This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 10, 2005

Timing Is Everything.

In the Friday, Nov. 4 game between Ohio State and Miami, there were a total of 178 penalty minutes, 101 of which — stop smirking — were assessed to the Buckeyes.

Of course, I wasn’t there to see it.

This is the way every week before moving households should go: Secure the movers. Pack the belongings. Keep important documents separate. Supervise the movers on the actual day. Safely transport pets. Look around at new digs and say, “There’s a lot to do, but at least it’s all here.”

This is the way my week went: Secured a rental truck. Beseeched friends for help. Packed as much as I could in the limited number of boxes I begged, borrowed, stole. Hauled carload after carload of books and Pyrex collectibles — yes, I know — down the flight of stairs from the old place and across town and up the stairs into the new place. Taught grumpy-bordering-on-hostile writing students. Hauled more of the heavy stuff.

Tried to secure utilities before moving in. Hauled again. Taught more students. Was broadsided at an intersection near campus. Wept at my luck Saturday after six faithful friends spent the day moving my furniture. Transported very unhappy felines Saturday after the Miami-OSU game. Looked around and said, “I can’t believe how much there is to move still!”

In the whole blessed process, I missed Friday night’s game between the Buckeyes and RedHawks. I couldn’t have driven my car down to Oxford — and it’s a car new to me this year, rest in peace, beloved Gypsy — and had no time to secure a ride. As it was, I tuned in to the radio very late in the game and never even caught mention of the actual number of penalties and minutes.

At Saturday night’s game, Jess Bechard, the Miami sports information director, told me about the minutes. He said, “There were 178 minutes in last night’s game.” I said, “No!” He said, “Yeah!” and handed me the box (which I subsequently misplaced in Sunday’s continued moving).

This is what actually happens in press boxes.

From what I pieced together from folks on both sides of I-70, the game wasn’t particularly chippy — although that’s always a possibility when these two lovebirds get together — but rather that it became unmanageable. Certainly, the redoubled regulations enforcement played a hand in the total minutes, but I have to say that I admire the officiating crew’s handiwork at 7:10 of the first period, when all five skaters from each team — every player on the ice except for OSU goaltender Dave Caruso and Miami netminder Charlie Effinger — went to their respective boxes en masse.

Toward the end of the game, former OSU bad boy (at least he seems to be trying this season) Nate Guenin was given a 10-minute misconduct, probably for saying something he shouldn’t have to referee Craig Lisko. Lisko may have done Guenin a favor; six players were given 10-minute misconducts at 20:00 in the third period, and knowing Guenin’s patience — I said he was trying, not that he was reformed — had he been there he may have earned a little more than what he got earlier.

In between the penalties, they played some hockey in Oxford. Miami won 3-1. The Buckeyes were 0-for-8 on the power play, the RedHawks 0-for-9.

And I missed it.

I think I attended the last game in which OSU registered over 100 minutes, and I believe it was in 1998 (or was it 1999?) against Ferris State in Ewigleben Arena. That was the year that Buckeye Jason Selleke accidentally bit Bulldog Jason Hodel’s finger — in fairness to Selleke, Hodel was trying to fish-hook him — but I can’t recall if the 107 minutes were in the biting game (Oct. 17, 1998) or during the playoffs the following March.

(I caught OSU SID Leann Parker, who verified the minutes against FSU, on her cell tonight in her car. I can’t find my OSU media guide. Some box somewhere.)

So, it’s Thursday, I’ve just come home from spending more quality time with students, there’s still no heat in the apartment — although the hot water heater and stove now work — and I am, for once, grateful there’s no hockey within driving distance this weekend, not that I would actually drive my damaged car out of town.

And thanks to Tom, Tony, Sandy, Melissa, Tammy, and Mary for their help last Saturday.

Tony, I’m sorry about your Buckeyes. Good thing you’re a Blue Jackets fan, too.

And I’m making dinner for you six next week. I swear.

Miami Sweeps. Get Used to It.

One thing was clear from last Saturday’s Miami-OSU game; even though the Buckeyes were more than a little off their game, the RedHawks are absolutely for real.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if the early going is any indication, these are the respective seasons I thought Miami and OSU would have last year.

The RedHawks are solid from the net out, with the ability to rotate sophomore Charlie Effinger (.939 SV%) and freshman Jeff Zatkoff (.947 SV%).

“From Day 1, ever since we stepped on the ice, we thought that both guys could play,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “The nice thing is they’re the best of friends. They know that one’s going to play one night and one’s going to play the next and as long as they keep doing the job, we’re just going to keep going with it.”

