This Week in the CCHA: Oct. 13, 2005

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article reported on an altercation during Northern Michigan’s intrasquad scrimmage, information which has subsequently been determined to be unreliable. apologizes for the error.

Like I Never Really Left

It’s a brand-new season, but I felt as though the last one never ended, thanks to the email I received from fans all summer long. Much of that mail was pleasant, and I appreciate that there are those among you who took the time to say, “Hello!” throughout the offseason.

And, as always, I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of Northern Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha fans. The weekly updates about my lack of enthusiastic coverage of their respective teams — in June, July — can only be described as dedicated.

I’m excited about this CCHA season, and I think that fans around the league should be as well. I’m also excited about this USCHO season, as it’s our 10th full season of bringing you the best college hockey coverage, anywhere.

I couldn’t ask for a better group of colleagues. The USCHO writers are the most insanely dedicated I know, next to those fans from you-know-where.

Thank you, all, for coming back for more.

Some Hardware to Start the Season

There’s nothing like a trophy to begin a season and delay the inevitable “Fire Comley” threads on local message boards.

Ever since Rick Comley took the reins at No. 12 Michigan State, hockey fans have been calling for the talented head coach’s head on a platter because the Spartans went through a post-Mason, post-Miller (of the Ryan variety) phase — you know, the transition that nearly every program goes through after a coaching change.

Capturing the title in the Lefty McFadden Invitational last weekend in Dayton was more than just the right way to kick off the 2005-2006 campaign; it was an odd mix of opening night and final exam for the Spartans, a team that needs to present a more consistent face this season and dispel myths of the program’s early demise.

MSU beat Wayne State 5-1 in the opening contest before shutting out last year’s national championship runner-up, No. 9 North Dakota, 3-0. The media may be buzzing with the blanking of the Fighting Sioux, but the real accomplishments of the weekend extend beyond that victory and the title.

“Going in, I thought the Wayne State game was probably the most important of the two,” says MSU head coach Rick Comley. “You have to prove that you can beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.”

The opening-night jitters hit the Spartans early, as the Warriors scored just nine seconds into that contest to take the 1-0 lead, but MSU settled down and responded rookie Justin Adelkader’s first career goal at 12:03 on the power play, then scored twice in the second and twice in the third.

After Adelkader scored, the usual cast of characters produced the remaining goals — Drew Miller, Jim McKenzie, Colton Fretter, Bryan Lerg, Chris Mueller (times two), David Booth — providing impressive evidence of MSU’s balance up front.

“We are much more balanced this year,” says Comley, “not just in terms of position but class as well. We have more speed.”

And, of course, Dominic Vicari allowed just one goal on 41 shots for the weekend, earning his 13th career shutout in the process.

The pluses for MSU from the Lefty: hardware, goal production from every class, eight goals in two games, one goal allowed in two games, an average of 34.5 shots in two games, a shutout of last year’s runner-up.

Anything else?

Comley says he “liked the potential” of the weekend. He’s the first to caution that it’s a long season, but he certainly likes what he saw. “We have a younger, more enthusiastic group.”

That youth includes a sophomore class that found its feet in the second half of the season, guys that scored goals, like Lerg, McKenzie, Mueller.

Comley says the win over the Sioux — Michigan State’s first since 1979 — is even more impressive because of North Dakota’s “ultra elite young talent,” and for a second you can almost believe him until you realize that, no matter what his team’s record last year, he’s still coaching at Michigan State.

Comley also says that his squad wasn’t the only one to show up and represent the CCHA against the WCHA in Dayton. “Miami threw everything they had at them [North Dakota], but Parise was outstanding.”

Indeed, the RedHawks outshot the Sioux 37-22, but junior goaltender Jordan Parise can do that to anyone.

“Miami has talented, fast forwards, a good group up front,” says Comley. Indeed they do.

Because of a scheduling fluke, the Spartans step back into exhibition play against Western Ontario Saturday before beginning CCHA play opposite No. 7 Michigan Oct. 22.

