So that leaves Miami and Michigan State.
The RedHawks play the Buckeyes this weekend, and whenever that happens there’s always the opportunity for Miami to take points. The teams split 3-3-0 last season, and although OSU spanked Miami 9-3 earlier in the year, the RedHawks rebounded for a respectable 2-1 loss the following night. It was a great game, too.
Michigan State plays Notre Dame twice this weekend, and while that looks like a good thing for MSU, the Spartans would need to win both games and the RedHawks lose both.
Should MSU win both and Miami take one, the teams would be tied in league standings for points and have an identical number of league wins. However, the tiebreaker goes to MSU based on goal differential in head-to-head contests with the RedHawks.
Should MSU sweep and Miami lose both, MSU finishes sixth and Miami travels.
I think Miami takes sixth, MSU seventh, LSSU ninth.
The Nanooks are also watching this weekend, as they are finished with CCHA play. Currently tied for sixth with Miami, UAF can finish no higher than seventh in the seedings.
The Nanooks need the Spartans to take no more than two points this weekend to remain as high as seventh. Why? If UAF and MSU tie for points and league wins, the Nanooks have the tiebreaker because they beat the Spartans twice this season.
Ferris State and Western Michigan
These teams meet this weekend home-and-home, and should they split — very likely — WMU will finish 10th because of league wins.
If one or the other sweeps, obviously, that’s that. If they tie both games, WMU still comes out ahead.
The Irish are locked in last place, and are likely to travel to Ann Arbor next weekend.
And, boy, the Irish like the playoffs. They may not be the most successful CCHA playoff team, but they are the most prolific.
No one likes playoff games more than the Fighting Irish.
In the past seven seasons, Notre Dame has played six first-round series, all of which have gone to three games, making them participants in 18 opening-round CCHA playoff contests in the Dave Poulin era, since 1997-98.
In 1997-98, No. 7 seed Notre Dame beat No. 2 seed Michigan in Yost before losing the next two to the Wolverines, each contest decided by one goal, the second game in overtime.
In 1998-99, No. 4 seed Notre Dame won one game only to see No. 5 Northern Michigan take the next two.
In 1999-2000, again at home and the No. 5 seed, the Irish won their first game against No. 6 Ferris State, dropped the second, and took the third, sending them to the CCHA championship tournament for only the second time in program history and the first time since 1981-82, when Poulin was a co-captain on the squad. In 2001, the Irish sat out the CCHA playoffs, finishing 11th in a year when the top 10 teams in the league played in the postseason.
In both 2002 and 2003, however, Notre Dame surprised everyone by winning first-round playoff series on the road. After losing the opening game to No. 5 Nebraska-Omaha in two overtimes Mar. 8, 2002, No. 8 Notre Dame won the next two games, both by a score of 2-1, the second game in overtime.
And in 2003, the seventh-seed Irish lost to sixth-seed Miami in Oxford in the first game but roared back to blank the RedHawks, 1-0 and 5-0, to win the series.
Last year, No. 5 Notre Dame beat No. 8 Western Michigan in the first game, but the Irish were shut out in the second, 3-0. In the deciding match, freshman Jason Paige scored the game-winner in overtime to advance the Irish to the CCHA championship tournament for the third straight year.
That, my friends, is an awful lot of postseason hockey.
I know I promised updates on my favorite team and nail color, and something to do with game theory, but those will have to wait for next week’s final weekly column of the season.
It seems that every year, the best dramatic moments in CCHA play happen with middle-pack teams, those fighting for home ice or trying to finish as high as they can to give themselves a chance to advance to Joe Louis Arena on the road.
And it seems that every year, certain teams set their sights on the NCAA tournament with little regard to what happens in league play.
Next week, though, the drama really begins, and the column will include an in-depth look at each CCHA playoff series.