In fact, it’s safe to say that Miami a team that understands the meaning of the old adage about defense and winning games. Much like the Michigan State Spartans of the 1990s — at least now, in the early going — the RedHawks are solid in net and led in scoring by a couple of defensemen, senior Andy Greene (3-5–8) and sophomore Mitch Ganzak (1-6–7).

And this Miami defense is as versatile as it is deep. At least in the game I saw last Saturday, the RedHawks kept the Buckeyes to many perimeter and Grade-B shots, opened up space for Zatkoff to see nearly everything coming, cleared pucks cleanly and took shots with bodies, and closed ranks when it had to.

Blasi credits a trio of freshmen defensemen — Raymond Eichenlaub, Alec Martinez, and Kevin Roeder — with opening up possibilities for other players on the RedHawk squad.

“We moved two defensemen up front. I don’t know if anybody knows that. Stevie Dennis and Matt Davis are usually defenseman, and we felt so confident in the three freshmen [defensemen] that we were able to move those two guys up and give us some depth up front.

“Stevie Dennis and Matt Davis do a great job killing penalties, defensively, and taking faceoffs. When we’re killing penalties, we have four defensemen on the ice, and that’s because of those three freshmen defensemen. They play poised, they play with confidence, and they stay within themselves. They’re earning the trust of their teammates, which is nice.”

Until Saturday’s game, the RedHawks had been 3-for-41 on the power play, including that goose egg for many chances in the Friday night contest, but aside from Greene’s empty-net goal, all Miami tallies were with the man advantage, a welcome sign for Blasi.

“It’s always been one of our strong points, ever since I’ve been at Miami. For whatever reason, we’ve had some players that buy into the plan and are able to execute. I thought tonight that Marty Guerin, Chris Michael, and Matt Christie really stepped up their game.”

It may be early in the season, but already the RedHawks are feeling last year’s injury- and illness-plagued campaign fade like an old scar.

“It was a tough start last year,” said Blasi. “We had a lot of adversity, but guys like Ryan Jones, Nate Davis, and Nino Musitelli, Mitch Ganzak, and Brad Robbins, guys that were freshmen last year played a lot, played in key situations when Matt Christie, Marty Guerin, and Chris Michael were hurt.

“That experience, we knew it would pay off down the road. We didn’t want to put them into the fire that quick, but it so happened that way and you see the confidence, especially in a guy like Ryan Jones. He’s a sophomore, he’s a captain.”

This week, the RedHawks travel to Sault Ste. Marie where, apparently, anything can happen.

They Play Hockey Outside of Ohio, Too, Paula.

So, listening to the OSU-Miami game last Friday, the Buckeye announcers, Neil Sika and John Mowat, were perplexed by their inability to procure a score for the LSSU-WMU game. They couldn’t figure out why no one at the Western press box was answering.

Well, now we know.

Lake Superior State beat Western Michigan 10-0 last Friday. That’s 10 goals for LSSU in one game, not one month. The Lakers went on to beat the Broncos 3-1 the following night, thus producing 13 goals in one weekend.

Think about this. LSSU scored 10 goals total in March 2005, 19 in February, 11 in January, 14 in December 2004 (including two five-goal performances), 15 in November (in spite of being shut out twice), and 14 in October.

Last season’s 15-1 exhibition win over Toronto doesn’t count.

Eighty-three goals for the 2004-2005 season. Thirteen goals for last weekend’s series vs. Western Michigan. I’d say things are looking up. Sort of.

This week, the CCHA suspended freshman defenseman Matt Wheeler for a spearing incident during that shutout against WMU. The incident occurred at 9:32 in the third period, after which Wheeler received a major penalty for spearing and a game disqualification.

Upon review, however, the league thought Wheeler should sit a total of four games, meaning he’ll miss this weekend’s series home series with Miami and a trip to Columbus the following weekend (Nov. 18-19).

And then there’s the controversy brewing about alleged NCAA violations at LSSU. On Oct. 25, LSSU reported two secondary rules violations to the NCAA, both of which allegedly occurred last season.

The first violated reported had to do with observing “for the purpose of evaluating student-athletes outside the playing season in September, 2004,” according to the CCHA website.

The second violation, also according to the CCHA — which received its information from the violations report — had to do with the number of “pre-season required hours” in “countable athletics activities per week” as regulated by the NCAA.

The violations report alleges that both actions were “deliberate,” and that there was a “willful” intent to cover up by the Laker hockey program.