A Rematch of Sorts

No. 5 Ohio State returns a favor to No. 6 Colorado College with two games in Colorado Springs this weekend. Last December, the Tigers flew to Columbus to participate in the first annual Ohio Hockey Classic, hosted by OSU in Nationwide Arena.

The Tigers and Buckeyes played arguably the best midseason college hockey game Columbus fans had ever seen, resulting in a 2-2 overtime. CC won the tourney by virtue of a shootout.

While the Tigers have been bitten by the early injury bug, they have also played more hockey — more real hockey — than have the Buckeyes, who have a couple of dings of their own.

Last week, CC took the Ice Breaker Invitational with wins over Union and No. 12 Maine, and beat Maine without the services of forwards Braydon Cox, Jimmy Kilpatrick, Aaron Slattengren, and Scott Thauwald, and defenseman Jake Gannon, all out with injuries.

The Buckeyes have played just one exhibition game, a 6-1 win over Western Ontario.

As good as OSU is on paper and in reality — deep, very deep — and as banged up as is CC, the big ice surface, the travel, the altitude, and the Tigers’ early season experience all work against the Buckeyes this weekend.

Add to that a little history. In the past three seasons, the Buckeyes have begun their D-I schedule with road losses to ranked teams: New Hampshire 5-1 in last year’s Ice Breaker (with a 3-1 loss to St. Cloud the next day); Denver 5-2 in last year’s Lefty McFadden; and Minnesota 7-2 in the Hall of Fame game in St. Paul in 2002-2003.

In fact, you have to go all the way back to Oct. 27, 2000, for OSU’s last quality road win over a ranked nonconference opponent. That was a 3-2 overtime win against Maine in the challenging Alfond Arena. The Bucks earned a split that weekend.

The Buckeyes took steps to banish these nonconference blues; they flew to Colorado Wednesday to become acclimated to the altitude. And they have any number of weapons in their arsenal to compete in these games. They are a very, very fast team with perhaps the fastest defensive corps in the league, but OSU prefers a physical game, something less likely on the larger ice surface.

And there’s the matter of penalty calling, which we saw varied widely among the leagues last season.

They’ll be without senior forward Dan Knapp until midseason. Knapp’s absence is officially undisclosed.

Other Notables

• Two Hockey East teams, No. 4 Boston College and Merrimack, travel to play No. 7 Michigan and Bowling Green this weekend. On Friday, BC faces off against Michigan and Merrimack’s in Bowling Green, and the teams swap nonconference opponents Saturday. Michigan has lost its last four straight against BC and six of the last seven meetings, with the only win for the Wolverines the 1998 NCAA championship.

• The Wolverines swept visiting Quinnipiac last weekend — something that warms the hearts of many fans for strictly off-ice reasons — and Matt Hunwick netted his second career hat trick in the 5-3 Saturday win.

• Michigan is off to its first 2-0-0 start since 1999-2000.

• The Falcons need just 4,449 fans to hit the two-million mark in the refurbished but still humble BGSU Ice Arena.

• BGSU is 2-1-0 in regular-season openers under fourth-year head coach Scott Paluch.

• Nebraska-Omaha defends the Maverick Stampede title this weekend at the Qwest Center with a game against Army Friday. No. 8 New Hampshire and Ferris State — those two-time Badger Showdown champions — round out the field. Last year, UNO won the Stampede for the first time in five seasons.

• Alaska-Fairbanks celebrates the return of junior defenseman and captain Jordan Hendry. Hendry, the spark of UAF’s blue line, missed most of last season to an injury.

• The CCHA is 5-1-0 in nonconference play in the early going, the loss being Miami’s to North Dakota at the Lefty. Let’s hope this is a trend.

Next Week

The return of the Games of the Week, a new Girl Reporter award for defensemen — yes, it’s a soft spot, okay? — trivia, a little perspective on 10 years of USCHO and college hockey and history and everything else, and my cat, Moxy, will make all the picks.

I’m just kidding about the last one. Really.