In response, former Laker head coach Frank Anzalone, who lost his job at the end of the season, fired back through his attorney. In a statement that appeared in the Soo Evening News, Anzalone’s attorney Michael Dettmer denied that Anzalone had illegally observed practices and forced student-athletes to practice more than was allowed by the NCAA in preseason.

Dettmer called the actions “libelous and simply intended to destroy” his client’s career.

My favorite quote from the statement: “Their tactics, their malice and their failure to live up to their contractual obligations speak volumes about the state of Division I hockey at this school under this athletic director.”

Dettmer could have added, “…and play-by-play man” for accuracy.

What’s clear about LSSU is very little, at this point, except that the Lakers seem to be playing better under Jim Roque. Perhaps that’s a natural reaction to a coaching change when someone controversial exits; perhaps this is just one season later, given all of the well-chronicled troubles of last year’s team.

Regardless, goaltender Jeff Jakaitis is being given a chance to show that he’s for real, nightly, and that’s a real treat for CCHA fans.

And Anzalone is now coaching the Johnstown Chiefs of the East Coast Hockey League, and he’s smiling in his official picture. The Chiefs are in last place in the American Conference, North Division, with a record of 0-4-3. Thirteen former collegians grace the Chiefs’ roster, including four players from the CCHA, all former Buckeyes: Doug Andress, J.B. Bittner, Paul Caponigri, and John Toffey, who transferred to Massachusetts after his first season at OSU.

Alaska: Also Not Ohio

Last weekend, the ranked Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks traveled to Big Rapids, Mich., and earned three points from the hosting Ferris State Bulldogs. It wasn’t the anticipated sweep.

“Reflecting on it after the fact,” said UAF head coach Tavis MacMillan, “it is good. Sixteen of our 20 players were freshman and sophomores both nights.”

The Nanooks were also playing without senior Kelly Czuy (coach’s decision) and the injured Nathan Fornataro, who should be back when the Nanooks travel to Omaha Nov. 18-19.

The win was just the fourth all-time for the Nanooks in Ewigleben, a place that has been traditionally unkind to UAF. FSU still holds a 13-4-1 lead in this all-time series in Big Rapids, even after last weekend.

UAF’s young team is “making mistakes still,” said MacMillan, who added that his team has “gotten really good goaltending all year.”

Said MacMillan, “If we’re a six-cylinder vehicle, we’re only clicking on four cylinders. We get timely goal scoring and timely goaltending. The first night [vs. FSU] our skill guys really came through for us. Saturday, we got good goaltending — as did Ferris, I really like that O’Keefe kid — but it’s a tough place to play.

“We got three points in a rink where traditionally we’ve had no success.”

MacMillan is still high on the return of senior defenseman and captain Jordan Hendry. “He’s got a presence about him, just this aura. He’s such a powerful kid; he’s such a great skater. He can separate opposition from the puck; he can physically move you. He anticipates really well. His skating and speed allow him to do some things.”

And, for the record, “that O’Keefe kid” is freshman goaltender Mitch O’Keefe — what a great hockey name — who has a .909 save percentage through seven games.

Blueliner of the Week

Finally, my dear CCHA fans, a few nominations for Blueliner of the Week, and some truly worthy ones at that.

Some of you may not want to hear this, but we’re going back to Ohio for this week’s winner: Bowling Green’s Michael Hodgson. I believe that Hodgson, a sophomore, was nominated by family members, but that doesn’t negate his verifiable achievements, including his play on the penalty kill and his ability to force opponents to take penalties while staying out of the box himself.

Congratulations, Michael Hodgson, on your performance in BGSU’s two-game sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in with this week’s nominees, who included OSU’s Nate Guenin, FSU’s Joe Van Culin, Michigan’s Mark Mitera, and Miami’s Andy Greene. An OSU fan wrote in with Guenin, and I threw Greene’s name in; both were excellent defensively Saturday and by all accounts Friday.

I’m Just a Tease

I know the holiday-themed columns are usually the chattiest, but I can’t think of any occasion that occurs less frequently than the holidays that I actually look forward to less than Valentine’s Day than moving.

Guess what? That sentence is grammatically correct.

So you’re just going to have to wait until next week for a full-blown return to Games of the Week, trivia, and anything about FSU’s Matt Verdone and UAF’s Kyle Greentree.

I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that the moving-accident-moving-teaching-moving schedule didn’t allow me to connect with Bob Daniels, one of the CCHA’s nicest guys, or that I actually talked to Tavis MacMillan at length and completely forgot to ask about Greentree.

I’m pretty sure I left the brain on the truck last Saturday. Most of you long-time readers are certain of it.

I swear, next week it’s all about you.